(Ben Green) #1


the country played. There was a left side of
the field, more wary of capitalism’s extremes,
and a right side of the field, prone to capi-
talist boosting. But the stadium, as Overton
understood, demarcated the boundaries of
the debate for most people: Capitalism, more
or less as we practice it, is our system, and it
is the best system, so how do we tweak it to
make it better?
Then, in 2016, something happened.
Sanders ran for President. He built a formi-
dable national movement, powered by small
donations, and won 22 states—mind you, as
a democratic socialist in the United States
of America. Sometimes the thing that could
never happen happens, and it makes people
doubt their sense of reality. And in that elec-
tion cycle, if Sanders discredited capitalism
as a conscious project, his cause received un-
expected, unintentional help from the man
who would become President. Trump ran as
a flamboyant capitalist, wary of certain as-
pects of capitalism, but promising that his
capitalist mind and his capitalist fortune
would make him a uniquely gifted, uniquely
incorruptible President. When that turned
out not to be the case, Trump not only dam-
aged himself but the idea of the selfless
billionaire savior too.
The Overton window was moving. Then
came the 2018 midterms and a new wave of
Democratic candidates—most prominently,
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
of New York—questioning capitalism-as-
capitalism in a way that seemed unfamiliar
and fresh. As the 2020 campaign approached,
Warren jumped into the race, a beneficiary
of the opening Sanders had helped carve for
capitalist- critical aspirants to America’s high-
est office. With her now famous litany of “plans,” Warren detailed an
agenda that would put American business in a headlock. That she and
Sanders, both veritable enemies of Big Business, are among the top can-
didates shows how much the politics of capitalism has changed.

But, Politics can be abstract; it can be
complicated; people are busy living. Poli-
tics often benefits from scandal, from
prominent misbehavior, from a drama-
tization of the discourse. And this was
what was so remarkable about 2019: be-
cause of the coming election in these popu-
list times, it was already a year potentially full of trouble for the pluto-
crats—or plutes, as I like to call them (to save space and, thus, paper
and, therefore, trees). But, almost as if to assist the cause, the plutes
seemed this year to put on an extended exhibit of performance art
whose plain, if unstated, thesis is that plutocracy is maybe a bad idea.
Exhibit A: Early in the year, Amazon, run by one of the world’s
richest people, Jeff Bezos, announced it was pulling out of its planned

Hydra-like “second headquarters” in New York
City. It seemed to come as a surprise to Bezos that
in a city where a significant number of people
struggle to keep up with rising costs and stagnant
pay, many weren’t excited by the idea of the state
and city giving his company a few billion dollars in
tax breaks that wouldn’t be available to a regular
Joe starting a business. In the debate that erupted,
the conventional wisdom that it is always better to
attract jobs, even by offering companies major in-
centives, came to be questioned.
Exhibit B: The college-bribery scandal. Wealth
and privilege are already great guarantors of se-
curing a spot in a university. What the scandal
unearthed by federal prosecutors illustrated
is that many very rich people are not satisfied
with the general advantage of hyper privilege,
nor even with the specific advantage of dona-
tions to universities that give you an edge but
not a guarantee. The ascendant critics of capital-
ism in American politics have called the system
“rigged” for years. But here was a biopsy of the
rigging. The most revealing subplot of the college
scandal was the arrest of Bill McGlashan. Many
others ensnared in the scheme had bolder-faced
names, but McGlashan was significant because
he had become a symbol of the hope, promoted
by so many of the winners of our age, that they
would lead the charge toward a fairer society.
McGlashan, through the Rise Fund that he helped
create and is managed by his private-equity firm,
TPG Growth, had helped popularize the grow-
ing field of “impact investing”—in which a fund
pursues not only economic returns but also the
betterment of the world. He was charged with—
and pleaded not guilty to—trying to bribe his son
into the University of Southern California, thus
depriving the people whom he supposedly helped
for a living of a fair shot at that college seat.
Exhibit C: In July, Facebook, on account of
just one of the scandals hovering over it, this one
involving privacy violations, received a $5 billion
fine from the Federal Trade Commission. Now,
for you, that may be a big fine. For
Facebook, it was such a feath-
ery tickle that the company’s
stock surged on the news,
reaching its highest price in
nearly a year. Facebook’s mas-
sive market power, its dubious
behavior in the face of Russian
intelligence activities, its fueling of polarization
and its enabling of mis information and even vio-
lence were unaffected by the FTC fine—a penalty
that, if anything, left the impression that compa-
nies like Facebook enjoy near total impunity.
Still, in response to these scandals and out-
rages, many in the business world declared





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