Patrimonial Capitalism


Patrimonial capitalism is an unfortunately common state of affairs throughout most of capitalism-as-usual’s history. Due to the laws and regulations in the United States, particularly those regarding inheritance, the amount of familial wealth that gets passed down from generation to generation contributes asymmetrically to those who already have it—the haves. In today’s global economy, the haves will always have more since their more will grow at a faster rate than the less belonging to the have-nots1. Capital growth spreads the gap between the haves and the have-nots ever wider, ever faster, every day. Also, due to the current state of affairs in the United States, capital speaks very loudly in political discussions, if you can even call them that. Money talks, as it were, and by this stage of the democratic  “experiment,” we are able to easily see that all that talking-money largely benefits only the very few, the haves, and so, the fundamental idea of the Original American Dream has withered away into dust for the present participants. More capital has historically improved the chances of persuading friendly legislation that benefits those who have capital to deploy. For further specific evidence of this, see—America during any time in any place.

Putting two and two together, we can perceive patrimonial capitalism as the following: With increasing efficacy, the larger a flow of capital is, the more pressure it is capable of applying to any seat of power, but especially, political seats of power. This greasing of legislative tracks for greater and greater sustained capital flow through, first and foremost, exploitation, is nothing new. Patrimonial capitalism reinforces its strength through the capture of key economic factors, such as the banking industry. When wealthy capitalists both control the banks and are capable of influencing the laws to their own advantage, they can compound their own earnings while simultaneously excluding others, which is exactly what has happened throughout American history to produce the present environment. This has been the state of affairs for centuries, as it has been designed by those with capital—those haves, again. This function of capital expressed by patrimonial capitalism is innate and ubiquitous—we are subjected to its influence when we participate in the economy in any way. Though, it could be counteracted with a sufficient display of will. Grassroots movements sometimes display a collective will strong enough to influence seats of power, to varying effects. 

In individual human practice, patrimonial capitalism might be counteracted by the continuous shedding (re-distribution, re-allocation, re-direction, etc.) of different forms of power as they are perpetually accrued by the gravity of capital and the political influence afforded this gravity due to the influence just described. People, particularly those operating through legal businesses, are certainly free to actively transfer the financial and procedural excesses that they have acquired from their flowing capital in the effort to rebalance the economic scales toward a healthier distribution. This ought to be occurring all over the place, all the time. Otherwise, as we currently see all around us, we have wealth inequality and all the horrors it bestows, though, largely upon only one side of this figurative coin. 

There is no indication at all that the influence of money on humans will spontaneously dissipate in the near future, so we all must stand and reach for our own economic freedom. Capitalism-as-usual will not hand it to us for free; and those who, patiently or not, await such a fate will continue on in the shackles of their economic servitude, subject only to the will of the haves, who are making all the rules far up above them.


1. Thomas Piketty has extensively covered this aspect of capital growth and condensed its essence into the equation r > g, where, essentially, r = the return on capital, and g = the economic growth rate. One would be wise to explore Piketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, and Capital and Ideology for additional research on this— and basically every other aspect of capitalism-as-usual. 

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