During the first few decades of the industrial revolution in Britain, it was the landed gentry that ruled. They did not have the good fortune of being born into a noble family, but they did have the good fortune to own considerable tracts of land. As a result, they were able to get elected by other landowners to the House of Commons, the seat of real political power in Britain. They wrote the laws, under the close scrutiny of the nobility, that ensured the mutual protection and further accumulation of wealth for the upper classes.
However, as the industrial revolution progressed and the creation of wealth shifted away from an agricultural economy towards a manufacturing economy, political power also began to shift. A new merchant class needed to be accommodated. As a result, the House of Commons broadened its electoral laws to grant the right to vote to more of the rising number of citizens with increasing means and appetites for more wealth. Property requirements were kept throughout the 19th century and it wouldn't be until the beginning of the 20th century before universal suffrage would come into being.
Essentially, two world wars and the Great Depression laid waste to the capacity of the landed gentry to control the political economy within the circumscribed territory of their respective nations. The concerns of the working classes could no longer be ignored, especially with the spectre of communism looming on the horizon. Much to their chagrin, increasing levels of prosperity brought about by technological advances wedded to the conspicuous consumption of the lower classes resulted in a much more egalitarian distribution of the nation's wealth up until the end of the nineteen seventies.
During the post war years of exponential economic growth, a new elite was born and began to take control of the richest political economy in the world in the United States of America. These were the corporate men, the men who financed and ran America's mighty corporations.
No longer bounded by territorial limits, America's richest corporations expanded their operations across the globe and began to leave behind their national compatriots in their pursuit of profits.
Inevitably, this corporate elite would come to realize that their participation in a political economy that actually considered the well-being of the population at large placed limits of their ability to accumulate wealth.
This would have to change and change it did.
With the arrival of Reagan and Thatcher at the end of the seventies, the corporate elite began to claw back the portions of the economic pie they had lost to the lower classes. Over the next thirty years, they were successful in re-establishing levels in income inequality that hadn't been seen since the gilded age.
In short, they leveraged their attachments to corporate entities that over time gained more and more of the rights normally reserved for humans so that they could maintain lower tax rates, gain favorable interventions into the political economy from Congress, and, most recently, monetize the electoral process to such an extent that have the members of the US Congress are millionaires.
America is now ruled by its corporations, legal fictions that have attained the state of person hood, marauding groups of individuals aided by limited liability to enhance their capacity to extract wealth from the ordinary Joes who slog away in the sometimes less than the cost of living wage economy.
Residing in their corporate principalities, the financiers and chief executive officers are seldom held accountable by the laws of the land. Nevertheless, they are able to control how the laws are to be written and to maintain the world's largest military machine, ironically funded by a land-locked public, that serves to protect and uphold a socio-economic order that is wholly favorable to their desires.
In days of old, it paid to have passed on to you the property rights that were handed down from one generation to the next.
Today, it pays to inherit an investment portfolio and to gain access to America's elite universities, where the social networks that are forged more often than not open the doors for membership in the corporate social sphere, far from the maddening crowds who have lost all hope for a better future.