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America Is Ruled by Billionaires, and They Are Coming After the Last Shreds of Our Democracy

America is a plutocracy through and through -- what are we going to do about it?

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Plutocracy in the current American style is having pernicious effects that go beyond the dominant influence of the rich on the nation’s economy and government. It is setting precedents and modeling the unaccountability and irresponsibility that is pervading executive power throughout the society. Two successive presidential administrations and two decades of rogue behavior by corporate elites have set norms now evident in institutions as diverse as universities and think tanks, the military and professional associations. The cumulative result is a widespread degrading of standards in the uses and abuses of power.

Plutocracy also raises social tensions in society. Logically, the main line of tension should be between the plutocrats and the rest – or, at least, between them and all those with modest means. But that is not the case in the United States. While it is true that there were bitter words about the Wall Street moguls and their bailouts during the first year or so after the financial collapse, it never became the main line of political division. Today, outrage has abated and politics is all about austerity and debts rather than the distribution of wealth and the power that goes along with it.The deep-seated sense of anxiety and grievance that pervades the populace manifests in outbreaks of hostile competition among groups who are in fact themselves all victims of the plutocrats’ success in grabbing for themselves most of the country’s wealth – thereby leaving the rest of us to fight for the leftovers. So, it is private sector employees pitted against government employees because the latter have (some) health insurance, some pension and some security relative to the former who have been shorn of all three. It’s parents worried about their kids’ education against teachers. Both against cash strapped local authorities. Municipalities vs states. It’s the small businessman against unions and health insurance requirements. It’s doctors against patients against administrators. It’s university administrators against faculty and against students, faculty against students in competing for a much reduced appropriations. It’s all of those against boards of regents and state governors.

It’s everyone frustrated by the ever sharpening contrast between hopes and aspirations and darkening realities of what they might expect for themselves and their children. Meanwhile, the folks at the top wait confidently and expectantly above the fray they have engineered – ever ready to swoop down to strip the remains of combat by way of privatized public assets, no-bid contracts, tax and regulatory havens, commercially owned toll roads, student loan monopolies, rapacious buying up of foreclosed properties with federal incentives, and myriad tax breaks.

President Obama used his State of the Union Address to send the message loud and clear. “Let me put colleges and universities on notice” he warned, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.” He thereby set forth a line of reasoning that put him on the same wavelength as Rick Perry. For the reality is the exact opposite. It is because funding has gone down by 2/3 over the past few decades that colleges and universities are obliged to raise tuition – despite flat-lining faculty and staff salaries.   This is the essence of intellectual conditioning to the plutocracy’s self-serving dogma and the suborning of public authorities by the plutocracy. Beyond capture, it is assimilation.

Does this sort of perverse pride go before the fall? No sign of that happening yet. Plutocracy in America is more likely to be our destiny. The growing dynastic factor operating within the financial plutocracy militates in that direction. Wealth itself has always been transferred from one generation to another, of course; reduced inheritance taxes along with lower rates at upper income brackets generally accentuate that tendency. With socio-economic mobility in American society slipping, it gains further momentum. Something approaching a caste identity is forming among the financial elites – as personified by Jaime Dimon who is the third generation of Wall Street stockbrokers/financial managers in his family – his father an Executive Director at American Express where the young Dimon joined forces with Sandy Weill.  As a revealing coda to this generational tale, Dimon, last year, hired his 81 year old father to work for JP Morgan Chase. His father’s first-year salary was $447,000;  slated to rise to $1.6 million – now that he has some work experience under his belt, presumably.  A sense of limits is not part of the financial plutocracy’s persona.

 
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