George Soros, international investor and bugaboo of Trumpist autocrats because he funds liberal causes. But he is hardly the only political billionaire, and big money people and institutions now buy all of our nation’s successful politics.
This will be a rather distressing column by me. I am a pessimist these days when contemplating the future of American democracy. But please hear me out :
You can’t have a democracy if the voters who actually democratize have no money in the game. As things go in the age of Citizens United, almost all the money in political campaigns comes from the well off and institutions. Ordinary wage workers cam barely pay their bills. They don’t have money to donate; or, if they do donate, its small beer. Meanwhile, vast pools of parked money form PACs with millions of dollars that flood the field.
Ordinary wage workers earn better pay now than ever before, but even the current $ 15/hour to $ 17/hour pay that’s available pales before the costs of housing, food, car loans, kids’ clothes, utilities, and credit card debt. I mention credit cards because in America these past 50 years, credit cards have enabled consumers to spend forward — spend money before they actually have it — thus expanding the economy beyond what actual money in it would otherwise permit. The use of forwarded money has turned once free people into indebted servants whose waking hours become lashed to the need to pay debts: and yes, you pay that carded debt because in our economy, if your credit is taken away, you are truly screwed. It’s bad enough that a wage earner can’t save a dime. And if his access to loans is lost, he is the helpless if a bill comes due before he gets his next paycheck. (I speak of paychecks here because at least those who work can foresee a payday. Those who live on public assistance are even worse off and an entirely different condition beyond the scope of this column. We are here discussing those who at least do generate money.)
The higher-paid can save at least a retirement account — against which they can borrow, of course; those who generate money in our economy are always able to borrow their futures — and of course can obtain much larger borrowings than can the average wage earner. Yet even they are not fully free. If they ca take on larger dollar forwards, their obligations likewise become bigger. The monkey on their backs is a gorilla. We like to think that the buyer of a $ 750,000 home is a very lucky person. But in our economy, with a good credit score he or she need pay in actual money as little as $ 37,500 of that $ 750,000; the rest is borrowed i what usually these days is a 40 year mortgage — a lifelong indebtedness which becomes a financial death sentence if the borrower loses his or her job. And if that job requires a 70 or 75 hour work week — because the pressures of venture capitalized start ups create almost unbearable competition ? Well, you grab hold of your cubicle ad you work those 70 or 75 hours.
This doesn’t feel a whole lot like freedom, at least not to me.
But there is worse to tell. The lender of that $ 712,250 forty-year debt servitude doesn’t have to wait for his money to be repaid. In today’s America he sells the promissory note to a investor — actually, he packages the $ 712,250 note with hundreds or even thousand more like it and sells the bundle to a huge hedge fund or other owner of uselessly parked money who earns a “management” fee for buying and selling 440-year promissory notes. Such fee can tally a billion dollars or more, out of which the recipient can fund one of those vast PACs which control what is said, and to who, by our big political campaigns. Which campaigns thus become mouthpieces not for the ordinary worker — barely even for the borrower of a $ 712,250 mortgage — but for the buyers of hundreds of huge promissory notes.
It works both sides of the campaigns, by the way. Investment managers have differing views, and they buy the political purveyors of each such view. Said buyers spend vast amounts of campaign time begging for this sort of money — much, much more time than they spend campaigning to ordinary voters. Oh sure, they’ll film a scene at a wage earners; diner, maybe, just to show that they do care about voters, but though we used to be fooled by these, we no longer are. We know the deal now. We know that we do not count.
Which is why voter turnout has trended downward. Recently this has changed, but the reason is different. In the past six years or so, culminating with the rise of Trump, a bitter, angry, and increasingly intolerant opposition as arisen to the above scenario, a movement of the left out, of those who do not share the corporate, institutional view of what our politics should be doing. We choose to call the arisen situation “culture wars” because the new angry opposition tends to focus on the libertine preferences of those who back he corporate wish lists: but actually the left out are, mostly, being left out of the money trends. The views espoused by the corporate, and mostly urban money elite come with actual changes fueled by money. : development and demolition in the name of “housing crisis”; billions for public transportation and vast new impediments for the autonomous automobile — the most vital instrument of personal liberty to come along in the last 200 years — in the name of climate crisis”; and “diversity, equity and inclusion” demands, in the name of “marginalized” people, assumed to be people of color, when the actual marginalizeds are the old line, mostly ethnic (but also of color) wage earners who stocked the old, pre-credit card economy.
The authoritarian tactics of this angry opposition, and its antipathy to our old Constitutional order, are intended to threaten the bases of the big money, urban “progress” interests. It would be a true people’s movement, of a kind our nation has seen before, except that it isn’t. Big money fuels this autocracy too. Why ? Simple : it’s a ;profit opportunity for media moguls who have grabbed (and helped voice) a customer base. That the means by which these “hate profiteers” (as my cousin Chris Mugglebee calls them) put our Constitution in jeopardy doesn’t seem to worry them. Maybe they know something we should know about the power of big money to override political devices meant to protect the average voter ?
Let me add one more observation. The angry autocrats of Trump world often view people of color as their enemy because people of color overwhelmingly vote for those whom the rump world hates. But the angry opposition is more and more attracting wage earners of color who see that the well off and corporate demolishers and developers, new economy industries and work from home consultants are coming for them as well as for the old ethnics. We would be celebrating this gathering coalition of the financially crushed, a coalition envisioned by Bobby Kennedy 60 years ago, except that those who fund the movement’s candidates (and its media) want only the angry people’s votes. As for money, they want it all. They envision, even openly propose, draconian decreases in wages and benefits including the phasing out of social security. Under their autocratic rule, where bought legislators overrule popular votes in elections, the ordinary wage voter has even less chance than she has under progressive crisis rule. At least the progressives have yet to propose overriding popular votes or to stymie the installation of duly elected Presidents. Yet what comfort is this seeming adherence to Constitutional order, when the progressive crisis coalition has the money to buy campaigns which employ racial fears, climate doomsdays, and housing chimeras — not to mention the profit opportunities in each — as a sure means of marshalling urban votes even from the financially crushed ?
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere