We’re being flimflammed into thinking many of our crises…local, state, national and global…are caused by partisanship or ideological differences. Sure…the symptoms of our economic maladies point us in that direction, but I fear this is little more than an effective smoke-screen, covering a slow-motion return to the inequities and indignities of colonialism…or perhaps even feudalism. No…I’m not joining the ‘conspiracy theory’ fringe. I’m simply listening…and reading…and watching as our government’s policies inexplicably protect the privilege of the very, very rich over the needs or well-being of any others. All three branches of our United States government…legislative, executive, and judicial…have made significant decisions to favor ultra-big business for over 30 years…and the cumulative effect has been dramatic. Can you spell ‘plutocracy’? And do you know its consequences? We’d better get familiar with this term…and we’d better talk about it as a genuine threat to the democracy we think we still have.
It shouldn’t be a shock…but, for many of us, it is. Of course, it shouldn’t be a shock for anyone who watched the political documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” produced by Michael Moore. Oh, yeah…he’s easily discounted as a liberal film maker with a known bias, but he did feature some of the same information Bill Moyers included in his farewell PBS show last weekend. Moyers is a little harder to discount. He’s been a solid journalist for decades…and his farewell statement included the self-description of Citigroup executives as the beneficiaries of what they characterized as a ‘plutonomy’…an economic system that systematically favors the rich in their quest for a greater and greater accumulation of wealth at the expense of all others…with the assistance of a “market-friendly government.”
Here is the text of Bill Moyers’ farewell statement from the “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS last Friday, April 30, 2010:
“BILL MOYERS: You’ve no doubt figured out my bias by now. I’ve hardly kept it a secret. In this regard, I take my cue from the late Edward R. Murrow, the Moses of broadcast news.
“Ed Murrow told his generation of journalists bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. So here, one more time, is mine: plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy, the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy.
“Plutocracy is not an American word but it’s become an American phenomenon. Back in the fall of 2005, the Wall Street giant Citigroup even coined a variation on it, plutonomy, an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer with government on their side. By the next spring, Citigroup decided the time had come to publicly ‘bang the drum on plutonomy.’
“And bang they did, with an ‘equity strategy’ for their investors, entitled, “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.” Here are some excerpts:
“‘Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper…[and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years…’
“‘…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the US– the plutonomists in our parlance– have benefited disproportionately from the recent productivity surge in the US…[and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.’
“‘…[and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. [Because] the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.’
“And so they were, before the great collapse of 2008. And so they are, today, after the fall. While millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings, the plutonomists are doing just fine. In some cases, even better, thanks to our bailout of the big banks which meant record profits and record bonuses for Wall Street.
“Now why is this? Because over the past 30 years the plutocrats, or plutonomists — choose your poison — have used their vastly increased wealth to capture the flag and assure the government does their bidding. Remember that Citigroup reference to “market-friendly governments” on their side? It hasn’t mattered which party has been in power — government has done Wall Street’s bidding.
“Don’t blame the lobbyists, by the way; they are simply the mules of politics, delivering the drug of choice to a political class addicted to cash — what polite circles call “campaign contributions” and Tony Soprano would call “protection.”
“This marriage of money and politics has produced an America of gross inequality at the top and low social mobility at the bottom, with little but anxiety and dread in between, as middle class Americans feel the ground falling out from under their feet. According to a study from the Pew Research Center last month, nine out of ten Americans give our national economy a negative rating. Eight out of ten report difficulty finding jobs in their communities, and seven out of ten say they experienced job-related or financial problems over the past year.
“So it is that like those populists of that earlier era, millions of Americans have awakened to a sobering reality: they live in a plutocracy, where they are disposable. Then, the remedy was a popular insurgency that ignited the spark of democracy.
“Now we have come to another parting of the ways, and once again the fate and character of our country are up for grabs.
“So along with Jim Hightower and Iowa’s concerned citizens, and many of you, I am biased: democracy only works when we claim it as our own.”
You can go to the “Bill Moyers Journal” website to see his last show on your computer…it’s worth the time. From decades of faithful journalism, Bill Moyers ends with this: America needs a new populist era, because democracy is worthy of our allegiance, our conversation and our activism.
Where should our attention and deliberation focus? I believe we need a new paradigm in how we frame issues for public conversations: every deliberative conversation needs to apply the ‘Moyers bias’ to a public policy decision. Our unashamed plutocracy will continue pour millions of dollars into campaign contributions and lobbying to make their case for more ‘market-friendly government’ actions…meaning the continuation of their privileged position in the plutonomy. We need to expose these efforts to the light of day…not to lie about them, but to let the consequences of their efforts persuade the public to ratchet back their support for plutonomist policies, and to increase their support for populist policies.
We need to stop being ashamed of our bias…democracy makes our nation remarkable. If we believe this, we need to look at every issue…community, county, state and federal…through the lens of the ‘Moyers bias.’ Every issue we frame for public conversation is ultimately then about our democracy…the specifics of the issue give democracy a pragmatic context for deliberation and for advocacy. If we continue to think our issues are isolated, or think that our problems only stem from partisan bickering, we run the risk of staying lost in the smoke-screen. This is not about Democrats or Republicans…not about liberals or conservatives…not about big government or less government. This is very serious…we need to frame every issue with a thriving democracy as our clear ambition.