Plutocrats: Then & Now

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Gilded Age

New Gilded Age

The RichestJohn D. Rockefeller
Net Worth: $192 billion*
Bill Gates
Net Worth: $82 billion
NicknameRobber BaronsJob Creators
Biggest Money MakersRailroads, Steel, OilBanking, Computers, Oil
Favorite PhilosopherSocial Darwinism / Herbert SpencerObjectivism / Ayn Rand
Income Tax RateIncome taxes didn’t exist yet. (They were instituted in 1913.)Official tax rate: 35%; Effective tax rate: 17% (2007)
Political Parties that Protect Their InterestRepublicans & “Bourbon” DemocratsRepublicans & “Blue Dog” Democrats
TitansJohn Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Commodore Cornelius VanderbiltSheldon Adelson, Sergey Brin, Warren Buffett, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Koch Brothers, Larry Page
Political PuppeteerMark HannaKarl Rove
Favorite PoliticiansGrover Cleveland, William McKinleyRonald Reagan, George W. Bush
Political AnnoyanceWilliam Jennings BryanOccupy Wall Street
SatiristMark TwainStephen Colbert
The Publisher With Political AmbitionWilliam Randolph HearstMichael Bloomberg
MuckrakersUpton Sinclair, Lincoln SteffensMother Jones
Fictional HeartthrobMichael Crawley (Downton Abbey)Christian Grey (50 Shades of Grey)
How They See the Poor“Civilization took its start from the day that the capable, industrious workman said to his incompetent and lazy fellow, ‘If thou dost net sow, thou shalt net reap,’ and thus ended primitive Communism by separating the drones from the bees.” —Andrew Carnegie“Our problem, frankly, is as long as the President remains anti-wealth, anti-business, anti-energy, anti-private-aviation, he will never get the business community behind him. The problem and the complication is the forty or fifty per cent of the country on the dole that support him.” —Leon Cooperman
Preferred Mode of TransportPrivate Railway CarPrivate Jet
Where They SummerNewport, RITucker’s Town, Bermuda; The Hamptons
Where They EatDelmonico’sMasa
Where They LiveHearst Castle, Wyntoon, Cairnwood, Rosecliff, Marble House, The Elms, The Breakers, Nemours, Fenway Court, Biltmore, Kykuit, Whitehall, Villa Vizcaya, and Ca’d’ ZanVersailles in Orlando, FLVersailles, Xanadu 2.0 (Bill Gates), Woodside Villa (Larry Ellison), The Castle (Michael Dell)
*Net worth in today’s dollars

Principal sources

Illustrations by Joe Fournier
Gilded Age (l-r): John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, Cornelius “Commodore ” Vanderbilt
New Gilded Age (l-r): David Koch, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates

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  • Claude Debeaumon

    Corpocracy over the horizon, but advancing fast…..followed by increasing home security…leading to people surveillance.

  • FlatBaroque

    Genuinely piece of journalism excellence. Bill Moyers, you have brought me from the CIA Seret Government doc in 86 to Joe Campbell and the beginning of my spiritual journey on 90 and you continue to do the work that brings enlightenment. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff as usual by Bill Moyers! You are an inspiring figure for those devoted to real journalism, sir!!

  • Pat Elgee

    Still, I can not believe how many people are deceived into voting for people who represent the interest of the super-rich to their own detriment. It is said that in a democracy the people get what the people deserve. I really do not deserve to be victim of the blindness of others.

  • blair houghton

    Bloomberg? Not Ailes?

  • blair houghton

    AKA not Murdoch?

  • Carmen Markowitz

    Pat, thank you for your words. You could not have said it any better. I felt inspired to share your quote on my facebook page, giving you credit for what so many folks feel! Thanks

  • susanpub

    Scary thoughts. Nevertheless, it was another great program. I’m encouraging my friends to look at it.

  • Cece

    A libertarian friend of mine looked up the “Titans”, and discovered that many of them are Democrats. What should I say to him?

  • StandOnMyOwn

    I find it interesting that this show blasts plutocrats but where was the criticism of the plutocratic union bosses that used fear and intimidation to keep union employees under their thumbs while they took the union dues and spent them on lavish vacations and union meetings in Vegas, while the workers were on the assembly line toiling away? And living in a union state, it’s common to hear that union employees are told to vote for a union friendly president that will keep their jobs from going away. But that’s not intimidation of the middle class? Mr. Moyers should also look at the failings of union friendly politicians and how they aided in keeping the middle class down. Unions keep people mediocre and discourage doing anything more than just enough. Well, the just enough mantra has caught up with us but it’s not our fault? We need to take a hard look at ourselves and recognize our own faults of being mediocre and doing just enough.

  • Anonymous

    The author is not correct when she says that Canada is the only G7 country that didn’t have to bail out its banks. Japan is the 2nd largest economy after the US in the G7, and they didn’t bail their banks out. In fact, their banks had little or no exposure to the financial crisis, and that’s why they are on a huge buying spree for foreign assets around the world, having spent $100 billion this year alone. How can the author not know this? I wonder what else she has overlooked.

  • Karen Clark

    It is astonishing to me how many Americans who have been spoon fed the nonsense about the Plutocrats being the “job creators” while their jobs have dissappeared will vote for Romney in this election.

  • Jim C.

    But Bill Gates is a liberal Democrat– in fact, he and his father are very much in favor of a confiscatory inheritance tax. Bad call on that one. When btw did Gates say that he was an ‘objectivist’?

    Same with people like Spielberg– who just gave a huge emergency sum of money to the Dems last week.

  • Gene Wohlsdorf

    Sometimes, we’re working two or more minimum wage jobs frantically trying to keep up, and we don’t have time to do better than mediocre. And yes, the unions did indeed resort to fraud, just as the plutocrats do now. And it took real courage to call them on it back then, but courageous people did, and it was a good thing that the circle of fortune turned on the unions, as it inevitably does.

  • sf

    I wish the wealthy today would care enough about America to want to
    See an industrious nation of yesteryear become one again. For the benifit
    Of all the people not just a few. To realize the people had a hand in
    them becoming successful. Remember we are all Americans rich or poor.

  • Anonymous

    A Democrat sold us NAFTA that destroyed our manufacturing base, A Democrat deregulated the Banking industry that brought us the present crash, a Democrat deregulated media ownership that has lead to total corporate controlled media in a tiny group of hands, A Democrat removed major safety nets for the poor and working class “welfare reform”… A Democrat referred to the men who bankrupted our economy as “Savvy Businessmen” after he bailed them out their criminal gambling debts with taxpayer money to the tune of 14 trillion dollars…this is not about parties… this is about the Ruling elite ownership of our Government.

    And a Democrat President and party will throw the middle, working class and poor off the “Fiscal Cliff” in service to those “Titans” and their fellow 1%. Just watch.

    The solution is not on Capital Hill in any form of political party, it is not on Wall Street in the form of “job creators” the solution is in the streets with our friends and neighbors as The PEOPLE.

  • MaxI

    I heart this page :-) Awesome job! Thank you Mr. Moyers.

  • Anonymous

    I think Pete Peterson should be on the list of “Titans”, especially considering Bill Moyers’ recent essay following the interview with Paul Krugman in which he discusses Peterson’s influence on contemporary policies and politics, using his vast wealth to wield that influence. And where are the parasitic gilded heads of Goldman-Sachs and the other Wall Street kings who are pulling the strings in the U.S.? As for “Mother Jones” being a “muckraker”, maybe moreso historically, but since David Corn became a mouthpiece and apologist for Obama, their muckraking value has declined. I love seeing Stephen Colbert’s name there as “satirist”; he is brilliant and witty and very, very much on point and his wit is as sharp to the powers that be as any vaunted satirist in history. Love him!

  • Anonymous

    You are clearly referring to Bill Clinton. As any thinking person should know, Bill Clinton is a Democrat in name only. He was, and is, only about self-advancement and self-aggrandizement. His policies as President were co-opted from the Republicans at the time – the despicable Newt Gingrich – and that clever, Machiavellian ploy conceived with Terry MacAuliffe accomplished many things that Clinton and MacAuliffe envisaged: it castrated the growing appeal of the Republican spiel of the time, voiced by Gingrich; it diverted all that corporate money that had been going largely to Republicans until then over to Democrats; it broadened Clinton’s personal popularity and wealth among the wealthy and powerful. Bill Clinton did enormous harm to the Democratic Party and to America, but his misdeeds paled in comparison once Bush-Cheney came to power and did misdeeds so far beyond imagining that Clinton looked cherubic in retrospect. Democrats who have been snowed by the Clinton cult of personality still worship him. The Obama cult of personality is just as blind when it comes to how Obama has actually performed as a “Democrat” (ersatz). Democrats have forgotten the values and philosophy of the (once) Democratic Party and now Democrats and Republicans are just one: Oligarchs for Plutocracy. But try to criticize Obama or Clinton anywhere on the internet and you will get blasted with vitriol accusing you of being a “troll”, a Republican, a “tea bagger”, and worse. Again, Democrats have forgotten the values and philosophy of being a Democrat and have supplanted it with being members of the cults of personality of Clinton (and Hillary and Chelsea are part of that “beloved” dynastic impulse) and Obama. They seem to satisfy some Americans’, including Democrats, longing for an aristocracy, no matter how badly they have sold us down the (polluted and oil-soaked and drying up) river.

  • TedCab

    The corruptors go wherever the money is. Yes, the union movement was badly hurt by all the corruption, but like democracy, which is being destroyed by the plutocrats of big business, they are both still indispensible good ideas if they are allowed to function the way they were originally intended to function.

  • TedCab

    Cece, tell him that it’s not about Republicans and Democrats. That distinction has long passed. It’s about a filthy rich plutocracy who don’t care a fig about political parties and have “owned” both parties for a long time now.

  • William R. Mcbride


  • John

    Bill I love your show, but find myself extremely depressed after listening. Plutocracy is what we have in this country now. I feel the true key to change is throwing out the whole election system we have and starting over, with individual donations of less than $2000, no corporate donations and no super-pac’s. Until we change how our politicians are elected I’m afraid nothing will change and our country will continue it’s downward spiral. I think most American’s believe money+politics=bad government. Until we change this I fear we are stuck with a broken government. It seems as if things are going in the opposite direction of reason.

  • Gloria Burns Enoch

    Isn’t this just basic CAPITALISM?

  • Anonymous

    No, this is capitalism run rampant.

  • Larry Walton

    This is definitely a light touch article regarding the way the above groups used the political system . And to Gloria Burns Enoch, CAPITALISM does not, ideally, and theoretically include the ability to buy government. These 2 groups of individuals represent the PERVERSION (emphasis intended) of capitalism.

  • Anonymous

    We cannot continue in this manner, there is neither grace nor honor to continue this way.
    No longer can we say that we are not every man’s brother, that our plight is not the plight also
    of those most oppressed by a cancerous economic system of unchecked capital
    greed which denies so many in our country a meaningful job through which their
    families may be sheltered, clothed and fed whilst all the while filling the
    coffers of the wealthy for a short term gain by plundering the resources of the
    world which belong to the peoples of the world. We must abandon the common
    theory of Capital as was espoused in detail by Boehm-Bawerk and put into
    practice by the oligarchs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunately this
    model of capitalism did not fall with that empire; but became, in practice, the
    basis of modern economic theory practiced by the robber barons of the 19th
    century with full LAISSEZ-FAIRE complicity of the new industrial nation-states of the time and is continued
    today as an absolute dictum through its many transmogrifications as a
    “causa-sui” by nearly all modern economists. It put’s one in mind of the Thomas
    Theorem, which posits That “If men define situations as real, they are real in
    their consequences.” This informs the broad but unwarranted belief in present
    structures or rather mythologies of capital by otherwise rational and,
    theoretically, educated individuals, economists among them, whose perception of
    the mythology of capital and the nation state have been accepted with a
    zealots’ belief, whilst lacking in objective reality.

    The mythology of the modern nation state we face an
    is an ideational fiction by which a whole
    generation of Harvard and Yale economists have given weight and substance to
    the global phenomena of transnational corporations.

    Change the systemic inequalities? No! I would posit that the functional inequalities of capitalism are an organic outcome of its very function and nature. Change the system! We do not live in an egalitarian people based world. the
    mythology of the state, the causu sui assumption that so called
    “democratic capitalism ” has anything other than the interests of
    omnipresent money-oligharchs/plutocrats as it’s base motivation is a mythology
    that dominates the world, oppresses hundreds of millions of people and is the
    prime cause of hunger, poverty and conflict throughout the world. This must
    change and yet the people are blocked at every avenue by exponents of the
    modern nation state, the mythology of the state and the willingness of all the
    industrialized countries of the world to support the transnational corporate
    infrastructure at the expense and well being of the people of the world. There
    will be and is a revolution against this tyranny starting world wide, whether
    it becomes violent or remains peaceful depends on how willing the modern nation
    states are to divest themselves of power and to stop lending support to global
    corporate structures and the less than 1% that control resources that are , in
    truth, humanity’s birthright.

  • rebellious akamai

    Wil Petrich, Your comment is what I would have loved to have parted my own lips.. but I do not have the gift of writ and could not possibly said as much as you did in three paragraphs. I hope you don’t mind that I copied and pasted your comment on my F.B. page all the while giving you proper and all due credit.

  • Steven Kuchinsky

    Yes, the unions are ironically part of the capitalistic problem. They are mirror images of the corporations that they fight. Whenever you make fighting an adversary the most important thing you begin to mirror that which you fight. Socrates said that change happens when we focus on what we want to build rather than on what we want to fight.

    For example, if people came together to create self-sustaining communities, making our own food, and not buying all the many things in the market that we don’t need, the clothes and toys we don’t need, the toxic food we don’t need, etc. the system the 1% depend on would collapse without a fight. It will collapse, but if it collapses through violence, we will replace it with an equivalent. Non-violent revolution is simply choosing to live the life that really makes sense for us without the propaganda. That life includes caring for ourselves and others.

  • Diana

    Yep, unregulated. Greed unfettered. Why can’t we have balance?

  • Anonymous

    No worries, spread the word.

  • Larry Coleman

    There is a big difference between the wealthy. Some want to give back (bill gates and others) while some want to get more or all of the rest like ( Kochs brothers, Sheldon Adeleson and others).

  • Oscar Lacat

    We need to start celebrating success. Stop portraying success as evil. This class warfare is bad for everyone. We need inventiveness and creativity which is inspired by the quest for success and all that success brings. I wonder why Al Gore’s beach front house and Al Geezra money was left out. No mention of George Soros. It’s OK to be rich as long as you are a liberal elitist. Look into President Obama’s partner Tony Rezco. Rezko, after all, built part of his fortune by exploiting the black
    community that Obama had served in the state Senate, and by milking
    government programs meant to benefit black-owned businesses. But Obama
    took Rezko’s money even after the businessman was sued by the city of
    Chicago for failing to heat his low-income apartments, and even after
    Rezko was caught using a black business partner to obtain a minority
    set-aside for a fast-food franchise at O’Hare Airport.

  • Steven Pallesen

    The word plutocracy is almost always used as a pejorative to describe or warn against an undesirable condition,[2][3] and throughout history political thinkers such as Winston Churchill, 19th-century French sociologist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville and 19th-century Spanish monarchist Juan Donoso Cortés have condemned those they characterize as plutocrats for ignoring their social responsibilities to the poor, using their power to serve their own purposes and thereby increasing poverty and nurturing class conflict, and corrupting their societies with greed and hedonism.[4][5]
    Plutocracy (from Greek πλοῦτος, ploutos, meaning “wealth”, and κράτος, kratos, meaning “power, dominion, rule”), also known as plutonomy or plutarchy, is rule by the wealthy.
    The key words here are “dominion” and “rule”. To have dominion over another requires deception and/or fear. To govern is to have dominion, the people relinquishing both their sovereignty and self-governing nature.
    The so-called plutocrats are the deception.
    That which has dominion over the people and rules is the law or so-called law, the “rule of law”. This so-called law is the adversarial system, the ADVERSARY. And the ADVERSARY rules what? HELL. Does the ADVERSARY forgive? Does the ADVERSARY turn the other cheek? Does the ADVERSARY treat others as it would like to be treated?
    Consider this story:
    In the beginning GOD COMMISSIONED the courts, knowing the LAW (which is Christ Jesus) was dear to the hearts of all humanity, to teach GOD’s LAW to the people of earth. This LAW is MERCY and TRUTH. This for the DIGNITY and CELESTIALIZING of humanity, earth and all it’s inhabitants. MERCY refers to SELF-GOVERNMENT, the only form of government that dignifies all humanity, and TRUTH is the environment of safety known as SOVEREIGNTY. Thus, the courts are to teach the people the art of self-government, honoring the sovereignty of each being. This they are to do by EXAMPLE and counsel in WORD. The courts turned from GOD and instead set out to have dominion over the earth and all it’s inhabitants, including humanity. In doing so we have the ADVERSARY as described in Isaiah 14, who set to establish it’s throne above GOD and the people, that is to govern.
    Scripture speaks of money being the root of all evil. Well, money is the fruit of evil as money is what governs the people, as much so as the rule of law. Evil really isn’t about money. Evil is about enslaving humanity, nothing more and nothing less. To strip us of our sovereignty and convince us we are incapable of self-governance. Namaste :) Love and Peace

  • Joel Siebold

    I think this is brilliant! I would add Bill Moyers to the list of Muckrakers.

  • Rose Marie Araya

    Enough of this.

  • Peter Douglas Anger

    Bill r we not forgetting that the military is, and has been the most profitable business ever…???? Banking, oil and computer just drive the business of FIGHTING!

  • Chris Twanya Schmidt

    Vote Green Party Greens are good for us!

  • Henry B Murphy Jr

    Absolutely, Jim. Ditto Warren. Think “The Buffett Tax”. There are tons of plutocrats. These three are for us, the common man. Author either ill-informed or intentionally deceptive.

  • cgmcle

    Classical capitalism, with its emphasis on free markets (“the invisible hand” Adam Smith wrote about), has evolved into a convergence of the power of capital and political power. We are now a nation in which corporate leaders, either directly or through their proxies, work cooperatively with political leaders to give primacy to corporate concerns. One outcome of their cooperation is the diminution of free markets. There was a time when the federal government acted against the creation of monopolies. Now, too big to fail seems to be the goal.

  • fmendoza

    I eco rebellious comment. but I would like to add the closer we are to truth. the closer we are to GOD. from your comments. I can feel a sense of brother hood. blessed be the martyr’s and the saints.