The last week has shown, to a degree bordering on overkill, that despite their position at the top of the world, billionaires are uniquely ill-suited to run it. Not that we needed more reminders at this point.
Over just four days, we saw a billionaire president suggest starving federal workers beg grocery store clerks for free food, a billionaire tech CEO get schooled by an MIT professor over basic economic history, and a billionaire wannabe politician threaten a quixotic spoiler candidacy for the presidency in 2020. Taken together, we can see America’s billionaires for what they are – spoiled children unmoored from reality, playing make-believe with people’s real lives.
The three acts in this dark comedy of errors fit together well enough that one could forgivably assume it collectively conceived and coordinated over a dessert course of caviar and gold leaf ice cream sundaes.
On Wednesday, Dell founder Michael Dell (net worth: $28 billion) gleefully mocked the proposal from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to tax incomes above $10 million at a 70% marginal rate.
Over spurts of self-satisfied laughter, Dell said, “I feel much more comfortable with our ability as a private foundation to allocate those funds than I do giving them to the government [and] I don’t think it would help the growth of the U.S. economy.”
Dell’s largess, he contended, would better support society and the economy than using his wealth for public social programs. He then appealed to history, his face steely with bravado and certainty, challenging the group to “name a country where that’s worked – ever.”
“The United States,” replied Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT economist, “From about the 1930s through about the 1960s, the tax rate averaged 70%…and those were actually pretty good years for growth.”
The other tycoons on the panel sided with Dell’s blustery confidence over Brynjolfsson’s stubborn facts. The men who run the economy could not be bothered with reality. They dismiss out of hand any analysis that does not treat them as divine, delicate patrons of prosperity to be worshipped and protected. The glorification of their egos matters immeasurably more than the real-world consequences of their actions. Twas ever thus.
Which brings us to Thursday and Donald Trump (net worth: $3.1 billion), the rotting, meat sack decomposing inside the Oval Office. On Day 34 of his shutdown, Trump defended comments from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (net worth: $700 million) that federal workers should take out payday loans to make ends meet. By way of explanation, Trump said, “Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else…Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along.” The intimation appeared to be that grocery checkers will let shoppers have food for free, on the promise of future payment. This raises the serious possibility that Donald Trump has never set foot inside a grocery store. The lives of real Americans exist only inside his imagination.
On Saturday, we were reminded of a man who envisions himself as a savior looking from Trump, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (net worth: $3.4 billion). In an interview with CBS, he pilloried Trump but also implicitly criticized Republicans and Democrats alike for “consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people…engaged, every single day, in revenge politics.” At the time of his interview, Democrats had spent a month putting forward clean bills to reopen the federal government while Republicans insisted the government remain shuttered until funds were secured for a wall opposed by a majority of the nation. Clear evidence of two parties equally at fault.
What action does Schultz believe necessary for the American people? Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. “The greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt,” Schultz told CNBC last year. “We have to go after entitlements.”
Almost every American opposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – they are beloved by the entire nation. And the unwashed masses are right on the economics. Cutting any of these programs would be a kidney punch to the economy, to say nothing of the lives of the most vulnerable.
In pursuit of this toxic austerity agenda, Schultz is willing to risk re-electing Trump. Running as a “lifelong Democrat” turned independent, a social liberal and fiscal conservative, Schultz’s theoretical base of appeal is far too small to win the White House but sizable enough to easily split the anti-Trump vote. For this reason, both Democrats and Never Trump Republicans fear the idea of a Schultz run.
Why would Schultz do this, in the face of overwhelming evidence that an independent run for the presidency cannot win, and may scuttle his stated cause of unseating Trump?
For the same reason that Trump believes groceries can be free with enough pleading. The same reason Michael Dell invents a false economic history and then rejects the real one. Because billionaires have become isolated from reality. Most people readily accept that the fabulously wealthy understand little of the daily lives of average people. But that only tells part of the story. They also reject or ignore but facts about the broader past and present state is the world. They could easily face these facts, to the betterment of humankind. Instead, they choose to live wholly sheltered from unflattering information.
They believe they use their wealth to make a better world but more than anything they use it to isolate themselves in a fantasia. They surround themselves with surrogate family that dotes on them like newborns. In this alternate reality, their omniscient, omnipotent egos benevolently control the universe. Yet their games control our reality. They are drunk at the wheel of the world economy and we could all end up dead in a ditch while they walk away unscathed.
Trump, Dell, and Schultz all believe themselves unique geniuses, and see no similarity between one another. But they are all the same. They are men with unimaginable wealth, blind ego, and power they do not deserve. The longer they maintain that power, the greater the risk to all of us.
[Photo credit to Fine Human Clothing. You should buy and wear this fetching & accurate shirt.]