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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The super rich really are different from most Americans, and not just because they have more money. They are also more political — a gap that is as disturbing as the wealth gap, and a major contributor to its growth.

In his new book, Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust, Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, analyzes the careers, personalities and politics of the world’s wealthiest. “You have a lot of people trying to convert economic power into political power,” West told me. “I wrote the book to inform people about all of the political activism, so at least they are aware of all that’s going on.”

The clear message is that non-billionaire Americans need to get their cynical and harried selves to the polls. A few of the many reasons:

  • The very rich are not all that interested in altruism or the public good. In a 2013 study cited by West, they were twice as likely to support cuts in Medicare, education and highways; less than half as likely to favor government help for education or the unemployed; less inclined to believe the government should regulate markets, and less willing to pay higher taxes to finance universal health coverage.
  • The very rich understand that politics carries “huge consequences” for their lives and businesses, so they invest heavily in politics and are much more active than Joe Citizen. They vote at twice the rate of other Americans, they make political contributions at five times the rate, and they frequently run for office. And why not — they can afford it. In Florida’s 18th congressional district this year, for instance, four Republican primary candidates were between 70 percent and 80 percent self-funded.
  • The very rich are very savvy. West illustrates this with what he calls the “get a senator” strategy. The elites know that because any single senator can put a “hold” on any vote, they only need one senator to stop a nomination or policy they don’t like. Compare that to the quotes people often give reporters about how their vote won’t make a difference (even when elections are so often decided by a few or a few dozen votes) or how Democrats and Republicans are all alike (tell that to a minimum-wage worker, a woman who needs an abortion or a business owner dealing with the Affordable Care Act).

A particularly annoying characteristic of some super rich is their self-regard. Many seem to have little understanding of how and why they got to be where they are. West paraphrases Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, a former Mitt Romney adviser, as attributing the achievements of rich people to their vision, creativity and innovation. Of course, that leaves out a few tiny factors, such as a good start in a loving, verbal home; elite social networks that facilitate and magnify success; government investments in education, research, infrastructure and a stable business environment; tax and inheritance policies that enable the wealthy to keep and grow their money, and the government subsidies, tax breaks, regulations and contracts that help their companies and industries.

“In many cases it takes a village to make a fortune, ” as West writes. “Wealth creation is not a one-person act, despite the myth that some billionaires peddle.”

The wealthy are highly visible players today on both the left (Michael Bloomberg promoting gun control, Tom Steyer focusing on climate change) and the right (the Koch brothers spending lavishly on this year’s midterms, and the tens of millions Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess spent fruitlessly in the 2012 presidential campaign). They don’t always get what they want, but it’s not for lack of energy, money or headlines.

The least public political activism by the rich, their lobbying for policies that preserve and increase their wealth, is often their most successful. Yet it is also the most counterproductive from a societal standpoint. West argues that the wealthy should promote opportunities for others for the same reason Henry Ford paid his workers well, to create more customers. He also prescribes greater transparency and accountability to tame “a Wild West of political activism,” and Senate reforms that would make it harder for small groups of people to work their will.

What are the chances we could achieve these shifts through our political system? The states are the key, West told me. But he hasn’t given up on Washington, and neither should we. It’s worth trying. Anything is.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Dominick Vila

    As disturbing as it is to know that the top 10% of earners in the USA own over 50% of our national wealth, what is even more disturbing is to see the focus of our government in ensuring their wealth continues to grow, often at the expense of the middle class and the poor. The most perplexing part of this issue is hearing middle class people voice outrage when benign changes are made to limit the tax loopholes, ability to avoid taxation by using foreign tax shelters, and subsidies to companies and individuals that don’t need them to profit, because they have been brain washed into believing that the only way for us to live comfortably is to ensure the elite has more they will ever need.
    The systematic demonization of government, which peaked when Ronald Reagan asserted that the government was the problem, not the solution (apparently endorsing anarchy), the conviction that a prosperous oligarchy results in some crumbs filtering down to the middle class and the poor, the ability to transform social programs that benefit our most vulnerable citizens into something evil, and a gullible electorate have all contributed to the widening of the financial gap between those who have it all and the majority of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck.

    • joe schmo

      Yah, yah, yah Dominick and the rich get richer and they are smart enough to figure out all the loopholes. I do believe they should be taxed for monies made out of the Country. That is only fair but, believe me they will figure out a way around that too. Why not make this Country more business friendly instead of making them evil? Gee, concept. What would that elude to……more jobs, more employment. Lower taxes (we have the highest Corp taxes in the world) and regulations in the states for Corps makes it more attractive for them to come back.

      The four pillars of Reagan’s economic policy were to reduce the growth of government spending, reduce the federal income tax and capital gains tax, reduce government regulation, and tighten the money supply in order to reduce inflation. What did we get….a flourishing economy. Reagan never endorsed anarchy, the president in office at the moment is doing that quite well thank you very much…..and the middle class and poor get poorer. Instead of handing out welfare checks like candy, what’s wrong with a flat tax and reducing taxes for those very people who are struggling?

      • highpckts

        You act like Obama pulls all the strings! Nutjob! He does very little without a working Congress so place the blame where it belongs and that is the politicians that are in it for them and not you! All these “bills” that the GOP says they passed are bridge namings and park designations! Whoohoo! The first time Congress cuts a program that directly effects you, you will be the first one to scream!!

        • Independent1

          Or they’re bills the House passed simply to waste time, knowing full well that Reid wouldn’t bring them up for a vote because they include poison pills like huge subsidies for big corporations or cuts to programs affecting the needy, and of course, more than 50 of them are the notorious repeals of Obamacare.

      • stcroixcarp

        Conservatives scream about those bad government regulations. But the regulations are there for a reason. We have regulations for health and safety, regulations to prevent fraud, regulations that prevent the dumping of toxic waste into our landfills, water and air. The only reason that these regulations that are so burdensome exist is that businesses do not have the well being of others in mind. For example, Love Canal. There are thousands and thousands of examples of public harm done by business to our environment.

        • Independent1

          Here’s an article from McClatchy which supports what you say and counters the propaganda of the Chamber of Commerce.

          Here’s a short excerpt from a McClatchy article based on proving that regulations and taxes are not creating big problems for medium to small businesses:

          McClatchy reached out to owners of small businesses, many of them mom-and-pop operations, to find out whether they indeed were being choked by regulation, whether uncertainty over taxes affected their hiring plans and whether the health care overhaul was helping or hurting their business.

          Their response was surprising.

          None of the business owners complained about regulation in their particular industries, and most seemed to welcome it. Some pointed to the lack of regulation in mortgage lending as a principal cause of the financial crisis that brought about the Great Recession of 2007-09 and its grim aftermath.

          Read more here:

          And from (a 2012 article):

          Here’s a look into the numbers from the Small Business Majority:

          Weak demand is small business owners’ biggest problem: 34% of respondents said weak demand is their biggest problem, while 15% cited the cost of health coverage and other benefits. Only 14% said it is the level of government regulation. The level of taxes came in fourth place with 12% and competition with larger companies garnered 10%.

          Small business owners see regulations as a necessary part of a modern economy and believe they can live with them if they’re fair and reasonable: 86% of small business owners agree some regulation of business is necessary for a modern economy, and 93% of them agree their business can live with some regulation if it is fair, manageable and reasonable.

      • Dominick Vila

        The United States could not be more business friendly than it already is. Barring stiff taxes for those who invest their fortunes in foreign lands, and then sell the cheap gadgets their companies make overseas at premium prices in the USA, the erosion of American jobs will continue at the same pace it has since Nixon-Kissinger re-established diplomatic and trade relations with China, and since our entrepreneurs and investors discovered the potential of getting on the ground floor in rapidly expanding economies such as China’s. It is not a matter of demonizing those who are successful, the goal ought to be on trying to find ways to mitigate the effects of the economic schism that exists in the USA between the haves and the have not. There is no justification for a billionaire to pay off his SS contribution at 00:01 on January 1st, and a waitress who works 10 or 12 hours a day to support a child paying into the system 52 weeks out of the year. There is no excuse for the average American to fear making a mistake in a tax return, when multi millionaires enjoy tax loopholes or foreign tax shelters. There is no real justification for the wealthiest members of our society to claim a dancing horse as a health deduction, while trying to dismantle MEDICARE, privatize SS, and tax our most vulnerable citizens every single day of the year. To their credit, many American businessmen are embarrassed by the current situation and volunteer or donate much of their fortune trying to help others. Unfortunately, our tax system, which favors the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, does nothing to ensure that the foreign shareholders, and greedy domestic investors, that own our multi-nationals pay their fair share.

      • Independent1

        Is all you know how to do is LIE!!!

        This comment couldn’t be more of a blatant LIE!!!

        The four pillars of Reagan’s economic policy were to reduce the growth of government spending, reduce the federal income tax and capital gains tax, reduce government regulation, and tighten the money supply in order to reduce inflation. What did we get….a flourishing economy.

        What Reagan got was an economy with 10.8% unemployment!! A higher unemployment rate than was ever attained during the GREAT RECESSION!!

        Ronald Reagan TANKED THE ECONOMY!!

        He inherited an economy from Carter THAT WAS GROWING!! More than 10 million jobs were create in the last 3 years of Carter’s presidency!! He passed that on to Reagan AND REAGAN TANKED IT!!

        There were 12 million jobs created in Reagan’s 1st 4 years because he had inherited a strong economy. But in his 2nd 4 years there were only 4 million jobs created BECAUSE REAGAN TANKED THE ECONOMY!!


        • dpaano

          Joe only spews what he hears on FOX News and other conservative rags…..he never researches to see the truth, so spouting the truth to him is like throwing sticks at a bear…..the bear just keeps coming!

      • Independent1

        in addition to TANKING THE ECONOMY, Reagan added more workers to our government than all the presidents since FDR COMBINED!! Reagan added more than 265,000 people to our government!! HE DID NOT REDUCE GOVERNMENT SPENDING!!! HE SPENT MORE THAN EVERY PRESIDENT BETWEEN HIM AND TEDDY ROOSEVELT COMBINED!!!! YOU ARE A BLATANT LIAR!!!!!

      • Independent1

        Tighten the money supply??? How could Reagan do that when he spent like a drunken sailor and kept 25% of his spending outside his budget???? Not only did he almost triple America’s debt, HE HAD TRIPLED THE DEBT OF CALIFORNIA WHEN HE WAS GOVERNOR!!! REAGAN SPENT MONEY LIKE WATER!!! WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO WAKE UP????? ANY NITWIT COULD SPUR AN ECONOMY IF YOU’RE GOING TO POUR MONEY AT IT!!!!!

      • ralphkr

        Highest corporate taxes in the world, Joe??? What baloney. GE makes billions in profits, paid less than 3% in taxes, and is demanding a refund. Hundreds of other extremely profitable companies pay either zero or negative (the gov’t refunds more than they had paid) taxes. The only companies that the published tax rate actually hits are the small to medium sized companies because they cannot afford to buy a Congressman to give them special tax breaks & subsidies. Just watch, Joe, if there was ever a serious attempt to lower the published corporate tax to 10% while doing away with ALL subsidies & exemptions the big corporations would on the front line fighting to stop it cold.

      • Independent1

        I posted two articles for you in another blog thread that countered your assertion that taxes and regulations hamper businesses – it simply is not true!! Businesses rank lack of demand as their major problem with healthcare and other benefit costs 2nd. Only 14% rank regulations as not helpful and 12% site taxes. Regulations and taxes ARE NOT major deterrents to businesses, in fact, a recent article says businesses welcome regulations, especially those that prevent a re-occurrence of what ended up really causing the Great Recession.

      • Independent1

        I’m afraid I kind of lost my cool on your blatant lies about Reagan but I see red every time I think about the damage that that lowlife has done to America. And if you think I’m wrong about that, just take a look at all the nefarious things attributable to America’s worst president ever:

        (and this is only a partial list)

        1.First to turn America into a DEBTOR nation.

        2. First to increase DEBT faster than growth of national income in eight years.

        3. First to increase DEBT faster than growth of GDP over eight years.

        4. First to almost triple the deficit in just eight years.

        5. First to “almost”: triple the national DEBT in just eight years.

        6. First to increase SPENDING by 80%–over 8 years.

        7. First to SPEND more in eight years than was spent in prior 50 years.

        8. First to have “real” INTEREST RATES of 8% after averaging 1% over 35 years.

        9. First to keep PRIME INTEREST RATES at 20%.

        10. First to over value the dollar to the Yen at rate of 262 yen to $1

        11. First to have served as Governor and increased spending by 112%

        12. First to have home loan interest rates as high as 16%

        13. First to cut taxes by 60% for his rich pals

        14. First to “deal” with terrorists.

        15. First to bust a union and then appoint union haters to run the department of labor which began the deterioration of the workplace; corporations care more now for the bottom line than in doing what’s right for the people who
        work for them.

        16. . First to set a record for the largest one day percentage decline of the Dow – 10-19-87

        17. First to have over $10,000,000 increase in wealth from serving 8 years as president

        18. First in having servicemen killed during peacetime (241 killed while they slept in their barracks)

        19. First in Farm Foreclosures

        20.. First in Savings & Loan Failures

        21. First in percent of increase in personal bankruptcies

    • TZToronto

      If the top 1% had their way, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and ACA would all be cancelled. Then, after a few years, they’d start to complain about all of those people, old and young, living on the (crumbling) streets, dying and/or spreading disease. Since they don’t want to pay to fix the problem, what would the solution be? . . . Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

      • Allan Richardson

        The Dickens you say! Yes, the hero of the “conservatives” is the PRE-GHOST-VISIT Ebenezer Scrooge. All those nightmares turned him into a wishy-washy LIBERAL, right?

        • TZToronto

          At the end of the classic Alastair Sim movie version, Scrooge drops a coin into the blind beggar’s cup. He’s definitely not the same man he was. He paid for Tiny Tim’s medical care, which would make him an enemy of the GOP, gave Cratchit a raise, and helped Cratchit’s family to have a better life. Perhaps the GOP needs to be visited by three spirits.

          • Allan Richardson

            I’m sure they spend PLENTY of time communing with “spirits,” just not the kind that enlighten!

          • ralphkr

            By the GOP being visited by three spirits I gather you mean Bourbon, Scotch, and Vodka, TZT.

          • TZToronto

            Must be those three because I doubt that there’s any real spirituality in the GOP.

      • Dominick Vila

        If the top 1% had their way, the debate would be about the effectiveness of euthanasia…

  • FireBaron

    The rich are in favor of cuts to highways. This is true, until they find their goods take longer to be delivered. Then they scream about the status of the infrastructure. Then they scream louder about the increased costs to repair the system because of the negligence they demanded.
    They say, let’s turn the highways over to private companies, then they scream about the cost of tolls those private companies charge to maintain the highways.
    Yes. the rich are different from the rest of us.

    • darkagesbegin

      Someday, America will wake up into this dystopian world that the Kochs dream of and the Republican voters keep voting for, and then the finger pointing will begin about who is to blame. Fortunately, they can always go back to their touchstone that it is the fault of “libruls” and Democrats, so once again the people who created the mess will blame those who tried desperately to avoid it, and the sheeple will go right along. Or, maybe some of the newly made serfs will step out of line, saying that they shouldn’t be slaves, because, after all, they always voted Republican and the Kochs will say, Thanks, now get back in line..

  • Kansan

    Sheldon Adleson can afford more than just one senator.

    The anti-tax, billionaire Koch brothers expect to own half a dozen come January. Look for them to chip in many millions to keep senile Pat Roberts in office as well.

    • joe schmo

      Why have you Liberals become such hypocrites? It USED to be what made America great. That is becoming wealthy. The very idea that a person or new immigrant could come to this country and achieve greatness by working hard, starting a business or innovating some product became what made this country. One of the key reasons people came here to begin with. Remember ‘the land of opportunity.’

      That ‘it takes a village’ stuff is bullshit. It eludes to Communist ideology and sounds very unAmerican.

      At least the wealthy Conservatives (most of them) started out with some idea, knew how to network and worked their way into wealth CREATION. I think your liberal elite forgot how they got there. Why not look at the Hollywood elite. Isn’t Pelosi one of the wealthiest women on the Senate floor? What about the Clinton’s and Obama himself.? Most Liberal wealthy don’t even make money the good old honest way and they rarely employ (George Soros)

      Why don’t you read this article and tell me……

      Then come back here and tell me how wealth is now created in the USA…..

      • darkagesbegin

        I have no problem with people being wealthy, per se. It is the abuse of power that goes along with it. This country was founded on, among other things, one man, one vote. So when a billionaire in Topeka calls my congressman here in Ohio, the billionaire’s one vote outweighs 100,000 votes in my district. The out of state billionaire should have no say in my local politics at all, and yet he controls what happens here. That arm is way too long.

        • highpckts

          Exactly! Saw it happen here in Ohio with The Heritage Foundation!

      • darkagesbegin

        if you think that “it takes a village” eludes (sic) to communism, then you don’t know American history at all. There has always been an element of cooperation in every thing accomplished in America…the great things, like the American Revolution, public schools, public roads and on ad infinitum. You couldn’t have had private enterprise building roads in colonial America. It never would have happened.

        America has never acted from a purely idealogical standpoint when big things need doing. If something needed doing, either government did it, or public and private partnership did it. And nobody worried that they might have taken a step onto that slippery slope of communism, or socialism or whatever ism you fear today. They just got on with the business of doing what needed to be done, did it, and moved on. Only in the last half century have we been addle-brained enough to be misled into believing that the rich and private enterprise are all good and government in all bad.

        • highpckts

          Well said!!

      • highpckts

        You are truly deluded! So you say the millionires did it all on their own? No help from anywhere? No good upbringing, no “loans” no nothing? Geez! Wake up!!

      • charleo1

        Why have you Right Wingers taken to acting like such thick as a board, nincompoops? Who suddenly can’t tell the difference between a national health policy, and a Bolshevik plot? Common sense regulation, and big government subjugation, run amuck? Or, began to think, that tax cuts always pay for themselves. Even when enacted just prior to launching a trillion dollar military campaign? And when did the kind of thinking that views taxes as the price we pay for the advantages of living in a modern society, become a solely Liberal idea? Or, the resentment of the monied elite corrupting our government, and dodging their responsibilities to pay for that modern society they enjoy, and profit from, just like everybody else. Become synonymous with being envious of the rich, or hating the rich, for being rich? When did being rich in America ever mean, we owe the Country nothing?

      • Independent1


  • Eleanore Whitaker

    If you are attempting to stop the corporate corruption that is now on a massive scale, remember one thing, you have options. Survivors all know their options. If you don’t like what a corporation does boycott it and encourage your friends to do the same. Nothing hurts corporate butts more than to lose money. To them, it’s akin to Bubonic Plague.

    The other issue that is just under the surface is how much of our tax dollars support businesses who take their profits offshore. Why are we handing these corporate traders a dime of tax dollars if they don’t hire in the US or create jobs? It’s like handing a kid with teeth rotted from too much candy, more candy.

    The reality is that taxpayers are NOT obligated to hand a dime of our tax dollars or to offer tax cuts to businesses just to locate in a specific city or town. And the realization now is that all of those tax cuts bite individual taxpayers who have to fill in the gaps lost by taxes not paid by corporations.

    I personally would love to see a tally in my state of how much tax revenue is lost every time a Walmart or other hot shot big box moves into town. This doesn’t begin to count the exemptions for utilities and local water and sewerage usage.

    No one talks about the exact dollar figure lost in tax revenues. But, they sure do like to gloat over how much taxpayers handed out in tax subsidies.

    If a single state has to cut taxes to get these businesses to locate in them and then doesn’t hire or create jobs and instead hires illegals or offshores 99% of its labor, that’s a double loss. How much is that costing taxpayers?

  • Gayle1942

    The trouble is that we tolerate corruption in our politics. If we had real rules about what people could and could not provide to our politians and real penalties for violating those rules from either side, then maybe this wouldn’t be such a big problem. I think that people who want to influence the political life of the country should be sent to jail for getting preferential treatment from politicians for donating to their campaigns, providing golfing trips to Scotland (or any other sort of trip, gift, etc), and wining and dining them. And the politicians who give them the preferential treatment should likewise go to jail and be barred from ever being in an elected position again. And the same should be true for the staff members of politicians. If we quit tolerating corruption, maybe we would have a better government and country.

  • charles king

    This is Why? Critical Thinking is so important in today’s America because MONIES has cause a clamity of no importance because the VOTE is still scarced. MONIES do not mean S*** if you know Who? is doing their job pertaining to our Democractic way of life. I have too admit that the States Plutocracts has a firm hold on the States politics but they can only go as far as the people in power, goes. The Plutocracts are attacking Our Federal Govt. and their is no legal reason for this too happen because it is the job of the Federal Govt. too protect the welfare of its American citizens. Make all the MONIES you want but pay your fair share taxes. Stop trying to privatize the Peoples Assets cause sooner or later the People are going to come after you and there will be no place for you to hide. Take your MONIES and run and make room for others Who? think like you, America can handle that concept but dont try and take our Democracy from us You Capitilistic Pigs, cause then the People will turn on you and bring back the gillatin, you know What? I mean, off with your Head. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING P. S. Keep Your Voting Power Alive.

  • Sheldon Adelson just gave $10 million to Carl Rove’s Crossroads Group. Carl Rove is the
    person who was laughed at after the 2012 Pres election because he confiscated a
    lot of Republicans money for his Crossroads and predicated a Mitt Romney
    victory. His Crossroads group has 501-c4 tax deductible status (501-c4 means

    1) America needs to eliminate ALL 501-c4s – if
    they are not paying taxes all Americans are paying more.

    2) Americans need to ignore Carl Rove.

    Types of Organizations Exempt under Section

    Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4)
    provides for the exemption of two very different types of organizations with
    their own distinct qualification requirements. They are:

    • Social welfare organizations: Civic leagues
    or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the
    promotion of social welfare, and

  • Whatmeworry

    Ad then we have the Hollywood crowd. With low intellect and a desire for the taxpayers to fund their life styles. And the remaining Nazi era war criminals who are using their ill gotten gains to foment unrest. Just like Hitler and Stalin and Mao did

    • crackthecode

      Dan Ketter/Whatmeworry, you are a fat idiot

      • Dan-Air National Guard Vet

        thank you

  • Dan-Air National Guard Vet

    Ad then we have the Hollywood crowd. With high intellect and a desire for
    the taxpayers to fund their life styles. And the remaining Reagan era war
    criminals who are using their ill gotten gains to foment unrest. Just
    like Bush and Nixon and IKE did

  • tdm3624

    The author was correct, voter apathy allows the ultra-rich to control this nation. Let’s get to the polls folks.

    • dpaano

      Not really going to help as long as we have lobbyists “buying” our politicians. As the article says….they’d rather vote for the lobbyist’s requests rather than the requests of their own constituency!

  • charles king

    The People’s Voting Rights must be kept clear of being miss used, in other words, we the People must stay alert and use our god’s giving Rights and Critical Thinking will Beat MONIES everytime. Billionaries, Mill…., and anyother A**H**** Who ? think they can abruise your Democracy, Tell them I said, I Mr. Charles E. King ” Kiss Yours and My A****’ ” . Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

  • dpaano

    Unfortunately, as long as we have “Citizen’s United,” the little people will have little or NO say in what goes on in politics. It’s really sad to see how our Government had disenfranchised the middle class…the ones who pay their salaries. Why not just let the rich pay their salaries; that way, the middle class could keep more of their income rather than paying for something they aren’t getting? I can fully understand why most of the population are disheartened….it seems there’s nothing we can do, even voting out the current Senators won’t help. We need to get the money out of politics, get rid of the lobbyists, and stop allowing our senators and congress people to vote against what we, the middle class, want! Fat chance of that happening, and I don’t see anything good coming to our future although I’m trying to be an optimist! Unfortunately, most of the lower and middle class are blaming President Obama for the problems that have been occurring well before he became President.