If one author drives obsessive reading out of me (besides David Frum) it is the books by former Republican Strategist turned radical Independent thinker, historian, social commentator and pundit Kevin Phillips. Today for a #StayatHome COVID-19 reading suggestion, we look at Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich which was written during George W. Bush’s first term but is still very pertinent today.
The long narrative about the impact of money on American Democracy is disturbing in many ways. The book paints a clear picture of a government run and maintained by elites to serve elites. Phillips argues that much of the accumulation of wealth in American society in the hands of the few is due to “power and preferment of government.”
As has been argued on the pages of this website since our inception, capitalism and the free market are often code words used to quite the opposite to benefit the privileged class. Phillips argues strongly in this work taking into account themes of American Political History that “Laissez-faire is a pretense,” to accumulate wealth in a few hands and to create a financial services sector that rules the economy.
Phillips always an intellectual and somewhat erudite analyst of politics developed a deep distrust for elites and also the Bush family first as a Republican political operative and then as a non-partisan electoral and cultural analyst. By the end of George H.W. Bush’s term in office he was firmly established as a critic of the Administration’s economic policies and distrustful of the direction the GOP was headed. In multiple media roles, including for CBS News and US News & World Report he would lay out the intellectual case against Bush’s policies while objectively analyzing the flaws in the Clintonian way. In an era where polarizing politics and shout shows were beginning he was a welcome diversion from the partisan hackery that dominated the 1990s airwaves.
This book and its conclusions paint a historical picture for what had taken place in the 1980s and 1990s politically. Phillips wrote the book in 2003 and followed it up with Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism in 2008, which was a prophetic read issued in Spring 2008 just months before the financial collapse later that year. That is an excellent book but is out of context without reading Wealth and Democracy first.