Romney: Tribune of the Plutocracy

11/01/2012 09:22 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

After months of campaigning and hundreds of millions in advertising, voters and commentators still seem uncertain about Mitt Romney. Is he the "severe conservative" of the primaries, or the moderate eager to reach across the aisle of the last days? Does he have core beliefs or is he prepared to shift anything to appeal to his audience? Does he think he gets away with peddling lies without shredding his credibility?

It's useful to remember the obvious. The flip flops on social issues, the lies and distortions, the empty five point plan recycled from previous Republican campaigns don't reveal it. The truth is much simpler.

Romney is the candidate of, by and for the 1%. He is a plutocrat peddling the agenda of the plutocracy.

The Plutocracy's Agenda

Step back from the partisan posturing and political rhetoric for a moment. Ask yourself a simple question. What is the agenda of the richest Americans? What would they want to consolidate their position? In every case, Romney takes up their cause.

Tax Breaks for Wealth

The top 1% possesses more wealth than 90 percent of Americans. Obviously, if you are wealthy, you want to reduce taxes on wealth. So Romney advocates eliminating the estate tax, a tax that applies only to the estates of multi-millionaires. This would ensure that the concentrated wealth is passed on from generation to generation.

Tax Breaks for High Income

The top 1% pocket about 24 percent of the country's annual income. They prefer lower taxes on high incomes. So Romney advocates a 20 percent cut in tax rates across the board, including for the top 1%. But the real deal is income from wealth. The wealthiest 0.1 percent (about 315,000 people) collect fully half of all income from capital gains, now taxed at 15 percent. Romney would sustain the lower rate of taxation for capital gains and dividends. He even defends the obscene "carried interest" tax dodge that allows private equity billionaires to pay income from their fees at the lower capital gains rate. Not surprisingly, he opposes the Buffett Rule that requires millionaires to pay at least the same rate as their secretaries.

Tax Breaks for Corporations

The wealthiest Americans naturally want lower taxes on the companies that help generate their wealth. So Romney advocates lowering the corporate tax rate, while closing unspecified loopholes to pay for it. More importantly, he supports a "territorial tax system," that would eliminate any US taxes on profits made or reported abroad. This essentially turns the entire world into a potential tax haven for multinationals, encouraging them to move jobs or report income abroad.

Deregulation of Finance

The 1% cleaned up as Wall Street inflated the housing bubble, selling complicated derivatives and MBS to gouge municipalities, pension funds or German banks. After the crash, the wealthiest 1% emerged from the ruins capturing over 90 percent of national income growth. So naturally, they want to reopen the casino. The bank lobby has been hard at work trying to weaken the banking reforms that have been passed. Romney goes a step further, promising to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and replace it with undisclosed weaker regulation.

More Corporate Trade Accords

With multinationals defining our trade policy, globalization has been a boon to the 1%. Trade accords like NAFTA have helped make the world safe for global investors. Shipping good jobs abroad or threatening to do so has helped suppress demands for wage hikes here at home. So naturally, Romney promises more trade accords as part of his five point plan. (He also pledges to get tough with China, but it is very hard to see this as anything other than a political posture for Ohio voters. Bain Capital was a path-breaker in offshoring jobs to China. ) And needless to say, he opposes any measures that might give workers greater ability to organize and bargain collectively.

Cater to Entrenched Interests

For all the talk of innovation, the already wealthy profit from the arrangements and
industries we have and want them protected and succored. So naturally, Romney touts energy independence to defend subsidies to old energy -- coal, oil, gas and nuclear, while scorning Obama's investments in new energy, opposing even the tax credit that helped spark wind energy investments in this country. This requires a purblind denial of global warming and of the catastrophic climate effects we are already witnessing. It also reveals one of the costs of a plutocracy -- the subsidization of existing predatory interests interferes with capturing the lead in the new growth industries, of which clean energy is surely one.

A Military Committed to Policing the World

With investments across the world, the 1% crave order. Traders want the seas to be safe, overseas investments to be honored. So the richest 1% want the U.S. to maintain the strongest military in the world and then some. Romney, naturally, supports adding a trillion dollars to the Pentagon's budgets, with a particular emphasis on building ships to patrol global waters.

A Smaller Government

The richest 1% have little need for much of government. Their gated communities have private patrols. They are removed from industrial areas scarred by pollution and chemical poisons. They send their kids to private schools. They travel by private jet. They have private playgrounds for their vacations.

So naturally, they prefer small government, with limited support for the "victims" who "don't take responsibility for their lives," to quote Romney famously describing the 47 percent to a group of wealthy donors. Naturally, Romney supports deep cuts in domestic programs (while refusing to disclose what he would cut, other than Big Bird). He would savage Medicaid, turn Medicare into a voucher -- pushing more costs onto seniors. He has embraced not only Paul Ryan as his running mate, but Ryan's budget, which would simply eviscerate everything from education to disease control to child nutrition to the FBI (but specifies cuts in none of them). Not surprisingly, he would repeal health care reform, stripping some 50 million people of the health insurance they would receive.

Austerity for the Many

Now that Wall Street has blown up the economy, leaving large deficits in its
wake, the richest 1% have every reason to be concerned. Getting the economy back on track requires more public spending to put people to work, plus attention to broken and destabilizing policies in trade, progressive taxation, compensation, affordable health care and more. Instead, the 1% agenda is to use the crisis in "shock doctrine" fashion to rollback basic social protections -- particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Romney promises to balance the budget, but only after lowering tax rates on the wealthy and the corporations and hiking spending on the Pentagon. That inevitably means that the poor and the middle class will bear the burden of austerity in higher fees and taxes, and less public support or protection.

Now, to be fair, not all of the 1% carry this self-interested agenda. Some join Warren Buffett in support of higher taxes on the affluent. Some oppose our trade policies. Some understand the importance of social protections and public investment.

But at the end of the day, Romney is a plutocrat running on the plutocracy's agenda.
Americans sort of get this. As a recent Washington Post/ABC poll showed, most Americans continue to think Romney's policies favor the rich, not the middle class. Majorities think Obama better understands the economic problems of the middle class than Romney.

This explains, to a great extent, Romney's challenge. The salesman from Bain must convince enough Americans that the plutocracy's agenda will trickle down on them. People are looking for change. But the "big change" Romney is now peddling looks a lot like the stuff that has been tried, and has failed, before.