(Ben Green) #1


weighed in about the dangers of a Sanders or War-
ren presidency. Although their obvious motiva-
tion is clear—not wanting to lose their money to
the federal government—that’s seldom how they
argue it. Instead, they engage in economic con-
cern trolling— framing their self- preservational
worries as being, in fact, worries about you and
yours. Zuckerberg of Facebook warned us that
taxing wealth would limit the diversity of philan-
thropic efforts in medical research. Leon Cooper-
man, a hedge-fund billionaire, warned us that
taxing wealth would curb the good works that
he and his friends do. And then, in the cherry on
top, Michael Bloomberg, the former New York
City mayor and media billionaire, made moves to
launch his own bid for the Democratic nomina-
tion. Peak billionaire may be a billionaire deciding
to possibly attempt to purchase a party nomina-
tion because of his fear that some candidates in
the race aren’t plutophilic enough—and then run-
ning against a maybe- billionaire who promised
that being a billionaire would make him specially
incorruptible and now is in impeachment pro-
ceedings over his alleged corruption.
America’s crisis of capitalism has cousins
abroad. In Chile, an increase in subway fares trig-
gered massive antigovernment, pro-reform pro-
tests in recent months, killing at least 20 and injur-
ing more than 1,000. A slogan of the protests has
been “Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will
die in Chile.” The protesters have been demand-
ing that education and health care be established
as rights under the Chilean constitution. Argentina

has also been rocked by protests, as it grapples
with an economic crisis, rising hunger, and the
angry fallout from an International Monetary
Fund bailout last year. In Britain, the chaos of
Brexit drags on, fueled by feelings that the econ-
omy wasn’t working for enough people and ques-
tions about whether billionaires should exist.

tHe mercy of all tHis elite failure and back-
lash is this: the ongoing collapse of any pretense
of selflessness among the winners of our new
Gilded Age.
If a single cultural idea has upheld the dis-
proportionate power of this class, it has been
the idea of the “win-win.” They could get rich
and then “give back” to you: win-win. They
could run a fund that made them sizable re-
turns and offered you social returns too: win-
win. They could sell sugary drinks to children
in schools and work on public-private partner-
ships to improve children’s health: win-win. They could build cut-
throat technology monopolies and get credit for serving to connect
humanity and foster community: win-win.
As this seductive idea fizzles out, it raises the possibility that this
age of capital, in which money was the ultimate organizing principle
of American life, could actually end. Something could actually replace
it. After all, a century ago, America was firmly planted in the first Gilded
Age—and then it found its way into the Progressive Era and the New
Deal, an era of great public ambition. Business didn’t go away; it wasn’t
abolished; capitalists didn’t go into gulags. It was just that the emphasis
of the society shifted. Money was no longer the lodestar of all pursuits.
The choice facing Americans is whether we want to be a society
organized around money’s thirsts, a playground for the whims of billion-
aires, or whether we wish to be a democracy. The second Gilded Age will
end at some point. The question is what comes next: What Trump offers
is tribal nationalism, strongman politics and plutocrat- friendly policy
greased by populist rhetoric. The other possibility is that, as occurred a
century ago, a gilded age collapses into an age of reform: an era defined
culturally by renewed public purpose and politically by the restoration
of the state in areas where people are too powerless to solve problems
of their own—defined by the use of shared institutions to solve shared
problems. You can already see glimpses of how an age of reform is being
dreamed up. Higher taxes on the very fortunate, to be sure; more regu-
lation and worker protections and the like. An attack on climate change
almost as dramatic as climate change itself. Programs to give workers
greater security. It would be an age in which it was cooler, more thrilling,
more admired, more viable to change the world democratically.
If there is one thing that could hasten the end of the age of capital
and accelerate the coming of an age of reform, it is a vigorous new cul-
ture of joining in American life. Not clicking, not liking, not retweeting,
not TikTokking, not screaming at MSNBC/Fox, but actually joining:
political movements and civic organizations with memberships so vast
that politicians cannot ignore them. The age of capital has been facili-
tated by a remarkable solidarity among the ultra-fortunate. Putting
that period in the museum will take other, broader solidarities.

Giridharadas is a TIME editor at large and the author of Winners
Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World


From left: a protest group holds signs of Jeffrey
Epstein in front of the federal courthouse in July;
Felicity Huffman arrives in court for a hearing in
the college-admissions case in September
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