The late writer Gore Vidal, famous for his heated debates with conservative National Review founder William F. Buckley during the 1960s, was fond of saying that the United States is a country of the rich, by the rich and for the rich — and seven years after Gore’s death, that assertion is still valid. Liberal economist Paul Krugman, in a post-Christmas New York Times column, describes the enormous influence that the ultra-wealthy continue to have on the political system in the U.S.
“The first thing you need to know about the very rich is that they are, politically, different from you and me,” Krugman explains. “Don’t be fooled by the handful of prominent liberal or liberal-ish billionaires; systematic studies of the politics of the ultra-wealthy show that they are very conservative, obsessed with tax cuts, opposed to environmental and financial regulation, eager to cut social programs.”
The 66-year-old Krugman has, more than once, noted that many liberal positions are quite popular among U.S. voters, from universal health care to a belief that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes. And in his most recent Times column, Krugman makes it clear that the financial proposals of Sen. Elizabeth Warren are quite mainstream — stressing, however, that the rich often get their way in the U.S. regardless of what most voters favor.
“The rich often get what they want, even when most of the public want the opposite,” Krugman asserts. “For example, a vast majority of voters — including a majority of self-identified Republicans — believe that corporations pay too little in taxes. Yet the signature domestic policy of the Trump administration was a huge corporate tax cut.”
Krugman adds, “Most Americans, including a plurality of Republicans, favor tougher regulation of big banks. Yet even before Donald Trump took office, the relatively mild regulations put into effect after the 2008 financial crisis were under sustained political assault.”
The economist goes on to outline some of the ways in which the ultra-wealthy are able to assert their influence — even when so many U.S. voters don’t share their views.
“Why do a small number of rich people exert so much influence in what is supposed to be a democracy?” Krugman asks. “Campaign contributions are only part of the story. Equally, if not more, important is the network of billionaire-financed think tanks, lobbying groups and so on that shapes public discourse.”
Krugman continues, “And then there’s the revolving door: it’s depressingly normal for former officials from both parties to take jobs with big banks, corporations and consulting firms. And the prospect of such employment can’t help but influence policy while they’re still in office.”
Ideas promoted by the ultra-rich, according to Krugman, dominate the political discourse in the mainstream media — which is another reason why they often get their way, and why so many in the mainstream media are dismissive of what Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders are proposing.
“You may disagree with progressive ideas coming from Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, which is fine,” Krugman asserts. “But the news media owes the public a serious discussion of these ideas, not dismissal shaped by a combination of reflexive ‘centrist bias’ and the conscious or unconscious assumption that any policy rich people dislike must be irresponsible.”