Bill Moyers: Plutocracy Rising

Bill Moyer’s latest show, with Matt Taibbi and and Chrystia Freeland, focuses on how the super rich have established a yawning chasm between themselves and ordinary Americans, both in financial and physical terms. One major focus is view the rich are where they are by virtue of their talents and efforts, not (say) by regulatory and tax arbitrage, and how they’ve convinced themselves and a large swathe of society of this myth.

One place where I quibble is where and Freeland argues that “progressives” have dropped the ball by focusing on manufacturing jobs as a solution to the woes of the fallen middle class. That’s hardly the first or best remedy; more progressive taxation (on the order, say, of what we had in Reagan’s day) and getting rid of the favorable treatment of “carried interest” would have far more short term impact. And if I’ve heard the weak tea lefties correctly, the preferred fix for creating more manly jobs (remember Obama’s fixation with that?) is infrastructure spending, where the US has fallen way behind its advanced economy peers, and lousy infrastructure is an impediment to commerce. Freeland has spent too much time in Davos and is unduly enamored of the big multinational corporation business models of extended supply chains. First, a fair bit of their attractiveness rests on tax arbs (as in using them to shift profits to low income tax booking centers). Second (as we’ve discussed at length) in many industries, the economics of offshoring and outsourcing are not compelling and are much more a transfer from direct factory labor to middle and upper management (factory labor cost savings are largely offset by increased coordination costs, meaning managerial costs, as well as greater transportation costs, and that’s before you factor in the greater risk of extended supply chains, the most important being inventory risks). Third, despite her implicit “get over it, China is unbeatable” position, the fact is US manufacturers are repatriating jobs from China to the US NOW because high levels of domestic inflation in China have effectively revalued Chinese labor (in other words, the advantage China gained by pegging its currency artificially low has been eroded, and a lot of outsourcing depended on that extra cost savings).

But that aside, there is a lot of good stuff in this show (hat tip Aquifer). Enjoy!

Oh, and I’m told Neil Barofsky is up on Moyers next week!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Middle Seaman

    The major source of the immense inequality stems from the huge portion of the economy Wall Street owns. Wall Street used to be about 40% of the economy money wise in 2008-2009. They probably grow to above 50% now.

    The 99% have only half the market while the 1% has the other half. Making Wall Street restricted to 5% will restrict their ability to expand inequality.

    Moyers have not addressed this point.

    1. nonclassical

      …2001, “financial sector” controlled 19% of U.S. economic activity (Michael Hudson’s “paper debt”)…that number was 41% by 2007 from our first ever “Masters of Business” graduate, the bushitter…

  2. dan h

    Maybe its because she’s Canadian, I don’t know…I do know she’s off her rocker though. She said around 32mins that government could regulate and bankers could be happy being affluent with 5-6 million instead of 20…LMFAO it just sounds so naive to me, but I’ve grown up in Chicago…And not to single out the bankers, because that greed is the core of the American psyche. Limits cannot exist.

    1. UnHuh

      Yeah, you’re right. As long as we’re locked into a corporate capitalist system, limits cannot exist. It’s gonna take systemic change to rid ourselves of that fallacy. Which, thanks to capitalism’s own internal self destruct mechanisms, won’t be too far off in the future now. I’ll give it another 20 years at the outside, but more likely about 10.

      1. casino implosion

        From your keyboard to god’s monitor, but keep in mind that lefties have been saying that for 150 years now.

        1. UnHuh

          True that. But one of these years it’s gonna come true, regardless of our poor prognostication skills.

  3. Geojos

    Hey cool it, Chrystia is okay. She at least gets it how the Urber rich ( and the conservatives) have caputured public policy with the free market, government is bad myths and how it plays into the present situation. But she, like others, believe their was a ‘golden age’ of capitalism- the 50s- suggesting that if we got back to a mixed economy, it will be okay again. That I do not know. Don’t forget we were in the midst of the military build up engendered by the so called cold war, and there was Military Keyensian working then. Still have it now and in a bigger and more sophisticated form. Regardless, is a more mixed economy with more government engagement an answer, or is there someting about capitalism that no amount of ‘tinkering’ can cure? If it did work and was threating profits and power of the rich cats, the policies and practices would be rolled back. Maybe old Karl was on to something and Keynes just out his finger in the dike. Just saying, I don’t know but wonder.

    1. UnHuh

      …or is there something about capitalism that no amount of ‘tinkering’ can cure?

      Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!

  4. joebhed

    The Plutocracy rises by OWNING the monetary assets that command interest payments TO those owner-Plutocrats FROM what George’s Dad called the Restovus.
    This is a debt-based monetary system function, called Plutocracy-Rising.
    End debt-based money and end the Plutocratic domination.
    AS this recent IMF research paper shows.

    But I do totally agree that progressives avoid the monetary system solution at their continued failure and society’s peril.
    For the Money System Common.

    1. UnHuh

      The Plutocracy rises by OWNING the monetary assets that command interest payments TO those owner-Plutocrats FROM what George’s Dad called the Restovus

      There just might be a future for this holiday after all. Aluminum pole, airing of grievances, feats of strength – everything you want in a secular holiday. Damn! Something even the poor can afford in these austere times!

      A Festivus for the Restofus

    2. Susan the other

      For the Commonwealth. The epilogue to Matt and Chrystia was Moyers talking about the corporate plutocrats threatening their workers to vote for the Mittster or face the consequences. They are all turkeys who depend on a system of handouts and extractions from society, just like the Mittster does. But these guys aren’t very funny. Take Bob Murray for example. The great modern-day coal baron. His management style is to cut back on government required safety practices and expenditures. In Price Utah, on Bob’s orders, the coal mine was hollowed out and left without any upright sections just to increase productivity. The entire mountain collapsed and the miners inside could not be rescued it was said. I think Bob just decided it wouldn’t be productive to rescue them. He simply put up a commemorative grave stone. Chile really put us to shame. Our Bob Murrays would never have rescued those miners. The irrational push for productivity, in order to create a profit, is killing us and the planet. We have long since reached the limits of our old fantasy.

  5. LAS

    The plutocrat does what plutocrats do – play God so that others will worship. Change will not happen until the bulk of the public cease to worship the almighty dollar above social justice. The anecdote in the Moyer’s clip about the plutocrat dropping a fork and people rushing in to restore him with 3 forks says it all.

    Mitt Romney and the Republicans shrewdly know people are still in thrall of wealth. Above all it is the rich who fear not being rich enough. Without being rich, they might feel worthless. The question really is why do the rest of us also believe it? There must still be some lingering hope of us being lifted up into that class that allows us to put up with the obvious corruption.

    Is it possible we will shortly have a democratically elected president who actively disdains most of us, makes explicit promises to care nothing for the poor, outlines policy to worsen the health of women, children, the elderly and disabled, and who struts around like he is God’s gift? At bottom his arguement for the office of president is that because he is rich, he has the policy and aura to run the country and if trust him some of it might trickle down to us. He epitomizes the plutocrat.

    This will keep going on until more people wake up to who and what they themselves worship. It leads them like a ring in the nose.

    1. UnHuh

      In other words, a significant portion of us are still in denial. All the more reason to hope for a Romney victory in Nov. Nothing cures denial like a cold, hard shot of reality. With Obama, we’ve just spent four years marking time.

      1. gf

        The problem with that is the right wing press will still make it all Obama’s fault and we the people will believe it.

        1. UnHuh

          Regardless, Obama will be gone, and the new order will be revealed. Yeah, of course, the new regime will continue to blame everything on the last just like they always do, and yeah, the neo-cons will continue to blame shit on their favorite boogeyman – the “liberals” – even though there hasn’t been an honest to god true liberal sighting in politics in this century. Regardless, regardless, regardless! Troubleshooter’s FIRST rule of thumb: the ONLY way to identify faults in a complex system is to FIRST systematically ISOLATE them!

          How do you reveal neo-con/neo-liberal thinking for what it is? First ISOLATE IT to a single party, then call it by it’s true name – EVIL! – then develop and implement a coherent strategy to ELIMINATE IT!

          Think exorcism – tis the season!

    2. Glasshammer

      LAS:”The plutocrat does what plutocrats do – play God so that others will worship.”


      A man can not keep the power of a God for any length of time if it is revealed that he is no more than a man. Everything from the lavish lifestyle to bending the law to your will is about creating the public perception of a God among men.

  6. Pathman

    Ms. Freeland seems a little too chummy with the plutocrats and her criticism seems a little too gentle. I don’t think this is a time to be gentle. It’s time to kick the plutocrats in the balls. Hard.

  7. craazyman

    Watching this hungover is even more nauseating than watching it sober.

    I actually lasted for 47 minutes. Then I puked.


    this is like trying to analyze the dogshit on the bottom of your shoe, the smell, the texture, the pungency, the consistency, the diet that produced it, the location on the sidewalk, the type of dog . . . on and on . . . the dog’s gentle sensibility, the necessity of stepping in it, the world itself depends on it, there, on the sidewalk in a pile projecting its odor, or else you couldn’t walk. Anywhere. And what would you do then? Shit on dogs, shit on.

    1. UnHuh

      Wow! That’s one heckuva hangover you’ve got going on there craazy! Hair of the dog baby, hair of the dog.

  8. Susan the other

    I’m starting to get giddy. This is actually making me laugh. Because I’ve slowly been realizing that it’s over. The apocalypse has left the room. The old regime just wants us to believe there is some scrap left of it; just wants to cajole us into bailing them out eternally. And No Chrystia, there are no new ideas – but for a reason. To make us think the worst has not already happened. It’s so done you can stick your melon spoon in it.

    1. craazyman

      A terrible terrible thought just occurred to me.

      What if THIS is Nibiru?

      What if this is an 8000 mile wide spherical energy orb of spiritual dog-shit colliding with the Mother Earth. Even nukes can’t protect us from this. I don’t know what can. Maybe voo doo? :)

      1. William Neil

        Yves, thanks very much or this, it’s worth saving and a real antidote to the shallowness of the Presidential debates.

        I especially paid close attention to the last seven minutes or so, on the failures of progressives, points well made. The alternative ideas are out there, but they’ve gained very little traction, just ask James Galbraith on his proposal for a $12.00 per hour federal minimum wage (I mean why wouldn’t that be a winner for Obama and the D party under these circumstances, Repub. support or not? We all know the answer, don’t we? The party is incapable of even this sure winner (those internal contradictions between base and business), much less the more sweeping program of guaranteed employment worked on by Randall Wray, M. Auerbach and others, rejected even by the AFl-CIO as not politically serious – ponder that one!)

        But it is in the spirit of pushing progressives a bit further that I think it will well be worth your time to consider Robert Skidelsky’s recent talk, “Keynes, Hobson, Marx,” which goes “beyond Keynes,” and tries to get at the deeper forces driving the capitalism of today, centered on the “old” (or is it eternal?) problems of excess savings and investment, under-consumption, falling profit rates in the post-idustrial West, and their connections to globilization.

        Among the other virtues of Skidelky’s essay, (taken from a public lecture) is its consideration of the most delicious – or cruelly ironic aspects- of contemporary capitalism: at a time of massive wealth and productive capacity, far beyond Marx’s and Keynes own considerable musings and admirations forn its powers of production and invention, why is it that a prescripion of austerity for the masses should emerge, not just for the “bad character” periphery nations, but for all the advanced Western societies?

        Lord Skidelsky takes some of the important themes from Moyers’ interview and connects them with the history of ideas from some of the best thinkers on the left…a level of abstraction not beyond the powers of Taibbi and Freeland, but places which they choose not to explore.

        Here’s the link:

        1. William Neil

          Hey, great ad got inserted here – never seen it in the “comments” section : “advanced training for motocycle technician,” would make both parties and Tom Friedman so proud: the answer is more education, better training!

        2. Pendar

          Raising min wage had no real effect and what effect it has is very short term. Why you may ask, well u raise the guys wage at Booger King, Your Tale of a Whopper with cheese just went up in price, so if your middle class or on a fixed income you just got screwed because now everything just suddenly went up in price to make up for the increase in min wage. The guy who makes min wage has the same buying power as before, it just has the appearance that he or she is making more money

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Right, like craazyman, I found this annoying … and progressively nauseating, even without a hangover. Here are two comfy veal-pen journalists scrupulously avoiding the landmines of genuine, real-world alternatives, while cultivating defeatism and fear to implicitly endorse lesser-evilism. Moyers of course is the consummate gentleman because, as we know, he works for Big Bird.

      In this interview, Taibbi is a mere Casper-like milquetoast ghost of himself and would have been just as effective on speakerphone. But Freeman is exasperating. After telling us that the bailouts were essential to saving civilization (albeit with too few strings), she proceeds to oh-so-earnestly channel Peggy Noonan (Reagan’s speechwriter) in her all-knowing schoolmarm manner, to inform us that the banksters’ “hurt feelings are real”, not feigned petulance or theatrical peevishness at all (trust me, they are deeply aggrieved). She assures us that they really feel Obama is posing “an existential threat” to the plutocracy — that “what he has started to say” about wealth inequality “is profoundly threatening, because it starts to break down this equation of my wealth equals my virtue.” And, “The plutocrats are not wrong to detect … a very powerful ideological challenge [in Barack Obama].”

      Not too subtle hint: however tepid and tentative he is in pretending to challenge the MOTU, BHO truly is our only real hope. In fact, according to Freeman, “no one is offering sufficiently compelling alternatives and solutions.”

      Earth to Chrystia, yoo-hoo, yes you up there in your one-five-seven hi-rise, couldn’t you at least mention Dr. Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson in passing and maybe explain specifically why their alternatives are not compelling? Why are you afraid to even mention them? Really! The conspicuous censored blackout of alternatives is feeling eerily McCarthyesque.

      This was not one of Moyers’ better interviews. I far preferred Yves and Taibbi; better yet Yves sola.

  9. Hugh

    In these discussions, it is always apposite to quote the following from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society:

    The moral attitudes of dominant and privileged groups are characterised by universal self-deception and hypocrisy. The unconscious and conscious identification of their special interests with general interests and universal values, which we have noted in analysing national attitudes, is equally obvious in the attitude of classes. The reason why privileged classes are more hypocritical than underprivileged ones is that special privilege can be defended in terms of the rational ideal of equal justice only, by proving that it contributes something to the good of the whole. Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold. The most common form of hypocrisy among the privileged classes is to assume that their privileges are the just payments with which society rewards specially useful or meritorious functions.

    I would also add that terms like plutocracy and oligarchy miss the crucial criminality of what is happening. This is not just a case of the rich and the elites acting badly. They are criminals, and not just white collar, accounting book criminals either. Their actions result in the deaths of tens of thousands each year. They have ruined the lives of tens of millions and impoverished hundreds of millions. They are financial terrorists and some of the greatest and most ruthless criminals in history.

    Like so many liberals, Moyers can’t pull the trigger on the system which nourished him and call it out for its essential criminality. There remains in him some belief in it. You can see this same reluctance, or inability, even in Bill Black who sees a great deal of criminality in the system but continues to act as if its foundations were sound.

    I am conflicted by these liberals. On the one hand, I welcome their criticisms of the system under which we struggle, but on the other, their underlying belief in its validity ultimately enables it and its looting of us. How am I supposed to accept that?

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Worth repeating: “This is not just a case of the rich and the elites acting badly. They are criminals, and not just white collar, accounting book criminals either. Their actions result in the deaths of tens of thousands each year. They have ruined the lives of tens of millions and impoverished hundreds of millions. They are financial terrorists and some of the greatest and most ruthless criminals in history.”

      Although this is not one of Bill Moyers’ best interviews, to me, he is unimpeachable and wins the irrevocable lifetime achievement award for integrity in public service. If he falls short, it is only because his frame of reference can’t contain the extent of depravity today, either in Obama or his constituents. His guests’ performance, however, bordered on malpractice. Overall it seemed a waste of precious oxygen.

    2. duggie73

      The middle class in the West fits the description perfectly.

      Plutocrats aren’t a different species, being disgusted by an empathetic analysis of their worldview is absurd.

      Hey ho.

      1. Hugh

        Get real. The top 20% own 93% of the non-house financial wealth in the country. That’s not the middle class, and that’s hugely more than their value to society.

        1. duggie73

          Let’s see if we can agree on reality.
          A teacher in the US is worth more $ than a teacher in Egypt because…of the attitude in the post I intitially replied to.
          As a rationning system, money favours those who had it to start off with.
          Which means those who in the past were most successful at building and using guns and other coersive forms of ditributing resources.
          “There’s someone doing better out of gaming the system than me” is a fairly lame ethical standpoint from which to criticise the system.
          Hey ho.

  10. Joe Buck

    It’s not either/or. We need progressive taxation, an end to the carried interest exemption, *and* massive infrastructure spending to put people to work building things that will make a real difference. People need more money, but they also need dignity. Being able to point to a well-constructed building, bridge, tunnel, road, or rail line and say “I helped build that”, even if the speaker has only a high school education, helps people feel like they matter. That, plus the fact that they got paid enough to support a family comfortably.

  11. TimR

    “[the] view the rich are where they are by virtue of their talents and efforts, not (say) by regulatory and tax arbitrage, and how they’ve convinced themselves and a large swathe of society of this myth.”

    Lots of people I think would admire them still, considering regulatory and tax arbitrage itself to be a sign of “talents and efforts” – evidence of their “pecuniary potency”.

  12. Lisa

    I thought Matt controlled himself very well. Freeland loves globalism, thinks technology is wonderful and the eventual solution of all woes, that there are “profound” and presumably positive currents underlying the current situation, and so on and on, ad nauseum. She actually empathizes with these sons of bitches who essentially exhibit a sociopathic mentality. The vast harm they do to society, whether by their corruption of the political system, the destruction of the environment, the corruption of the financial system, the undermining of individual rights, the extreme danger they pose to the possibility of living a decent life for the vast majority, their unbridled and filthy greed, these apparently are somewhat veiled by the glamour of their lifestyles–their “wonderful lives,” as she puts it several times. I found her basically revolting.

  13. Mary Bess

    Freeland seems unaware of her own “intellectual capture.” But denial preserves access. Enablers, conscious or not, are counterproductive.

    She complains about the lack of a response from the left. How about OWS and the UMKC economists? Apparently they’re not providing the “right” answers.

    Do Freeland and Taibbi actually think that “free market religion” is anything but a cover for criminal activity? You have to distinguish between what people tell you from what you can reasonably infer they actually believe. Pay attention to what they do not what they say.

    We’ve hit this wall before. It looked like “Watergate” would precipitate real reform. Enormous political corruption was uncovered, but the establishment decided it did not want reform after all. All “Watergate” did was lower the standard.

    1. enouf

      this bears repeating;

      Freeland seems unaware of her own “intellectual capture.” But denial preserves access. Enablers, conscious or not, are counterproductive.

      Shame such a seemingly highly intelligent person can spew such fecal matter from their mouth due to their own brainwashing.

      Once she said “… globalization …”, i immediately puked all over my keyboard.

      Anyone notice how matt was constantly looking over to her as he himself was talking? if, awaiting the wink and the nod, the a-ok to continue on. (as opposed to when he and yves appeared as the duo).

      Also anyone notice how she kept interrupting moyers..just to finish her ‘ever-so-important’ thoughts? That’s a behavior usually associated with narcissism and sociopaths. She wears her verbal diarrhea well.

      Thanks also for the comments from; craazyman, jake, doug, lisa, and mary. Perhaps i missed one or two others, but all you others better play ketchup, …or real bloodshed (here at home) will eventually come to fruition, at the detriment of all, and we all know that doesn’t need to happen–nor has that method ever produced any long-lasting meaningful real change. (i.e., Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss).


      1. enouf

        oh, … and ofcourse hugh’s comments ;-) (too important to leave out), and some comments might be in the related thread here; “why-it-is-essential-that-criminal-bankers-are-prosecuted”


      2. Doug Terpstra

        “Free market religion” and “intelledtual capture” are indeed insidious and persistent. Very insightful comments, Mary Bess and enouf. Thanks

        The manners and mannerisms are especially loud tells (now that you’ve decoded them). Romney, too, displays his own tells, with battery assist.

        But interestingly, though I’ve heard narcissism and sociopathy ascribed to no-drama Obama, he doesn’t seem to betray them in like body language, maybe due to Chicago politics and Harvard law training. That could be why he’s so expert with sleight-of-mind hypnosis. He’s amazingly adept at saying one thing and doing almost exactly the opposite while still fooling most of the people most of the time. It’s a stunning phenomenon.

  14. Mark

    An underlining systemic problem they don’t talk about and is difficult to add into the equation is the declining rate of population growth of resident Americans. With that declining rate comes declining levels of consumption which hurt all business ‘growth models.’ America is on the verge of massive immigration (Chinese, Eastern European, Hispanic, etc) in order to make up for the declining population growth rate. These ‘new consumers’ will be driving the consumption of 21st century America as most people already living in America already have their ‘TVs, Refridgerators, furniture, cars, etc.). Learn more about immigration into the U.S. There is a whole new class of people (some with money, others poor) that are just knocking at the door of America’s consumer culture and they will (and are) flooding in. 450 million americans by 2030 – Good bye America, I’m moving! Oh, and check out ‘peak resources’ while you’re at it.

Comments are closed.