Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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The Selfish, Greedy Rich
A no-spin, fair and balanced discussion
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker
— For my old friend Peter —

(Update — March 8, 2007: Skyhorse Publishing has
just released a new edition of Jules Archer's
The Plot to Seize the White House.
It is now available at bookstores.)

In August, 1934, two World War I veterans met at the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. One was Marine Corps Major General Smedly Darlington Butler (Ret.), twice recipient of the Medal of Honor. While actively serving, Butler won a reputation for scrupulous honesty and courage on the battlefield. In retirement, he became a passionate advocate for veterans' rights and benefits. America's veterans adored him.

The other vet was Gerald MacGuire, now a bond salesman. He was there on behalf of a rather different constituency: an influential sector of the super-rich, including among others William Knudsen of General Motors; the Andrew Mellon Associates; the Rockefeller Associates, and Grayson Murphy, director of major banking and manufacturing enterprises.

MacGuire had a proposal for Butler: would he raise an army of up to 500,000 veterans, and lead a coup against the Roosevelt administration?

Because Roosevelt had encroached on their freedom to make money—the only freedom they truly cared about—the men MacGuire represented hated him with a passion surpassing even Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden's hatred of America. They looked abroad, and in Germany and Italy they saw a possible solution to their problem. In the July 1934 issue of Fortune Magazine, an official organ of the Roosevelt-haters, Laird Goldsborough spoke as their proxy:

"The good journalist must recognize in Fascism certain ancient virtues of the race, whether or not they happen to be momentarily fashionable in his own country."
On their nickel, MacGuire had spent 6 months in Europe, studying the methods by which Hitler and Mussolini maintained their power. He learned that the two dictators relied on large veterans organizations to maintain order and intimidate rivals. MacGuire suggested to Butler that France's Croix de Feu (Cross of Fire), representing 5,000,000 French veterans, should be the actual model for his new army. With 500,000 veterans on the march, and 5,000,000 American veterans behind them, Butler would demand appointment to a new Cabinet position: Secretary of General Affairs.

His job description would be to assist Roosevelt in the difficult task of managing an America mired in the Depression. His real job would be to facilitate America's return of to its economic root: laissez-faire capitalism. Thus would Butler again serve his country; either through the co-option of Roosevelt's presidential powers, or by removing him from the office itself if he didn't play ball.

It would of course all be accompanied by appropriate assurances to the American people, especially those frequenting thousands of depression-era soup kitchens, that the new arrangement was in their best interest. MacGuire told Butler that money was no object. $3 million was available immediately, and up to $300 million if necessary.

Were the Roosevelt-haters stupid, or what?

MacGuire and his patrons didn't do their homework. Not only was Butler a true patriot—meaning that he really believed in the Constitution—but after retirement, he had also undergone something of a religious conversion. Looking back on his career, he realized that he had led young Americans to their deaths in foreign lands not to protect the homeland, but instead to enrich Wall Street. Two years before being approached by MacGuire, Butler stunned a large American Legion audience by admitting that for 33 years he had been little more than "a high-class muscleman for Big Business. ..."
"In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico ... safe for American oil interests in 1916. ... I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.
"I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate a racket in three cities. The Marines operated on three continents."
Butler quickly informed the House Un-American Activities Committee about the plot, and HUAC confirmed that he was telling the truth. Nevertheless, because of the prominence of the players involved, and of MacGuire's care in covering his own tracks, no indictments were ever issued. MacGuire died before a more in-depth investigation could be conducted.

They weren't so stupid after all.

After The Plot to Seize the White House failed (Jules Archer, Hawthorne Books, 1973), events on the world stage forced these proto-fascist rich underground. Their spiritual successors, to whom I refer hereafter as the selfish, greedy rich [1], over the years devised a variety of brilliant strategies to make their selfishness palatable, even appealing, to the very people who should naturally suffer from it. In 1980 the years of toil paid off with the election of their Magic Salesman, Ronald Reagan, to the presidency. Reagan convinced millions of honest, hard-working Americans to hate their own government almost as much as the selfish, greedy rich do. The majority of Americans are now convinced that government, and especially the despised "tax-and-spend liberals," are as much their enemy as is Osama bin Laden.

Noting that America's free media—the very foundation America's greatness—had long assaulted these millions of honest, hard-working Americans with so many things they didn't want to hear, the selfish, greedy rich simply took over the press and the airwaves. They shifted the content and tone of the news and commentary more to these beleaguered Americans' liking—well to the right. (All the while inveighing against the "liberal" media, of course.)

Privatization of all government functions, and complete deregulation of industry and finance are the core goals of the selfish, greedy rich. They have convinced the millions of honest, hardworking Americans that a return to laissez-faire capitalism is the answer to all of our social, environmental, and spiritual problems. Deregulation marched across America, one result being that thousands of these same honest, hardworking Americans lost their retirements or their savings, or both, in the Enron and other swindles. While beating the drums of patriotism, the selfish, greedy rich send thousands of jobs to sweatshops in repressive regimes overseas, but they do not send their sons and daughters into harm's way in Iraq or Afghanistan. President Bill Clinton was partly their creature, and President George W. Bush is wholly their creature.

The selfish, greedy rich often invoke the famous invisible hand of capitalism's patron saint, the kindly and humane Scot Adam Smith. In a "free market," Smith proposed an invisible hand as the mechanism by which the owner of capital would naturally, and through self-interest alone, benefit the entire society by allocating his resources within the domestic economy. But the free market was (and still is) strictly a hypothetical construct, and the selfish, greedy rich naturally neglect to mention that Smith himself was onto their own innately deceptive nature:
"The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

Wealth of Nations, The Rent of Land, Conclusion of the Chapter.  (Thanks to Noam Chomsky for the insight as to the real usage of the invisible hand, and for corroborating my own observation that Smith uses the term only once in Wealth of Nations. It's a dense book, and I was never quite sure that I hadn't missed other references to it.   Hegemony or Survival  America's Quest for Global Dominance, The American Empire Project, 2003, p138.)
What's next?

The material given above on the plot to seize the White House comes from the new book, The Corporation  The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, by University of British Colombia law professor Joel Bakan. Bakan's well-developed thesis is that the modern American (publically held) corporation is a psychopathic creature, concerned solely with maximizing return on shareholder investment.[2] Legally required to be amoral, the corporation necessarily serves the selfish greedy rich in their increasingly successful effort to destroy the very notion of the public interest. Bakan makes the point with chilling clarity:
"Today, seventy years after the failed coup, a well-organized minority again threatens democracy. Corporate America's long and patient campaign to gain control of government ... is now succeeding. ... using dollars rather than bullets, corporations are now poised to win what the plotters so desperately wanted: freedom from democratic control."
In the face of all historic and contemporary evidence to the contrary, the millions of honest, hardworking Americans believe that the selfish, greedy rich are "looking out for them," to paraphrase right-wing radio talk-show host Bill O'Reilly. It is a public relations success of Orwellian proportions, perhaps matched only by the fascist propagandists of 20th century Germany and Italy. [3]

Yesterday's fascism, so appealing to the Roosevelt-haters, has been superseded by a less overtly offensive, but quite well-defined form: plutocracy. If the selfish, greedy rich get their way—a distinct possibility considering their successes so far—a few plutocrats will control the economy, and by default the internal security forces as well. They will allow just enough of a servile middle class to organize the manufacture and distribution of the plutocrats' required goods and services. Everyone else will labor for a subsistence wage, complaining at their peril.[4]


Today, the selfish, greedy rich dominate America's political and social economies, and America's defense and foreign policy establishments as well. They can be defeated only if America emerges from its trance, and retires George W. Bush from the presidency in November. We might then be on our way to fulfilling the hope once expressed by the great British economist, John Maynard Keynes:
"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession—as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life—will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to specialists in mental disease."

John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1932, p. 369.    Cited in John Kenneth Galbraith and His Critics, by Charles H. Hession; New York: The New American Library Inc./Mentor, 1972, p. 203
  1. I distinguish between the selfish, greedy rich and the non-selfish, non-greedy rich. The selfish, greedy rich are those who hate government, hate taxes, and hate those who want government help them provide nutritious school lunches for poor children. The non-selfish, non-greedy rich, on the other hand, admit that they "didn't do it alone," and they also feel that they have a moral obligation to give something back to the society that made their wealth possible. (In today's political climate, those are two decidedly un-American attitudes.)

    Thus, the non-selfish, non-greedy rich do not hate government, are not averse to paying taxes, and generally believe that government should provide such lunches to poor children. Their philanthropy is heavily skewed toward charity and education for the poor, rather than ad hominem attacks on the selfish, greedy rich. In contrast, the selfish, greedy rich, devote almost all of their foundation money toward ad hominem attacks on those who care about economic inequity, and have thereby succeeded in making liberalism a bogeyman for the millions of Americans who don't "think a second time," to borrow from right-wing talk radio host Dennis Prager.

  2. To be fair, it's not the corporation's fault. Pioneer automaker Henry Ford was famous for paying wages that allowed his workers to buy the cars that they produced. In 1916 he decided to cancel the yearly dividend and return it to the customers in the form of reduced prices on the Model T.    Ford had said earlier:
    "I do not believe that we should make such awful profits on our cars. A reasonable profit is right, but not too much."
    His partners, the Dodge brothers needed the money that Ford thus planned to deny them to start their own car company. They sued him for the dividend, and won. The judge even reprimanded Ford, implicitly, for his generosity and lack of greed. Thus is the corporation legally required to hurt people, and the environment, if doing so will further "the best interests of the corporation." From Bakan, p. 36.

  3. From Orwell's 1984:
    "The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought."
    "All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations."
    "They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening."
    "The capitalists owned everything in the world, and everyone else was their slave. They owned all the land, all the houses, all the factories, and all the money. If anyone disobeyed them they could throw him into prison, or they could take his job away and starve him to death. When any ordinary person spoke to a capitalist he had to cringe and bow to him, and take off his cap and address him as 'Sir.'"
    Thanks to Michael Moore: Dude, Where's My Country?
    P. 126.
  4. In the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven, a band of Mexican bandits repeatedly loots a poor village of its animals and crops. In desperation, the villagers hire seven American gunfighters to rout the bandidos. In a confrontation with Yul Brynner's Chris Adams, the bandit leader Calvera, brilliantly played by Eli Wallach, expresses the founding dogma of the selfish, greedy rich:
    "if God hadn't meant for them to be sheared, He wouldn't have made them sheep."

Page last updated August 11, 2004

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