Monday, October 17, 2022

Our New Decadent Aristocracy

What is happening to America? The nation’s exemplary success has spawned an aristocracy, an upper class of people who, in the words of Barack Obama, have too much money. They have chosen systematically to reject the political economy that bestowed such riches on them. 

They do not value work because in many cases they did not earn what they have. They either inherited it or married it. So they have become a decadent aristocracy that hands out gobs of money to support causes run by people who despise them. 

And who want to take their money away.

Joel Kotkin analyzes the situation, paradoxical as it seems to be. He describes our current state of affairs, where tech titans morph into decadent aristocrats and when their progeny support causes that oppose everything that produced these fortunes.

America’s founders opposed hereditary aristocracy. They opposed the idle rich, those who lived off of their rents. And yet, here we are with a coterie of extremely rich heirs and heiresses, people who often did not earn the money they have, and who seem hellbent, not just on giving it away, but on supporting causes that are antithetical to the capitalist system that allowed their forbears to accumulate their fortunes.

Is it all about guilt? Is it all about the fact that they did not earn what they have, so they assume that no one else did either? Is it about trying to buy protection from the radicals who want to confiscate their money? Or is it about the simple fact that they do not understand competition and do not want to be judged on their own ability to run the race or to manage the company?

Many explanations come to mind. But surely, as Kotkin notes, their behavior does not show any real recognition of where the money came from. Do they all think that the money was a gift from God, bestowed on them because they are especially virtuous? Or are they buying indulgences so that they do not feel so badly about spending money they did not earn?

Kotkin explains, noting that when we saw such phenomena in the past they were preludes to revolution. The guillotine awaits.

But sometimes, as in the era before the French or Russian Revolutions, some in the ruling circles stopped believing in their religion, their traditions, and their state, only to be exiled, executed, or turned into what the Soviets called “former persons.”

Like our current elites, many French aristocrats lived dissolute lives but also supported revolutionary ideas which threatened “their own rights and even their existence,” as Alexis de Tocqueville noted. Today a large, even dominant portion of the wealthiest and most privileged parts of our society—including the heirs of nasty capitalist titans such as Henry Ford or John D. Rockefeller—are key funders of an increasingly anti-capitalist left. Others are still young tech billionaires and—increasingly—their discarded or former spouses.

One does understand the inelegance of the phrase, discarded spouses. Happily enough, it’s Kotkin’s phrase, not mine. 

These new aristocrats have irrationally adopted progressive policy positions. They want to show that they care for the underprivileged and even the planet.

Given this vast wealth, we might expect a ruling class with a strong desire to protect capitalist accumulation. But instead, we have one that almost invariably, and perhaps suicidally, adopts progressive positions.

Tech tycoons are now monopoly capitalists. Kotkin suggests that they did not really earn what they have, so they do not want to have to risk it in further enterprises. Great entrepreneurs themselves, they want to punish future entrepreneurs.

Yet the tech elite today, as well as their Wall Street allies, no longer resemble the entrepreneurs of the past. The masters of our increasingly “woke” corporate elites are, for the most part, now second-generation bureaucrats presiding over the wealthiest, most pervasive monopolies on the plant. Controlling 90 percent of a market like search (Google), operating system software (Microsoft), dominating the cloud and on-line retail (Amazon) or 90 percent of phones (Google and Apple) does not turn executives into-risk takers but acquirers. Three tech firms now account as well for two-thirds of all on-line advertising revenues, which now represent the vast majority of all ad sales. Once paragons of entrepreneurial vigor, these firms, as Mike Lind has noted, have morphed into exemplars of “tollbooth capitalism,” which receive revenues on transactions that far exceed anything they lose in failed ventures and acquisitions.

One has a right to feel befuddled at the fact that tech oligarchs and their companies were happy to throw money at a Marxist outfit called Black Lives Matter:

Yet the oligarchy’s embrace of the left goes well beyond opposition to Trump. It was de rigeur among overwhelmingly white and Asian-led tech firms—Amazon, Doordash, Microsoft, Airbnb, Tinder, Dropbox—to pledge their allegiance to the proudly Marxist oriented Black Lives Matter, whose platforms favor socialist economics to battle what its founders call “racial capitalism.”

But, the new aristocratic elites are more than happy to shut down, not just competition, but anyone who dares deviate from the party line. 

These elites are even willing to use their power to censor opponents, increasingly in sync with state power. Google’s announced “crackdown” on climate policy skeptics—even including well-known scientists—has been eagerly embraced by EPA director Gina McCarthy.

The embrace of “woke” investment ideology has led investment banks to shun loans to fossil fuel companies, with the strong backing of the Administration, even as energy prices surge. The transition to ESG standards—including at the World Bank—seeks to prevent funding for fossil fuels of any kind. Wall Street mogul jet-setting Michael Bloomberg wants to go even further and essentially shut down the entire petrochemical industry, with little concern for how to replace it. This kind of thinking has sparked a major legal challenge from 19 states that depend on energy and related industries.

So, this aristocracy has been more than happy to fight the good fight against capitalist innovation and also, against energy independence. They want to shut down energy production and have us rely on wind and solar. As everyone knows, the victims of this madness will be poor people and especially developing economies.

We should note that our international competition, in China and India, has not adopted these suicidal policies. They are building coal and nuclear plants as fast as they can.

And then there are what Kotkin calls the discarded wives. They are using their fortunes to undermine the culture and to support every crackpot leftist cause they can find.

Not only do we have to deal with the predictably left orientation of the oligarchs but also from their discarded wives. Bezos’ former spouse McKenzie Scott is worth an estimated $60 billion, and has already given $130 million to a group pushing woke education as well as gender fluidity and other progressive causes. Melinda Gates, the former wife of the Microsoft founder, is worth at least $6.4 billion and also backs liberal causes like gender equity and the Clinton Foundation.

The result has been a war against innovation and a systematic rejection of the work ethic and the values that produced the wealth in the first place.

So in their endless search to prove their virtue, our masters fund a basic agenda opposed to both classical liberalism and capitalist enterprise.This is much what happened in the runup to the French Revolution, when many French aristocrats embraced polemics that threatened “their own rights and even their existence,” as Tocqueville noted. Watching Howard Schultz, a self-defined progressive capitalist, fight off a unionization drive recalls French aristocrats who supported radical ideas before losing their heads.

Monopolies like Google or Microsoft may still exist, but as quasi-government utilities that collect fees and squash or acquire innovative upstarts. Such a corporate state may please the inheritors, particularly if married to race, gender, and climate ideology. But this scenario will rob capitalism of the dynamism that marked its ascendancy and built our prosperity.

The people who are giving it away often did not earn what they have, and if they did, they feel guilty for having so much. It is a bad sign. They are not earning respect, but, more likely, derision. If they are setting an example, it is a example of socialist redistribution. They imagine that when the Revolution comes they will be spared. They are whistling past the graveyard.


IamDevo said...

If one makes the effort, one can find historical antecedents for our contemporary self-destructive "leaders" as well as their "liberated" wives. I think about Solomon, who was gifted by God to be the wisest man in history, yet allowed his pagan wives to influence him into abandoning the worship of The One True God and build asherah and tophets within sight of The Temple as well as throughout his kingdom. This set the stage for the division of The Kingdom into Judah and Israel and eventually caused the downfall of both. I think also of evil Queen Jezebel, whose husband, King Ahab ruled Israel and whose zeal for the elimination of worshipers of Yahweh is legendary. (Although Ahab can be said to have taken a back seat to nobody when it came to debauched and degenerate practices, his wife Jezebel exceed his degeneracy in every department.) Our contemporary Ahabs and Jezebels share the same characteristics and predilections for sexual degeneracy and child sacrifice. In his wisdom, Solomon remarked that there is nothing new under the sun; everything that is has been before, so I might, with a degree of confidence prognosticate a similar outcome should we as a nation decide to follow their lead. God is not mocked.

Cappy said...

A polite version of Kurt Schlichter's Garbage Elite.

Anonymous said...

The Bell Curve by Herrnstein & Murray, subtitled 'Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life'. The struggle is ALL about class position, and uses race, gender, politics, to divide those who oppose or threaten the upper class structures.

Anonymous said...

Good to see the spouse info. Did not know about them--- but HAVE read about Steve Jobs's widow-- who funds "local news" shows and "newspapers" as well as magazines like "Vanity Fair"a and the "Atlantic." Big danger, as too many people -- oddly, enough -- still think they're getting "the news" when they watch these sources.

It's hard to understand, as over and over, it is shown that they lie and spread the intel agencies' conspiracy'd think after 4-5 years of RussiaRussiaRussia alone, they'd realize that those people are not giving them "news"...then there was the covid BS, with the picture of people dropping in the streets (of covid, not of the vaxx, which is a whole 'nother lie)....But they never seem to wake up.

Good stuff. Have read your site sporadically (in big chunks) for years and really enjoy and learn from it.