The Billionaire Takeover

In the Guardian this week Nathan Robinson, the editor of ‘Current Affairs’ asks, “Why do billionaires keep presenting themselves as America’s great new hope? [1]”

The past week saw both the passing of Ross Perot and the entry of Tom Steyer into the presidential race. It’s fitting that the two events should coincide – as one billionaire presidential candidate leaves us, another steps up to take his place. But while “rich guy who tells it like it is” candidates are not necessarily doomed to electoral oblivion – one of them sits in the White House today – they represent everything dysfunctional about US democracy.

Yes they do, and not just in the United States. Throughout the world, political systems are feeling the strain of big money muscling in on governments, either by direct election or the use of lobbying to coerce politicians into doing their bidding.

It’s nothing new, but algorithms have swung the balance in favour of big money thanks to the efforts of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

Neither is it a recent aberration, in fact it can be traced back almost to the beginning of human habitation of this planet. Every civilization to date has been led, or controlled, by those with the money. It buys power, and it’s almost the only thing that does – though physical prowess was once a necessary requisite to leadership when the only weapon of war was the sword or the lance.

The England of the Middle Ages was an era highlighting the power of money and prestige that held sway over the ‘working classes’ of the time. They were little better than slaves, owned by their powerful ‘Lords’ and allowed to work his land on payment of tithes that ensured they remain impoverished all their short lives. In time of war they were forced to fight and die in the service of their master, and for whichever of the antagonists he chose to support.

Societies have changed since the Middle Ages, but those changes have come about because ordinary working class folk fought hard against the moneyed and powerful who used all the resources at their disposal to put down those rebellious peasants. We have much to thank Wat Tyler and his followers for, though I dare say there’s few around today who’ve even heard of him.

And that’s very sad because civilization has always been a struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Right now the latter are losing the battle. It’s unlikely we’ll all become peasants again in the near future, though climate change may well hasten the process for many, but the advent of the hedge fund has enabled sufficient of the greedy to amass vast wealth (and the accompanying power) and between them they’re using it to take over our democratic governments at an alarming rate. The irony is they are using us as the pawns to attain their end.

The internet is a perfect tool to manipulate the masses and it’s being used to good effect. Newspapers are now owned by billionaires with political agendas that they push both online and in print. Companies work behind the scenes; they specialize in mining our data to feed algorithms that spew forth carefully constructed political advertising that pours onto our computer screens like wasps to a honeypot.

The saddest part is most people don’t even realise it’s happening. They won’t until AI takes their job away, their houses are foreclosed due to mortgage arrears, and they’re forced into high-cost rented accommodation owned by the same billionaires who took their jobs.

We had a preview in 2008, after the financial crash. Many Americans lost their homes and were forced to live in their cars while the billionaire bankers made sure they did very nicely out of it.

It’s time for the next peasants’ revolt. Unfortunately, most of the peasants haven’t realised it yet. They still think the Trumps and the Johnsons, with their loud-mouthed false promises, are going to fix things for them.

As Nathan Robinson concludes in his Guardian article:

Billionaires succeed in getting attention because they have money, and while money isn’t itself speech, it can certainly buy a whole lot of it. But billionaires can also get votes, when people are despondent and tempted by someone who promises to solve their problems. This isn’t a healthy political system, though. It’s a sort of elected oligarchy where the only meaningful choice is which filthy rich person we want to rule over us. True democracy requires mass participation. We can’t just wait for a benevolent billionaire, because their candidacies are always about themselves rather than us.

[1] “Why do billionaires keep presenting themselves as America’s great new hope?” Guardian, July 13th 2019