Welcome to the Plutocracy! Bill Moyers Presents the First Howard Zinn Lecture

Howard Zinn, the Peo­ple’s his­to­ri­an, taught at Boston Uni­ver­si­ty for 24 years, until he died ear­li­er this year. In late Octo­ber, Bill Moy­ers deliv­ered the first Howard Zinn Memo­r­i­al Lec­ture dur­ing which, appro­pri­ate­ly enough, he focus­es on the chal­lenges fac­ing our democ­ra­cy, and par­tic­u­lar­ly Amer­i­ca’s long drift toward plu­toc­ra­cy, where the rich get rich­er at the expense of the aver­age cit­i­zen. The talk (fol­lowed by a Q&A ses­sion) runs a good two hours, and Moy­ers him­self starts speak­ing at the 6:40 minute mark. You can watch the video here, or read the tran­script here.

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Comments (7)
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  • These remarks by Moy­ers are right on the mon­ey, pun intend­ed. In this speech and anoth­er that he gave to Com­mon Cause (text here: http://bit.ly/aXxUSl), Moy­ers high­lights exact­ly what’s at stake:

    “Civ­i­liza­tions die of dis­en­chant­ment. If enough peo­ple doubt their soci­ety, the whole ven­ture falls apart. We must nev­er let anger, fash­ion­able cyn­i­cism, or polit­i­cal par­ti­san­ship blur our vision of this point.”

    Let us hope that one does­n’t have to be a wit­ness to his­to­ry to under­stand its impli­ca­tions.

  • Hanoch says:

    The “the rich get rich­er at the expense of the aver­age cit­i­zen”? I think you have it back­wards.

    The aver­age cit­i­zen’s mate­r­i­al well-being has been great­ly improved due to the will­ing­ness of entre­pre­neurs through­out the his­to­ry of this coun­try to take risks to devel­op prod­ucts and ser­vices that make life bet­ter. When those entre­pre­neurs suc­ceed, every­one ben­e­fits. One need only con­sid­er the tremen­dous devel­op­ments in tech­nol­o­gy and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals which have improved the aver­age cit­i­zen’s life immea­sur­ably.

    The aver­age cit­i­zen in the U.S. is mate­ri­al­ly bet­ter off than vir­tu­al­ly any place on earth. Fur­ther, today’s aver­age U.S. cit­i­zen lives like a king com­pared to the wealthy in the U.S. from pri­or gen­er­a­tions. Con­sid­er what the aver­age cit­i­zen takes com­plete­ly for grant­ed today that even the wealthy of 100 years ago could not imag­ine. This is all the prod­uct of free mar­kets and the abil­i­ty of indi­vid­u­als in this coun­try to enjoy the rewards of their suc­cess.

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, these obvi­ous facts are irrel­e­vant to left­ists such as Zinn and Moy­ers who are pri­mar­i­ly moti­vat­ed by their ani­mus toward the wealthy, and not the over­all wel­fare of the aver­age cit­i­zen. It is fas­ci­nat­ing that those who decry the wealth and pow­er of the cap­i­tal­ist are all too will­ing to arro­gate more and more wealth and pow­er to a cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment with ever-expand­ing con­trol over the lives of indi­vid­u­als.

  • Scott Woodward says:


    An exam­i­na­tion of ANY recent eco­nom­ic data will indi­cate how NOT back­ward Mr. Moy­ers has it. One might also rea­son­ably argue that the ben­e­fits accrued to your ‘aver­age cit­i­zen’ have lit­tle or noth­ing to do with the ilk of Phar­ma or Detroit. Of course the lim­it­ed world view which allows you to think in such a way is made clear by your pejo­ra­tive use of ‘left­ist’. If it is con­ser­v­a­tive opin­ion that speaks to you, you should attend to William Safire as opposed to Glenn Beck. God luck

  • John Q Public says:

    Great Scott! Well said!

  • Hanoch says:


    If you have data show­ing that the aver­age cit­i­zen was mate­ri­al­ly bet­ter off in, say 1820 or 1920, than the aver­age cit­i­zen today, I would love to see that. Most peo­ple rec­og­nize the rather obvi­ous fact that they are mate­ri­al­ly bet­ter off in so many ways com­pared to their grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents.

    I appre­ci­ate your read­ing rec­om­men­da­tion and your attempt to broad­en my “lim­it­ed world view”. While I have not read any­thing from Mr. Beck, I was one of Howard Zin­n’s stu­dents. I have also stud­ied and read a num­ber of books on eco­nom­ics, includ­ing those from Thomas Sow­ell. From the nar­row con­fines of this “con­ser­v­a­tive opin­ion” pigeon hole in which you would like to imag­ine me — when ratio­nal argu­ment fails, ad hominem is always a trustee stand­by — I con­clud­ed that Sow­ell hand­i­ly demol­ished the argu­ments ema­nat­ing from the likes of Zinn and Moy­ers. So, as one favor begets anoth­er, now you have your read­ing rec­om­men­da­tion.

  • Mike says:

    While every­one is mak­ing read­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, Hanoch, I won­der whether you have even read the piece in ques­tion. You haven’t addressed the spe­cif­ic issues — much less faced the facts — pre­sent­ed by Moy­ers in his speech. The years 1820 and 1920, which you men­tion, are out­side the purview of his dis­cus­sion. (We are also bet­ter off mate­ri­al­ly than we were in 1320, or 20 B.C.E.–thanks no doubt to the entre­pre­neur­ial spir­it of Amer­i­cans like your­self.)

    You may be a right­ist, Hanoch, but if you said you were a Tea Par­ty mem­ber I’d be a lit­tle sur­prised, because Tea Par­ty mem­bers at least tend to be keen­ly aware of the ero­sion of the Amer­i­can mid­dle class in recent decades. They assign blame to high tax­es and large gov­ern­ment, but the facts — the data — point in a very dif­fer­ent direc­tion. The mid­dle class grew steadi­ly, along with GDP, after the New Deal, and con­tin­ued to grow after the Great Soci­ety. In fact, wages for aver­age Amer­i­cans con­tin­ued to grow at a healthy rate right up until (sur­prise!) Rea­gan.

  • Scott Woodward says:

    1920 may at this point be a coin toss. I need to review more data. 1950–80 is not. Real income for wage earn­ers is DOWN. The shift in wealth HAS occurred. The mid­dle class IS shrink­ing. While I can appre­ci­ate Sow­ell’s handy demol­ish­ing, the sophistry ema­nat­ing from the Chica­go school of eco­nom­ic thought (Sow­ell apol­o­gist for Fried­man apol­o­gist for Rockefeller)leaves much to be desired. The evo­lu­tion of once what was arguably a demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­lic into a cor­po­rate oli­garchy leaves even more. That was way too stri­dent, but there it is.

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