It works like this... The most important assets for a free people are time and leisure. Once you have that, then you can develop the ability to think critically, to analyze facts, events, trends, and to become aware of the dynamics that operate within a social system.
In a society, once a large-enough segment of the population has developed an understanding of how the system works, you then have an informed citizenry who is able to act in favor of their interests.
So in a healthy democracy where the population is informed and educated, you will not have a very marked disparity in income distribution between the population and the rich.
So having access to time and leisure, leads to an improved ability to think, to analyse, and to become aware about how the system works. This in turn leads to the ability to organize with other informed citizens to take collective actions to safeguard your interests.
For the citizenry, this results in having a larger share of the nation's income, wealth, and power.
That's why the oligarchs are always (eternally) trying to find ways to chip away at the ability for the common man to be able to have access to idle time and/or leisure.
That explains the hundreds of millions of dollars certain business organizations and lobbying groups spend on bribing politicians nationwide to setup a legislative framework to make it harder for workers to unionize, to make education less accessible, to destroy the proper functions of government.
When it comes to power, the most significant component is income and wealth, especially in a capitalist system.
Once people fall into poverty, they become powerless (by and large); that's why you hardly see politicians talking about the poor. They are always talking about the "middle class."
And it does not matter how large the segment of the population falling into poverty may be. For example, a population that has a 10% incidence of poverty, is as powerless as a population who has 80% living in poverty (in my opinion).
Right now (as you read this), there is a segment of the population who has vast wealth and it's using it to manipulate the bought off politicians nationwide (federal, state, counties, cities) to push "austerity measures" onto the citizenry.
These austerity measures have the effect of curtailing access to education, health care, and a plethora of workers' rights.
As these very well-planned policies take effect, the average worker then has less time, and less leisure. This immediately translates into a rapidly-expanding wealth gap between the rich, an the rest. As the rich become richer (aided by the bribing of Democrats and Republican politicians across the entire country), and the poor become poorer, the percentage of the population who is poor also increases rapidly (as it is the case now).
As poverty spreads through the population, ignorance also spreads, since poor people don't have access to the proper infrastructure to get educated.
And here's the "brilliance" of the oligarchs. As the "hamster wheels" (as it were) are spun faster and faster, the workers try to keep up. Those who fall off the wheel, unable to keep up with the oppression and exploitation, then fall into poverty, and are quickly marginalized, stripped from any source of power, and ghettoized.
The dwindling middle class, seeing the wretched consequences of poverty are then intimidated and fearful, and do everything they can to stay on the wheel, picking up the pace mandated by the increasingly oppressive system.
But the system is rigged, which results in the inexorable rate increase of poverty and/or economic insecurity in the population.
And here's the biggest quandary: Once a citizen understands that the system is no longer legitimate, and that it is rigged in this way, does it becomes the duty of such a citizen to rise up in protest with the objective of stopping the system on its tracks, so it can be fixed?
Herein lies the inherent conflict between those who have come to realize that the system is broken, and that it's not longer legitimate, and therefore has to be stopped from operating normally, and those who because of fear and/or their inability to understand the situation still hang on to the notion that the system is "normal."
In every society where oligarchs rise, along with oppression and exploitation, it is the latter type of citizen who is the most responsible for it.
For once the system has turned totally corrupt, predatory, and criminal (as it's the case today in the United States), then patriotic and informed citizens have the duty to stop it from operating normally, in order to defend against a domestic enemy (the likes of ALEC, The US Chamber of Commerce, and other neo-fascistic organizations).
Such a system, if not stopped on its tracks, always leads to the following: A very tiny elite comprised of people with extreme wealth and a totally bought-off class of politicians (as it's the case now with the Democratic and Republican party establishments), in control of most of the wealth and power of the country, and a population living in a neo-feudal society.
We are way on our way to become such a society. All the hallmarks of a banana republic or third world country have been met, including rampant bribery of the political establishment, thievery and criminality at grand scale, with impunity and aided and covered up by bought off and corrupt politicians, the rise of an increasingly brutal police state.
The only question that remains is if the dwindling middle class is going to decide to cower in fear, remain on their knees, bowing down to large-scale criminals, or stand up for justice, freedom, and democracy.
We'll find out soon enough. If we decide to remain on our knees, we'll keep feeding the corrupt and exploitative system, which is rigged to eventually totally destroy the middle class and plunge the entire population into serfdom, and ignorance.