Winners Take All

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas is not an academic tome, but that doesn’t prevent him from introducing us to some of the neoliberal swindlers who persistently argue that giving the masses a few crumbs of their billions is doing good in the world. And Giridharadas does it without much need for class analysis or labor theory of value. B.S. is B.S. and con men are con men. They speak for themselves in this fascinating book.

In America, where at least 40% of the population believes that immigration has created a zero-sum game in which they are losers of jobs and benefits to asylum seekers, these same people wholeheartedly embrace the “win-win” logic of neoliberalism, which says that when the super-rich profit, everybody does. Worse, the con men tell us that only they, the technocratic gatekeepers, are qualified to make change in an increasingly complex, technological world. It’s the Liberal version of Trump telling his base, “only I can save the country.” No matter who’s saying it, it’s anti-democratic nonsense.

Giridharadas points out that the founders of the Gig Economy exploit workers while claiming to be innovative job creators, and use their considerable P.R. machines and the razzle-dazzle of their pompous mission statements to stun the deer in their headlights. It’s not exploitation, the hucksters wink — at least not in the sense of stealing from the consumer or the working class — if consumers and workers willingly give up their rights and power and wealth and private information for someone else’s profit: theirs.

Giridharadas also explains how and why it is that the so-called “philanthropy” of the super-rich never manages to solve real problems or help real people. Instead, everything becomes a feel-good campaign that looks great on a web page or on a balance sheet — and always manages to profit them. Carbon credits? Pay someone to take responsibility for your pollution. Problem solved — at least on paper.

We meet Vinod Khosla, a billionaire venture capitalist, who speaks of schemes like 2020 “entrepreneur” Presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s plan to give $1000 to every family. These people know the super-rich are creating a world in which perhaps 80% of all workers may eventually be redundant and the ramifications scare the hell out of them. The world of their creation represents an “entertainment” problem (“how would we occupy the minds of all those people?”) and a political one (“how would we keep them from revolting?”) Remarkably, Khosla tells us without a hint of shame the real purpose of Yang’s plan. “To put it crudely, it’s bribing the population to be well enough off. Otherwise, they’ll work for changing the system, okay?” And, to neoliberals, real change is anathema.

Young, intelligent, well-heeled Americans, just at the moment of launching their careers, are deeply torn between the cardboard values their parents, priests and teachers imparted to them during their childhoods. But now, here they are, suddenly adult and working for McKinsey & Co., selling their souls and swallowing the most egregious cognitive dissonance. Indeed, Capitalism and its evil twin, neoliberalism, are charades, as Giridharadas implies, and as people in Latin America know all too well. Sadly, many young people discover the truth for themselves only a few short years into their professional lives — and six figures into debt. Their work is no longer just a charade but a prison.

Ask your doctor if Republican talking points are right for you

Last night’s installment of the July Democratic debates was a mess. With Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren standing at center stage, CNN’s questions seemed designed to invite attacks from the Center and the Right. A common theme was that the Democratic Progressives are far too radical for America and that “reasonable” and “pragmatic” people from the Heartland are America’s only hope. Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, Hickenlooper, Ryan, and Bullock had thus been chosen for this media-staged matchup. To their credit, Warren and Sanders defended their positions admirably. Particularly on Medicare for All.

Early in the debate, CNN host Jake Tapper asked Bernie Sanders to respond to a talking point by fellow candidate John Delaney: “You support Medicare for All, which would eventually take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans in exchange for government-sponsored health care for everyone. Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy, and previously he’s called the idea political suicide that will just get President Trump reelected. What do you say to Congressman Delaney?”

Delaney, an informed viewer would know, is a healthcare executive (and three-term Maryland Congressman) who made $230 million by first providing home health care services by using underpaid workers, and then founded a health care investment corporation to take a cut of your medical premiums. While in Congress, Delaney served on the Financial Services Committee. His top campaign donors were J.P. Morgan Chase, Alliance Partners, Capital One Financial, and several other insurance and investment companies. Delaney is the human personification of everything that is wrong with American healthcare — and, to some extent, the Democratic Party.

Objecting to the framing of the question, Bernie Sanders replied, “Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. And, by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight, on this program…” — before being cut off by Tapper.

And Sanders was exactly right. During the ad break, CNN broadcast a commercial for Otezla, which “partially clears skin at the cost of nausea, diarrhea and depression at a listed prices of $3,400 for a 30-day supply.”

The American Prospect‘s David Dayen wrote that, besides hearing from the pharmaceutical industry, debate viewers also heard from “the anti-single payer group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), funded by hospitals and drug companies, and an Alzheimer’s disease patient advocacy group that takes major funding from drug companies.”

“The unfiltered 90 seconds of three of these commercials in succession comprised more screen time than anything in the debate about money in politics,” Dayen wrote. “The country cannot afford to have CNN creating the proscenium through which America gets informed.”

Unfortunately, half the Democrats on stage sounded exactly like Republicans when it comes to health care. Delaney, Ryan, Bullock, Hickenlooper, and to some extent also Klobuchar all said that Americans would fight tooth and nail to preserve their healthcare plans. All gravely warned that any talk of removing the private option would frighten voters into the hands of Republicans.

Certainly no one should ever underestimate the credulity of the American public, but it would help if the issue were not being improperly framed by corporate media like CNN (and its advertisers) and by Big Pharma’s and Big Healthcare’s friends in both parties.

“Don’t take my healthcare away!” is absolutely the wrong demand, and an abuse of the English language.

Like organized crime, insurance companies don’t provide healthcare. They take a cut of your payment to your doctor. These companies are in it for the money. For journalists and presidential candidates to associate “healthcare” with the insurance industry is professional and linguistic malfeasance. And little more than corporate propaganda.

These are companies that require customers to spend hours and hours trying to adjust rejected or screwed-up claims. Do consumers really want to preserve relationships with these companies? Maybe it’s just me, but the best relationship with the insurance companies would be none at all.

I’ve seen it myself in Germany and Canada. I simply pay my premiums (through taxes or other deductions) and I don’t get nickeled and dimed on copays, approved pharmaceuticals, or have to worry about scheduling treatment because I haven’t yet hit some arbitrary annual dollar amount. I simply go to the doctor or the hospital and everything’s been paid for. Without the possibility that some unusual condition or treatment will bankrupt me. That’s my definition of healthcare. And if I were a small businessman in America, I wouldn’t need to spend half my time negotiating deals with insurance companies.

“Healthcare” is provided by healthcare experts. Doctors, nurses, midwives, physician assistants. “Healthcare” has nothing to do with the corporate parasites who currently profit off human frailty and mortality. If there is a healthcare relationship I want to preserve, it is with my doctor, not an insurance company.

While Sanders was plainly frustrated with Democratic friends of Big Pharma and Big Finance — who refused to allow that a national healthcare plan is most certainly possible because every other Western nation in the world has already done it — Elizabeth Warren did a better job of explaining what the stakes are. Like Sanders, Warren was cut off by CNN while trying to recount the tragic story of Ady Barkan, who has ALS, and whose illness is bankrupting his family despite premium private medical insurance. Still, Warren made her point.

“We are not about trying to take away healthcare from anyone. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do,” said Warren, a co-sponsor of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill. “And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare.”

Class Warfare

Republicans laughing at the "little people"

With the help of more than 6,000 lobbyists the 1% of the 1% — America’s super-rich — managed to ram through a new tax code in the U.S. Congress designed entirely for themselves. Here in the Commonwealth similar looters are unhappy the “little people” have been fighting back.

The RaiseUp Coalition — a broad coalition of workers and social justice groups in Massachusetts — succeeded in getting the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” on the 2018 state ballot. It took thousands of hours of ordinary people standing in the freezing cold or drizzle, and being chased from supermarket parking lots, to gather the signatures. Now, however, the richest of the rich are trying to have the ballot initiative blocked — by taking away our right to vote on it.

A complaint before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court claims Attorney General Maura Healey and State Secretary William Galvin overstepped their authority by permitting what is essentially a progressive income tax to be added to the ballot.

Healy and Galvin are being sued by Christopher Anderson, Westford, President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Inc. (“MHTC”); Christopher Carlozzi, Malden, State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (“NFIB”); Richard C. Lord, Peabody, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (“AIM”); Eileen McAnneny, Melrose, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (“Foundation”); and Daniel O’Connell, Boston, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (“MACP”).

When these lobbying groups were pocketing massive tax breaks not one of them one was screaming “Class Warfare!” But now when called upon to pay their fair share, well, things are quite different. Fourteen members of the Mass High Tech Council alone have managed to extort $144.7 million in tax breaks from the state — and the $150 million in salaries of the executives who run these companies were paid for almost entirely by taxpayers. Nevertheless, taxpayer largesse was never enough for these parasites.

If you are a voter, please sign the RaiseUp petition to demand that the tax initiative stays on the ballot.

And if you are a legislator — just pass the Millionaire’s Tax! If the people’s house were really doing the people’s work we wouldn’t need ballot initiatives like this.