The Rich and the Politically Powerful
In my short note that I inserted into Kevin Corcoran’s recent thoughts on the political system, I pointed out that although there is strong overlap between the rich and the politically powerful, they are not the same.
This requires elaboration.
The best way to do it is to come up with counterexamples.
Here’s an example of someone who had enormous wealth in the late 1990s but little political power: Bill Gates. I wrote about it at the time in the now-defunct Silicon Valley magazine Red Herring. Microsoft, which Gates owned a large share of, had no substantial presence in Washington, D.C. at the time the Justice Department went after Microsoft. Microsoft’s main presence was in a different Washington, Washington state. That meant that he could count on only 2 out of 100 U.S. Senators to run interference for him with the Clinton Justice Department. Gates and Microsoft had great wealth but little political power. And they paid for it. By the way, he didn’t make that mistake again.
An example of someone with a fair amount of political power but relatively little wealth is U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema. She is the swing vote in an equally divided Senate and she can use her power to extract important concessions in legislation. Her net worth is estimated to be about $1 million. That’s wealthy in the grand scheme of things, especially given her relative youth, but it’s not great wealth.
Consider another example: Martin Luther King, Jr. When his political influence was at its peak, from about 1963 to his murder in 1968, his wealth was relatively modest.
Of course, there’s a huge overlap between wealth and political power. Picture a Venn diagram with a large intersection. But there are many counterexamples in both directions.