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General News    H4'ed 9/11/14

Steve Fraser: The Return of the Titans

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All of this remained in place after Sam's passing. What changed was the decision of his fabulously wealthy relatives to enter the political arena. Walton lobbying operations now cover a broad range of issues, including lowering corporate taxes and getting rid of the estate tax entirely, as his heirs subsidize mainly Republican candidates and causes. Most prominent of all have been the Walton efforts to privatize education through vouchers or by other means, often enough turning public institutions into religiously affiliated schools.

Wall Street has never been known for its piety. But the tycoons who founded the Street's most lucrative hedge funds -- men like John Paulson, Paul Tudor James II, and Steve Cohen, among others -- are also determined to up-end the public school system. They are among the country's most powerful proponents of charter schools. Like J.P. Morgan of old, these men grew up in privilege, went to prep schools and the Ivy League, and have zero experience with public education or the minorities who tend to make up a large proportion of charter school student bodies.

No matter. After all, some of these people make several million dollars a day. What an elixir! They are joined in this educational crusade by fellow business conquistadors of less imposing social backgrounds like Mark Zuckerberg, who has ensured that Facebook will remain a family domain even while "going public." Another example would be Bill Gates, the most celebrated of a brace of techno-frontiersmen who -- legend would have it -- did their pioneering in homely garages, even though the wonders they invented would have been inconceivable without decades of government investment in military-related science and technology. What can't these people do, what don't they know? They are empire builders and liberal with their advice and money when it comes to managing the educational affairs of the nation. They also benefit handsomely from a provision in the tax code passed during the Clinton years that rewards them for investing in "businesses" like charter schools.

Our imperial tycoons are a mixed lot. They range from hip technologists like Zuckerberg to heroic nerds like Bill Gates, and include yesteryear traditionalists like Sam Walton and the Koch brothers. What they share with each other and their robber baron ancestors is a god-like desire to create the world in their image.

Watching someone play god may amuse us, as "the Donald" can do in an appalling sort of way. It is, however, a dangerous game with potentially deadly consequences for a democratic way of life already on life support.

Steve Fraser is the author of Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, among other works, and a TomDispatch regular. His next book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, will be published by Little Brown in February. He is a writer, historian, and co-founder of the American Empire Project.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Steve Fraser


(Article changed on September 12, 2014 at 09:34)

(Article changed on September 12, 2014 at 09:40)

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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