Archive for ‘Plutocracy’

August 29, 2012

It’s Not Our Parents’ Plutocracy

Writing in the American Conservative, former longtime Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren characterizes the new rising plutocracy in “The Revolt of the Rich.” Very readable; a short primer on the transition from the previous era to this one where the rich have, as he puts it, seceded from America. Well worth a full read. Excerpt:

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.

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 subprime 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.

Full article here.

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August 6, 2012

Plutocracy: A Glimpse at the Top and Bottom

The vast inequality of wealth in the US has been highlighted in various ways over the past few years, particularly by the Occupy movement. No news here. But the gap between six of the wealthiest of our plutocrats and 49,000,000 other Americans simply startles. The six are the offspring of Sam Walton who brought us wall to wall, err…border to border, Walmarts. Take it away Sylvia:

Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the Center on Wage and
Employment Dynamics at the University of California-Berkeley, compared
the Waltons’ cumulative net worth with that of the overall population,
as cited in the Survey of Consumer Finances. (She used the Waltons’
wealth from 2010, which was valued at $89.5 billion.)

Allegretto found that in 2007, the wealth held by the six Waltons was
equal to that of the bottom 30.5 percent of families in the U.S. In
2010, the Waltons’ share equaled the entire bottom 41.5 percent of
families.

That 41.5 percent represents nearly 49 million families, notes Josh Bivens
at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. While median family
wealth fell by 38.8 percent, Bivens wrote, the wealth of the Walton
family members rose from $73.3 billion in 2007 to $89.5 billion in 2010,
or about 22 percent growth.

Read the whole article at Politicfact.com.

June 28, 2012

Austerity: The Results So Far in Latvia and Greece

We start with a delightful cartoon video on the reslts of Latvia’s austerity program. While the poster child and the one “success” story that austerity’s proponents proclaim, the facts on the Latvian ground might beg to differ. After the video, the beginning of a post by Yves Smith on Naked Capitalism on life in Greece under the austerity programs imposed on it.

From “Austerity Kills: How the EuroCrisis is Being Used to Break the Social Contract.” Click here for the full post.

One aspect of the Eurocrisis that has not gotten the attention it deserves is the way it is destroying not just jobs, but the very underpinnings of society. People who took actions that were prudent at the time are increasingly at the mercy of forces beyond their control. And this isn’t a tsunami-type disaster but a man-made one whose severity is worsened by the callous attitudes of the European elites.

We’ve featured stories from time to time on how Greece is unraveling. Suicides have increased sharply. Garbage is not being picked up. Public transportation is largely a thing of the past. Even though Greece always had a large black market, more people are resorting to barter, which shrinks the tax base.

And in some ways worst of all, the health care system is on the verge of collapse. Critical medicines are not being imported and hospitals are short of basic supplies. Not only are people dying unnecessarily due to their inability to get drugs and operations, but worse, the breakdown of healthcare greatly increases the risk of a public health crisis. How many children are being vaccinated, for instance? What happens when curable but silent killers such as syphilis go untreated?

Click here for the full post.

June 27, 2012

Understanding Debt: As the Pendulum Swings

If Occupy is a movement and the movement has intellectuals, then David Graeber is primus inter pares. Below are two excerpts from a September 2011 interview which give nice overview of his thinking. With a mind-boggling $1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) dollars in student debt, countless home mortgages under water, and a government run for the benefit of the plutocracy, is it possible that his ideas, marginal though they may seem, will find an increasingly welcome reception over the next 5 to 10 years? Click here for the full article in The Brooklyn Rail.

[Interviewer]: There’s something about the quantitative aspect of debt, the way that it can impersonalize human relationships, that makes it such a powerful force in civilization.

David Graeber: Exactly: The turning of moral obligations into numbers and then using those numbers to justify things that could otherwise never be justified morally. And that’s the story of debt. That’s why I realized, when writing it, that this has been going on for a very long time. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and what they did to countries in the Global South—which is, of course, exactly the same thing bankers are starting to do at home now—is just a modern version of this old story.

Graeber: One of the strange powers of the logic of debt, which pervaded first North Atlantic societies and then almost the rest of the world under the organizing principle of capitalism, is that people are under the pressure of the shame and humiliation that comes with being in debt. This causes a frenetic need to look and turn everything around them into a source of profit. And that’s what the industrious people are, the people who submit themselves to that logic.

Click here for the full article.

January 19, 2012

The Plutocracy as Kleptocracy: Bankster Mortgage Fraud

To get the full background on the mortgage fraud front, I recommend Naked Capitalism. For now I highlight a post there today on a class action suit against JP Morgan. It begins:

To our knowledge, the suit filed by Ernest Michael Bakenie against JP Morgan is the first to accuse a major bank of widespread, systematic residential mortgage documentation and fraud…

We’ve reported repeatedly of widespread evidence of grotesque procedural abuses as servicers and foreclosure mill lawyers try to cover up for the fact that in many cases, mortgage notes were not transferred properly to securitization trusts, and the rigid way these deals were structured makes it impossible to remedy those failures at this juncture. Absent creating a time machine, the only fix is to fabricate documents that make it appear than things were done correctly. We’ve seen (as in in person) obvious forgeries submitted to the court (signatures obviously Photoshop shrunk to fit) and servicer personnel caught perjuring themselves, yet judges are remarkably unwilling to issue a ruling that hinges on finding that the plaintiff filed phony documents.

If this case moves forward, that reticence may change. Note that this case, which covers only the Central District of California, alleges that Chase engaged in over 7000 filings of motions of relief of stay in bankruptcy court using fabricated documents.

A faint hint of silver glimpsed through the clouds…

May 13, 2011

Institutional Corruption: The 10 Minute and 40 Minute Intros

What is a corrupted institution? How do institutions get corrupted?  For a perspective to think about these questions I offer the videos below. Both are by Lawrence Lessig. The first he describes as “Ten minutes to explain corruption…” from a talk at the Harvard Thinks Big Forum. It’s dense in the way that haiku can be dense — much illuminated in a few words or, here, in a few minutes. The second video is the latest version of his expanded talk on this, “In Plain Sight Corruption,” given at a class at UC Berkeley. Useful, if not necessary, for understanding how government and other instutions actually operate. Includes recommendations for taking action to remedy this ruinous state of affairs.

The shorter course:

The longer course:

[Can’t see the video in your RSS reader or email? Click here.]

May 8, 2011

Sign of the Times: The Rise of McJobs in the Plutocracy

For some time I’ve hewed to Cszlew Milosz’s characterization of America as “a moderately corrupt republic.” Now I would argue for a shorter tag, plutocracy. One of the consequences of governance by the rich (via their agents, Congress) is spelled out in “How the McEconomy Bombed the American Worker: The Hollowing Out of the Middle Class” by Andy Kroll in Tomdispatch.com. The attention grabbing opening paragraph:

Think of it as a parable for these grim economic times. On April 19th, McDonald’s launched its first-ever national hiring day, signing up 62,000 new workers at stores throughout the country. For some context, that’s more jobs created by one company in a single day than the net job creation of the entire U.S. economy in 2009. And if that boggles the mind, consider how many workers applied to local McDonald’s franchises that day and left empty-handed: 938,000 of them. With a 6.2% acceptance rate in its spring hiring blitz, McDonald’s was more selective than the Princeton, Stanford, or Yale University admission offices.

The article gives an account of rise of the McEconomy. Read it here.