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Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right Hardcover – January 3, 2012


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David Sirota Talks with Thomas Frank About "Pity the Billionaire"
Tom Frank talks with David Sirota about how a new conservative populism arose from the financial crisis, what liberals need to do to restore their relevance, and why it took three years for the Occupy Wall Street movement to emerge. See the interview.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805093699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805093698
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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.

Customer Reviews

Read this book, please.
Theoden Humphrey
I have read a few of Thomas Frank's books and they are always very enjoyable and yet insightful.
Mrs. Melanie M. Woolfenden
The tone is too abrasive to make any inroads with those who don't share his ideology.
Eclectic Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

204 of 223 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2011
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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75 of 81 people found the following review helpful By J. Alan Bock on 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 By John A. Suda VINE VOICE on 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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