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Plutocracy With A Philanthropic Face

By Sam Pizzigati

September 11, 2011 - 11:12am ET

Not all plutocrats scheme in the shadows like the rabidly right-wing Koch brothers. We need to learn how to recognize plutocracy's more subtle putches. The best primer? The battle over education's future. “Plutocracy” first burst big-time into our national political consciousness in the late 19th century, and the concept still conjures up today, well over a century later, much the same images as way back then.

We envision, at any mention of “plutocrat,” some Wall Street banker, his pockets overflowing with greenbacks, or a robber baron industrialist, muttering the “public be damned” while bribing pols with one hand and busting unions with the other.

Some of our present-day plutocrats — the billionaire Koch brothers, for instance — fit this image quite nicely. Koch-like plutocrats slide in and out of the shadows, bankrolling our society’s most reactionary and repulsive politicos, all the while railing against unions and taxes and government regulation.

But plutocrats today don’t all spout crude libertarian bromides or even play footsie, as the Kochs have, with sloganeering from our segregationist past.

Indeed, many of our mega rich bear little resemblance to the brothers Koch. These more enlightened plutocrats seem to obsess over philanthropy, not profits. They do their sliding in and out of foundation board rooms, pledging their support, at one high-minded symposium after another, for initiatives sure to bring “efficiency” and “innovation” to our society’s most pressing problems.

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