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Does it ever happen to you that your reading all of a sudden seems to be about similar topics? For instance you read H is for Hawk and for a little while all the books you pick up are about or have hawks in them but you didn’t intentionally make that happen. Something like that has kind of happened to me.

After the novel The Portable Veblen, I thought Thorstein Veblen sounded like an interesting fellow so I borrowed The Portable Veblen that is actually a selected Veblen, from the library. And he is indeed looking like an interesting fellow and I haven’t even begun reading his actual words yet, just the long and fascinating introduction. His economic and social criticism tended towards the socialist but he never seems to have advocated a socialist system, only made it a point to expose the dirty underbelly of capitalism and wealth accumulation and how those captains of industry used both to manipulate most things to working in their favor.

While I am deep into the Veblen introduction and looking forward to reading his work for myself because it sounds like it just might be more relevant than ever, along comes Dark Money by Jane Mayer from the library. Dark Money is about the billionaires behind the radical right, the Koch brothers mainly but also Richard Mellon Scaife, John M. Olin, and other names that are likely not recognizable though the names of their companies might be. This small group of radical right billionaires believe that the purpose of government is to protect private property and individual rights.

These men — so far it seems they are all men — work quietly behind the scenes pouring their money into think tanks and schools and super pacs in order to influence the public and politicians alike. They would like to see all government regulation removed, no environmental protection agency, no Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect workers. They would like all social programs eliminated from Social Security to unemployment benefits. Anything that interferes with their wealth and power they aim to undermine.

They are like Ayn Rand on steroids. It is terrifying.

Currently I am learning about private foundations and how the wealthy use these as tax shelters — they get tax write-offs for their “donation” to their foundation while at the same time they continue to have full control over that money and can market themselves as philanthropists. But since they are in charge of their own foundations, they can take trips and do all sorts of things in the name of the foundation which then pays the bills because the ski trip to Switzerland was for charitable purposes.

It is infuriating the things these billionaires get away with. But what I see as them getting away with something, they see it as their right, what is owed them. Their disdain for the general public is astonishing and yet they have managed to convince a good swath of that general public that it is for the best to make laws and policies that benefit the super rich at the expense of their own self-interest. My blood pressure goes up every time I read the book.

Veblen and Dark Money make quite the pair. I hope I survive it.

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