Will "Economic Freedom" be the Billionaire's New Phrase to Replace "Capitalism"?

Frank Luntz is advising his rich patrons to continue to kneecap the middle class with a slick new sloganeering strategy. Have Americans finally figured out the the "long con" of the Reagan Revolution?

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Frank Luntz, who made millions messaging for the wealthy and powerful, has an idea.

His most recent survey found that across American society there is widespread skepticism about capitalism and outrage at the tendency of deregulated capitalism to produce mind-boggling wealth and terrible poverty. 

The simple fact is that, beyond a professional class of doctors, lawyers and the type, deregulated capitalism has never produced a middle class in its 7000-year history. It has to be heavily regulated in order to produce a middle class, as John Maynard Keynes taught us back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. 

The American middle class of the 1940s-1980s era, and the European middle-class that has emerged since the end of World War II, were both created by high taxes on the wealthy, free or nearly-free higher education and widespread union membership among working people.

Billionaires and monopolistic corporations, however, as we just saw in the case of billionaire Bezos’ Amazon fighting a union effort in Alabama, are quite unwilling to help rebuild the American middle class.

Luntz bemoaned his finding that “just 31% of Americans self-identify themselves as capitalists,” that most Americans believe socialism is “better than capitalism in helping the poor and struggling working class,” and that “capitalism ranks among the lowest responses when asked what America stands for.”

Luntz’s solution? Quit calling it “capitalism“ and start calling it “economic freedom.”

And don’t underestimate his ability to pull it off: this is the guy who, with heavy funding from the billionaire Walton heirs, succeeded in convincing a large cross-section of Americans that the “estate tax“ is actually a “death tax.”

Over the past 40 years America has become one of the most unequal societies on Earth, and, since the introduction of Reaganism and Trickle Down Economics in 1981, is now the most unequal society among all developed nations. 

This is the simple consequence of the natural tendency of unregulated capitalism to concentrate capital, and Republicans have worked hard to deregulate American capitalism ever since 1981. If you’ve ever played Monopoly, you know exactly how it works.

In Luntz’s advice to his wealthy benefactors, however, he rejects the idea of regulating American capitalism by raising taxes on the rich, breaking up corporate monopolies, or providing people with free healthcare and education.

He notes that his survey found a lot of support across America for the progressive suggestion that we “raise the top marginal tax rate for the top 1% to 70%, as well as [we put into place] the 2% wealth tax among people who have $10 million or more proposed by Elizabeth Warren.”

The morbidly rich, however, have no interest in paying Luntz to propose language that could gather broad support for simple fixes to American capitalism, as have successfully worked across Northern Europe and parts of Asia/Australia/New Zealand for generations. 

In those countries there is still great wealth and even quite a few billionaires, but nobody ever goes bankrupt or becomes homeless because a member of their family got sick, and every child with the potential to become a scientist or physician can achieve their goal through free higher education.

Because of unionization rates that run from 60 to 90% in most of those countries (it was about a third of American workers when Reagan took office, and today is 6% of the private American workforce) average working people across much of the rest of the developed world earn enough money for a comfortable lifestyle, homeownership and to travel the world during their annual month of vacation time.

Because they effectively regulate monopolies, it’s easier to start a small business and when you walk through the streets of Northern European or Asian/Australian/New Zealand cities you find a significant percentage, if not a majority, of the stores are family-owned and often named after the local town or family. 

In America, by contrast, you could be dropped out of an airplane from a few miles up and land in any random city anywhere in the country and still have no idea where you are because everything from banks, restaurants and hotels to clothing stores, hardware stores and theaters are owned by massive national corporate chains.

Will Frank Luntz succeed in helping his billionaire patrons again kneecap the American middle-class with another slick sloganeering strategy? Or, after 40 years, have Americans finally figured out the long con of the Reagan Revolution?

Luntz himself seems uncertain. As he summarized his findings, he warned the billionaires who paid him, “You are going to need a serious, significant education campaign ... now.”

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If you’d like to do a deeper dive on these topics, I’ve written a series of small, quickly-read books breaking them down. 

The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment describes that Amendment’s roots in the Southern Slave Patrols and how American policing grew out of that and is used today as a violent system of control against marginalized people.

The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America lays out how a corruptly-stacked Supreme Court is the principal instrument that brought us here. 

The Hidden History of the War on Voting describes the processes through which oligarchs corrupted the Republican Party and the American political system. 

The Hidden History of Monopolies describes how the oligarchic class, exploiting weaknesses within our political system, managed to seize control of virtually our entire economy, giving them massive political power. 

The Hidden History of American Oligarchy reveals the two previous times in this country when we almost tipped over into oligarchy [the Civil War era and the attempts to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt] and exposes oligarch efforts to pull it off again today and how we can stop them. 

And The Hidden History of American Healthcare shows how the most important and central function of government — maintaining the health and well-being of its people — has been co-opted and seized by a small group of “healthcare oligarchs” and how a Medicare For All system can overthrow much of their power and end their plunder of the American middle class.

All are available through your favorite bookseller.