Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Ever Happened to the Rockefellers?

Forbes magazine recently released its list of America's richest persons - a list which includes four billionaire heirs of Walmart-founder, Sam Walton, amongst the country's ten richest citizens.  Collectively, the Walmart heirs are richer than either investment guru, Warren Buffett, and Microsoft founder, Bll Gates.

Commenting on the Forbes' list, MSNBC's Chuck Todd noted that the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune, perennially amongst the nation's richest persons a generation ago, have now been replaced by the Walmart billionaires. With the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs overseas having decimated Detroit, Youngstown, Buffalo, the mill-towns of New England and much of the Mid-West "Rust Belt" that was once the engine of American productivity, how ironic is it that the heirs of a discount retailer have replaced the Rockefellers, Fords, Mellons and DuPonts whose fortunes were found on producing goods, rather than selling them?

Here are the richest ten Americans, as named by Forbes:
  1. Bill Gates - Microsoft co-founder (philanthropist financier of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
  2. Warren Buffett - investment guru, Berkshire-Hathaway chairman (and Gates Foundation contributor)
  3. Larry Ellison - founder of Oracle, which just bought Sun Microsystems
  4. Christy Walton - Walmart heir
  5. Charles Koch - part-owner of the privately-held Koch industries conglomerate
  6. David Koch - part-owner of the privately-held Koch industries conglomerate
  7. Jim Walton - Walmart heir
  8. Alice Walton - Walmart heir
  9. Robson Walton - Walmart heir
  10. Michael Bloomberg -founder of Bloomberg News, NYC mayor (and possible presidential aspirant)
Of these richest American's, it is readily arguable that only Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Oracle's Larry Ellison are 'producers' (albeit that Mr. Bloomberg's financial news conglomerate does produce aggregations of information). Mr. Buffet - the "Sage of Omaha" - and the Koch brothers (chief financiers of a number of Tea Party and right-wing attack groups set loose by the Citizens United decision, see below) are primarily investors, not 'builders' or 'producers', while the Walmart heirs are, essentially, storekeepers.

Gone are the days of Henry Ford, whose then radical wage hikes enabled his American workers to afford the cars they produced, and Andrew Carnegie, whose steel foundries funded public libraries throughout North America.  While both these autocratic business titans clashed violently with their unionizing workers (exhibiting an anti-union animus shared by Walmart and the Kochs), they remained committed to producing goods in America, for consumption in America, and for export to the rest of the world. The Walton fortunes, on the other hand, have been founded on the importation of cheap foreign-produced goods for consumption in America - an importation made possible by the exportation of American manufacturing jobs overseas.

Yet Walmart stores thrive across the United States, even in the factory-shuttered towns and cities of New England and the Mid-West - communities which once produced the same foreign-made clothes and goods that now line the shelves of Walmart, and the pockets of Sam Walton's heirs.

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A recent article in The New Yorker had the following to say about the Koch brothers' largely clandestine political operations: 
"The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups."

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