Blowing the lid off the billionaires' big con - and its deadly link to the coronavirus pandemic

Thom plus logo About 75 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to "do what is right" when polled during most of the last years of the Eisenhower administration and early years of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency.

In 2019, when the Pew Research Center released its most recent poll of public trust in the government, only 17 percent of Americans trusted their government. It's so bad that armed protesters have shown up nationwide to protest the "tyranny" of having to wear masks during a pandemic… and have been cheered on by the president of the United States and Fox News.

This is no accident; it's the result of a decades-long campaign by some of America's richest people to tear apart the governing fabric of our nation, kicked off by their man, Ronald Reagan, proudly proclaiming at his January 20, 1981, inauguration that, "[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Put yourself in the place of the heir to a multimillion-dollar fossil fuel empire, a situation akin to the "heroic" brother and sister who inherited a railroad from their dad in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged:
  • If you don't have to pay to dispose of cancer-causing byproducts from your refineries but can simply vent them into the air, you make more money.
  • If you can cut wages and threaten employees because they don't have a union, you make more money.
  • If you can run a pipeline across sacred Native American land atop a major national aquifer with minimal safety oversight, you make more money.
  • If you can hide your money from the IRS because the agency has had its budget slashed so badly that it can no longer do expensive audits of morbidly rich people, you can keep more of the money you've made.
  • If you can get the government to cut social programs and public education, thus lowering your taxes, you can keep more of the money you've made.

So how do you pull this off, when every one of these things hurts average Americans?

Easy. Just embark on a 40-year-long campaign, through think tanks, right-wing media, and massive PR efforts to convince average Americans that government is the cause of, not the solution to, their problems. Convince working-class Americans that gutting government is a good thing that will ultimately help them in some mystical, magical way through the incredible "invisible hand" of the marketplace.

Lewis Powell, a lawyer for Big Tobacco, launched the movement to do just this with his infamous memo in 1971, and billionaires have funded and promoted politicians who jump on board the "government is evil" bandwagon ever since.

And it's largely worked, if the "trust in government" statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center since 1958 are accurate.

Back in 2011, I was up late one night watching Bloomberg News on a hotel TV. The American host was interviewing a very wealthy German businessman at a conference in Singapore.

Amidst questions about the business climate and the conference, the host asked the German businessman what tax rate he was "suffering under" in his home country. As I recall, the businessman said, "A bit over 60 percent, when everything is included."

"How can you handle that?" asked the host, incredulous.

The German shrugged his shoulders and moved the conversation to another topic.

A few minutes later, the American reporter, still all wound up by the tax question, again asked the businessman how he could possibly live in a country with such a high tax rate on very wealthy and successful people. Again, the German deferred and changed the subject.

The reporter went for a third try. "Why don't you lead a revolt against those high taxes?" he asked, his tone implying the businessman was badly in need of some good old American rebellion-making.

The German businessman paused for a long moment and then leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees, his clasped hands in front of him pointing at the reporter as if in prayer. He stared at the man for another long moment and then, in the tone of voice an adult uses to correct a spoiled child, said simply, "I don't want to be a rich man in a poor country."

There are a few wealthy Americans who understand this. But the billionaires who fund the Republican Party and right-wing media think it's perfectly fine to rip the financial and political guts out of their own nation if it makes them a few extra bucks.

They've funded and facilitated movements like the Tea Party and the Boogaloo Bois, media outlets like Fox News and Breitbart, and organizations like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and ALEC. They throw piles of money at Republican politicians, so long as they never stray far from the "deregulate, cut, denigrate" line about American government.

As this nation shudders from a crisis of confidence in government during a deadly pandemic that has-unnecessarily-killed more than 100,000 of our fellow citizens, let's remember who brought this about. And all for a few extra pieces of gold.



alis volat's picture
alis volat 2 years 47 weeks ago

This is my favorite story Thom tells; he always knows true wisdom when he hears it.

The Libertarians magical thinking, and the Conservative's inability to grasp nuance makes it improbable they will ever understand. They get the hardship when it lands on their doorstep. It is how their brains function, literally. It has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence or education, and that's the mistake many people from the left make.

Apathy is our true enemy. If you can teach one young person today that politics affects everything they do every day of their life, you will have made progress. By the looks of the of the youth in the streets, we are making progress and history. I hate the sacrifice, but love those young, old, and in-between who want to reclaim our humanity. TAG-YOU'RE IT!

dallasdoer 2 years 47 weeks ago

Yes, it is true in part rationalized by their campaign to "Starve the Beast," as if their tax cheating is appropriate since all government is bad. THE REAL PROBLEM HERE IS THAT PEOPLE ARE BAD, and that just cannot be denied. The Pollyanna who sings cumbaya, is seen as just as big an idiot in the minds of the poor whites. Therefore, the paradigm against government, is partly true, which is why the poor white dolts vote against their own interests. The real problem here is that the fascists use bits of truth and hammer them into the heads of those who are rightly mad, but just do not know who to turn to, so they listen to their preachers and so-called conservatives, as they see the kind of debauchery that the liberal media brings them daily. They see intellectuals as the tool of Satan, and the may be have a point since Democrats have been complicit, up to now. Let's not forget that Clinton signed lots of deregulation, particularly the Banksters. And although Obama sure looked the part and gave a good speech, he brought back the same banksters who caused the Great Recession. At the top of both parties are just a bunch of lying lawyers who are akin to tag team wrestlers who are two cheeks on the same arse, the America of you and me that gave us this current witches brew.

avn013's picture
avn013 2 years 47 weeks ago

Thom Hartmann: Back in 2013,, “Giri and Gimu - Where Money REALLY Came From” your explanation about where money came from is IMO most probably true, at least as a concept. I think that if I replace money with tax then what you said appears to be an excellent interpretation of why taxes exist: Tax is imposed on a transaction (between 2 or more members of a society), so that the society as a whole has enough resources to protect and support these transactions (by making sure that the field is level, that infrastructure exists to facilitate the two parties of the transaction fulfill the exchange as smoothly as possible). However, this seems to be just an opinion, which I share fully, but I would like some hard-core proof for it. You know a lot of people, why can't you convince a true economist to listen to you long enough to be convinced and give us the hard core data that support this point of view. (The justification of this opinion with giri and gimmu is a joke for someone who understands these words. Actually, I learned the word giri by example while in Japan, but I had also the advantage that in my mother tongue this word exists. English on the other hand lacks this word. Potlatch is something completely different. Giri is not an obligation and has little to do with exchange of gifts. For example during Christmas a lot of people exchange gifts but they may have or may not have giri. I can not say much about gimmu, because I was not taught it by example (sure is a giri related to parents, but exactly what is another story). And Japanese (at least most of them) consider nijou a nobler form of giri. So, nihou, gimmu giri. All of them translated as “obligation”, “duty” in some ethical or “higher form” sense in English. But, all of them are not translatable in English and other languages (but there should be exceptions (Chinese? Korean? Are my guesses).

Your todays’ comment seems to imply that tax should be imposed on something that does NOT involve a transaction. I strongly disagree. This is a “legal” way for governments to steal money and property. Is is only a step from charging us for breathing (we already have to pay for water, a place to sleep, a place to pee, and for survival food, which are contrary to the spirit of any society. Of course, nowadays humans have matured enough that only is some places people still die from thirst and lack of food). This “legal way” has been applied for years, and as you rightly write has deteriorated in more suffering for those below the “millionaire” status. On the other hand going back to the “republican” “standard” of taxing annual incomes over few millions with a rate of 95% (individuals, companies) is the right way to go. This means that IRS has the means to check and enforce these rates. Billionaires who do not like this deal should have the option to take their money bin and go wherever they please for ~10 years (to be ostracised), while their assets non-monetary assets within USA territory are frozedn for the same amount of time, in case the come back (with whatever is left of their bin). Despite our decline in democratical values, the deterioration of politics, indifference of voters, indifference in active participation in the “common things” I still believe that USA is one of the top places to live, because (from my experience) most people at least have several of their fundamental rights respected (especially if they are not black or other minority). Where the billionaires may go? Putin’s Russia is doing well and could do with some money bins, especially these days that oil price is down and there is military (expensive as we know from Afghanistan and other “excursions in the neighborhood). Xi’s China, has made a lot of progress towards capitalism, but still has a long way to democratize its communism. And for those who love the everyday excitement, there is Libya, Syria etc. As for Europe, well I wonder how much tax they will be paying there and what their fringe benefits will be. But that’s not my problem.

‘Back in 2011……. "I don't want to be a rich man in a poor country."’

Hmm. I may believe the story if a link with the interview is posted. Although, I will agree with the “conclusion” (Trevor Noah,, “Thomas Piketty - Why Capitalism Must Be Reformed | The Daily Social Distancing Show”), I think the story is made up. Why a German? Why not a Norwegian? Because they have monarchy? Why not a Swiss then? Switzerland ahs been a democracy for as along as she existed, and the tax evasion rate is lower than that of Germany.

vetinla's picture
vetinla 2 years 46 weeks ago

And still, no media queries about our bio-warfare labs. Given this country's history 0f exprimenting with unwhitting subjects( Tuskegee), seems a fitting subject for a COV-19 inquiry.

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