Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Mind Of The Plutocrat

The other day I wrote a brief post on the Koch brothers, accompanied by a video highlighting some of their very nefarious involvement in the climate-denial business. Fellow blogger The Mound of Sound, who spends a great deal of time on the climate-change file, offered the following observation about the evil pair:

They are deliberately and quite knowingly condemning today's kids and their children to come to enormous hardship and suffering, perhaps even worse.

Reflecting upon his observation, at supper I said to my wife that those who pour millions into fueling the industry of climate-denial (and without question almost all of them do it, not out of conviction but for the selfish advancement of their own pecuniary and ideological imperatives) are truly evil; they almost seem to emulate the stereotypical villains found throughout the years in James Bond films. Think, for example, of Ernest Stavro Blofeld or Auric Goldfinger, both bent on world domination, and I don't think you are far off understanding the sheer malignity of those who would condemn future generalizations to hell on earth.

The other day, I talked to my friend Dom, enjoying a sojourn in Florida, and the topic turned to the Koch brothers and the general attitude of indifference that the plutocrats show towards the collective. Dom said that they are so used to having their own way, and, moving as they do in such rarefied self-reinforcing circles, see themselves and their actions as beyond reproach.

Fortuitously, at about the same time I talked to Dom, I read a piece by The New York Time's Paul Krugman echoing Dom's observation. Entitled Paranoia of the Plutocrats, Krugman offers the following observations:

... the rich are different from you and me.

And yes, that’s partly because they have more money, and the power goes with it. They can and all too often do surround themselves with courtiers who tell them what they want to hear and never, ever, tell them they’re being foolish. They’re accustomed to being treated with deference, not just by the people they hire but by politicians who want their campaign contributions. And so they are shocked to discover that money can’t buy everything, can’t insulate them from all adversity.

Emblematic of their shock and their outrage, as cited by Krugman, is the recent letter the billionaire investor Tom Perkins, a founding member of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, sent to the New York Times, in which he made this odious 'comparison':

I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

...This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?

Yet this overblown, even hysterical rhetoric is not limited to Mr. Perkins. As Krugman pointed out in a piece last year, others in this 'persecuted' minority are speaking up as well.

Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of the American International Group (AIG), the giant insurance company that played a crucial role in creating the global economic crisis, felt ill-used over the public outrage that accompanied the continuation of large executive bonuses after its massive government bailout:

He compared the uproar over bonuses to lynchings in the Deep South — the real kind, involving murder — and declared that the bonus backlash was “just as bad and just as wrong.”

But wait; there's more! Back in 2010 Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, declared that proposals to eliminate tax loopholes for hedge fund and private-equity managers were “like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

As Krugman points out, normal people in a democracy accept criticism, however grudgingly (clearly, he is not acquainted with Harper and his cabal - but he did say normal people, didn't he?):

Normal people take it in stride; even if they’re angry and bitter over political setbacks, they don’t cry persecution, compare their critics to Nazis and insist that the world revolves around their hurt feelings. But the rich are different from you and me.

In addition to his earlier observation of how the ultra-rich are so insulated from real life as an explanation for their pique, Krugman offers this:

I also suspect that today’s Masters of the Universe are insecure about the nature of their success. We’re not talking captains of industry here, men who make stuff. We are, instead, talking about wheeler-dealers, men who push money around and get rich by skimming some off the top as it sloshes by. They may boast that they are job creators, the people who make the economy work, but are they really adding value? Many of us doubt it — and so, I suspect, do some of the wealthy themselves, a form of self-doubt that causes them to lash out even more furiously at their critics.

Perhaps John Steinbeck, in his great novel The Grapes of Wrath, said it best when referring to the wealthy landowners who exploited so many of their fellow human beings:

If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he's poor in hisself, there ain't no million acres gonna make him feel rich.


  1. An excellent post, Lorne. All I can add is that some plutocrats like to pose as everymen -- like, for instance, the brothers Ford. As Holden CaulfieId said, they're phoneys.

    1. Thank you, Owen. It is a sad reality today that deception seems to be the order of the day. Phrases like 'working families' and 'the middle class' are frequently simply propaganda tools to further advance the financial interests of the elite while making the life of the average person more difficult.

    2. An outstanding and illuminating post !!

  2. .. in the lulls between previous & next scandal, attack on democracy, betrayal, ignorance.. your post and several others speak to the same question & reality. As Mound asked, why single out our PM, Stephen Harper? And as you point out.. the leverage & financial muscle.. the fixers & bagmen are the likes of the Koch Bros etc.. Gersteins, energy conglomerates, brokerages etc

    We need contrast - comparison - foil .. ie we need heroes that by nature make the villain obvious.. and a little effective illumination of the villains' actions never hurt either.

    My premise? We have a ludicrous dank tragicomedy underway in Canada.. Its essentially beyond belief what is underway, full steam ahead in Ottawa, Calgary, Bay Street, Victoria.. indeed across the great country..

    So .. who is the 'anti-Harper' ? The perfect opposite of P Poilievre ? The perfect antidote to Jenni Byrne or Ray Novak? Or the antithesis of Joe Oliver or Julian Fantino? Need these heroes be politicians? I don't believe so.. but they must have or gain exceptional popular support.

    Must our needed heroes even be real? Or can they be symbolic, fictional altruistic? Hmm.. I keep thinking cohesive groupthink or lateral thinking problem solving can brainstorm, debunk and resolve the Harper Blight Canada is beset by.

    Brilliant solutions are not that difficult to identify..
    But executing them.. the mechanisms of accomplishing them often do take some funding or alternative approach.. The musings of Sun Tzu offer interesting solutions.. but I tend to look at even more methodical or radical options..

    What if all opposition publicly refused to contest the next federal election? A complete refusal to engage a government that refuses to support investigation of electoral fraud during the previous election? Yes we are a 3rd world in this regard.

    What if marine pilots refused to pilot Chinese tankers off the BC coast? What if military veterans and their families vowed to withhold their votes? Or seniors occupied the lawns in front of the Peace Tower? Or Canadians refused to eat commercial salmon? How about not just no local mail delivery, how about zero mail functions whatsoever? Or the threat of massive withdrawals from bank accounts? The list is endless of critical issues that Canadians could identify and act on.. that would freeze the Harper Conundrum in its tracks ..

    Letters to MP's ? To what quantifiable result? Letters to Ministries? May as well comment to the Toronto Sun.. or pray to Enbridge.

    The only thing the self serving Harper Factions fear & understand is POWER .. or DISGRACE.. Losing Face .. losing Votes, Polls .. and their profits or money.
    Unfortunately, its all or nothing with the Harper thugs. They need to be driven from Parliament ASAP .. another election will just be even more farcical.

    The population of Canada is going to have to do the job.. and to do so..
    they need to be awake, angry, untrusting, loud.. and powerful .. demanding !
    We do not serve or represent this government.. or its values
    they were elected to serve & represent us .. and reflect our values

    1. As always, Salamander, you have innovative and provocative ideas with which to fight these detestable times and this detestable regime. With you reference to heroes, I can think of a few, but none of them are politicians who, these days, seem driven by the same goal as an end in itself: power.

      Your examples of united and collective actions as tangible and far-reaching protests are very interesting, but as you say in your last paragraph, :The population of Canada is going to have to do the job.. and to do so... they need to be awake, angry, untrusting, loud.. and powerful .. demanding !

      How do we, as concerned citizens, help ignite the spark that will propel people into anger and action? That is the question that always stymies me, and the only answer I can ever think of is to do our best to inform the public of the problems confronting us that require collective action. But something more needs to be added to the mix, and absent inspiring and galvanizing and heroic leadership, I'm not sure what it is.

  3. I attended a function last night in Pt. Alberni co-hosted by the B.C. Green Party. The speaker was Canada's first Green MLA and leading climate scientist, Andrew Weaver.

    The professor discussed how today's youth are effectively isolated from the political process by political parties that see them as unreliable voters and, instead, curry the favour of the geezer vote which doesn't give a fig for what the future holds twenty, forty, sixty years from now.

    The youth see this and know there's really nothing for them in today's mainstream politics so they either lapse into cynicism or join in extra-political alternatives. Every one of our main political parties embraces Canada as a petro-state, every damned one of them.

    Weaver gave a fine examination of British Columbia's bountiful alternative, clean energy options - far surpassing anything else in the country - and yet we're saddled with governments that would rather peddle coal, bitumen and LNG in service to the Fossil Fuelers.

    I get roundly condemned by some who feel that a determination to oust Harper constitutes them as progressives.

    1. So many of our current problems seem to relate to a disaffected citizenry that is disengaged from the political process, Mound. The problem of youth disengagement is particularly disturbing, but they need to somehow realize that to disengage because mainstream politics offers them little is simply to exacerbate the problem. The same applies to older Canadians who have given up on politics.

      A quiescent and disengaged populace is not a volatile one; the threat of volatility to politicians who embrace the status quo, the petro-state parties, as you call them, Mound, is only there if enough people turn out at elections to show that issues are important to them, and that politicians ignore those issues at their peril.

      Maybe in some ways my comments are pie-in-the-sky, but until a critical mass forms, i don't see that our 'leaders' have any incentive to turn away from their disastrous policies.

  4. Lorne, I believe it is on our parties and our political leadership to reach out to young voters by implementing agendas that speak to their worries and their interests. We have to realize that, generally speaking, our generation's interests and theirs are not inherently coterminous and we have to give theirs at least as much priority as we do ours. We have been running this game to suit ourselves far too long. Just because we hold the cards doesn't mean they're not entitled to as fair a deal as we've been giving ourselves.

    1. I completely agree with your view, Mound, as I think most reasonable people would. However, it does become something of a chicken-or-egg situation, since most politicians, in my view, don't think like most of us. Until youth give a reason to be courted i.e. show themselves to be an electoral force to be reckoned with, I don't see policies addressing their very legitimate concerns being formulated.

      Someone like Justin Trudeau may be interested in appealing to the youth vote, but the courtship he is indulging in seems premised on style rather than substance. None of his policies,at least the few he has deigned to reveal, seem particularly geared to the concerns of youth, and that includes his stated intention to legalize marijuana.