A Kindly, Old Billionaire’s Advice to Millennials

In the article, “Langone to Millennials Embracing Socialism: ‘I’ll put you on my plane and fly you to Venezuela,’” the arguments of Ken Langone, CEO of Home Depot, leave out many crucial facts and bring up points that are not very relevant. For example, in the interview, he argues that those who are leaning toward socialism should be forewarned that it is not a good system.

First of all, in our mixed economy, we already have socialist elements in our economy and society — our post office, our fire departments, our public school system, our military — that actually work better than they would if we were to hand them over to independent capitalists to run. And, we also have capitalist elements that work better as independent, capitalist operations than they would if we were to hand them over to the government or to socialist co-ops to run. Even Senator Bernie Sanders, who is an avowed democratic socialist, has said that he did not believe that “the little store on the corner should be run by the government”; meaning that he is not for pure socialism, but democratic socialism, which allows for both capitalist and socialist elements. The reality is that most Americans, including Millennials, are of the opinion that pure socialism doesn’t work any better than pure capitalism does, and that this has been well documented through the relatively recent history of the U.S.S.R.’s and the People’s Republic of China’s experiences with it. Therefore, not many Americans would want to have pure socialism as our economic system; so Mr. Langone’s premise is not really relevant.

Secondly, the critical problems we are facing today in our economy and our society were not created by the socialist elements or the capitalist elements in our economy. They were created in a completely different arena from the economic arena: they were created in the political arena — the arena of our governmental bodies.

The huge, existential problems we face today in the U.S. were created because the ultra-rich have succeeded in gradually and systematically usurping the power of the People in our democratic republic for their own selfish uses. They have taken the “democratic” out of our “democratic republic.” They have taken the constitutionality out of our constitutional government. They have stolen the power from the People by corrupting those who used to be our democratically elected representatives through the leverage they have exercised by having bought the ability to make huge, campaign-determining contributions, mainly. The end result is that the “representatives of the People” no longer represent the People, their rightful constituents. This is because the People are, oddly enough, no longer the ones who determine the outcome of elections. It is the billions of dollars spent by the oligarchs that now determine the outcomes of our elections.

When the billionaires own and control 100% of the mainstream media outlets and 90% of all media outlets (all under the umbrella of 6 gargantuan media corporations) and their campaign contributions almost always dwarf the sum total of all the others, who do you suppose might be favored to win, and which initiatives and referendums might be favored to win? Why, the ones they back, naturally. And which are doomed to lose? Why, the ones they oppose, naturally.

So “our” elected “representatives” now represent only the narrow will and interests of those few whom they see as being their only really important constituents: the billionaire campaign donors. Most of “our” elected officials are not the least bit interested in representing the will or interests of their constituents, the People; as they are mandated by the Constitution to represent, and sworn to do by their solemn oaths — to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States, which mandates this.

I find it ironic that I often type the words “United States” as “Untied States,” as it is what the billionaire oligarch have done to us. They have gone beyond dividing and conquering us. They have sliced and diced us. They have divided us against one another by race, ethnicity, religion, region, income group, gender, and age group. It is amazing to me that we have not had a Second Civil War — the war in which we the People kill off whomever we see fit to hate for all the wrong reasons, and whomever we blame for all our problems, wrongfully — all because of the garbage news and information we are bombarded with daily through the mainstream media. The ultra-rich have always striven to own and control our government and our press, and have accomplished this goal to lesser and greater extents in our short 252 years; but recently, they have made huge strides in making that ownership and control almost complete, through Supreme Court decisions that have favored them, shall we say, in their pursuit of happiness — meaning complete control of a few over everyone else, or oligarchy. These Supreme Court decisions have worked to give them the right to contribute more and more money to political campaigns.

Langone, in this article, is not edifying anyone, though he seems to be trying to teach the millennials a thing or two. In reference to the market crash that led to the Great Recession, Langone says empathetically:

They were 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 years old… So capitalism did not present itself very well.

How sad that sounds. It’s as if he really cares. However, Langone is glossing over the facts and exonerating the billionaire oligarchs, who were in control of the economy and government we now find ourselves living in and under, and who were responsible for creating the mortgage crisis and derivatives crisis that led us all into the Great Recession. And there was nothing “Great” about it. It would have been better for us to have called it the “Miserable Recession” or even better, the “Really Horrible, Terrible, Awful Recession.” A huge percentage of Americans lost big during the Great Recession. And many were made to be homeless and jobless. Many lost all or a great percentage of their life savings and assets.

Langone, later in the article, says,

The criticisms many millennials today have of capitalist systems were likely borne out of growing up through the Great Recession. One of the most visible effects in the wake of the recession has been the increasing burden of student loan debt, which has caused some young people to delay life milestones.

But that wasn’t capitalism… That was a system that’s gone amok.

If you give [Wall Street] an opening on how to make money, they’ll take advantage of it. That’s the way the system works. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not. So I understand [millennials’] bias based on that period of time.

Langone is maintaining that if you give capitalists an opportunity to make more money (as the removal of many of the critical Glass-Steagall banking regulations during the Clinton administration did which led to the Great Recession), they will. Hmm … capitalists will try to make more money whenever they can, and that’s all that really matters to them … but that’s not capitalism. This makes no sense. It is fairly evident that he is glossing over the very nature of capitalism, which is for it to grow into a monster that has a monstrous appetite that will continue to grow and devour all in its path to greater wealth and power unless … the People are able to somehow control, or regulate it.

In any case, Langone defeats his own argument. What he is saying “isn’t capitalism” unmistakably is capitalism. To prevent capitalist carnage and still reap the benefits of it requires putting regulations on capitalism, but then this is against the corporatist philosophy of The Powell Memo, and of the billionaire oligarchs.

Further, college student debt began rising in the 1980’s after the Reagan administration and the “trickle-down Congress” started cutting college funding and the costs of attending college started their steep rise. Rising student debt, and the enormous amount of student debt in the U.S. wasn’t caused by the Great Recession.

The coup de grace of Langone’s lesson is that he has no scruples about his fabulous wealth — none at all about the planes or the fantastic estates, not any of it. He justifies this by pointing out that he and his wife donate a lot more than they spend. But again, this is a distortion of the facts through the art of omission. When one individual owns and controls billions of dollars, it is quite a drop in the bucket to donate a few million more than one spends in a year on … whatever goods and whatever services one might like to avail oneself and one’s family of. He also leaves out that portion of their wealth that that he and his wife aren’t spending: the Fort Knox of their riches where the bulk of their treasure is stored: the portion they possess in assets. The final note he makes is especially ironic.

Go to every college and university in America today, look at the buildings that have names on them. Go to the medical centers all over the city. Go to libraries. Go to museums. All those places exist because people saw fit to share their good fortune with others. And I don’t think anybody should apologize for being successful.

This sounds quite noble and altruistic on its face, but there is a subtle twisting of facts here accomplished by the omission of important facts, once again. I am not as old as Mr. Langone, but I am old enough to recall a time when the stately buildings on college and university campuses were not named after the billionaire sponsors who had paid for their construction, but after career scholars who had taught, for decades usually, the subject that was being taught in the classes that the buildings housed. It was a very old tradition, and a way of honoring the great professors who had so generously and skillfully shared their knowledge; had, in effect, passed down a field of knowledge to the following generations.

How and why did all this change? It is not a noble and altruistic story to tell. The reason is that billionaires and multimillionaires stopped paying their fair share of taxes after they had succeeded in taking over our government. They also substantially lowered the taxes of the upper class, and lowered those of the middle class a small amount. So, the People no longer could afford to add buildings to their institutions of higher learning, and the billionaires stepped in and took over that particular function of funding them.

One other important fact, as mentioned above, is that the cost of attending college started rising dramatically in the 1980s. As taxes fell for the wealthy and the comfortable, and funding for the military rose, funding for public colleges and universities and student financial aid fell, while the cost of the operations of institutions of higher learning rose and tuition rose. This is why student debt expanded. So, enter the billionaire funders for new buildings on campuses. Instead of naming the buildings after the great benefactors of knowledge, the billionaire donors chose to name them after … themselves, or a close relative whom they were fond of. And the boards of regents of the institutions agreed, for they had, during the 1980s and 1990s, been recast in the mold of The Powell Memo’s philosophy, which was suspicious — on the verge of paranoia — of academia and intellectuals (who tended to be genuinely progressive and liberal), and fanatically pro-business and, above all, pro-corporate business.

One downside of this corporatist philosophy is that when a government suppresses the freedom of speech and expression of academia and intellectuals by allowing the ultra-rich to control the academic institutions, it thereby restricts their freedom to teach what they believe to be important and to teach in the way they deem to be the best practices, and the entire generation or generations affected suffer from a poorer quality of education. Also when a government allows the ultra-rich to take over the media through acquisitions and mergers, the entire population suffers from lack of information, which is another means of dumbing down the People, by stifling the valuable input of scholars, researchers, and scientists on the pressing political, economic, social, and scientific issues of the day.

Another downside is that when a society allows the ultra-rich to take over the traditional functions of government, what results is fascism. This is one of the very definitions of fascism. The takeover by private corporations of the traditional functions of government results in a loss of the power of the People, and an accumulation of power in the hands of a few, wealthy individuals in the society. There is a loss of respect for scholars and intellectuals, for those who reach the pinnacles of the sciences, social sciences, and the arts and humanities. Respect for human rights and civil rights also suffers. The scope of the People’s rights and liberties gets narrowed. The power that comes with great wealth increases. Inequality increases. This is where we are now.

Well, Mr. Langone, what should we do about all this? Do you think you could put us all on a plane back to the 1960s and 1970s before the plans and plots outlined in the Powell Manifesto were put into action and before the oligarchs’ noose started to tighten around our government? To a more democratic time when the halls of our universities were named after our honorable professors of yore, to honor them? When any American who had the ability and the desire to attend college could do so without incurring debt so massive that it precluded them from buying a home, starting a family, and having a decent standard of living? When our colleges and universities truly were ours? Do you suppose you could donate some of your money to that noble cause? I think most millennials would gladly forgo the trip to Venezuela for these things.




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Angela Bellacosa

Angela Bellacosa

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