The Secret Influence of America’s 100 Richest People

Stealth politics: why aren’t voters aware and angry about it? (Illustration: Sonny Ross)
Stealth politics: why aren’t voters aware and angry about it? (Illustration: Sonny Ross)

A new study reveals how the wealthy engage in ‘stealth politics’: quietly advancing unpopular, inequality-exacerbating, highly conservative policies

If we judge US billionaires by their most prominent fellows, they may seem to be a rather attractive bunch: ideologically diverse (perhaps even tending center-left), frank in speaking out about their political views, and generous in philanthropic giving for the common good – not to mention useful for the goods and jobs they have helped produce.

The very top titans – Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates – have all taken left-of-center stands on various issues, and Buffett and Gates are paragons of philanthropy. The former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is known for his advocacy of gun control, gay rights, and environmental protection. George Soros (protector of human rights around the world) and Tom Steyer (focused on young people and environmental issues) have been major donors to the Democrats. In recent years, investigative journalists have also brought to public attention Charles and David Koch, mega-donors to ultra-conservative causes. But given the great prominence of several left-of-center billionaires, this may merely seem to right the balance, filling out a picture of a sort of Madisonian pluralism among billionaires.

Unfortunately, this picture is misleading. Our new, systematic study of the 100 wealthiest Americans indicates that Buffett, Gates, Bloomberg et al are not at all typical. Most of the wealthiest US billionaires – who are much less visible and less reported on – more closely resemble Charles Koch. They are extremely conservative on economic issues. Obsessed with cutting taxes, especially estate taxes – which apply only to the wealthiest Americans. Opposed to government regulation of the environment or big banks. Unenthusiastic about government programs to help with jobs, incomes, healthcare, or retirement pensions – programs supported by large majorities of Americans. Tempted to cut deficits and shrink government by cutting or privatizing guaranteed social security benefits.

How can this be so? If it is true, why aren’t voters aware and angry about it?

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SOURCE: Benjamin I Page, Jason Seawright, Matthew J Lacombe
The Guardian