I love the New Yorker’s financial columnist James Surowiecki. He is given − or chooses to write − a mere single page for his columns but every word, every phrase, every idea is limpid, cool, powerful and utterly persuasive.
I’m particularly happy for his July 7 and 14 column “Moaning Moguls,” in which he takes on, among others, Stephen Schwarzman, the C.E.O. of the obscenely rich equity fund, the Blackstone Group, who − as I remember too well − during the presidential election year made some astonishingly offensive and stupid statements about our government. As Surowiecki reminds me:
Schwarzman is now worth more than ten billion dollars. You wouldn’t think he’d have much to complain about. But, to hear him tell it, he’s beset by a meddlesome, tax-happy government and a whiny, envious populace. He recently grumbled that the U.S. middle class has taken to “blaming wealthy people” for its problems. Previously, he has said that it might be good to raise income taxes on the poor so they had “skin in the game,” and that proposals to repeal the carried-interest tax loophole—from which he personally benefits—were akin to the German invasion of Poland.
Surowiecki then brings up Tom Perkins and Kenneth Langone who, “both compared populist attacks on the wealthy to the Nazis’ attacks on the Jews.” These guys whine that they’re the persecuted minority.
It’s been written about previously, all over the place including here on Sidebar. But what makes this particular column so marvelous is the brief history Surowiecki then gives us of the moguls we now call the one percent, and how a century ago these very rich industrialists actually “played a central role in the Progressive movement, working with unions, supporting workmen’s compensation laws and laws against child labor, and often pushing for more government regulation.”
He continues to analyze progressive industrialists in the post-war era, especially “an organizaton called the Committee for Economic Development, which played a central role in the forging of postwar consensus politics, accepting strong unions, bigger government, and the rise of the welfare state.”
Surowiecki quotes a sociologist and writer named Mark Mizruchi, who says, “‘They [the industrialists] believed that in order to maintain their privileges, they had to insure that ordinary Americans were having their needs met.'”
I love that Surowiecki calls these guys “corporate kvetchers” and says that they “are more concerned with the state of their egos than with the state of the nation…The well-being of the American middle class just doesn’t matter as much to companies’ bottom lines.”
His last line reverberates: “Moguls complain about their feelings because that’s all anyone can really threaten.”
I wish I could write with such wry dispassion. Because I can’t, I’m utterly grateful for James Surowiecki.