One of my wife’s high school friends who happens to be a regular reader of More to Come recently used her Facebook page to post part of a speech the late John C. Bogle, the founder of The Vanguard Group, delivered as the commencement address for MBA graduates at Georgetown University in May 2007. Candice said it sounded like something I would think or say, and I believe she’s right.
At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, the late Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, the author Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . Enough.”
Enough. I was stunned by its simple eloquence, to say nothing of its relevance to some of the vital issues arising in American society today. Many of them revolve around money — yes, money — increasingly, in our “bottom line” society, the Great God of prestige, the Great Measure of the Man (and Woman).…
Kurt Vonnegut loved to speak to college students. He believed, if I may paraphrase here, that “we should catch young people before they become CEOs, investment bankers, consultants, and money managers (and especially hedge fund managers), and do our best to poison their minds with humanity.”
Enough. Yes, it is an eloquent word in this context. It also has other meanings, as in I’ve had enough of the billionaires who never have enough money and power and try to run (or is it ruin) our lives.
To be honest, I’m both lucky and privileged (as a white, Christian, male), and — except for that climate denial stuff leading to a much harsher planet on which to live — much of what the ultra-wealthy are trying to accomplish doesn’t harm me directly. Some of it even benefits me. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the real harm they are inflicting on the country. Nope, I am a firm believer that we have to change, and soon, or we are going to lose this wonderful experiment called America.
As I’ve written on multiple occasions, I was raised by a New Deal Democrat whose mother taught him that “money flows East” to the hands of the bankers on Wall Street. He had a strong belief in the power of government to work together for the common good and — as a life-long Baptist in the truest sense of that tradition — a keen understanding of the importance of the separation of church and state. Through his nine decades of life, my father became decidedly more progressive, unwilling to look the other way when the rich and powerful used their position to hurt those less fortunate than themselves. He liked to say, “I wouldn’t want to be them on Judgment Day.”
I think I’m on the same trajectory.
So, just what is it that has me agitated at this point in time? Let me count the ways. And here’s a spoiler alert: this is a rant, so stop reading if you aren’t interested in my perspective on the issue.
I’ve had enough of billionaires using their money to amass more money and power and rig the system for their benefit, all under the guise of a “free market” and trying to have us believe that Wall Street is the same as the economy when that’s simply not true.
I’m exhausted by the efforts of some of the world’s richest people — like Jeff Bezos, Mike Bloomberg, Mathias Döpfner, and Rupert Murdock — to buy up every media platform in sight to parrot their talking points and, in the process, demolish our free press.
I’m tired of individuals such as Peter Thiel, Stephen Schwarzman, Ken Griffin, Steve Wynn, Mike Lindell, and Patrick Byrne thinking that the country will be better off if they fund insurrection and authoritarians because they want us to believe that unfettered capitalism is the same as democracy, when that’s clearly not true.
I’ve had it up to here with the ultra-wealthy telling us they are superior human beings who “did it on their own” when six of the 10 wealthiest Americans alive today are heirs to fortunes passed on to them by wealthy ancestors, and others — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk are examples — used their parents’ wealth to build their empires.
I am increasingly heartbroken by the useless loss of life and the wasted treasure of our country as billionaires profit from a military-industrial complex that can’t win wars but certainly knows how to spin politicians, the media, and the American people.
I’m tired of billionaires like the Lerner family buying things that should be public trusts — like baseball teams — and then draining every last dollar they can out of those community assets before selling.
I’m exhausted by having to combat — again-and-again — the billionaires and their totally phony and widely discredited myth that their wealth trickles down to the rest of us, a myth most recently debunked by the Congressional Budget Office.
I’m appalled by billionaires setting up phony “public interest law firms” which are little more than scams to use our country’s legal system to file bogus lawsuits to tear down our rights in order to support their interests.
I’m saddened by billionaires, the ultra-wealthy and their political and media enablers preying on the fears of a population that feels economically, religiously, or culturally dispossessed by backing authoritarians who promise to bring back a mythological world in which its members were powerful, only to find out that they were used as tools to put in place someone whose decisions are absolute and who is no longer bound by the law.
I’m exasperated by the hypocrisy of wealthy and famous people labeling those in need as welfare cheats, but refusing to call out one of their own, such as Brett Farve, who cheats the welfare system for his or her own gain.
I’m flummoxed that more don’t see that mega philanthropy by billionaires is “too often just another way for wealthy people to flex their muscles and continue to inappropriately exert social and political influence.”
I’m angry at how privatization of public assets by billionaires leads first to inequality and then to a sense of loss, and finally to far-right populism, white nationalism, and fascism.
I’ve had enough of billionaires and their corporate judicial system headed by John Roberts deciding that corporations are people with political rights, opening the floodgates to billions in dark money to change the course of our country from “we the people” to “I, me, mine.”
I could go on-and-on about billionaires undercutting education to enrich their already sizable fortunes, falsely attacking Social Security as a Ponzi scheme in order to privatize this most noble of public assets, and using the $300 million they made from defrauding Medicare to buy a U.S. Senate seat.
And I could certainly spend an entire column just ranting about fake billionaires who would get in bed (figuratively and probably literally) with a foreign enemy of the U.S. to keep their big lie afloat. But I won’t.
Most of this comes back to the fact that capitalism is not democracy and working for the common good is not socialism…but the rich are increasingly trying to tell us that those two things are true. This one paragraph lays out a pretty devastating attack on those falsehoods.
They (social democrats) see state and federal legislators who routinely slash taxes on the wealthy, and services for the poor, in defiance of their constituents’ wishes; regulatory agencies that serve as training grounds for the firms they’re meant to police; a Supreme Court that’s forever expanding the rights of corporations, and restricting those of organized labor; a criminal-justice system that won’t prosecute bankers for laundering drug money, but will dole out life sentences to small-time crack dealers; a central bank that has the resources to bail out financial firms, but not the homeowners whom they exploit; a Pentagon that can wage multitrillion-dollar wars that exacerbate the very problems they were supposed to solve — and still get rewarded with a higher budget — even as the Housing Department asks the working poor to pay higher rent for worse accommodations; and, seething beneath all of these defects, disparities in the distribution of private wealth so vast and consequential, the nation’s super-rich have come to enjoy an average life expectancy 15 years longer than its poor.
More to come…
Image of money by S.K. from Pixabay.