Matt Taibbi, contributing editor of Rolling Stone, and journalist Chrystia Freeland, author of the new book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, joined Bill Moyers for a discussion on how the super wealthy use their increasing wealth to fund political candidates who will serve their interests.
Example: Goldman Sachs, which gave more money than any other major American corporation to Barack Obama in 2008, is switching alliances this year; their employees have given $900,000 both to Mitt Romney’s campaign and to the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. Why? Because, says the Wall Street Journal, the Goldman Sachs gang felt betrayed by President Obama’s modest attempts at financial reform. [..]
“We have this community of rich people who genuinely believe that they are the wealth creators and they should get every advantage and break,” Taibbi tells Bill. “Whereas everybody else is a parasite and they’re living off of them”
Freeland adds, “You know, 2008 is not so long ago, and already, the anti-regulation chorus is so strong. How dare they have the gall to actually argue that too much regulation of American financial services is what is killing the economy?”
Ms. Freeland also penned an interesting article at Huffington Post on the problems of plutocrats in the late nineteenth century and how it compares with today’s plutocracy problem:
Henry George is the most famous American popular economist you’ve never heard of, a 19th century cross between Michael Lewis, Howard Dean and Ron Paul. Progress and Poverty, George’s most important book, sold three million copies and was translated into German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew and Mandarin. During his lifetime, George was probably the third best-known American, eclipsed only by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. He was admired by the foreign luminaries of the age, too — Leo Tolstoy, Sun-Yat Sen and Albert Einstein, who wrote that “men like Henry George are unfortunately rare. One cannot image a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice.” George Bernard Shaw described his own thinking about the political economy as a continuation of the ideas of George, whom he had once heard deliver a speech. [..]
What George found most mysterious about the economic consequences of the industrial revolution was that its failure to deliver economic prosperity was not uniform — instead it had created a winner-take-all society: “Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others find it hard to get a living at all. The ‘tramp’ comes with the locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of ‘material progress’ as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied.”
George’s diagnosis was beguilingly simple — the fruits of innovation weren’t widely shared because they were going to the landlords. This was a very American indictment of industrial capitalism: at a time when Marx was responding to Europe’s version of progress and poverty with a wholesale denunciation of private property, George was an enthusiastic supporter of industry, free trade and a limited role for government. His culprits were the rentier rich, the landowners who profited hugely from industrialization and urbanization, but did not contribute to it. [..]
America today urgently needs a 21st century Henry George — a thinker who embraces the wealth-creating power of capitalism, but squarely faces the inequity of its current manifestation. That kind of thinking is missing on the right, which is still relying on Reagan-era trickle-down economics and hopes complaints about income inequality can be silenced with accusations of class war. But the left isn’t doing much better either, preferring nostalgia for the high-wage, medium-skill manufacturing jobs of the post-war era and China-bashing to a serious and original effort to figure out how to make 21st century capitalism work for the middle class. [..]
We are living in an era of comparably tumultuous economic change. The great challenge of our time is to devise the new social and political institutions we need to make the new economy work for everyone. So far, that is a historic task neither party is taking on with enough energy, honesty or originality.