As a humanist who writes about the impact of digital technology on our lives, I am often mistaken for a futurist. The people most interested in hiring me for my opinions about technology are usually less concerned with building tools that help people live better lives in the present than they are in identifying the Next Big Thing through which to dominate them in the future. I don’t usually respond to their inquiries. Why help these guys ruin what’s left of the internet, much less civilisation?
Still, sometimes a combination of morbid curiosity and cold hard cash is enough to get me on a stage in front of the tech elite, where I try to talk some sense into them about how their businesses are affecting our lives out here in the real world. That’s how I found myself accepting an invitation to address a group mysteriously described as “ultra-wealthy stakeholders”, out in the middle of the desert.
A limo was waiting for me at the airport. As the sun began to dip over the horizon, I realised I had been in the car for three hours. What sort of wealthy hedge-fund types would drive this far from the airport for a conference? Then I saw it. On a parallel path next to the highway, as if racing against us, a small jet was coming in for a landing on a private airfield. Of course.
The next morning, two men in matching Patagonia fleeces came for me in a golf cart and conveyed me through rocks and underbrush to a meeting hall. They left me to drink coffee and prepare in what I figured was serving as my green room. But instead of me being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, my audience was brought in to me. They sat around the table and introduced themselves: five super-wealthy guys – yes, all men – from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge-fund world. At least two of them were billionaires. After a bit of small talk, I realised they had no interest in the speech I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come to ask questions.
The irony of the Build Back Better bill passed in the House with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s brute force last week is that it is called a “reconciliation” bill, since it attempts to straddle so many irreconcilable differences in the Democratic Party.
The whole mess now moves to the Senate, where two things are certain: The final bill, if it passes at all, will be drastically different from the House bill; and the final bill will contain hundreds of billions for “climate-change action” and “clean energy” because this (along with racism) is the central mania of the Democratic Party today.
Aside from the huge price tag, will the climate and energy features add up to a serious and coherent policy? If the House bill is any indication, the answer is a resounding “No.”
The headline is that Build Back Better includes more than $500 billion for climate and clean-energy measures, but keep in mind that the already-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill included $150 billion for clean-energy baubles such as electric-vehicle chargers ($7.5 billion) and electric school buses ($5 billion), so the grand total of both bills would be about $650 billion.
What are we actually getting for that eye-popping sum?
Some of the infrastructure bill targets worthy improvements, such as $65 billion for upgrading our creaky electricity grid and $50 billion for “climate resilience,” which includes common-sense steps such as building more robust defenses against flooding and better managing national forests to reduce wildfire risk.
The bulk of the Build Back Better bill, on the other hand, consists of large tax credits and subsidies for special interests with marginal benefits — and, incredibly, still more tax breaks for the affluent on top of the reinstatement of the state and local tax deduction that will deliver more than 90 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of income earners.
Over the weekend, we showed a staggering wealth distribution statistic cementing the US status as a banana republic: according to Fed data which breaks down the distribution of wealth according to income quintile (or 20% bucket) the middle 60% of US households by income saw their combined assets drop from 26.7% to 26.6% of national wealth as of June, the lowest in Federal Reserve data, while for the first time the super rich had a bigger share, at 27%.
While especially true for the top 1%, it is all the rich that have benefited from the Fed’s generous liquidity pump at the expense of the extinction of the US middle class – as the next chart shows, over the past 30 years, 10 percentage points of American wealth has shifted to the top 20% of earners, who now hold 70% of the total. The bottom 80% are left with less than 30%.
From the start of the pandemic, political elites have been repeatedly caught exempting themselves from the restrictive rules they impose on the lives of those over whom they rule. Governors, mayors, ministers and Speakers of the House have been filmed violating their own COVID protocols in order to dine with their closest lobbyist-friends, enjoy a coddled hair styling in chic salons, or unwind after signing new lockdown and quarantine orders by sneaking away for a weekend getaway with the family. The trend became so widespread that ABC News gathered all the examples under the headline “Elected officials slammed for hypocrisy for not following own COVID-19 advice,” while Business Insider in May updated the reporting with this: “14 prominent Democrats stand accused of hypocrisy for ignoring COVID-19 restrictions they’re urging their constituents to obey.”
Most of those transgressions were too flagrant to ignore and thus produced some degree of scandal and resentment for the political officials granting themselves such license. Dominant liberal culture is, if nothing else, fiercely rule-abiding: they get very upset when they see anyone defying decrees from authorities, even if the rule-breaker is the official who promulgated the directives for everyone else. Photos released last November of California Governor Gavin Newsom giggling maskless as he sat with other maskless state health officials celebrating the birthday of a powerful lobbyist — just one month after he told the public to “to keep your mask on in between bites” and while severe state-imposed restrictions were in place regarding leaving one’s home — caused a drop in popularity and helped fueled a recall initiative against him. Newsom and these other officials broke their own rules, and even among liberals who venerate their leaders as celebrities, rule-breaking is frowned upon.
But as is so often the case, the most disturbing aspects of elite behavior are found not in what they have prohibited but rather in what they have decided is permissible. When it comes to mask mandates, it is now commonplace to see two distinct classes of people: those who remain maskless as they are served, and those they employ as their servants who must have their faces covered at all times. Prior to the COVID pandemic, it was difficult to imagine how the enormous chasm between the lives of cultural and political elites and everyone else could be made any larger, yet the pandemic generated a new form of crude cultural segregation: a series of protocols which ensure that maskless elites need not ever cast eyes upon the faces of their servant class.
NYC real estate brothers Bill and David S. Mack allegedly personally arranged for a host of their wealthy friends from Manhattan and the ritzy Palm Beach Country Club to get the COVID-19 vaccine at a Florida retirement home.
While elderly Florida residents line up overnight for the vaccine, sources say the Macks allegedly “made a list” of one-percenters given the chance to receive the vaccine, and some even allegedly flew in on private jets from NYC for the jab.
The vaccine was administered at the not-for-profit nursing home Joseph L. Morse Health Center in Palm Beach, conveniently located on David S. Mack Drive in West Palm Beach, where — wait for it — David S. Mack is the chairman.
One source said, “David and Bill Mack arranged for their friends from the Palm Beach Country Club to be vaccinated for COVID-19. They apparently made a list of people who could get the vaccine, who one can only assume are their wealthy friends and clients.