A Looming Gilded Age: Capital, Affluence & Influence

piketty-capital-coverIf books could kill, the attempted oligarchic takeover of America would be dead this week and Wall Street would be flushed clean of villains, leaving a healthy and vibrantly flat-competitive capitalism, in its wake. The best seller lists swarm with fact-filled appraisals that should sway any portion of the population (that reads) into action.

For example, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century became a Number 1 bestseller at Amazon, around the same time that Senator Elizabeth Warren released her book A Fighting Chance — about how Washington works, and fails to work.

Another hot book is Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, the latest from Michael Lewis on the most recent form of mass-scamming on Wall Street. (I’ve written about this important book, elsewhere, pointing out how even Lewis missed the worst implication of High Speed Trading, that it might – in a weird way – lead to no less than human extinction!)

Affluence-InfluenceAnd now — Martin Gilens’s Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America was an award-winner in political science last year. His new tome “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” conclusively proves that elites get their way in public policy, far more readily than the People do.

Duh, you say? So you shrug that it is obvious? Alas, your complacency is death to democracy.

Picketty’s may be the most important of these books, zeroing in – supported by clear statistics – on how America’s seventy year, post WWII vacation from class war has clearly come to an end. That long, prosperous truce — the most productive and liberating and egalitarian time in all of human history — can only be re-established if we first have to guts to recognize why it finally failed.

It is still possible to reform with moderate measures, like those one hundred years ago that Teddy Roosevelt used to restore and safeguard the middle class against a looming Gilded Age… or those that half a century later led to the flattest and most socially mobile continental society in history, with a booming middle class and the greatest surge in entrepreneurial growth and startup capitalism, in the wake of that other Roosevelt*…

ClassWarLessonsHistory…or else if such moderate, re-tuning reforms don’t come, as Elizabeth Warren warns in her book, we may tumble back into the normal human mode of 6000 years, a pyramid-shaped society of aristocratic rule in which the only options remaining to oppressed masses will resemble those used by the mobs, in 1789 France.

Truly smart rich folk would see that trend, and thereupon join leaders like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, fighting to maintain a middle class civilization… where they just happen to be rich, but not lords. The tech moguls and creative types are behind Buffett and Gates.

(I portray some discussions about this taking place among trillionaires, in the 2040s, in EXISTENCE.)

Alas, those who got rich via resource extraction from public lands, or by inheriting it, or through predatory Wall Street manipulations, seem to want to be like Louis XVI lords. Their behaviors and public statements stunningly resemble those of the Bourbon First Estate. Their reactions to Picketty et al, via messengers like Paul Ryan, are not about negotiation or finding moderate reforms. They clamor, in full frontal attack mode, a no-compromise stance of absolute determination.

As my friend the epic producer of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski paraphrased recently (with his flair for drama), in The New Aristocracy, they appear to be saying: “We will be your lords. Feudalism is back. Live with it.”

== What about those reforms? ==

Lessig-PACProfessor Lawrence Lessig — one of the archetype Rooseveltean reformers — has introduced a SuperPAC, Mayday for the Republic, with the stated purpose of destroying SuperPACs. His plan is to raise enough money from small donations to “buy Congress” and destroy the oligarchical donor system from the inside. (The goal is 5 Mayday-aligned House reps in 2014, then raise enough money to “buy Congress” in 2016.)

Terrific. Give your support.

But as you know, I go to an even more basic level — transparency. And so LittleSis.org is a free database of who-knows-who at the heights of business and government… aiming to be the antidote to… Big Brother. get it? Pretty much the epitome of citizen-crowdsources sousveillance. This must grow.

Better yet, fight complacency and do what really counts, by reminding all of those who are tempted to sit out the coming mid-term elections:

“It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”

== YOUR bill for foreign tax dodges ==

LOOMING-GILDED-AGEU.S. taxpayers would need to pay an average of $1,259 more a year to make up the federal and state taxes lost to corporations and individuals sheltering money in overseas tax havens, according to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “…ordinary taxpayers end up picking up the tab, either in the form of higher taxes, cuts to public spending priorities, or increases to the federal debt,” USPIRG said.”

In total, the U.S. loses $150 billion in federal revenue and another $34 billion in state revenue annually because of money parked in tax havens. That’s almost 5 percent of total federal revenue.

Um… can we let that sink in? that’s $1,200 out of YOUR pocket, every year. Is this “transparency thing” still an abstraction to you?

See where I explore this (Money Flows that Might Prevent New World Wars)…though I do it more entertainingly in EARTH!

And tangentially in a recent posting: Future Perspectives: Does the ACLU at last understand surveillance?

== Am I a “liberal? ==

ReclaimAdamSmithSome out there interpret my opposition to an ongoing oligarchic putsch and the new American Gilded Age as evidence that “David Brin is a Liberal” — despite the fact that no one alive mentions (or touts) Adam Smith more than I do.

Yes I do support liberals (though not leftists) nowadays, for the most part. But that is entirely because of the New Confederacy’s blatant abandonment of the old, conservatism of intellects like Buckley and Goldwater and the GOP’s open declaration of its intent to ensure that governance fails.  Their agenda of a return to feudalism and the War on Science. In fact, I yearn for the return of a “smithian” libertarianism that might serve as a foil and intelligent balance to reformist liberalism.

If that sounds a bit obscure, then let’s just keep returning to that oligarchic putsch — the skyrocketing wealth and income disparities that seem to be a natural, toxic byproduct when cheating (an inborn human tendency) starts to spoil and ruin the brilliance of smithian market competition.

If we are returning to that age old failure mode, it makes no sense to feel rage — this is the most natural thing that humans do, when they get power!

We can fix it. Without the insane oversimplifying radicalisms of “all capitalism is evil!” or “all government is evil!” or similar, loony symptoms of “fused political spine disease”… the inability to turn one’s head and see flaws in all directions.

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