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Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right [Kindle Edition]

Thomas Frank
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From the bestselling author of What's the Matter with Kansas?, a wonderfully insightful and sardonic look at why the worst economy since the 1930s has brought about the revival of conservatism


Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for change--or at least it's supposed to. But when Thomas Frank set out in 2009 to look for expressions of American discontent, all he could find were loud demands that the economic system be made even harsher on the recession's victims and that society's traditional winners receive even grander prizes. The American Right, which had seemed moribund after the election of 2008, was strangely reinvigorated by the arrival of hard times. The Tea Party movement demanded not that we question the failed system but that we reaffirm our commitment to it. Republicans in Congress embarked on a bold strategy of total opposition to the liberal state. And TV phenom Glenn Beck demonstrated the commercial potential of heroic paranoia and the purest libertarian economics.

In Pity the Billionaire, Frank, the great chronicler of American paradox, examines the peculiar mechanism by which dire economic circumstances have delivered wildly unexpected political results. Using firsthand reporting, a deep knowledge of the American Right, and a wicked sense of humor, he gives us the first full diagnosis of the cultural malady that has transformed collapse into profit, reconceived the Founding Fathers as heroes from an Ayn Rand novel, and enlisted the powerless in a fan club for the prosperous. The understanding Frank reaches is at once startling, original, and profound.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review



Amazon Exclusive: A Conversation Between David Sirota and Tom Frank

Journalist and Back to Our Future author David Sirota interviews Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas? and The Wrecking Crew, about his latest book.

David Sirota: Do rich people in America genuinely feel persecuted, or are their requests for pity a political ploy to combat their critics?

Tom Frank: Well, we’re talking about something that’s self-evidently preposterous. The phrase “Pity the Billionaire” is the absurd but inevitable end-point of the present conservative argument. The book is about people trying to depict themselves as the victims of a situation where they are manifestly not victims: imagining that corporate enterprises are ground under the iron heel of an over-regulating government, that banks were forced to issue the loans that puffed up the real-estate bubble, that taxes are by definition onerous and thieving, that businesspeople are all, as a rule, hard-working, unassuming, and straight-shooting—and that they have risen up righteously in a great strike, like in Ayn Rand’s and John Boehner’s fantasy.

Sirota: Why has the economic crisis resulted in a rise of conservative economic populism rather than progressive populism?

Frank: Because conservatives got there first with the most money.

Remember, the right has been “populist” for a long time now, raging against this educated elite and that. Populism is a language and a style that the conservative movement is comfortable with. It wasn’t hard to turn a well-funded, well-organized movement already accustomed to thinking of itself this way into a protest movement for hard times.

Of course, this involved the swiping of a whole range of traditional left-wing ideas and symbols, everything from the exaltation of the strike to the notion of a despicable “ruling class.”

The other side of the question is, why weren’t the liberals there to contest this larceny? Where was the left-wing populist movement? Occupy Wall Street didn’t turn up until three whole years after the September ‘08 crash.

The answer to this, I’m afraid, is that genuine populist movements don’t just spring up overnight, in the way the Tea Party did. They come together slowly. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, which is the traditional home of working-class movements, has grown very uncomfortable with populism. They don’t like it, they don’t trust it, they sure as hell don’t know how to talk it. The Democratic Party more and more sees itself as the party of conscientious professionals—of bankers who are socially liberal, for example—and not as the party of working people.

Click here to read more of the conversation


From Bookforum

In describing the foundational popular protests of the New Deal as a pointed contrast to the Tea Party's rise, Pity the Billionaire often reads like a police procedural that re-creates the political crime scene where left-leaning populism met a swift death. The foundation underlying this entertaining, but at times misguided, book—that the aftermath of the 2008 crisis energized the Right but flummoxed the Left—may have already begun to shift, but it doesn't invalidate Frank's history lesson. —Will Bunch

Product Details

  • File Size: 721 KB
  • Print Length: 241 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books (January 3, 2012)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005FWPMV0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #200,861 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
204 of 223 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America was first published in 2004, to considerable acclaim, for examining why so many Americans voted against their economic interests. He commenced with a startling fact: the poorest county in the United States is not in Appalachia or the Deep South; rather it is on the High Plains, McPherson County, in Nebraska. In the year 2000, more than 80% of the resident voters (admittedly a rather small group) went for George W. Bush, the Republican. "Why" is the subject of that book. How did conservatives capture the American heartland? As Frank pithily postulates: It was as though the French Revolution occurred in reverse, with the people running through the streets demanding that the nobility be given even more money and privileges!

"Pity the Billionaire" covers even more astonishing recent developments. It is one thing to have people prostrate themselves before the "free-market god" prior to 2008. But when it became "the god that failed" to reference Arthur Koestler's book about his eventual disillusionment with communism, and the entire house of cards came tumbling down, then how could Americans be calling for yet a purer version of the "free market," effectively doubling down on their bets? Why didn't they throw the rigid ideology of the supremacy of the "free market" into the dust bin of history, along with communism? Frank does a superlative job illuminating how this most unlikely occurrence unfolded.

He reminds us that we have seen this 2008 movie before: The Great Depression.
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77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Far Right Fantasies January 6, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Thomas Frank is one of my favorite authors and "Pity the Billionaire" is the third work of his that I have read. It is a rather sombre work and does not have the rollicking wit and sense of humor that he demonstrated in "What's the Matter With Kansas?" and "The Wrecking Crew." "Pity the Billionaire" is subtitled "The Hard Times Swindle and Unlikely Comeback of the Right." By "Unlikely Comeback" he apparently means that a takeover of the government by the Far Right would lead to the destruction of American civilization - there will be nothing to come back to.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (a Republican) once famously said: "Taxation is the price we pay for civilization," by which he meant that taxation is how we fund government which is a necessity for civilization. On the basis of the Republican debates I have watched so far I have concluded that all of the Republican candidates seem to have trouble with the concept of "civilization" as we know it in the western world - i.e. a political system providing a safety net for all of its citizens. It's every man for himelf, buddy.

Mr. Frank spends a lot of time exploring the incredible ideology of the Far Right and how they came by it. They inhabit a very separate world - almost a parallel universe. What kind of misapprehension permits the Right to brush off truths that everyone else can see so plainly? That the great crash of 2008 was caused, not by too much regulation over business, but by lack of any effective regulation at all (repeal of the New Deal regulatory laws has been going on for over 30 years!) That critics of the bailouts were responsible for those bailouts.That Ayn Rand is not the hero but the villain of this disaster. Other examples of conservatism's "dalliance with error" abound.
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile examination of a strange historical anomaly January 5, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
After trying to figure out why so many middle and working class Americans vote against their own self-interests in "What's Wrong with Kansas?" author Thomas Frank has a go at trying to explain why the Great Recession of 2008 has bolstered-not reduced-America's support for conservatism and free market economics, turning conventional expectations upside down.

At all other times in American history when there has been an economic bust or crisis middle and working class Americans generally blamed conservative politics, the financial elite, and the capitalist system. They reacted by advocating economic and political reforms in opposition to the policies favoring the rich including increasing unionization, increasing financial regulation, and social policies to weaken the harsher consequences of the capitalist market system.

Now, despite the outrageous financial shenanigans of Wall Street and its conservative friends in business and government, the reaction has been in support of even more free-market behavior, less regulation, less government involvement in the economy, and less consumer protection.

At a minimum, this is a strange phenomenon.

In 189 pages covering 12 (total)chapters, Mr. Frank explains quite clearly how this reaction is irrational in so many ways in regard to the objective interests of these supporters. He explains how these people are favoring the same or even more extreme policies and behaviors which already have cost them their jobs, pensions, 401(k) balances, medical insurance, homes, and which have contributed mightily to the depletion of the U.S. Treasury on top of all that.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious!!!
This guy is hilarious!! It wouldn't be as funny if he didn't believe it so much. He has heard of the Community Reinvestment Act but has no idea how it affected the "Great... Read more
Published 3 months ago by air2mud
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Worth Reading
Thomas Frank is a classic populist and gets the facts right. An excellent book on the Tea Party and its Libertarian Dead-Enders....
Published 3 months ago by Bob
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Perspective about the Crash of 2008 and Its Political...
This is an interesting book albeit a bit dated. It gives a lot of insights into what really happened in 2008, and explains why populists have turned against big government rather... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Nancy M. Gould
5.0 out of 5 stars Great gift
He loved it as a gift!
Published 4 months ago by Jeanie Knicely
1.0 out of 5 stars Do Not Expect Justifications for all the Assertions
This is one of the few books I have ever given up on without finishing. It is short on facts and long on assertions. Read more
Published 6 months ago by H. Person
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good read.
Published 7 months ago by Adrian B.
5.0 out of 5 stars Sigh. A political and economy problem without a solution?
As an explication of the disaster that's befallen the American political system since the Right began its resurgence under Reagan, and in particular, as a story of how the Right... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Gerry Conway
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Time Swindles by the One Percent
Thomas Frank's three books on the great economic divide in America, and how we got there, ranks among my favorites in understanding how the billionaires of America managed to get... Read more
Published 8 months ago by William A. Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book. Glad Frank is out there to watch the perversion of the American dream,
Published 9 months ago by John P. Dolan
5.0 out of 5 stars Most informative
I originally bought the audio version, but then purchased the print version for later and future reference as a bookshelf source.
Published 12 months ago by RKonklinjr
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More About the Author

Founding editor of The Baffler, Thomas Frank is the author of One Market Under God, The Conquest of Cool and What's the Matter With America? He is also a contributor to Harper's, The Nation, and the New York Times op-ed pages.

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