Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
One of America’s greatest novels in my opinion is “The Great Gatsby” and I think many literary critics feel the same. If you’re not familiar with it, the short synopsis is that it is the tale of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious figure of self made wealth who arrives on Long Island’s North Shore, known as the “Gold Coast”, back in the “Roaring Twenties”. His life intertwines with Tom and Daisy Buchanan, a “golden” young couple with inherited wealth and the best social pedigrees. The interplay between these three leads to ultimate tragedy for Gatsby and more than a few other characters swept into the social vortex surrounding the Buchanan’s. On the last page of this magnificently crafted book, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the narrator Nick runs into Tom and Daisy who are gaily embarking on a trip to Europe after some cataclysmic events of their causing and he says of them:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Now lest you think I’m about to deliver a polemic about all wealthy people let me disabuse you of that notion. I know and have known many wealthy people who were also exemplary human beings and have my respect and affection. “The Rich” I refer to are people like the Koch Brothers who were born into great wealth and somehow believe they are among the anointed of the world. So strong is that belief that they are willing to do just about anything to maintain their power in this world and their anger at those who oppose them is the “righteous” anger of the permanently entitled. These groups of people generally have fortunes beginning in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Mitt Romney perhaps, and are far removed from the merely wealthy. The see themselves as Aristocrats of the world and in reality they would like to return us to the time of feudalism. In some respects we have returned, when we think of our Justice Department refusing to criminally prosecute banks like HSBC, which has admitted to partaking in clearly illegal activities. The germ for this guest blog came from a link supplied by one of our most prolific commenters. What it shows, I think with great effectiveness, is how the Rich are not like the rest of us and why they need to be stopped before they will destroy us and our country with it.
The article that set me off was linked by a long time regular here and part time defender of Ayn Rand, our own contributor Bron. It comes from an article written in the American Conservative Magazine and is titled: “Revolt of the Rich” by Mike Lofgren. Many Americans are taken in by the political memes generated pitting “liberals” against “conservatives” and by the stereotypes of each position handed down to us via the Mainstream Media. Much of today’s insanity in Washington arose with the election of Ronald Reagan, who ironically would be a Republican moderate, afraid of a primary challenge, in today’s skewed political spectrum. When Reagan won in 1980, his success frightened many of the Democratic Politicians to such an extent that the Right Wing of the Democratic Party assumed control of its “center stage” and there was a rush by many career Democratic politicians to begin to act like moderate Republicans. Then the wise men Democratic Party’s being emulated became Senators Daniel Moynihan, Harry Byrd and Jay Rockefeller. Byrd had been a “Dixiecrat”, Moynihan had worked loyally for Nixon and Jay Rockefeller…..was a Rockefeller. As the Democratic Party rushed to become Republican “Lite” its minions began to recognize that they could gain even more largesse from the Corporate Plutocrats as they moderated their ideals. The truth about politics is that “ideals” in most instances play a secondary role to personal gain and the pleasures of power. This shift “rightward” has proceeded apace for some thirty-two years. Even Democratic Presidential victories have brought us two Centrist two-term Presidents. While I admit I voted for each twice, it was definitely votes for what I saw as the lesser of two evils.
With the political shift rightward and with the infestation of the urgent need to raise massive amounts of cash in order to stay in office, our political leaders have become increasingly beholden to those who are the wealthiest among us. Indeed the evidence shows that the top .01 percent has separated itself from the rest of to such a great degree that to be a millionaire is to be middle class. To be “middle class” is to exist two, or three missed paychecks away from poverty. Even the small business people, who used to be the backbone of this country, are being squeezed by large corporations like Wal-Mart, who are not satisfied with the lion’s share of the market, but want it all.
Most Americans took pride in the Corporate might developed by this country and felt respect for those “Captains of Industry” who had risen to such wealth. This changed for awhile when the “Great Depression” of 1929 ravaged the country and the blinders were lifted off a majority of the people, allowing them to see that the Depression was the fault of these avaricious Plutocrats manipulating our system. As the generation of the Depression aged, those memories of the “hard times” remained vivid. Those memories were passed onto the next generation, of which I was a part. As the years passed though, the memory of the experiences of the “Great Depression” grew dim. Television became the dominant media and Television was always a carefully controlled expression of the views of the Corporations who owned it and the Corporate sponsors that supported it. The Cold War was used to scare our country and pouring half of our national income into the military was not allowed to be questioned, lest one be branded as a traitor. The tables have turned now and it seems that there really are people who could easily be labeled as traitors to this country, only these traitors aren’t some mangy radicals, but those who are the wealthiest and most powerful among us. “Revolt of the Rich” by Mike Lofgren examines this phenomenon:
“It was 1993, during congressional debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement. I was having lunch with a staffer for one of the rare Republican congressmen who opposed the policy of so-called free trade. To this day, I remember something my colleague said: “The rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens.”
That was only the beginning of the period when the realities of outsourced manufacturing, financialization of the economy, and growing income disparity started to seep into the public consciousness, so at the time it seemed like a striking and novel statement.” http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/revolt-of-the-rich/
Lofgren goes on to talk about the fact that at the end of the Cold War, many saw the coming decline of the Nation State as many areas would devolve into smaller units representing ethnic, religious and racial ties. Then too he says there were alternate theories that saw the large military powers helpless in the face of local unrest, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. What wasn’t discussed or foreseen was this:
“There have been numerous books about globalization and how it would eliminate borders. But I am unaware of a well-developed theory from that time about how the super-rich and the corporations they run would secede from the nation state.
I do not mean secession by physical withdrawal from the territory of the state, although that happens from time to time—for example, Erik Prince, who was born into a fortune, is related to the even bigger Amway fortune, and made yet another fortune as CEO of the mercenary-for-hire firm Blackwater, moved his company (renamed Xe) to the United Arab Emirates in 2011. What I mean by secession is a withdrawal into enclaves, an internal immigration, whereby the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot.”
Lofgren goes on to describe how the super wealthy see themselves above it all even while they may live among us in a vague geographical manner. Anyone who has gone to places that are known haunts of the rich and “fabulous” knows how the gated communities and the private beaches, keep us riffraff far away from the natural treasures of these “spa” areas had that originally drawn people on vacation. Even in Las Vegas, that most “egalitarian” of Cities (if you have the cash), you are precluded from seeing the really wealthy gamble, or amuse themselves.
“Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?
Being in the country but not of it is what gives the contemporary American super-rich their quality of being abstracted and clueless. Perhaps that explains why Mitt Romney’s regular-guy anecdotes always seem a bit strained. I discussed this with a radio host who recounted a story about Robert Rubin, former secretary of the Treasury as well as an executive at Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup. Rubin was being chauffeured through Manhattan to reach some event whose attendees consisted of the Great and the Good such as himself. Along the way he encountered a traffic jam, and on arriving to his event—late—he complained to a city functionary with the power to look into it. “Where was the jam?” asked the functionary. Rubin, who had lived most of his life in Manhattan, a place of east-west numbered streets and north-south avenues, couldn’t tell him. The super-rich who determine our political arrangements apparently inhabit another, more refined dimension.”
Lofgren goes on to discuss how in the past some of this was also true, but he then illustrates using the examples of public education and the military, to differentiate the alienation from our nation felt by the super-rich:
“To some degree the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools. But now this habit is exacerbated by the plutocracy’s palpable animosity towards public education and public educators, as Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated. To the extent public education “reform” is popular among billionaires and their tax-exempt foundations, one suspects it is as a lever to divert the more than $500 billion dollars in annual federal, state, and local education funding into private hands—meaning themselves and their friends. What Halliburton did for U.S. Army logistics, school privatizers will do for public education. A century ago, at least we got some attractive public libraries out of Andrew Carnegie. Noblesse oblige like Carnegie’s is presently lacking among our seceding plutocracy.
In both world wars, even a Harvard man or a New York socialite might know the weight of an army pack. Now the military is for suckers from the laboring classes whose sub-prime mortgages you just sliced into CDOs and sold to gullible investors in order to buy your second Bentley or rustle up the cash to get Rod Stewart to perform at your birthday party. The sentiment among the super-rich towards the rest of America is often one of contempt rather than noblesse.
Stephen Schwarzman, the hedge fund billionaire CEO of the Blackstone Group who hired Rod Stewart for his $5-million birthday party, believes it is the rabble who are socially irresponsible. Speaking about low-income citizens who pay no income tax, he says: “You have to have skin in the game. I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”
But millions of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes do pay federal payroll taxes. These taxes are regressive, and the dirty little secret is that over the last several decades they have made up a greater and greater share of federal revenues. In 1950, payroll and other federal retirement contributions constituted 10.9 percent of all federal revenues. By 2007, the last “normal” economic year before federal revenues began falling, they made up 33.9 percent. By contrast, corporate income taxes were 26.4 percent of federal revenues in 1950. By 2007 they had fallen to 14.4 percent. So who has skin in the game?”
Honestly, I found the entirety of this article absolutely stunning in its comprehension and comprehensiveness. This is so much more impressive because it is written by a man with impeccable conservative credentials, who was a Republican Congressional staffer among other things. There is so rich a detailing of what has become of most elected Republicans and Conservatives in this country as they became handmaidens to the Plutocratic Elite. This Elite as a group no longer feels connected to the citizens of this country and indeed views them as hindrances, product consumers and/or chattel. Please follow the link above and read the entire article, because wherever you stand on the political spectrum, I think you will find it lays out quite a powerful argument that the Plutocrats are in fact no longer a part, or part of, what we like to think is the American Dream. I will leave you with this:
“This raises disturbing questions for those who call themselves conservatives. Almost all conservatives who care to vote congregate in the Republican Party. But Republican ideology celebrates outsourcing, globalization, and takeovers as the glorious fruits of capitalism’s “creative destruction.” As a former Republican congressional staff member, I saw for myself how GOP proponents of globalized vulture capitalism, such as Grover Norquist, Dick Armey, Phil Gramm, and Lawrence Kudlow, extolled the offshoring and financialization process as an unalloyed benefit. They were quick to denounce as socialism any attempt to mitigate its impact on society. Yet their ideology is nothing more than an upside-down utopianism, an absolutist twin of Marxism. If millions of people’s interests get damaged in the process of implementing their ideology, it is a necessary outcome of scientific laws of economics that must never be tampered with, just as Lenin believed that his version of materialist laws were final and inexorable.
If a morally acceptable American conservatism is ever to extricate itself from a pseudo-scientific inverted Marxist economic theory, it must grasp that order, tradition, and stability are not coterminous with an uncritical worship of the Almighty Dollar, nor with obeisance to the demands of the wealthy. Conservatives need to think about the world they want: do they really desire a social Darwinist dystopia?
The objective of the predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation state and auction its resources to themselves. Those super-rich, in turn, aim to create a “tollbooth” economy, whereby more and more of our highways, bridges, libraries, parks, and beaches are possessed by private oligarchs who will extract a toll from the rest of us. Was this the vision of the Founders? Was this why they believed governments were instituted among men—that the very sinews of the state should be possessed by the wealthy in the same manner that kingdoms of the Old World were the personal property of the monarch?”
Despite my protestations to the contrary, many here through the years have seen me as a raging “Liberal”. I don’t believe that specific economic, political or philosophical theory has all the answers.
My ideals as such only call for a free society that has eliminated poverty and want. I want a society where people are not barred from reaching their utmost potential. Where people can believe, speak and act with freedom from fear of repression, or retribution. In reading Mike Lofgren’s detailed analysis, I find my views are quite close to his. Perhaps in the way he seems to see it, I’m his kind of “true Conservative” after all. I do believe in a market economy, but I also believe that government should have oversight of the “Market” to ensure that it is not co-opted by those who would rig the game. Government is also responsible for infrastructure and protecting us from those who would exploit us by selling inferior and harmful products. Government should handle public education, not “for profit” corporations, or “non-profit” foundations set up by billionaires who are subtly pushing their product and their mindset. Finally Government should be responsible for ensuring the public welfare and ensure that the people have adequate food, shelter and income, so that we don’t have a society where homeless people, many of them military veterans, are left to languish unaided. What do you think? Are these “radical” ideas deviating from our Constitution, or merely a modernization of the Conservative intent of our nation’s Founding Fathers?
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger