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OpenMarket: Morality of Capitalism

  • Billionaire Diversity: Foreign vs. Domestic

    September 17, 2014 10:46 AM

    Brookings Institution scholar Darrell West, whose new book Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust is being released later this week, has another intriguing graphic on the political influence of the extremely wealthy. Last week Brookings posted an interactive grid of the top players in domestic politics, the U.S. Billionaire Political Power Index. This ranking put Charles and David Koch predictably at #1, but followed by Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager/global warming activist Tom Steyer, with the likes of George Soros, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and Alice Walton filling out the rest of the list. As I pointed out at the time, the list shows that the exclusive club of politically active billionaires is hardly composed entirely of conservative or libertarian types, as some on the Progressive left would have us believe.

    This week the rankings go international as West releases the Global Billionaires Political Power Index. This one includes a few crossovers from the U.S. influence list, such as Bill and Melinda Gates (#1), George Soros (#2), and Rupert Murdoch (#7). Interestingly absent are the joint-ranked Koch brothers, who despite being West’s most politically influential billionaires in the U.S., didn’t manage to even crack the top 15 worldwide. It seems Charles and David are only a threat to democracy (so sayeth Robert Reich) here at home.

  • Celebrate Billionaire Diversity

    September 12, 2014 11:15 AM

    Darrell West, a Vice President at the Brookings Institution, has a new book coming out next week on the political influence of the very wealthy, titled Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust. West has come up with a savvy promotional idea by assembling a list of the top 20 billionaires (and billionaire couples) ranked by political influence. Bloomberg TV had him on yesterday to discuss the list and Philip Bump at The Washington Post wrote about it last week, taking issue with some of West’s choices.

  • The American (Business) Revolution

    July 3, 2014 2:52 PM

    On our nation’s 238th birthday, a flood of public events, political speeches, and TV specials will remind us of the courage of our colonial ancestors in throwing off the authoritarian government of King George III. The Revolutionary War sparked a movement for democratic government that spread rapidly, eventually serving as an inspiration to billions around the globe.

    But the separation from Great Britain was also a revolution for commerce. In the 1770s, American merchants and consumers labored under a burden of high taxes, administrative red tape, and punitive import duties. It was the passage of the Tea Act in 1773, which worsened that burden, which drove the patriots known as the Sons of Liberty to destroy the East India Company’s famous cargo during the Boston Tea Party.

    We often forget that the taxes and regulations on tea that the Sons of Liberty found so odious were not just there to raise revenue for the crown. They were what we would call today a case of crony capitalism –a system of government policies that give a company preferential treatment over its competitors. Parliament passed the Tea Act in large part to bail out the British East India Company, which by that time had accumulated such an overstock of unsold tea that it was on the verge of bankruptcy.

    While many colonists objected to the government in London imposing taxes on them at all, the policies that led to the Boston Tea Party—and eventually the American Revolution—went beyond that by stacking the deck in favor of moneyed British interests. The King’s government routinely granted exclusive monopolies and privileges to for-profit ventures, often via cozy arrangements that, not surprisingly, benefitted the already wealthy and well-connected.

    Americans knew then what most Americans still believe today—that there is nothing wrong with making an honest profit from an honest product. Small merchants and skilled craftsmen thrived throughout colonial America by providing their neighbors with everything from horseshoes and barrels to clothing and beer. When an out-of-touch government raised taxes and passed laws to bail out big business interests, however, they protested the injustice. Sound familiar?

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