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December 1, 2015

the new plutocracy

Here's a nice long read from yesterday that you should have read, or at least skimmed the first/last paragraphs so you can pretend that you have read, concerning how the state of Illinois was bought and paid for. I know, I'm a silly progressive and always exaggerating to make a point and probably a violent criminal, but no, this case could not be more clear if someone found a check written for a couple hundred million dollars with "Buying State of Illinois" in the memo line:
...[Billionaire Kenneth C.] Griffin and a small group of rich supporters -- not just from Chicago, but also from New York City and Los Angeles, southern Florida and Texas -- have poured tens of millions of dollars into the state, a concentration of political money without precedent in Illinois history.

Their wealth has forcefully shifted the state's balance of power. Last year, the families helped elect as governor Bruce Rauner, a Griffin friend and former private equity executive from the Chicago suburbs, who estimates his own fortune at more than $500 million. Now they are rallying behind Mr. Rauner's agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state's pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions.

This actually got a little play out there in the world (and it's a world crowded with takes that border on atrocity these days), but there's an aspect of this that is a little discrete that I want to emphasize. There's a shorthand that these billionaires that are buying up governments are "conservative Republicans," and that is not entirely the case. These Gilded Age Patriarchs are most certainly conservative, in the Nelson Rockefeller sense, but they are not necessary long-time, Chamber-of-Commerce Republicans:

Most of them lean Republican; some are Democrats. But to a remarkable degree, their philosophies are becoming part of a widely adopted blueprint for public officials around the country: Critical of the power of unions, many are also determined to reduce spending and taxation, and are skeptical of government-led efforts to mitigate the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.

They're not poli-sci ideologues as much as they are greedy one-percenters who don't believe in the function of government. They bitch about their taxes, they think of employee-negotiated pensions as some unfunded obligation on the backs of taxpayers, they don't think that workers should be protected, etc. They're robber barons, and they're no more beholden to the Republican Party (or whatever will be left of it after Donald Trump is done with it) than they are beholden to Santa Claus.

The piece is worth a read.

And ancillary to all of this is the very interesting sidebar of whether we live in a plutocracy or an oligarchy, and as it is interesting and a binary choice, let's step on the neck of this sidebar before it metastasizes into yet another facile disagreement ripping social media in twain. The unseen hands that control the government are both few and wealthy; either term will do, as long as your intent is to demonstrate how basically powerless everyone in this representative democracy is these days.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:51 AM