The upper class is a concept in sociology that refers to the group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. Members of an upper class often have great power over the allocation of resources and governmental policy in their area. The phrase "upper class" has had a complex range of meanings and usages. In many traditional societies, membership of the upper class was hard or even impossible to acquire by any means other than being born into it. Overclass is a recent and pejorative term for the most powerful group in a social hierarchy. Users of the term generally imply excessive and unjust privilege and exploitation of the rest of society. Compare the older term, upper class, which nowadays is sometimes also pejorative, but is not necessarily so, and historically was rarely so. Perhaps the most commonly agreed-upon "overclass" consists of the legal leaders of a culture, i.e., those who exercise power in public view. The heads of government and finance ministers of the G8, and influential leaders of the United Nations, may be examples of a World overclass. Historian Paul Fussell refers to what he calls a "top out of sight" class in the United States. These are people who have an even better quality of life than a visible overclass because their vast wealth allows them to affect cultural and political changes without first exposing them to public comment. Conspiracy theories often propose a secret society with supernatural overtones as an invisible World overclass. The word is fairly recent: the Oxford English Dictionary only included it December 2004. But it has been in use since at least 1996. At least some writers compare it to the more familiar underclass: |“ |We now have a quite new phenomenon in the history of the republic: two radically isolated sectors of the population, | | |the underclass and the overclass. Both are in an adversarial posture toward the great majority of Americans, the | | |overclass by virtue of ambition and unbounded self-esteem, the underclass by virtue of social incompetence and anomie. | | |Between the two there is a fearful symmetry on many scores, but their service to each other is far from equal. |
The term ruling class refers to the social class of a given society that decides upon and sets that society's political policy. The ruling class is a particular sector of the upper class that adheres to quite specific circumstances: it has both the most material wealth and the most widespread influence over all the other classes, and it chooses to actively exercise that power to shape the direction of a locality, a country, and/or the world. Most of the upper class does not fit the fundamentals of this description, but some do. Most stable groups of social animals (including humans) have a visible and invisible "ruling class". The decision makers in the group may change according to the decision-type and/ or the time of observation. For example, it used to be assumed that modern societies were patriarchal and the elders dominated the real decisions, even though many market economies focus on the decisionmakers of each particular (assuredly minor) market sector, who may in fact be children or women. The sociologist C. Wright Mills argued that the ruling class differs from the power elite. The latter simply refers to the small group of people with the most political power. Many of them are politicians, hired political managers, and military leaders. In Marxist political economics, the ruling class refers to that segment or class of society that has the most economic and -- only in second line -- political power. Under capitalism, the ruling class -- the capitalists or bourgeoisie -- consists of those who own and control the means of production and thus are able to dominate and exploit the working class, getting them to labor enough to produce surplus-value, the basis for profits, interest, and rent (property income). This property income can be used to...
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