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Organizing Against the Plutocrats



Sarah Jaffe has an interview with labor activist and overall genius Stephen Lerner that explores some of the campaigns he’s been involved with recently to connect labor organizing with targeting the plutocrats that dominate the New Gilded Age economy. The whole thing is well worth your reading and consideration. A brief excerpt:

We are doing a lot of work on mapping the different Trump worlds. There are the people, like Mnuchin and the Goldman Sachs folks that are directly in the administration and we map all the benefits that their companies will reap from that. Then, there are the Steve Schwarzmans and the Carl Icahns and this other set of players that run committees for him. So, they can essentially create government policies that will further enrich their companies. Then, there is a third set of people like John Paulson, who made all his money in the housing crisis, who may not be directly working for Trump, but who supported him and is now going to reap the benefits. For example, he is heavily invested in Puerto Rico.

What we have been looking at is, how do you identify the corporate collaborators with Trump, and then look at ways to start putting pressure on them so that they pay a price for the fact that they are in bed with Trump?

One thing is that many of these folks who are in bed with Trump have significant investments from public employee pension plans and college endowments. We have been ongoing running the campaign saying that pension funds and endowments basically are getting lousy deals from these guys, meaning they pay a lot of money to invest in them and they get lousy returns. We are going to escalate that, but we are also going to look at some of the hedge funds that have really atrocious policies and raise the issue that colleges and pension plans shouldn’t invest in racist companies. For example, this guy Robert Mercer whose family owns part of Breitbart. They are Cambridge Analytica, the secret polling apparatus for Trump. I think it is the city of Providence in Rhode Island has invested in one of his funds.

We want to start raising the issue for a bunch of these people that we should cut off their capital. Basically, public dollars or the dollars of progressive institutions shouldn’t be invested in them. Another thing we are doing is we have been introducing legislation on a state-by-state basis to tax the carried interest exemption. This is a loophole that lets them take the regular income that most people pay 30-35 percent on and they get to take 15 percent. I won’t bore you with the details of how they do it, except it is an $18 billion a year tax loophole.

Taxing it on a state level, on the one hand in New York it would produce $3.7 billion in revenue, but the other thing it does is it cuts off their capital. One of the reasons they can give so much money politically is because they have a special tax loophole that gives them $18 billion in cash to play with. One of the ways we can hurt them is cutting off tax breaks and cutting off investment. I think there is a sweet irony of their greed in getting in bed with Trump may make them much more susceptible to cutting off their capital.

Important stuff and a lot of room for organizing against these people. The bank workers organizing with the Communication Workers of America with significant support from overseas bank worker unions is one area that could lead to real success.

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  • Little Chak

    One thing that has really made me absolutely sick is the amount of public education funds that are going into hedge funds that are managed by right-wing activists.

    They get an enormous amount of capital to play with (and zero liability), and in return, they funnel part of their huge share of any profits they make into right-wing think tanks and politicians whose goal is to destroy public education, which will dastrically accelerate the expansion of the wealth gap between rich and poor.

    I suppose this goes for plenty of other public-sector pension funds, too, but the hostility towards public education from the people managing the money is particularly acute.

    • Almost makes me eagerly await the forthcoming legislation that will convert social security to private investment accounts.

  • Gregor Sansa

    Goldman Sachs and the like make orders of magnitude more money from front-running and skimming than from actually allocating capital to places where it’s useful. The government absolutely has the power to stop that; for instance, turn the bond market into a well-designed auction that clears once every 10 minutes, not a playground for millisecond HFT algorithms.

    Also, Facebook is a natural monopoly, and should be taxed and regulated as such.

    [insert more highly controversial ideas and/or bad puns here. Because this is an important thread and deserves more than 2 comments.]

    • Brett

      I don’t like the idea of taking Facebook’s dominant commercial position and effectively enshrining that into law Ma Bell style.

      • Jordan

        As opposed to doing nothing? They *are* a natural monopoly, just like water, sewers and local power is. Communications/information isn’t really all that different. So why not tax and regulate it as such?

      • Zamfir

        How about an obligatory open API, that allows other social network platforms to communicate on roughly equal footing with Facebook accounts? That would turn Facebook into the equivalent of Gmail, instead of the equivalent of the owner of Email(TM)

  • Brett

    Good. Pulling public sector pension money out of hedge funds is not only good social organizing, it’s sound financial decision-making as well. Running the fund index-fund-style would be much better, with the financial management of the fund all in-house instead of being outsourced to a financial sector firm.

  • Jordan

    excellent article, thanks for linking.

  • Fake Irishman

    Oddly enough, that $3.7 billion would probably be enough to keep the Medicaid expansion in NY State if federal help goes away…

  • In the bottom left of the cartoon, one of the sacks the plutocrat is standing on appears to be labelled “Trump”. Any ideas?

    • Matty

      If I had to guess, Trumpery? As in deception or fraud?

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