Since the recovery from 2008’s financial crisis began, 95 percent of the wealth created has gone to the richest 1 percent, which is why most Americans feel as if there has been no recovery at all.
But venture capitalist Tom Perkins thinks progressive rhetoric isn’t just reflective of an already shaky middle class that was rocked by the Great Recession — it’s menacing.
“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” he wrote in a letter to the editors of The Wall Street Journal this weekend. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”
The author of Sex and the Single Zillionaire used the German word to describe the night in 1938 when simultaneous attacks across Germany against Jews resulted in tens of thousands of arrests and nearly a hundred deaths. Jews refer to the historic escalation of the Holocaust as “Pogromnacht.”
Perkins not only warns that progressive criticism of inequality may be followed by violence, he connects modern liberalism to the Nazi Party in a way that only makes sense to the far right who play up the “National Socialism” label the party applied to itself. Nearly all of Hitler’s views were right-wing and his rise to power was enabled by rich industrialists.
Perkins stood by his comments in an email to Bloomberg News on Monday. “In the Nazi area it was racial demonization, now it is class demonization,” he wrote.
In a country where millions of mostly poor, mostly minority people are literally imprisoned, but not one banker has gone to jail for a financial crisis that cost our economy millions of jobs and trillions in wealth, Perkins fears for the well-being of the rich, not seeming to understand that the wealthy dominate our political, legal and financial system in a way that the Nazis only imagined the Jews did.
But as The New York Times‘ Paul Krugman points out, the effort to rein in income inequality over the last five years has been more intense than even some progressives realize. Here are five reasons that the richest may not be pleased with President Obama.
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Taxes On The Richest Back At Pre-Reagan Levels
“The Bush tax cuts haven’t gone completely away, but at the very high end they have been pretty much reversed; plus there are additional high-end taxes associated with Obamacare,” Krugman wrote. “The result is that taxes on wealthy Americans have basically been rolled back to pre-Reagan levels.”
And President Obama isn’t done. He’d like to close nonsensical tax breaks for the rich — like the “carried-interest” deduction that allows millionaires like Mitt Romney to pay a lower tax rate than some nurses. The reason progressives don’t see this as some huge victory is that if the GOP would agree to closing such loopholes, the president would agree to reforms, aka “cuts” to Medicare and Social Security. But the GOP’s unwillingness to budge on this issue has led to a shrinking deficit that has made the need for such cuts much less pressing.
But what’s even worse than the end of tax breaks on the rich is what the president is doing with the money.
Taxing The Rich To Help Working People Afford Insurance
Some progressives complain that the Affordable Care Act leaves the private insurance industry intact. And though it regulates its profits for the first time, it forces Americans to buy a private product that would be cheaper if it were administered by the government.
That’s not what’s leading to the progressive Kristallnacht.
Medicaid — which is single-payer health care — is being expanded to cover up to 14 million people whose income puts them just over the poverty level. Also, 17 million Americans are eligible for subsidies to help them afford their insurance and pay no more 9.5 percent of their household income on health insurance. And guess how all of this “taking” is being paid for?
Taxes on the rich and corporations. The result? The people who earn the least benefit the most.
“Under our broadest and most comprehensive income measure we project that incomes in the bottom one-fifth of the distribution will increase almost 6%; those in the bottom one-tenth of the distribution will rise more than 7%,” according to Brookings’ Henry J. Aaron and Gary Burtless.
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He Adopted The Critiques Of Occupy Wall Street And Fight For Fifteen
President Obama ran for president in 2008 arguing that “our prosperity has always risen from the bottom up.”
As the extent of the Great Recession became clear, the populist movement that helped bring him into office subsided and the energy — as well as the media focus — shifted to the Tea Party, which was arguing for less regulation and taxes, though both being at 60-year lows helped bring about the crisis that fed the movement.
When Occupy Wall Street emerged with its framing of the 99 percent and the 1 percent, it fit right in with the president’s past rhetoric. Thus he aligned with the broad strokes of their message, if not their tactics, by embracing a word that he had rarely used before: “inequality.”
As organized labor supported the “Fight for Fifteen” movement, which is calling for a living wage for fast-food and retail workers, the president made raising the minimum wage a staple of his second-term agenda and is reportedly considering an executive order that will raise the wage for federal contractors.
After decades of government policies creating inequality, President Obama made opposing it both a policy goal and key weapon in his rhetorical arsenal. And while this wasn’t enough for many progressives, the rich have noticed.
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Some Success At Reforming Wall Street And Lending
Wall Street wants you to believe that they lost and are now swimming in regulations that strangle their ability to cause systemic risk to our economy, or earn as much as they deserve.
In reality, some real reforms were included in Dodd-Frank, including Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which advocates on behalf of borrowers for the first time. But much of the regulation has been slowed or minimized by the lengthy process of the writing of rules that financiers have spent millions to influence.
Still, some reform has actually happened largely because Wall Street continued to fumble into scandals like the “London Whale,” and Elizabeth Warren became Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):
Senator Warren used her new position on the Senate Banking Committee to raise the profile of financial reform. She completely restarted the conversation about criminal settlements and trials for Wall Street wrongdoing. It also became clear that the implementation of several rules had been dragged out not because banks were undermining them, but because, in fact, regulators were fighting for tougher rules.
Warren’s rhetoric helped inspire Occupy Wall Street, and when the president began sounding like her and included her as a primetime speaker at the Democratic National Convention, the 1 percent noticed.
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The Super Rich Expect To Be Worshipped
President Harry Truman famously said, “I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”
Some very rich people aren’t used to hearing the truth — and why should they have to, when they own yachts that can sail around it?
Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall attributes Tom Perkins’ inability to censor himself and his ludicrous Nazi comparisons to the enormous gulf of wealth separating the über rich from the 99 percent, and the outpouring of criticism for the 1 percent that came about because of financial crisis and the animosity for President Obama, the most progressive president in generations — or at least since the first two years of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“Quite simply, these were and are folks who just weren’t used to public criticism,” Marshall wrote. “The whole ‘masters of the universe’ mythology was basically, sure we’re massively wealthy. But we’re also the ones keeping the globe we all live on from spinning off its axis. So let us enjoy our Hamptons estates and our private jets in peace and we’ll do our jobs and you do yours.”
So though the elite of world finance recognize that inequality could lead to unrest, Obama is a bad guy because he’s trying to do something to prevent that from happening.
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