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My Two Cents: The Billionaire Mostly-Boys’ Club, What Is It Good For?


Before I begin, let me acknowledge that some of you may not like what follows, may even judge it unseemly.  Let me stipulate that what I write about here does not apply to all of those who are wealthy.  Unfortunately, though, it applies far too often.  Now to “This Month in Unimaginable and  Unjustifiable Riches.” Let me set the stage…

In what some have described as the best 3 minute Carlin video ever, George Carlin quickly summarized Oligarchy, USA thus: It’s Our club and you ain’t in it.” (Note: Don’t watch if you are easily offended.) Poor Billionaires, our “owners,” are getting a bad rap.  So, recently, they decided to let you and me know how very good they are, how deserving of their status in the oligarchy, and how phenomenally lucky we are that they are so rich. Few questioned their wonderfulness.  With great fanfare oligarchs Bill Gates (such a nice young man, one family member of mine claims) and Warren Buffet spread their “good news.” They are “giving back” half of what they overcharged, reaped in ridiculously unfair salaries and hedged-funded us out of.  Others among the 38 include: Energy tycoon T-Boone Pickens, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Barry Diller, Ted Turner, construction billionaire Eli Broad, venture capitalist John Doerr, media entrepreneur Gerry Lenfest and former Cisco Systems Chairman John Morgridge. I put “giving back” in quotes because we aren’t exactly getting anything back.  You see, they get to decide what our priorities should be and what programs deserve funding.  (More on that in a moment.)  You kinda have to admire their stagecraft.

But there is another issue percolating to the surface and that’s the supposed “necessity” of extending the Bush tax cuts (you know, so they can be so generous to us).  So, not only does trickle down economics not work to produce jobs and a good economy, but also the rich as a group (that is to say, on average) don’t come through. Don’t let these guys fool you into believing that the wealthy as a group are generous. It’s surprising, even astounding: The poor with few resources give more proportionately of their “wealth” than the wealthy.  Here’s the evidence.  And there are other studies finding exactly the same thing.

But there’s more, not the least of which is how the gains enriching these folks occurred in the first place.  How do you praise a man enriched by charging four times what his products were worth?  Or a man who has, despite his extreme “largess” been part of the derivatives problem?  Or a woman who seduces women into buying more than they can afford, then trots out a financial “guru” to lecture them for spending too much.  But the billionaire oligarchs want you to feel grateful to them this week.  

They are giving half back: Half back to shutter our public schools (Hedge funds have a huge stake in school privateer companies. Oprah is involved in pushing Gates-style privatization too); half back for what some of the nation’s billionaires think is important, even, in some cases, the elimination of  Social Security. But the Trustees of Social Security said the very same week as the Buffett-Gates announcement that that system is healthy.  Also the same week, despite their PR, giant corporations killed net neutrality.  The FCC have abandoned efforts to support the concept.  As teacherken noted on this blog, this comes as the lights literally go out in America, when libraries shutter, and when roads are returned to gravel instead of paving.  Are you feeling lucky?

If you have not read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, I urge you too.  The path to stratospheric wealth by the select few in our nation is far, far from “earned.”  It is not that these individuals never worked hard.  I am sure they did.  But, as the author shows with specifics, at every step such “outliers” as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got breaks, privileges and even shortcuts not granted to others.  They got tax breaks and write- offs way beyond that any ordinary American ever gets (or could).  At some point most wealthy manufacturers and white collar “industries” get bailouts just to move to a locality.  Often these same corporations pick up and move when the tax breaks expire.  Meanwhile, they use local resources disproportionately.  And most of them claim they are self-made persons.  

Let’s look at just one example.  Recently, Teacherken described the efforts by Bill Gates to take over and privatize education.

Then there are his funders.   Those who closely follow educational issues are well aware of the role played by the family foundations of Eli Broad and Bill Gates, which are often together in their funding efforts.  Among the organizations they have helped fund are Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools.   They are among the groups included by Diane Ravitch in what she describes as the Billionaire Boys Club, the very wealthy (including also things the Walton family of Walmart) who use their wealth to drive educational policy in specific directions.  Many of the things supported by such people lack a research base.

It is worth noting that Broad and Gates funded an effort during the last election cycle to try to elevate education policy to a more important role, but of course with their idea of reform being the focus.   Gates has been providing money for states to prepare their applications for funds under the Race to the Top program – I remind you that some of the requirements for receiving funds under RttT include lifting caps on charter schools, lifting any bans on tying teacher compensation to student test scores, and selecting at least one of four proposed models for restructuring of failing schools.  None of the four methods has any research that supports it as an effective method, a point also made by Diane Ravitch.

Ken was easy on them.  These individuals do us no favors.  Even Buffett is part of the problem. What if he has not profiteered excessively on the derivatives market?  What if he had organized a reform movement?  How bout better policing of Wall Street?  (Ooops, Bill Gates is not listening.) How much wealth is enough?  Is he ever satisfied?  

I will give Warren Buffet credit for one thing.  Previously, he has argued extensively for more fair tax policy.  Now, not so much.  I don’t hear the others doing so.  What if he –and they–put their weight behind (rather than just talked about) fairer tax policy the way Peter Peterson does the opposite?  What if Buffet had real “Tea Parties,” with a new name, of course, and told the truth to Americans instead of the Glenn Beck-ian fallacies and hatred visible at those events now?  What if they all campaigned to protect us from the efforts to privatize Social Security instead of, in some cases, supporting it. What if they lobbied for an end to NCLB or RTTT?  How bout fair employment practices, fair wages, stopping outsourcing, consumer protection, an end to the gouging of communications corporations? What if they worked to end the class war, not stoke it?  Let us eat cake while they and their foundations (and the family members who run them) choose who is worthy?   No, they do this because it is the mission of oligarchs to control everything.  It is their usurping the national consensus that is the problem.  It should not be theirs to decide.  The national consensus brought us the great improvements of the 20th Century. And these same folks work to undermine it.

Finally, it is not altruism when one does what one does with great fanfare.  It is anything but altruism.  I know, it could be worse.  Those enriching themselves like, say, Dick Cheney for wealth and power’s sake alone are in a class by themselves.  But, as I stated above, all of them, even the supposed beneficent ones, wage class warfare on us every day.  No press release can change that.  Nice guys do not try to destroy public education in America increase tax breaks for the rich, or try to kill the livelihoods of seniors.  But the PR machine keeps rolling along.  And where are the voices questioning it?  Have you heard any?


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