Money changed everything
September 24, 2010
Gosh, isn’t that wonderful? A billionaire geek whose Facebook empire is about to be the subject of an unflattering movie is giving a $100 million check to the Newark school system, with a governor who made four times that amount disappear through his own ineptitude (and a mayor who stands to gain added political power from the situation) sharing the spotlight while Oprah sprinkles fairy dust on the stage. Like the song says, money changes everything.
But while I agree with everything Bob Braun has to say about this ridiculous situation, I think he’s mistaken in treating this as some new development. The rich guy from California who wants to dictate terms to the Newark school district is following a well-worn American tradition. After all, a rich guy from Australia and a couple of rich guys from Kansas are using their dough to deform America’s political system, while a rich guy in Orange County gets to use his hard-inherited bucks to undermine science education. A rich guy from Pittsburgh used his money to hobble the Clinton administration. So why shouldn’t the co-founder of Facebook use Newark’s schools as his hobby horse? He’s rich! It’s not like there’s any other standard at work here.
In better times, it would have been considered seemly for the governor and the mayor to tell the rich guy, “Thanks but no thanks.” But these are pretty lousy times, thanks in no small part to economic notions promoted by think tanks and media outlets funded by rich guys who get even richer when these economic notions hold sway. So now people don’t tell the rich guy to find himself another hobby. They tug their forelocks and thank their lucky stars the rich guy came along and threw them a bone.
I guess that’s what “trickle-down economics” meant all along. The ones with the money get more money shoveled their way, and the rest of us get to huddle under the table and hope some big crumbs fall to the carpet. The argument for countenancing this Brechtian arrangement used to be that we would all benefit from the care and feeding of millionaires. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?
Well, not exactly. Not when money changes the laws of physics, and the reconfiguring of the tax system shifts benefits upward and risks downward. The rising tide now lifts the yachts and swamps the smaller craft. And if you’re one of the many who end up treading water, don’t bother calling for help. You should have learned how to swim, loser.
One of the cornerstone texts of the conservative movement is F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which argues that centralized economic control inevitably erodes freedom.
And here we are, waiting for the lords and ladies of the upper class to toss a wad of money our way, every once in a while, when things get really bad. What I want to know is, how does the condition developing in this country differ from serfdom?