Tuesday, May 17, 2016

David Brooks' Hoi Polloi Hegira, Day 37: One Medici at a Time


The main challengers of the Albizzi family were the Medicis, first under Giovanni de' Medici, later under his son Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici and grandson, Lorenzo de' Medici. The Medici controlled the Medici bank—then Europe's largest bank—and an array of other enterprises in Florence and elsewhere. In 1433, the Albizzi managed to have Cosimo exiled.[8] The next year, however, a pro-Medici Signoria was elected and Cosimo returned. The Medici became the city's leading family, a position they would hold for the next three centuries. Florence remained a republic until 1537, traditionally marking the end of the High Renaissance in Florence, but the instruments of republican government were firmly under the control of the Medici and their allies, save during intervals after 1494 and 1527. Cosimo and Lorenzo rarely held official posts, but were the unquestioned leaders.

As you might remember, having humiliated himself for the last 20 years making a series of very public social and political pronouncements which have all blown up in his face, America's Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual renounced the comforts of making up fairy tales based on the mating and musing habits of his privileged and insulated Acela corridor neighbors and pledged instead to walk the Earth Cain-in-Kung-Fu style --

-- until he stumbled across Real Murricans, learned their native language, and reported back on their charming, native folkways.

The first leg of his dangerous hoi polloi hegira as reported in today's New York Times ("One Neighborhood at a Time") takes him to the West, following the advice of Horace Greeley.  Past the Valley of the Gods and Boot Hill, Mr, Brooks treks, and past the Grand Canyon and Donner Pass. Past the the mighty Hoover Dam, smoking ruins of Kansas and the wreckage of Kochlahoma.  Right past all of the west's many monuments to the patient majesty of Nature and the contradictory ambitions of Man,  to the home of Mr. Brooks friends, Lynda and Stewart Reskin --
You should know that I’m friends with Lynda and Stewart and am biased in their direction.
Who are the very best kinds of friend for David Brooks to have, since they also happen to be #358 on Forbes' 2016 list of Americas Top 400 Billionaires --
#358 Stewart and Lynda Resnick
Real Time Net Worth As of 5/17/16:  $4.2 Billion
Source Of Wealth: agriculture, water, Self Made
-- having made some considerable fraction of their vast fortune by gaming the loophole-riddled agricultural water rules in the drought-stricken state of California.

So not exactly the Joads.
Or the Jukes. 
Or the Kallikaks
Or even the Clampitts.

Just good, old-fashioned American Medicis whose social mission happens to align perfectly with David Brooks' vision of an American where the government has faded quietly into nonexistence and we are ruled by benevolent, ambitious plutocrats who really only want what is best for us.

The Resnick's, you see,  have a shit-ton of money and they want to spend a chunk of it on the sorts of things that good government used to do before the Starve The Beast And Gut The Middle Class Party took the whole concept of good government for a walk in the woods and shot it in the head.
First, they are flooding the zone. They’re not trying to find one way to serve this population. The problems are so intertwined, they are trying to change this community from all directions at once. In Lost Hills there are new health centers, new pre-K facilities, new housing projects, new gardens, new sidewalks and lights, a new community center and a new soccer field. Through the day, people have more places to meet, play and cooperate with their neighbors...
Second, they’ve created a practical culture of self-improvement. You can talk about social reform in ways that seem preachy. But the emphasis here is on better health and less diabetes, a nonmoralistic way to change behavior.

At the nut plant I met men and women who’d lost over 100 pounds. One of the workers gets up at 2:45 every morning, so he can hit the gym by 4 and be at work by 6...

The new institutions here are intensely social. When you go to the health center, you don’t sit silently in the waiting room before going into a small room for your 15-minute visit. Many of the patients have group visits (sort of like Al Anon groups) to meet communally with doctors and encourage one another’s healthier behavior...
They are improving the lives of some of our fellow citizens, and jolly good for them, I say.

However I am just old enough not toe find much comfort in the idea of a Collective Company that has its watchful eye on every aspect of your life, from the moment you get up in the morning and drop you kids off at the pre-K center, right through your med check at the health center, to the community center where you interact with your fellow citizens.

Cradle to grave, you might say.

And I do have to wonder how Mr. Brooks proposes that we replicate the vast outlays of cash that are clearly required to start to rebuild our shattered working-class in the tens of thousands of communities throughout America where their wealth and future have been strip-mined to make a handful of people very wealthy?  Where the local and state governments are collapsing under the burden of providing even the most minimal services to the Left Behind?  Where local benevolent billionaires are in very short supply?

And I also have to wonder what happens to people in Mr. Brooks' Brave New World who would rather not have to sing a company song for their supper?


banker puppy said...

I imagine he believes fealty to be a good thing. After all, he pledged his loyalty to the GOP DC bubble overlords years ago. He's admitted that. He's merely swapping out intellectual/policy fealty and swapped in robber-baron fealty. It's still about using wealth to buy political influence for the purpose of amassing more wealth.

tony in san diego said...

Boy, that 401st billionaire must feel just terrible!

dinthebeast said...

Are billionaires getting so plentiful that you can't find anyone else to talk to? Also, as a Californian (by birth, by nature, and by choice), fuck those creeps. The river I used to fish for steelhead in when I was a kid is so depleted from the theft of northern water for central agriculture that you can't even navigate it in a flat-bottom jet boat any more.

-Doug in Oakland

bowtiejack said...

DB's chums, Lynda and Stewart Reskin, are not just Lady Bountiful billionaires (doing what they can for the "people in the village") but also purveyors of the crap that is Fiji Water and Pom Juice (with touted "health benefits" that, alas, are not FDA approved).

n1ck said...

Just what the US needs - more company towns like Detroit, that instantly implode once the benevolent landlord decides it wants to move to Texas to get slightly better tax rates, or to Indonesia, to employ 12 year olds for 30 cents an hour, with no environmental regulations to prevent it from poisoning those same 12 year olds.

Oligarchs always seeks to become aristocrats. Either they get pushed back, or they pull everyone else onto their private property and make everyone a serf.

Bruce.desertrat said...

"having made some considerable fraction of their vast fortune by gaming the loophole-riddled agricultural water rules in the drought-stricken state of California. "

Only one question remains, is her daughter also her sister?

trgahan said...

Once again, Brook's history degree pays off. The answer is same one oligarchs tried during the Gilded Age: Corporate Paternalism.

Prior to the Great Depression we saw plenty of these billionaire attempts to create a work force just happy and compliant enough that it won't ask too many questions and would ignore all those union organizers/muckraking journalists/progressive politicians/etc.

My guess is, like previous attempts, the Resnick's commitment will closely follow their "self made" fortune. Communities are expensive, very long term investments that, in and of themselves, never turn a profit. A few percent drop in Resnick's core wealth and all of those expenses will be axed from the books....or more likely dumped on nearest government entity along with a demand for another tax cut.

Redhand said...

You should know that I’m friends with Lynda and Stewart and am biased in their direction.

So, basically, DFB's latest effort to find the real Murrica involves writing a puff piece for a couple of his billionaire friends.

Beyond laughable.

Neo Tuxedo said...

"The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities … is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits. Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn't a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That's right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away."
- Actual unretouched quote from a Koch-sponsored course in "Common Sense Economics", courtesy Brother Charles Pierce

"He crossed that line between everyday villainy and cartoonish super-villainy."
- Waylon Smithers on C. Montgomery Burns, "Who Shot Mr. Burns?"

RUKidding said...

Why how nice! DFB has friends on the dreaded Left Coast who belong to the Three Comma Club! Lord & Lady Grantham, er, Resnick. And FuckCakes is biased in their favor, eh? How utterly surprising... not.

I watched a coupla seasons of Downton Abbey before it got totally boring, and what I got out of it were: a) reminders that the British Aristocracy were pretty much all tapped out in the early 20th C and had to go - shudder! - to the colonies to marry daughters of the Nouveau Riche in the barbarian territories to shore up their crumbling wealth and holdings; b) that many of them, like Lord Grantham, didn't know what they were doing and lost piles of money and had to beg for more; and c) while the tv show portrayed these Aristos as benevolent dictators towards their lower orders, most of them weren't all that and a bag of chips.

Maybe Fuckcakes watched hisself too many seasons of Downton and bought into the hoop-de-do. Should Lord & Lady Resnick start losing a quid or two, they'll be kicking down, kissing up and doing their damndest to rip off whatever they can from the US proles down to the bathroom fixtures if necessary.

Mark said...

Reminds me of Tolestoy's "War and Peace", somehow