Super Wealthy CEOs Help Crush the American Worker, Then Cry About Class Warfare
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I ran into my friend Jeff Madrick a few weeks ago. Like a rabbit out of a hat, or so it seemed, he whipped from his coat a copy of his new book, Age of Greed.
He gave the book to me and I'm grateful. It's a compelling and worthy read. Jeff's an able journalist; an excellent and cogent storyteller in a field that often defies the straightforward plot or easy explanation -- economics.
The book's subtitle says it all: "The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present;" an ongoing saga of avarice told through profiles of the men who confidently strode forth and marched us smack into the middle of our current fiscal nightmare.
Milton Friedman, Richard Nixon, Ivan Boesky, Ronald Reagan, Michael Milken, Alan Greenspan, Ken Lay, Walter Wriston of Citicorp and Sandy Weill of Citigroup, Lehman Brothers' Richard Fuld -- they're all here and more, presidents and economists, CEO's and masters of the universe, a veritable Murderers' Row of the rich and frequently reckless.
As Jeff writes in the introduction, the first part of Age of Greed "is mostly a story of business pioneers who fought government regulation or, through innovation, escaped government oversight," building on fear from punishing inflation in the seventies and a new post-Watergate distrust of government, "all the while diminishing the power of government and reinforcing the changing national attitudes."
In the second part, "Once government was no longer a counterweight and a new political ideology cleared their path, financiers led the way... Debts more than innovation and technological progress became the economy's driving force. Financial businesses doubled in size compared to the economy and profits grew still faster. Hundreds of billions of precious American savings were wasted."
I thought of all this last week when I read a report headlined "Fly on the Wall," on the website Politico.com:
"Fifty of the most prized donors in national politics, including several hedge-fund billionaires who are among the richest people in the world, schlepped to a Manhattan office or hovered around speakerphones Tuesday afternoon as their host, venture capitalist Ken Langone, a co-founder of The Home Depot, implored New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to reconsider and seek the GOP presidential nomination."
Yikes. That prospect alone is enough to make sensible men and women weep. But wait, there's more.
Among those in attendance were at least three worthy of inclusion on Forbes' list of richest Americans -- Paul Tudor Jones (hedge funds; $3.3 billion), Stan Druckenmiller (hedge funds; $2.5 billion) and Bernie Marcus (Home Depot; $1.9 billion). According to Politico, "Several of them said: I'm Republican but I voted for President Obama, because I couldn't live with Sarah Palin. Many said they were severely disappointed in the president. The biggest complaint was what several called 'class warfare.' They said they didn't understand what they had done to deserve that: If you want to have a conversation about taxation, have a conversation. But a president shouldn't attack his constituents -- he's not the president of some people, he's president of all the people. Someone mentioned Huey Long populism."
Huey Long populism? Give me a break. Barack Obama's about as much like Huey Long as I am Huey Newton of the Black Panthers (or Huey Lewis and the News, come to that). And as for class warfare, give me a double break. Who the hell started it? "There's class warfare, all right," Warren Buffett told The New York Times two years before the 2008 crash, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."