The miserable presidential race is still underway, with stress-inducing counts slogging along in a handful of swing states; the much-rumored congressional blue wave turned out only to be a sad drip. This week, Trump supporters, occasionally armed, have attempted to interfere with vote counts in several cities. (“Stop the vote!” a crowd very democratically screamed outside a convention center in Detroit where ballots were being tallied on Thursday.) We are also, in case it even needs mentioning, still in the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis, made worse by a failed state response that kicked off a catastrophic recession to boot. Things, as we have noted before, are bad.
But while everyone else waits on edge, the turmoil has conveniently meant more spoils for the rich. The same stock market that skyrocketed during deadly coronavirus waves and a collapsing economy has again perked up in this moment of extreme national division. “It looks likely that we’ll see a split Congress, which, based on history, has been the preference of the stock market,” one investor told CNBC, as though “the stock market” were a sentient thing that harbored finely wrought hopes and dreams. “Biden’s not going to be able to raise taxes—you get the Mitch McConnell handcuffs,” one former hedge fund manager told The New York Times. “So it’s kind of the best of both worlds.” In the absence of, say, any kind of meaningful health care reform, environmental protections, or new stimulus checks from a deadlocked Congress, it’s nice to know that the investor class has found a silver lining.
The passing of a ballot measure in California that allowed ride-share and delivery companies to classify their drivers as contractors also delivered a windfall for Uber’s top shareholders, including co-founder Garrett Camp, whose net worth rose by nearly $350 million in the wake of the decision. In Illinois, Chicago hedge fund CEO and longtime Republican donor Ken Griffin, who poured $54 million into defeating a measure to raise taxes on the wealthy in the state, likewise saw his wealth increase (and the measure fail) this week. Not long ago, he had worried about a potential Democratic sweep in Congress: “You’ll see some incredibly progressive economic proposals,” he warned at a charity event. “I think that’s actually really negative for assets.” Luckily for the assets, the sweep was averted; the problem that remains concerns the 99 percent of Americans who would have stood to benefit from even the most modest of tax hikes on Griffin and the like, particularly as they attempt to weather a second ruinous economic downturn barely a decade after the last.
But what might be most depressing about the present state of affairs is that plenty of the wealthy had already made their peace with the election. While some initially expressed dismay over the prospect of vaguely higher taxes under a Biden administration, they soon came around to the possibility by simply transferring their money to their children ahead of schedule. The financial sector at large has also managed to avoid the threat of any serious crackdown, at least for the next four years. “It’s not our expectation that a change in the administration will transform our relationship and direction from a regulatory standpoint,” one banking executive told The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, which seemed like a somewhat complicated way of saying “Biden won’t do shit.”
In other words, despite their on-and-off fretting, the rich will be more than fine no matter who’s in the White House or which seats change in Congress. That’s the unfortunate consequence of what’s sometimes described as “neoliberal consensus” in our political system but might also be called old-fashioned bipartisan cravenness. It’s also why some of the ruling class have been eager to spread optimism this week. “We can harness the energy of this moment in time towards finding the necessary common ground so we can all move forward together,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said in a little motivational speech to his staff on Wednesday. In a similar pep talk, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon told employees, “I believe in America, its future and the role we can all play in driving healthy growth and creating an inclusive society.” That, of course, never included a wealth tax on his $1.3 billion.