Billionaire Self-Pity and the Koch Brothers
Since the financial crisis of 2008, one of the most revealing spectacles has been the parade of financial elites who petulantly insist that they are the victims of societal hostility: political officials heap too much blame on them, public policy burdens them so unfairly, the public resents them, and -- most amazingly of all -- President Obama is a radical egalitarian who is unprecedentedly hostile to business interests. One particularly illustrative example was the whiny little multi-millionaire hedge fund manager (and CNBC contributor), Anthony Scaramucci, who stood up at an October, 201o, town hall meeting and demanded to know: "when are we going to stop whacking at the Wall Street pinata?"
The Weekly Standard now has a very lengthy defense of -- including rare interviews with -- Charles and David Koch, the libertarian billionaires who fund everything from right-wing economic policy, union-busting, and anti-climate-change advocacy to civil liberties and liberalized social policies -- though far more the former goals than the latter. In this article one finds the purest and most instructive expression of billionaire self-pity that I think I've ever seen -- one that is as self-absorbed and detached from reality as it destructive. It's really worth examining their revealed mindset to see how those who wield the greatest financial power (and thus the greatest political power) think of themselves and those who are outside of their class.
I'm not someone who sees the Koch Brothers as some sort of unique threat. I mostly regard them as little more than a symbol of the death of democratic values in the U.S. -- the way in which the possession of vast financial resources is an absolute prerequisite to making any impact on the national political process, and conversely, how those without such resources are politically inconsequential and impotent (short of their fomenting serious social unrest). Every political movement needs demons lurking behind every problem -- the more hidden and omnipotent the better -- and the Koch Brothers now serve the same function for the Left as George Soros long served for the Right: the bogeymen who motivate the loyalists and on whom everything bad, including political losses, can be blamed.
There's no question in my mind that the unrestrained power over the political process and both political parties enjoyed by oligarchs is the single greatest political problem the country faces -- the overarching problem -- but in the scheme of corporate and oligarchical dominance, the Koch Brothers are a small part of that dynamic. Nor do I believe that they're motivated in their political activism by personal profit: for people with a net worth of $20 billion, there are vastly more efficient ways to convert one's wealth into greater wealth than spending money to influence public policy; I think they're True Believers.
That said, this Weekly Standard interview shows how delusional and extreme the Koch Brothers are -- though in ways quite representative of other resentful elites. Let's begin with this:
Ask Charles Koch what he thinks about Obama and he looks like he’s just bit into a lemon. "He's a dedicated egalitarian," Charles said. "I'm not saying he's a Marxist, but he's internalized some Marxist models -- that is, that business tends to be successful by exploiting its customers and workers."
David agreed. "He's the most radical president we’ve ever had as a nation," he said, "and has done more damage to the free enterprise system and long-term prosperity than any president we’ve ever had." David suggested the president’s radicalism was tied to his upbringing. "His father was a hard core economic socialist in Kenya," he said. "Obama didn’t really interact with his father face-to-face very much, but was apparently from what I read a great admirer of his father’s points of view. So he had sort of antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life. It just shows you what a person with a silver tongue can achieve."
So Barack Obama is a "dedicated egalitarian" who has "internalized Marxist" ideas in the Kenyan socialist tradition. Just compare that to actual facts. From The Huffington Post today:
Despite high unemployment and a largely languishing real estate market, U.S. businesses are more profitable than ever, according to federal figures released on Friday.
U.S. corporate profits hit an all-time high at the end of 2010, with financial firms showing some of the biggest gains, data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show. Corporations reported an annualized $1.68 trillion in profit in the fourth quarter. The previous record, without being adjusted for inflation, was $1.65 trillion in the third quarter of 2006.
Many of the nation's preeminent companies have posted massive increases in profits this year. General Electric posted worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, while profits at JPMorgan Chase were up 47 percent to $4.8 billion.
Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% -- from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest recieved a massive tax cut; the top marginal tax rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, "the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporations has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009." During this same time period, the unemployment rate has increased from 7.7% to 8.9%; millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed; and the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by many millions, the largest number since the statistic has been recorded. Can you smell Obama's radical egalitarianism and Marxist anti-business hatred yet?
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