Bill Moyers: The Plutocracy Will Go to Extremes to Keep the 1% in Control
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BILL MOYERS: You write about some of these super rich, not only with insight, but with empathy. That is, you've gotten to talk to a lot of them. You have moved among them as a financial journalist, been to Davos and other places like that. And I'm wondering, how did you crack what is clearly a tight knit world?
CHRYSTIA FREELAND: Well, I guess the way journalists do it, just by talking to people, writing about them. I think you write stories that show people that actually you're interested in what they're doing. And what I would also say is, you know, I believe in capitalism. And I also actually believe in globalization and the technology revolution. If you gave me the option of turning the clock back to the 1950s, I wouldn't do it. Partly because I'm a woman and things were not that great for us then.
BILL MOYERS: Well.
CHRYSTIA FREELAND: And, you know, it's important, you know, I think a mistake that the left can make in criticizing income inequality is to behave as if this is entirely a political confection. It's entirely about political capture. There are no genuine, legitimate and actually benign economic forces driving it. Because I think there are. I think the winner take all economic dynamic is something that is existing separate from the politics. The politics in the United States are exacerbating that division rather than mitigating it.
But I do think that when you pull back and look at the global picture, which is something that was important for me to do in the book, it becomes a little bit harder to say, "this particular American tax break," or even, "this particular American financial reform is the only thing driving income inequality," because the really remarkable thing is the extent to which this is a global phenomenon.
It's happening across the western industrialized world. I'm Canadian. So I'm practically born a socialist in the view of many Americans. But even in Canada, income inequality is increasing. It's even, you know, for a while in the economic literature the one outlier was France. And so, insofar as economists make jokes they would say, "oh, the French. They have to be exceptional even in this area." But now you're seeing it increase in France too. And you're seeing it increase in the emerging market economies. So I think we do have to accept that there are some economic drivers.
Now those economic drivers are partly put in place by the politics. It was politics that allowed globalization to happen. And in the United States really crucially, and I think you can't emphasize this too much. Look at what happened with the tax code. I mean, in the 1950s, this era when America felt itself to be a very conservative society, and it was, the top marginal tax rate was above 90 percent.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, 91 percent, I believe.
CHRYSTIA FREELAND: Right, just think about that. Imagine if Barack Obama had said in the debate this week, "You know what Governor Romney? I think America in the '50s was a wonderful place. That was the age of the greatest generation. They, too, faced a real budget deficit they had to pay off. And the people at the very top were willing to pay a 90 percent top marginal tax rate. Would you be willing to do that, Governor?" I mean, imagine if he had said that.
BILL MOYERS: You cover some of the same crowd that Chrystia's writing about, but you do so with a, with complete irreverence. Do you still gain access to them? Or have all the doors been slammed in your face?