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Money, Power and Politics
November 13, 2012 10:23 AM   Subscribe

In last night's episode of Independent Lens on PBS, filmmaker Alex Gibney presented the case that America's richest citizens have "rigged the game in their favor," and created unprecedented inequality in the United States. "Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream" [video, website]
posted by nowhere man (51 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
The commercial before the program is for Goldman Sachs.
Seems legit.
posted by bstreep at 10:32 AM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Surely they wouldn't do that.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:44 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, yes. That's part of what makes capitalism run...trying to turn the rules of the game in favor of those already winning to make sure they win all the time.
posted by xingcat at 10:52 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any way one can watch this in the UK?
posted by mary8nne at 10:52 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The game has always been rigged in their favour, the difference is now they are rigging it for short term gains rather than long term. And that is what makes civilizations crumble.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:55 AM on November 13, 2012 [23 favorites]


When we would ask our rich friend, a managing director of Morgan Stanley, how he got so rich, he would smile, wink, and say, "the fix is in."
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:04 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it didn't used to be that I would win by CRUSHING you. It used to be the Henry Ford paid his workers a fair living wage. Now you have CEOs getting paid a metric shit ton regardless of how well the company does. People bitch about what the quarterback on a shitty NFL team makes in a guaranteed contract. That's nothing compared to what big name CEOs do.

And they do so to the detriment of not only the company, but the workers of the company.

Papa John's gave away 2 million pizzas. That cost them well over $25 million dollars to increase their brand awareness. They could have spent $8 to $11 million and increased how they take care of their employees by giving them healthcare. It's not unreasonable to expect that a big, successful company should give their workers something. Wouldn't that company be more attractive to work for? Wouldn't you get better employees?
posted by inturnaround at 11:04 AM on November 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


Well I never.
posted by Aquaman at 11:07 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a shocking thesis. Why does he hate wealth creators so much? (and without sarcasm, I'm always happy to hear this actually being discussed in public...)
posted by Zed at 11:08 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it didn't used to be that I would win by CRUSHING you. It used to be the Henry Ford paid his workers a fair living wage.

Actually, it totally was that they would win by crushing. Look at the 19th century and the very early 20th. Then unions and fair wages. But slowly the rich managed to re-mold the tax system into one that is technically progressive but barely so and once again they are crushing.

It's cyclical. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of workers and capitalists.
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on November 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


Any way one can watch this in the UK?

Canader too! Do I have to check torrent sites?
posted by fleetmouse at 11:14 AM on November 13, 2012


IMO it is more than that. 740 park was filled with Standard Oil people, they got rich by creating strata of executives,managers, workers, beneath them. Fair living wage or not , those people had jobs. Now it is filled with PE guys, people who make money by shuffling money and paper around. They don't need enormous organizations doing something as crude as sucking goop out of the ground.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:19 AM on November 13, 2012


Actually, it totally was that they would win by crushing. Look at the 19th century and the very early 20th. Then unions and fair wages.

Actually, lots of strikes, violence, bombs, injuries, and deaths. Then unions and fair wages.
posted by goethean at 11:21 AM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Papa John's gave away 2 million pizzas. That cost them well over $25 million dollars to increase their brand awareness.

Nothing says capitalist apologia like the conflation of actual value with street price.
posted by 7segment at 11:24 AM on November 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Best quote from the entire thing: "Some rich people are just dicks"
posted by Talez at 11:26 AM on November 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Watched it last night and promptly went to bed with a small case of outrage to keep me up and toss and turn with longer than I had desired.

It certainly does not offer much, if anything new, in the information on how skewed and messed up things are right now between the 1% and everyone else. It brief, it discusses how things got this way, specifically when corporations decided to engage with Congress, based on the memo written by Justice Lewis F. Powell (prior to appointment) that was inspired by Ralph Nader's consumer activism; how the wealthy tweaked the tax system to allow for a lower tax bracket (both this and the former's use of lobbying); and how bad the disparity is today. It takes a few minutes to talk about Rep. Ryan and his "Path to Prosperity" plan and Ayn Rand, Sen. Schumer's protection of the aforementioned tax, the work by radical conservatives to make their ideas mainstream (Koch Bros. activities) and rotates around the inhabitants of 740 Park Avenue - the building with the most billionaire residents in the United States (world?).

It is not an optimistic documentary by any means and you get the feeling that years down the road it will probably be used as a summary of the events which lead to X event(s) happening, whether good or bad.
posted by Atreides at 11:26 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This doc starts off by saying, "This stretch of Park Ave is the wealthiest neighborhood in New York City." While that makes for a good set up comparing it to Park Ave in the Bronx, I don't believe it's correct. The hedge fund crowd has taken over the West Village and the serious old money is along 5th ave on the Upper East Side, not Park Ave. This may sound like a small point but if this piece of information is wrong what does that say about the credibility of the rest of the film? Did I miss something, or isn't Romney's squishy sense of "facts" a big reason he lost the election? Why is it OK here?
posted by Dean358 at 11:26 AM on November 13, 2012


Even if CEOs do pay their employees a fair living wage, many of them still earn exponentially more than that themselves. My money goes to rent and food and car payments -- all things which are quite possibly covered under their compensation package anyway. So the amount of "play money" they have that isn't earmarked for expenses is substantially higher to begin with.

When you consider that then their "extra" money gets compounded and earns interest and basically feeds on itself to grow bigger, while I can barely figure out how to set aside a few bucks a month to make sure my credit card will take 5 years instead of 50 to pay off?

Yeah. That's capitalism.
posted by Madamina at 11:29 AM on November 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Don't worry fellow proles, if history is any judge, they can only keep up like this for a couple thousand years before we get pissed enough to do something about it!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:35 AM on November 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Park is only 2 blocks away from 5th. Same Neighborhood.

As for richest street? I don't even want to imagine but its got to be a tossup no?. Old money ain't worth what it used to be.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:37 AM on November 13, 2012


Park is only 2 blocks away from 5th. Same Neighborhood.

Yes, but that makes all the difference in the world in NYC. And if you were to look at all of the $50 million - $100 million apartments on the market in Manhattan (yes those are real numbers) they're not on Park Ave. Again, this is a small point but it speaks to credibility.
posted by Dean358 at 11:40 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


this is a small point but it speaks to credibility

No it doesn't. The destroyed system of public responsiveness and progressive taxation is the point, not the introductory geography.
posted by DU at 11:43 AM on November 13, 2012 [17 favorites]


The destroyed system of public responsiveness and progressive taxation is the point, not the introductory geography.

Certainly that's the point of the film, DU. But there is a declarative statement at the beginning of the piece saying that's the wealthiest neighborhood in Manhattan. If, for the sake of argument, you'll grant me that this is simply not true, then how can that not speak to credibility? What other "facts" did he consider not "important enough" to have to be correct in the service of the story?
posted by Dean358 at 11:52 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The game has always been rigged in their favour, the difference is now they are rigging it for short term gains rather than long term. And that is what makes civilizations crumble.

I don't think this is empirically supported, though I'm not sure what you really mean by short and long-term; also, there's a fine but definite difference between achieving complete social domination by means of regulatory capture of the processes of wealth distribution on the one hand and merely favorable conditions leading to prosperity which have been engineered on the other. It's a question of the terms of ambition, I think.

The wealth that the people described in the link possess is certainly sufficient to ensure continuous long-term game rigging. When you're manipulating systems as large and complex as those under discussion here, there's no meaningful sense in which your interest is characterized by short-term thinking. The super wealthy in America do not need the American middle class anymore to maintain and increase their wealth; I think that's the dividing line in your accounting of difference, right? That long-term gains-planning would be of a "high tide lifts all boats" kind of deal? I think that's incorrect. You're trying to make long-term rigging the virtuous choice, but game-rigging is inherently inimical to schemes of wealth distribution that are informed by an egalitarian vision of society.
posted by clockzero at 11:54 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it was just sloppy on their part. Park Avenue has a certain cache that people associate with wealth. Without any data and simply by guessing, 5th avenue in the 60's and 70's is probably the most exclusive area in the city.
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:56 AM on November 13, 2012


I don't remember the exact number for Thain's apartment in 740 park from the program but it was around 30m. Stephen Schwarzman paid about 30m as well. That same building has David H Koch. It still has one Rockefeller and it was the childhood home of Jackie Onassis. Apartments may be cheaper on Park but the buildings are larger than on 5th, allowing more rich people per building.

I would rather live on 5th myself, I'd like a park view but honestly it is so close it really makes no difference. The fact remains they are the same neighborhood. I haven't been across the park in years though, maybe they put up a barricade on Madison
posted by Ad hominem at 11:57 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If, for the sake of argument, you'll grant me that this is simply not true, then how can that not speak to credibility?

The question is whether or not the difference affects their main theses. If it doesn't then I don't care.

It's an interesting observation that they may have gotten the exact avenue wrong, but riding it this hard just seems like either concern trolling or seeking nerd cred.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:04 PM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


You bums need to quit your whining and get back to work.

Those widgets ain't gonna stamp themselves.

posted by mmrtnt at 12:05 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That same building has David H Koch.

Who, as we found out, did not tip delivery truck drivers save to give them a $50 check -- not cash -- for Christmas. Like he needed to write them off as charitable deductions, I guess. I think that was related to the "Some rich people are just dicks" part.
posted by y2karl at 12:08 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Madamina: Yeah. That's capitalism.

Deja Vu strikes again and again and again and again. Various bromides cover this: lipstick on a pig, and you knew I was a snake and yet you are surprised I bit you. Many people realize this, but then the sloganeering wears them down, and we go back to the "greatest country on Earth" theory of governance and forget what a bunch of clever people who bother to read the rules can do.

Capitalism is not an evil monster, it's an economic theory. But it does come in various flavors. Ours pretty much tastes like oligarchy. It beats the East India Company variety, but not by much. Anyway, those Wall Street guys are just lackeys, too, but they are higher up in the food chain.

To think, I coulda been a commie, but Nooooo. Oh well, too late. Somebody in China crunched a bunch of numbers and realized that you don't need to send a General (think troop commander) where you can send a Colonel (think fried-chicken franchise).
posted by mule98J at 12:08 PM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Please don't bludgeon me until I've said something stupid having watched the entire video - which I am in the process of doing - but to frame the problem in the beginning in terms of the likelihood that someone will move from the Bronx to Park Avenue, and because that doesn't happen therefore implying that the American Dream is broken, well let's just say that type of move better be next to impossible. And furthermore, how unfortunate it is to frame the subject in terms of extremes. In my opinion the storyline in the US right is about a divided and destroyed middle-class, and for the politicians it has been about defining and capturing this demographic's vote.
posted by phaedon at 12:19 PM on November 13, 2012


Really, arguing over whether a rhetorical flourish invalidates the rest of the documentary? If you come back to it in five years, your vaunted west village street will now be something else entirely.
posted by maxwelton at 12:27 PM on November 13, 2012


In modern day America's favor, at least nobody thinks David H. Koch was anointed by god, or is perhaps a god himself. He is just another rich asshole.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:32 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The game has always been rigged in their favour, the difference is now they are rigging it for short term gains rather than long term.

Yes, this right here.

The problem is not so much that the rich are rigging the game in their favor. They have always done that, will continue to do that, and in all truth it's not really a bad thing, provided that they're doing it over a long enough time horizon. Keep in mind that most of our social institutions were set up by, if not the actual elites, then certainly the very high bourgeoisie, predominantly for their own and their descendants' benefit.

What we're seeing now, and what we've seen in the past in other periods (typically foreshadowing Bad Things), is a decided lack of long-term planning or investment by the wealthy. Many of them don't even seem to be attempting to build multi-generational wealth; they're working explicitly for themselves, trying to accrue as much as it is possible to accrue to oneself in the span of a single working lifetime, and damn the consequences. That is truly disturbing, far more so than typical nest-feathering and game-rigging behavior which has existed since time immemorial.

Actually, lots of strikes, violence, bombs, injuries, and deaths. Then unions and fair wages.

Actually I think it was more like an expanding economy and tight labor market, then unions and fair wages.

Ironically, it wasn't the ownership class that finally gutted the unions, it was the political one (which certainly overlaps, but has its own distinct set of inbred aristocrats). Andrew Carnegie couldn't have done as much damage to the industrial unions in his wildest dreams as Nixon did by going to China and opening up trans-Pacific trade. We're just racing to the bottom now. There's a certain pen-is-mightier elegance to it: unlike when you send the Pinkertons out to break coal miners' heads, which tends to lead to supply disruptions, union-busting via outsourcing has the benefit of pitting every man as a consumer against every other as a worker. Your neighbor may be unemployed, but look at all the cheap shit you can buy at WalMart! And so the working class eats itself.

Of course, a capitalist in the model of Henry Ford might note that this seems suspiciously unsustainable, and that putting US workers in direct competition with Asian sweatshops is probably going to lead to ugliness once a certain critical mass of the population is out of work and can no longer even afford the cheap, imported bread-and-circuses at the big box store. But today's rich seem to have either drunk so much of their own globalist Kool-Aid that they think this day will never come, or they figure they'll be dead, or living in Macau surrounded by underaged prostitutes, or whatever their particular fantasy is, by then and therefore don't care.

Either way, I'd take a reanimated Henry Ford (creepy antisemitism and all) and a half-dozen coal barons over any of the short-term pillagers trained in nothing but financial necromancy who are seemingly running the show today.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:37 PM on November 13, 2012 [17 favorites]


Dean358: This doc starts off by saying, "This stretch of Park Ave is the wealthiest neighborhood in New York City." While that makes for a good set up comparing it to Park Ave in the Bronx, I don't believe it's correct.
I haven't seen the film and I don't know where the really rich people live.

But that link cheerfully conflates income (by which I'd guess the census people actually mean wages) and wealth. It uses an income scale that's ridiculously tiny for the purpose of detecting billionaires (you know what 0.5% interest is on a billion dollars?). And it reports medians, not means, so very high income outliers more or less disappear from the numbers.

I just don't think that report, map, and scale used therein are likely to be any good at detecting the billionaires in the city. Not surprising, it wasn't designed for that.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:37 PM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's not a fair characterization of Ayn Rand - the idea that she is only focused on the Steve Jobs types. Among other things, she was arguing the middle class was better served when the government was not controlled through an aristocratic combination. The most contemptible characters in Atlas Shrugged are rich New Yorkers who make money by working Washington connections.
posted by relish at 12:50 PM on November 13, 2012


When I was a child, I didn't know that the pieces of paper I used had been made by anybody. I certainly didn't know that almost everything I touched had been made by people who were poor, people who worked in factories or on farms or places like that. In fact I'd never met anyone who worked in a factory or on a farm. I'd frequently met people who owned factories and farms, because they lived all around us in the huge houses I could see from my window, although I wasn't aware then that the houses were huge because the people who lived in them paid very low salaries to their employees, while paying themselves enormous sums. Our wealthy neighbors were really like the giants in a fantastic tale, giants who were superior to others because they could spin gold out of human suffering..
-- Wallace Shawn, Essays
posted by benzenedream at 1:01 PM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Can we come up with some version of Godwin's Law relating to Ayn Rand?

Please?

*cough* Ayn Rand's Private Access Program *cough*
posted by Madamina at 1:02 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This may sound like a small point but if this piece of information is wrong what does that say about the credibility of the rest of the film? Did I miss something, or isn't Romney's squishy sense of "facts" a big reason he lost the election? Why is it OK here?

In case anybody is actually buying this argument you should know that this is a rhetorical style adopted by the spiked-online crew and many other libertarian propaganda outlets. Certain groups, such as the former RCP posse out of University College of London, actually teach their members to do this on purpose as part of their covert media campaign.

In order to discredit a larger argument you dislike but can't refute you just find a small minor inaccuracy in a tangential point and hammer away at it as an indicator that the entire argument is false by virtue of the authors supposed lack of credibility.

You don't have to address the larger point all. Nor do you even have to show that the minor detail affects the argument.

It is a variant of the informal logic fallacy known as 'Poisoning the Well'.

Don't fall for it.
posted by srboisvert at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2012 [39 favorites]


British documentarian Adam Curtis has produced a number of works which are fascinating examinations of the relationship between power and wealth. His four part series, The Mayfair Set, is subtitled "four stories about the rise of business and the decline of political power" and focuses on members of the Clermont Club, or a group of elites who were influential in UK politics, beginning in the 1960s.

If you haven't seen his films before, I would heartily recommend beginning with The Century of the Self (pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4). I can't help but think that there's something interesting in the relationship between what Curtis speaks about regarding an increasingly 'self obsessed' public and the discussion of Objectivism in "Money Power and Politics".
posted by armisme at 1:47 PM on November 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, yes. That's part of what makes capitalism run...trying to turn the rules of the game in favor of those already winning to make sure they win all the time.

That has nothing to do with capitalism.
posted by gjc at 4:36 PM on November 13, 2012


Who, as we found out, did not tip delivery truck drivers save to give them a $50 check -- not cash -- for Christmas. Like he needed to write them off as charitable deductions, I guess. I think that was related to the "Some rich people are just dicks" part.

Who is the bigger dick? The guy who wrote the check, or the guy who is bitching about the free $50? Jeez.

You can't write off charitable donations unless the recipient is actually a charity.
posted by gjc at 4:38 PM on November 13, 2012


The other billionaires at the same address were tipping them $1000. Who is the bigger dick? The guy who wrote the check. Jeez.
posted by y2karl at 4:41 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was a surprised to hear senator Chuck Schumer called out for his position on carried interest. I confess I still don't get all the details, but it sounds like even Schumer may be beholden to his powerful Wall Street backers. I suppose that's one of the doc's main points: this is just the way the game is played these days.
posted by nowhere man at 7:26 PM on November 13, 2012


Good thing we have pomo ethics to inform us on what to do, oh wait.
posted by Shit Parade at 8:03 PM on November 13, 2012


the difference is now they are rigging it for short term gains rather than long term.

I think this needs a better citation.

That's part of what makes capitalism run...trying to turn the rules of the game in favor of those already winning to make sure they win all the time.

I'll second that this has nothing to do with capitalism. It's a model that fit well in plenty of places that are/were decidedly non-capitalist.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:15 PM on November 13, 2012


The film is largely based on the book Park 740 and in that book the author explains how he sought out the richest building in NYC and found it at 740 due to it having the most billionaires (or total net worth or something), most of them them Hedge Funders. So you'd have to reference the citations in the book to be sure, but it's not a "sloppy film" that arrived at this conclusion. Only slopping viewers who didn't watch/read the details :)
posted by stbalbach at 10:35 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


a rhetorical style adopted by the spiked-online crew and many other libertarian propaganda outlets. Certain groups, such as the former RCP posse out of University College of London, actually teach their members to do this on purpose

I like the way srboisvert identifies the strategy, and by articulating it brings it into scrutiny.

This 'pick-pick at a single misstep' strategy is something you see a lot, and I don't know a brief name or call-out for it. It isn't concern trolling, it isn't pedantry. In any case I think anyone who can give it a handy name will be doing us all a service. But perhaps I am being absent-minded and there's some obvious term already?
posted by communicator at 11:04 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Papa John's gave away 2 million pizzas. That cost them well over $25 million dollars to increase their brand awareness. They could have spent $8 to $11 million and increased how they take care of their employees by giving them healthcare.

Papa John's Only Insures One in Three Workers, But CEO Tries to Blame Obamacare If That Drops
posted by homunculus at 12:01 AM on November 14, 2012


The amazing thing about Papa John's is that before the election the owner was complaining that Obamacare would force him to raise the price of each pizza. Then he revealed the amount: 14ยข per large pizza.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:21 AM on November 14, 2012


I can't help but think that there's something interesting in the relationship between what Curtis speaks about regarding an increasingly 'self obsessed' public and the discussion of Objectivism in "Money Power and Politics".

If you haven't seen it yet, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace dips its stick in the Ayn Rand pudding quite a bit and touches on the influence of objectivism/whatever on the libertarian technologists. It also get into Ayn Rand's love life, which is...I mean Ayn Rand's love life [shivers]...there's this clip he uses of her repeatedly that always gets me giggling in a weirded-out sort of way.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


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