Underneath conservative rhetoric about opportunity and entrepreneurship are policies that promote an entrenched aristocracy. Proposals to cut the top tax rates and eliminate taxes entirely on dividends, capital gains and large estates mean that once your money starts making money, it should never be taxed again. As John Adams put it, “The snowball will grow as it rolls,” rolling, in this case, down the generations. If your family controls a major corporation, lax anti-trust enforcement will help keep it on top. Gutting public education, maintaining a low minimum wage, keeping college expensive, and saddling those plebians who make it through with unmanageable debt — that all works to grease the pole of success against low-born upstarts. And to keep any of it from changing, eliminate restrictions on money in politics.
We’ve been working towards this vision since Reagan, creating what Paul Krugman has dubbed “the New Gilded Age” and Thomas Piketty calls “patrimonial capitalism”
in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.
If you want a symbol of this new aristocratic reality, you need look no further than Jared Kushner, who was born rich, married the boss’s daughter, and is now (at age 36) one of the most powerful people in the country.
Kushner’s title is Senior Adviser to the President, and his yuuuuge portfolio just keeps growing. For example, he is the administration’s point man on bringing peace to the Middle East. That project might totally absorb someone of lesser dynastic credentials, but he also has been Trump’s channel to China, a nation some distance from the Middle East. The Washington Post describes him as “almost a shadow Secretary of State” and “the primary point of contact for presidents, ministers and ambassadors from more than two dozen countries, helping lay the groundwork for agreements.”
Apparently that still left him with a lot of free time, so last Monday Ivanka’s Dad named him to head the new White House Office of American Innovation, which has a broad purview:
OAI will create task forces to focus on initiatives such as modernizing Government services and information technology, improving services to veterans, creating transformational infrastructure projects, implementing regulatory and process reforms, creating manufacturing jobs, addressing the drug and opioid epidemic, and developing “workforce of the future” programs.
Remember when the emerging Tea Party was getting so upset about Obama appointing “czars” to coordinate various policy areas? Kushner is an UberCzar — virtually an unelected crown prince — but Tea Partiers seem not to have noticed. Maybe the problem wasn’t the job itself, but that Obama’s czars were just too proletarian.
Elizabeth Spiers, who Kushner hired to be editor of New York Observer before she resigned and he reduced that once-great newspaper to a web site, is skeptical of Kushner and the value of his business experience in reinventing government. Government, she suggests, suffers from a pennywise/poundfoolish approach to costs, which leaves some offices still using floppy disks. According to Spiers, Kushner took a similar approach at the Observer, preferring to whittle down costs rather than invest for the future. And then there’s this:
I didn’t think he had a realistic view of his own capabilities since, like his father-in-law, he seemed to view his wealth and its concomitant accoutrements as rewards for his personal success in business, and not something he would have had in any case. To me, he appeared to view his position and net worth as the products of an essentially meritocratic process.
But I wonder if it’s Spiers who isn’t being realistic, and is clinging to a pre-Reagan notion of merit. Yes, Kushner may have little in the way of personal accomplishments or evidence of expertise relevant to governing a republic. But if merit is a matter of blood and breeding, and if it is enhanced by an alliance of great houses, then he has merit in spades.
What, you may ask, is the moral of this story? Maybe it’s that parents need to orient their offspring to the true nature of success in this era. Put aside those obsolete lessons about talent, hard work, and becoming excellent in your field. Focus instead on what really matters. True, it may already be too late for your children to be born rich. (That’s your fault, not theirs.) But as long as there are marriageable scions of wealth and power out there, America can still be their land of opportunity.