Linking Wealth and Power: Capitalist Classes in the Twenty-First Century

H. Lukas R. Arndt

The exceptional concentration of wealth in Western democracies during the past five decades has become common knowledge in the study of social stratification. One concern about wealth concentration is that its beneficiaries might be a threat to democracy. More precisely, concern surrounds the potential concentration of their structural and instrumental power. From the perspective of class analysis these would be individuals who concentrate control over capital in capitalist democracies: wealthy individuals and families, and powerful managers of the large corporations and financial institutions. This closely relates to a long-standing question: To what extent can the rich be understood as part of a capitalist class in itself and for itself? This dissertation project aims to develop a framework for an analysis of capitalist classes in the twenty-first century. To test this framework empirically, a large sample of the largest corporations is combined with data on super-rich individuals and families, as well as firm lobbying in the EU and the US. The following research questions are pursued: Should the capitalist class be understood as a community of economic or even ruling elites, or as a structural class? Are individual class positions of members of the capitalist class related to (class) political action of their firms?

This project is part of the Research Focus Wealth and Social Inequality.

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