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Ear to the Ground

Pascal’s Wager for the Age of Citizens United

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Posted on Apr 21, 2014

Photo by Carbon NYC (CC BY 2.0)

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg told The New York Times he was confident he would walk “straight in” to heaven “without stopping to be interviewed,” because, as Salon’s Tom Frank puts it, “he has put his money on the most glaringly virtuous politics available.”

Joke or not, Frank writes, the words of the exemplar of our new Gilded Age “reminds us of something about the patrician strain of reform he represents.” The 19th century saw a succession of “saintly aristocrats who fought to reform the state and also to adjust the habits and culture of working-class people.” These causes reflect the obsessions of wealthy liberals today: “government must be purified, and working people must learn to behave.”

Frank continues:

On the single greatest issue of the time, however, these sanctimonious reformers were of no use at all. They were in favor of clean government, to be sure, but when it came to organized money’s war on the world, which was then bringing impoverishment and industrial combat and dislocations of every description, they were indistinguishable from the most stalwart conservatives. Describing the patrician “Mugwump type,” the historian writes,

[T]he most serious abuses of the unfolding economic order of the Gilded Age he either resolutely ignored or accepted complacently as an inevitable result of the struggle for existence or the improvidence and laziness of the masses. As a rule, he was dogmatically committed to the prevailing theoretical economics of laissez faire. . . . He imagined that most of the economic ills that were remediable at all could be remedied by free trade, just as he believed that the essence of government lay in honest dealing by honest and competent men.

If that description hits uncomfortably close to home, well, good. We’ve returned to the Gilded Age, laissez-faire is common sense again, and Victorian levels of inequality are back. The single greatest issue of then is the single greatest issue of now, and once again people like Bloomberg—a modern-day Mugwump if ever there was one—have nothing useful to say about it, other than to remind us when it’s time to bow before the mighty. Oh, Bloomberg could be relentless in his mayoral days in his quest for sin taxes, for random police authority, for campaigns against sugary soda and trans fats. But put a “living wage” proposal on his desk, and he would denounce it as a Soviet-style interference in private affairs.

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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