“Times Are Good!”
A New Gilded Age
“WHY IS EVERYBODY SO QUIET? TIMES ARE GOOD!” said Kikki Baxx in her Texas drawl as she sauntered to a front-row seat in Manhattan’s Theatre 80 in the East Village. Attired in an elegant black evening dress and cowgirl hat atop blond hair in a side-of-the-head ponytail, she was one of the satirical Billionaires who had come to hear the Reverend Billy “canonize” the Billionaires. Kikki Baxx’s remark, audible throughout the theater, sparked laughter among audience members waiting for the show to begin. Times of course were not good—at least not for many people—in that late spring of 2011. Conditions were glorious, on the other hand, for the top one percent and for large banks, oil companies, and other corporations enjoying record profits.
American opinions about why the economy had faltered and what to do about it were deeply divided. So too were notions of economic fairness—the Billionaires’ core issue. Conventional liberal-versus-conservative binaries, some said, suggested that liberals think of fairness in terms of helping the weak or the poor, even if that means higher taxes on the ultrarich, while conservatives hold fast to the idea that anyone who works deserves to keep the fruits of her labor.1 While such characterizations mask more complex public sentiments, few could avoid noticing that an increasingly polarized political culture counterposed those who construed democracy as more than the freedom to become ultrarich against those who bristled at any suggestion of obligations toward the less fortunate or toward the society whose commonwealth resources help some ascend to the top of the economic pyramid and stay there.