May 1, 2010

Free Market Elitists Gone Wild!!

By In Essays

We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

— Tyler Durden

Last month there was a video clip circulating of former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush walking amidst the wreckage in Haiti and shaking hands with the survivors of the earthquake.

Clinton, of course, was totally in his element. Bush, on the other hand, looked more than a little uncomfortable walking through the slums surrounded by hundreds of wide-eyed desperate black people.

At one point in the clip Bush shakes hands with a Haitian guy and then nonchalantly wipes his paw on Clinton’s shirt. I assume the guy Bush shook hands with had a sweaty palm and Bush wanted to wipe the guy’s perspiration from his hand.

But on Clinton’s shirt? Would you wipe your sweaty paw on a former president’s shirt? Well, maybe on Clinton’s shirt-but you know what I mean. It’s a pretty indelicate thing to do.

This is not new for Bush. There is another video of him wiping his reading glasses on a female stage manager’s skirt on David Letterman’s show. No one made a big deal about it. Actually, compared to what Bush did to the country for the eight years he was in office, it was a trifle.

In fact, most commentators in the mainstream media sloughed if off as just one more stupid Bush faux pas. You know what a dumb ass old George is: hah, hah, hah!

No argument there. But I think there’s more to it than that. What Bush did to Clinton and to Letterman’s stage manager is emblematic of a distinct and despicable brand of elitism that began when Ronald Reagan, the “amiable dunce,” became president.

Backed by influential individuals like Milton Freidman, William F. Buckley Jr., and other conservative luminaries who hated FDR for being a “liberal” and a “socialist,” Reagan was tasked to sell the so-called virtues of “self interest” and the “free market” to the mass public. And so he did.

This led to a reverse kind of noblesse oblige during Reagan’s two terms in office, continued during the Bush Senior/ Clinton years, and reached its nastiest incarnation during the Bush Junior years. By then the elite class viewed average Americans as pathetic schlubs, not worthy of anything other than their scorn or indifference. Lost your home? Read the fine print next time! Lost your job? Tough titty! Don’t have affordable health care? Use the emergency room!

And this carried over to all areas of the culture. When super elitist golfer Tiger Woods got caught cheating on his wife, he said he felt “entitled” to his extra-curricular sexual liaisons. In other words, I’m not just a working stiff like the rest of you– I’m rich, I’m famous, I’ve got the backing of corporate America – I’m entitled.

In a way it reminds me of the line in the History of the World: Part One where Mel Brooks says, “It’s good to be the king!” as he skeet shoots commoners flying through the air for his amusement.

For decades, many Americans bought into this economic philosophy, thinking maybe they too could be rich and famous someday. As Donald Trump once observed: “The average guy doesn’t hate me; he wants to be me.” And though I hate to admit it, Trump was right.

Since the 1980s many average Americans were convinced that becoming rich and famous was the crowning glory in a capitalist society, even if it meant selling one’s soul, or committing a little fraud. Moreover, they were convinced that anyone could do it in America if they had a dream and just tried hard enough.

Unfortunately, this delusional mind set, promoted by the corporate media and the self-help gurus, defied not only logic but common sense. Worse, it allowed the upper one percent of the population to get rich beyond their wildest dreams without any serious blowback from the general population, who were still faithfully “visualizing” their success, writing down daily affirmations, and patiently awaiting their turn to become rich and famous– despite the fact that the probability of this occurring was roughly the same as winning the lottery or going to Vegas and walking off with millions.

Nevertheless, they continued to wait  and wait until finally a cold dose of reality hit them in the face when the financial markets melted down in 2008. Suddenly they began to lose their jobs and their homes and they wondered what the hell went wrong with the program.

Slowly but surely, these average working stiffs began to wake from their dreams of becoming “the next Donald Trump” and realize they had been played for chumps by the ruling class and the corporate media. How cruel and unfair the free market can be, they must have thought as they watched their 401K plans dwindle like the sands in an hour glass. As a result, their love and admiration for the rich and famous quickly turned to distrust and hostility.

In light of this sea change, you’d think the big hedge fund operators and investment bankers on Wall Street would cool it for a while with their gigantic salaries, especially after the taxpayer bailouts and subsequent antipathy shown toward the CEOs of companies like Citibank and Goldman Sachs-not to mention the public display of outright hatred for Bernie Madoff.

But alas, they haven’t changed their ways (notwithstanding the allegations of fraud and the recent Congressional investigations of Goldman Sachs) and continue to feel entitled to their extraordinary salaries, even though they do nothing to create jobs or manufacture products. As a matter of fact, all they really do is buy and sell stocks and commodities and make lots of money for themselves and their rich clients.

And how much do these guys make? There was a recent story in Bloomberg news about how the top 25 hedge fund operators in the U.S. earned over $11.8 billion in 2008, with the top one, James Simon, raking in an astronomical $2.5 billion just for himself.

To put this in perspective, the median yearly salary of a medical doctor in the United States today is roughly $200,000, which is a lot more than the median salary of most Americans, who earn roughly $42,000 a year. Now I don’t care how smart or clever a hedge fund operator is, there’s something very wrong with an economic system that not only allows an individual to make $2.5 billion manipulating stocks and commodities, but creates an environment where he feels entitled to it, even during the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.

And it’s not just the elitists on Wall Street who feel entitled; it’s also the CEOs of multinational companies whose salaries have continued to go up despite the current recession. Even worse, these same CEOs, many of whom make tens of millions of dollars per year, continue to export American jobs while at the same time blocking or sabotaging any type of pro-worker legislation.

What’s more, the corporations they represent continue to get away with paying very little in taxes, thanks to loopholes in the tax code written by their shyster lawyers and lobbyists and rubber stamped by the politicians they hold in their pockets “like so many nickels and dimes.”

And how bad is it? According to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office, “Two-thirds of American corporations paid no taxes in 2005.” Once again, this is all part of the free market paradigm, which rewards the rich and well connected at the expense of everyone else. Or as the super rich heiress and “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley once proclaimed: “Only the little people pay taxes.”

Thus, with a system as unfair and corrupt as ours, and, until recently, with a populace as deluded about the benefits of capitalism as ours, is it any wonder that free market elitists have gone wild and feel entitled to glom billions of dollars while millions are broke and out of work?

And is it any wonder that George W. Bush, the quintessential, well-connected elitist who ran the country into the ground financially and ethically during his time in office, would feel entitled to wipe his sweaty hand on an ex-president’s shirt?

Sure, it’s funny-like something out of a Mel Brooks movie-but it’s no joke. The super rich and well-connected have been doing it to average citizens in the U.S. for over three decades.

The question is-have average citizens finally wised up and gotten pissed off enough to demand a fairer economic system? Or are they still going to allow themselves to be used as human towels by guys like George W. Bush?

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