Marvel’s The Plutocrats: Guardians of the Status Quo

I dipped my toes into these luxurious waters a year late after stumbling upon a more recent Gawker article interviewing the piece’s writer, Nick Hanauer. In the “memo,” Hanauer writes to “my fellow zillionaires,” and his language suits all reasonable expectations for this absurd rhetorical situation; in other words, it matches his smug, condescending visage in the picture that stands above the piece, which shows him lording over a city, looking like he’s about to kill or fuck someone, or maybe both.

Anyway, this “proud and unapologetic capitalist” produces a thoughtful argument that provides a refreshing counterbalance to my envious judgment above and betrays my starting bias against Hanauer and his ilk. Basically, “the pitchforks are coming” for America’s plutocrats, the wealthy few who truly rule, or at least who firmly believe they rule, the country.

Hanauer establishes his ethos early on with a bit of hauteur, explaining how he earned, or accumulated, or whatever word you’d prefer to describe his acquisition of Scrooge McDuck like money. He then gets into the beating pulse of his message: break from the economic status quo, or we’re all screwed. He cites ALL of history as precedent for this stance. As he says, “no society can sustain this kind of rising inequality,” and “there are no counterexamples” in history to disprove his point that tyranny and revolution are the inevitable bedfellows of a plutocratic state. And in every case, leading up to those awful partners, the plutocrats are blind to their fate and lost in pleasure. But hey, “this is America,” and we’re the exception to everything life has proven to us, right?

The arrival of such a revolution comes “gradually, and then suddenly,” which is like John Oliver’s joke about Russia, how it will continue to be hilarious until it suddenly isn’t. All around America we’re witnessing a rise in social consciousness and socially charged violence (motivated by some influential social construct, often race). It feels gradual, like a single domino keeps falling in each instance. Before long, the whole structure is bound to crumble. Hanauer, last year, was urging a recognition of this and commanding action.

He’s a proponent of “middle-out economics,” which has nothing to do with Silicon Valley‘s middle-out algorithm, but we can hope that it was inspired by a similarly elaborate dick hypothetical. That’s what I imagine zillionaires talk about anywhere, their dicks. The size of their bank vault is supposed to be linked somehow to their little peckers anyway, right?

The idea, understanding the “economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another,” is to have a thriving middle class, which “is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it.” The rest of the article belabors this point, that the plutocrats would benefit, along with everyone else, from having better compensated/treated workers and from inflating the middle class; consumers can’t spend if they don’t have the capital or the energy to do so, and the plutocrats win when people are spending. Hence, his model of infinite growth.

There are obvious blind spots in his redirected faith in capitalism. He never questions the system itself as problematic, just the way it’s running. Which makes sense. As he admits, he’s been a winner in the game of capitalism, and, knowing what’s likely to come if the game doesn’t change its rules, he wants to get ahead of the curve so he can keep winning. But what if the problem is the game itself? Shifting from one infinite growth model to another, ignoring that in any scenario such a vision of infinite growth is delusional at best…it promises no forward progress, just a few horizontal steps.

Hanauer may be trying to welcome more people to the party, but in the process, he neglects the lingering and fundamental problem: the party itself.

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