[Marxism] follow up on whining billionaires

Michael Meeropol mameerop at gmail.com
Sun Nov 10 09:08:07 MST 2019

Hi all --- I am pasting here a detailed response to Jeffrey Cooperman's
whining letter to Obama back in 2012 (I think he wrote it in 2012).   I
call it


*The following is a much expanded version of a commentary delivered by
Michael Meeropol over WAMC radio on October 31, 2012.*

Have you ever heard of Leon Cooperman?  He is a billionaire whose 1500 word
letter of complaint to President Obama has made him the darling of the top
one tenth of one percent.  In the NEW YORKER's October 8 (2012) issue he is
profiled in a fascinating article that quotes from his letter.  The article
is by Chrystia Freeland.  It is entitled Super-Rich Irony Why do
billionaires feel victimized by Obama?    It can be accessed at:


I will reproduce Cooperman’s letter in full with interspersed comments.


It is with a great sense of disappointment that I write this. Like many
others, I hoped that your election would bring a salutary change of
direction to the country, despite what more than a few feared was an overly
aggressive social agenda. And I cannot credibly blame you for the economic
mess that you inherited, even if the policy response on your watch has been
profligate and largely ineffectual. (You did not, after all, invent TARP.)
I understand that when surrounded by cries of “the end of the world as we
know it is nigh,” even the strongest of minds may have a tendency to shoot
first and aim later in a well-intended effort to stave off the predicted


Did Cooperman oppose TARP?  It is very likely that without TARP a number of
important money-center banks would have gone bankrupt - perhaps taking down
Cooperman’s hedge fund with them.  I, myself, joined with a number of
libertarian economists in signing a petition to Congress urging rejection
of TARP.

However, what really is bothersome about the beginning of his letter is the
claim that President Obama’s policy response has been "profligate” and
"ineffective.”  That is totally false.  It was hardly profligate to spend
$787 billion in stimulus to plug what was a much bigger hole in total
aggregate demand as a result of the collapse of the housing bubble.  (Economist
Dean Baker estimated that the reduction in aggregate demand was at least
$1.2 trillion.)  TO the extent that it was ineffective it was because it
wasn’t large enough.  As far as it went, the best estimate is it prevented
the loss of anywhere from 1 to 3.5 million jobs.  To see some details, a
good place to start is a piece by Christina Romer in the New York Times
from October 20.  It is entitled, "The Fiscal Stimulus, Flawed But
Valuable.” and is available at:


But what I can justifiably hold you accountable for is your and your
minions’ role in setting the tenor of the rancorous debate now roiling us
that smacks of what so many have characterized as “class warfare.” Whether
this reflects your principled belief that the eternal divide between the
haves and have-nots is at the root of all the evils that afflict our
society or just a cynical, populist appeal to his base by a president
struggling in the polls is of little importance. What does matter is that
the divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf,
at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden
and those best positioned to help them. It is a gulf that is at once
counterproductive and freighted with dangerous historical precedents. And
it is an approach to governing that owes more to desperate demagoguery than
your Administration should feel comfortable with.


Here and in other places in the Cooperman letter, I can only scratch my
head.  What world is he observing?  Obama made a couple of comments about
the fact that the Wall Street people whose businesses had been saved by
TARP money should not be giving themselves lavish bonuses so soon after
they virtually destroyed the economy.  He has stuck to his campaign promise
of trying to get the top marginal tax rate back up to 39.6% (it had been
50% under Ronald Reagan until 1986).  What else has he done to stoke the
fires of class resentment?


Just to be clear, while I have been richly rewarded by a life of hard work
(and a great deal of luck), I was not to-the-manor-born. My father was a
plumber who practiced his trade in the South Bronx after he and my mother
emigrated from Poland. I was the first member of my family to earn a
college degree. I benefited from both a good public education system (P.S.
75, Morris High School and Hunter College, all in the Bronx) and my
parents’ constant prodding.

When I joined Goldman Sachs following graduation from Columbia University’s
business school, I had no money in the bank, a negative net worth, a
National Defense Education Act student loan to repay, and a six-month-old
child (not to mention his mother, my wife of now 47 years) to support.  I
had a successful, near-25-year run at Goldman, which I left 20 years ago to
start a private investment firm. As a result of my good fortune, I have
been able to give away to those less blessed far more than I have spent on
myself and my family over a lifetime, and last year I subscribed to Warren
Buffett’s Giving Pledge to ensure that my money, properly stewarded,
continues to do some good after I’m gone.

My story is anything but unique. I know many people who are similarly
situated, by both humble family history and hard-won accomplishment, whose
greatest joy in life is to use their resources to sustain their
communities. Some have achieved a level of wealth where philanthropy is no
longer a by-product of their work but its primary impetus. This is as it
should be. We feel privileged to be in a position to give back, and we do.
My parents would have expected nothing less of me.

I am not, by training or disposition, a policy wonk, polemicist or
pamphleteer. I confess admiration for those who, with greater clarity of
expression and command of the relevant statistical details, make these same
points with more eloquence and authoritativeness than I can hope to muster.
For recent examples, I would point you to “Hunting the Rich”; (Leaders, *The
Economist*, September 24, 2011);”The Divider vs. the Thinker”; (Peggy
Noonan, *The Wall Street Journal, *October 29, 2011:

”Wall Street Occupiers Misdirect Anger” (Christine Todd Whitman,


 “Beyond Occupy”; (Bill Keller, {The New York Times}:

 October 31, 2011) - all, if you haven’t read them, making estimable work
of the subject


Noonan and Whitman are Republican ideologues.  It is useful, however, to
note that Cooperman is conflating Obama with the Occupy Movement.  To see
how far removed they are from Obama’s proposals and policies, check out
Richard Wolff, OCCUPY THE ECONOMY (Open Media Series, City Lights Books)
and Noam Chomsky, OCCUPY (Occupied Media Pamphlet Series, Zuccoti Park


But as a taxpaying businessman with a weekly payroll to meet and more than
a passing familiarity with the ways of both Wall Street and Washington, I
do feel justified in asking you: is the tone of the current debate really

People of differing political persuasions can (and do) reasonably argue
about whether, and how high, tax rates should be hiked for upper-income
earners; whether the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended or permitted to
expire, and for whom; whether various deductions and exclusions under the
federal tax code that benefit principally the wealthy and multinational
corporations should be curtailed or eliminated; whether unemployment
benefits and the payroll tax cut should be extended; whether the burdens of
paying for the nation’s bloated entitlement programs are being fairly
spread around, and whether those programs themselves should be reconfigured
in light of current and projected budgetary constraints; whether financial
institutions deemed “too big to fail”; should be serially bailed out or
broken up first, like an earlier era’s trusts, because they pose a systemic
risk and their size benefits no one but their owners; whether the solution
to what ails us as a nation is an amalgam of more regulation, wealth
redistribution, and a greater concentration of power in a central
government that has proven no more (I’m being charitable here) adept than
the private sector in reining in the excesses that brought us to this pass
- the list goes on and on, and the dialectic is admirably American.  Even
though, as a high-income taxpayer, I might be considered one of its
targets, I find this reassessment of so many entrenched economic premises
healthy and long overdue.  Anyone who could survey today’s challenging
fiscal landscape, with an un- and underemployment rate of nearly 20 percent
and roughly 40 percent of the country on public assistance, and not
acknowledge an imperative for change is either heartless, brainless, or
running for office on a very parochial agenda.  And if I end up paying more
taxes as a result, so be it. The alternatives are all worse.


This paragraph should be directed at the Tea Party and the Republican Party
in general.  They resisted every effort by Obama to create some useful
change - whether in energy policy with cap and trade (originally a
Republican proposal), whether in health care reform (again he presented an
originally Republican proposal - the individual mandate), whether in
stimulating the economy (the Republicans wanted just as big a stimulus -
only with only tax cuts creating the deficit rather than a mix).  I could
go on but I hope readers get the picture.  We know that Republicans decided
before Obama was even inaugurated to resist everything he proposed in order
to try and make sure his presidency was a failure so they could take back
the Congress in 2010 (it worked) and the Presidency in 2012.  So why is he
complaining to Obama about this?


But what I do find objectionable is the highly politicized idiom in which
this debate is being conducted.  Now, I am not naive. I understand that in
today’s America, this is how the business of governing typically gets done
- a situation that, given the gravity of our problems, is as deplorable as
it is seemingly ineluctable.  But as President first and foremost and
leader of your party second, you should endeavor to rise above the partisan
fray and raise the level of discourse to one that is both more civil and
more conciliatory, that seeks collaboration over confrontation.  That is
what “leading by example” means to most people.


Of course this is exactly what Obama tried in his entire first two years -
that’s why the stimulus had so much tax cutting in it.   That’s why he
tried to get Republican cooperation on the health care bill.   What world
has Cooperman been living in?


Capitalism is not the source of our problems, as an economy or as a
society, and capitalists are not the scourge that they are too often made
out to be.


Cooperman should check out a book by the conservative jurist, Richard
DEPRESSION (2009).   It is not capitalism in the generic sense that is the
source of our problems.  Instead, as Posner and many others have pointed
out, it is the peculiar brand of capitalism that has come to dominate the
United States since the early 1980s - a capitalism where finance has run
wild (permitting people like Cooperman to become billionaires by basically
figuring out how to outsmart other people).  For details about this very
dangerous version of capitalism, see THE ABC’s OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS by
Michael Yates and Fred Magdoff (Monthly Review Press, 2009)


 As a group, we employ many millions of taxpaying people, pay their
salaries, provide them with healthcare coverage, start new companies, found
new industries, create new products, fill store shelves at Christmas, and
keep the wheels of commerce and progress (and indeed of government, by
generating the income whose taxation funds it) moving. To frame the debate
as one of rich-and-entitled versus poor-and-dispossessed is to both miss
the point and further inflame an already incendiary environment. It is also
a naked, political pander to some of the basest human emotions - a
strategy, as history teaches, that never ends well for anyone but
totalitarians and anarchists.


Actually, the last President to campaign against "economic royalists” and
"welcome” the hatred of the rich and privileged was none other than
Franklin D. Roosevelt.  His New Deal saved American capitalism from ending
up either like Italy, Germany or the Soviet Union.  The reforms instituted
by the New Deal and solidified under Presidents Johnson and Nixon created
the American version of social democracy which between World War II and the
late 1970s brought a shared prosperity to virtually the entire
population.  These
decades created the great American middle class which bought all the
products that American capitalists sold - making those capitalists rich and
successful - even as they (high income Americans) were taxed at a maximum
marginal rate of 70% and unions represented a much higher percentage of the
labor force than they do now.  When Cooperman was growing up and starting
his career, did he feel crushed by the heavy hand of government under
Johnson and Nixon?


With due respect, Mr. President, it’s time for you to throttle-down the
partisan rhetoric and appeal to people’s better instincts, not their worst.


Again - what world has he been living in?  Before Obama was even elected he
was called a socialist.  Since his election the percentage of Republicans
who believe he is a secret Muslim has grown!  (And let us not forget Donald
Trump and birtherism.)


Rather than assume that the wealthy are a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling
lot who must be subjugated by the force of the state, set a tone that
encourages people of good will to meet in the middle. When you were a
community organizer in Chicago, you learned the art of waging a guerrilla
campaign against a far superior force. But you’ve graduated from that
milieu and now help to set the agenda for that superior force.


The superior force in this era of Citizens United are people and
institutions with billions of dollars.  Congress is currently so
gerry-mandered that most seats are safe and citizens are almost completely
shut out of the political process.  (Check out the Atlantic for October
2012 - "The New Price of American Politics” by James Bennet.)  The
Presidency and Senate are now for sale to billionaires - and it can only
get worse in the future.


You might do well at this point to eschew the polarizing vernacular of
political militancy and become the transcendent leader you were elected to
be. You are likely to be far more effective, and history is likely to treat
you far more kindly for it.


In the New Yorker article, Cooperman is quoted at an event saying:

"Our problem frankly is as long as the President remains anti-wealth,
anti-business, anti-energy, anti-private-aviation, he will never get the
business community behind him.”


If the President is anti-wealth and anti-business he is a terrible failure.
The top 1% have recovered completely from the recession and financial
crisis.  He refused to force banks to write-down overvalued mortgages ---
He failed to raise taxes ONE PENNY on the super-rich --- He expended no
political capital to make it easier for workers to join unions. The claim
Obama is anti-energy relates to his effort to wean the US from fossil fuels
- something every right-thinking person knows is essential if the planet is
to survive.  Finally, consider the claim that Obama is
"anti-private-aviation.”  This is obviously a complaint that Obama has
often criticized the fact that businesses can deduct their corporate jets
as a business expense.  Note that Obama’s desire to end a taxpayer subsidy
to businesses who own private jets is translated into a broad attack
stating Obama is against "private aviation.”

 Cooperman’s quote in the New Yorker continues:  "The problem and the
complication is the forty or fifty percent of the country on the dole that
support him [Obama].”

NOTE here the echo Mitt Romney's so-called "mistake” when he attacked the
47% who are allegedly dependent on government in the famous secretly
recorded tape.  But note here the incredible statement that 40 or 50
percent of the country is "on the dole.”  Does Cooperman mean social
security recipients?  Does he truly believe they all support the President?

Since Romney’s statement was at a private fund-raiser that he did not
expect to see recorded, we can only assume that these super rich people
actually believe that stuff.

Obama can only be accused of fomenting class warfare in the perverse sense
that he proved to the poor and working classes of this country that the
deck is stacked against them and in favor of the superrich.

So ---  What is going on with Cooperman, Romney and other whining

I think these folks must in their heart of hearts know that they are
billionaires not because they have done anything particularly valuable and
useful for society but because they have been lucky

 --- the New Yorker article quotes Cooperman as admitting that he's very
very rich because of lucky decisions.

So they not only want the money but they are so insecure they want the rest
of us to praise them as they rake it in.

These insecure billionaires claim that they themselves created the
successful businesses that they profit from.  The fact that they had
essential help from workers, long gone inventors and discoverers,
government public works, a police force and courts is ignored.

 This reminds me of a great poem by Bertholt Brecht—A Worker Reads history.

*Who built the seven gates of Thebes?*

*The books are filled with names of kings.*

*Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?*

*And Babylon, so many times destroyed.*

*Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,*

*That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?*

*In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished*

*Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome*

*Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? *

*Over whom*

*Did the Caesars triumph? *

*Byzantium lives in song.*

*Were all her dwellings palaces? *

*And even in Atlantis of the legend*

*The night the seas rushed in,*

*The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.*

*Young Alexander conquered India.*

*He alone?*

*Caesar beat the Gauls.*

*Was there not even a cook in his army?*

*Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet was sunk and destroyed. *

*Were there no other tears?*

*Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.*

*Who triumphed with him?*

*Each page a victory*

*At whose expense the victory ball?*

*Every ten years a great man,*

*Who paid the piper?*

*So many particulars.*

*So many questions. *

(End of Poem)

In our society, there is much too much celebration of the top dogs who get
most of the money and too much of the credit while virtually none of the
credit and too little money goes to the unsung heroes who do the work.

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