Monday February 27, 2017

If you liked Dark Money, you should read Plutocrats

The influence of the billionaire Koch brothers on American politics is the subject of Dark Money by Jane Mayer.

The influence of the billionaire Koch brothers on American politics is the subject of Dark Money by Jane Mayer.

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The Koch brothers are billionaires who have used their money and power to advance their libertarian views and corporate interests through a huge network of political and quasi-political organizations. They didn't support Donald Trump, but Trump benefited from their efforts on behalf of the Republican Party. The effect this has had on American democracy is the subject of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.

Ing Wong-Ward says if you liked Dark Money, you should check out Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland.

The hidden history of money influencing American politics

Ever since there has been this notion of democracy in America, there have been people who, whether they run banks or happen to be extraordinarily wealthy, have influenced the American public sphere. It's important to recognize that these people are extraordinarily wealthy, but they're not always thinking about the average American citizen — the person who is trying to hold down a job, somebody who wants to pay their mortgage, someone who wants to send that child to a decent public school. Much of their push with public policy is to benefit, quite frankly, people like themselves or themselves directly. Jane Mayer is looking at what they've been able to do over the course of decades. This was not something that happened overnight. 

The Canadian equivalent to Dark Money

Plutocrats looks at the rise of the super rich globally. It looks at how billionaires around the world find a way to use their influence to change policy around the world. Freeland was looking at how the one per cent influence the larger public sphere. She writes about billionaires who are in Europe. She spoke to Russian oligarchs. She spoke to American billionaires. It comes down to the same notion of who's influencing our political institutions and who's going to benefit. 

What's next?

We do know that the disparity between rich and poor is growing around the world. As income disparity grows, historically, we've seen some kind of major shift, some kind of revolution. That's the point that Freeland makes. Over the last little while, there has been, arguably, some kind of revolution. We can look to the Brexit vote. We can see the rise of Donald Trump. We're seeing this in France. If you have this gap, how does it affect who we put in power and what we expect them to do? And I think the fear is that we close in. As a nation, or nations, we become a little bit smaller, perhaps a little bit more xenophobic, perhaps a little bit more fearful. And while some people may support that worldview, her point is that's not in everyone's larger interests.

Ing Wong-Ward's comments have been edited and condensed.