While I disagree with his implications of what it means for the Left (or what passes for it), Aaron Swartz makes a very good observation about the monetizers of the conservative movement:
What’s striking about the rise of modern conservatism is that it was not, in large part, the creation of big business. Big business, all things considered, was pretty happy with the liberal consensus. They weren’t exactly itching to drown the government in the bathtub, especially when it did so much for them….
But the real conservative movement was funded instead by wealthy extremists on the fringes of the business world. It was the creation of people like Richard Mellon Scaife, who inherited part of the vast Mellon fortune from his alcoholic mother. Joseph Coors inherited a brewing company, John M. Olin ran a relatively-obscure chemical company, R. Randolph Richardson inherited the money his father made by selling Vick’s to Procter and Gamble. None of them can exactly be called Titans of Industry, or even titans of industry. Yet these are the men who bankrolled not just the conservative legal movement, but the conservative movement in general….
It wasn’t the Chamber of Commerce or major businesses that took on these tasks, but a network of independent, ideologically-based think tanks. And these think tanks weren’t founded by eminent Men of Business, but by a new class of people — a group we might call political entrepreneurs….
Just like the vendors at the inauguration, political entrepreneurs sought out people with money and tried to sell them something they didn’t even know they wanted…. Nonprofits are small enough and rich people are wealthy enough that it only takes a handful of lunatics with money to fund a whole forest of think tanks.
That last sentence is something anyone who has dealt with creationists is painfully aware of. Swartz then asks a really good question:
And yet, there must be crazy lefty billionaires too. So why do most lefty think tanks rarely go any farther than the Clintonite consensus?
Where I disagree is with his answer:
The average lefty wants to do stuff, not hobnob with rich people and manage a staff. They’re not particularly cut out for organizational work nor do they hang around with the kind of people who are. If they do hang out with entrepreneurs, they’re more likely to be the kind who start small, hip technology companies, which just makes them wonder why they’re not making millions doing that instead of wasting time on this political bullshit.
Instead, I think, based on, at one point in my career, having had occasion to dun rich lefties for money, there is a better explanation.
Rich ‘lefties’ are often liberal on social issues, but not economic ones. The insanity of the theopolitical right honks them off, but they’re not economic lefties (or even moderates sometimes). This makes them less likely to support a progressive agenda, such as moderate tax increases. This isn’t necessarily self-interest-they would be quite wealthy regardless of the tax structure-but utterly oblivious to pressing needs in the U.S. The effects of vast income inequality or the last several decades of wage stagnation don’t even exist to the typical wealthy donor (except for some very old ones who remember the New Deal fondly, which is a vanishingly small number).
To the extent that they give out donations, it’s usually to solve a specific, concrete problem, rather than foment a political movement. They would rather help build a water system in a developing country than change the U.S. political system, even if that could potentially liberate far more funding for such projects from the federal government.
So what you end up with is a ‘progressive’ infrastructure that is forced to get money from what would have once been called Rockefeller Republicans, who, shockingly, don’t have a left wing agenda.