Their Own Worst Enemy: America’s One Percent


Writing in the New York Times, Chrystia Freeland cites the 14th century halt of social mobility by Venetian oligarchs — La Serrata — for the decline of the Venetian city-state. Mobility meant competition, writes Freeland. So those who climbed to the top first pulled up the ladders after them. “By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.” The same may be happening in the U.S. today:

America’s Serrata … takes a more explicit form: the tilting of the economic rules in favor of those at the top. The crony capitalism of today’s oligarchs is far subtler than Venice’s. It works in two main ways.

The first is to channel the state’s scarce resources in their own direction. This is the absurdity of Mitt Romney’s comment about the “47 percent” who are “dependent upon government.” The reality is that it is those at the top, particularly the tippy-top, of the economic pyramid who have been most effective at capturing government support — and at getting others to pay for it.

Exhibit A is the bipartisan, $700 billion rescue of Wall Street in 2008. Exhibit B is the crony recovery. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that 93 percent of the income gains from the 2009-10 recovery went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. The top 0.01 percent captured 37 percent of these additional earnings, gaining an average of $4.2 million per household.

Inclusive states expand. Extractive states contract “and their economies languish.” Lee Camp took a trip to the Cayman Islands to see where the extracted wealth of America vacations. They are not offshore accounts, Camp spits. Call them what they are: traitor accounts.


Sometime I’ll locate a photo of that Cayman clown building that houses thousands of corporations and pirate booty. Do the people going in and out have red noses, hooks for hands, or both?

In her bit of economic sedition, Freeland pulls back curtain behind which our modern nobility cloak their greed:

Businessmen like to style themselves as the defenders of the free market economy, but as Luigi Zingales, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, argued, “Most lobbying is pro-business, in the sense that it promotes the interests of existing businesses, not pro-market in the sense of fostering truly free and open competition.”

Worth repeating: Most lobbying is pro-business, not pro-market. Nor pro-America.

Categories : Corruption, Economy


  1. Andrew Dahm says:

    Absolutely great, Tom. Can you “take it local”? How does Economic Development policy in Asheville foster or inhibit economic mobility in our city?