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WHO is Michael Bloomberg and what did his run for US president mean?
It would have reduced US democracy to a battle between two Batman villains. One a calculating guy with a big organisation, the other a sinister clown.
Thankfully it seems Democrat voters are rejecting a Penguin v the Joker election.
But Bloomberg is still involved in the election, albeit in the background. His money and influence might now shift behind Joe Biden. So who is he and what is he to us?
Forbes Magazine estimates Bloomberg is the world’s ninth-richest man, with a $55 billion fortune. He is much richer than Donald Trump, who Forbes thinks only has $3bn.
Bloomberg and Trump are both billionaires, but they are different kinds of billionaires. Trump is from property and sales, with all its very American, very cheesy scams: he’s the casino developer, the meat-by-post-salesman, the man behind “Trump University” — the dodgy correspondence course in real estate aimed at taking money from the “I can be rich too if I try” rubes.
Bloomberg, by contrast, is the man behind one of the key bits of infrastructure of the “finance industry.” His fortune comes from the screen that blips graphs and tables behind all the stock-market traders you see on the news.
“A Bloomberg” is a computer terminal with a subscription to his database of financial and economic information.
Bloomberg terminals are (relatively) easy to use for traders, investors and anyone else who wants information to guide investments.
Because of the breadth of information and intuitive interface, a subscription is both essential for all bankers — and expensive, making Bloomberg’s fortune.
Perhaps inevitably, Bloomberg’s terminals underpin the “free market” of finance — but the service is actually a near-monopoly, a product that dominates the market with little serious competition.
Bloomberg is a self-made man. Much that he made is impressive. But at heart, his is a business about turning life into numbers so that everything can be traded.
He got rich as “financialisation” spread: Bloomberg was a partner at investment bank Saloman Brothers, where he was in charge of computing. He was laid off after a takeover and in 1981 took his $10 million redundancy to set up his banking computer firm.
These were the Thatcher-Reagan years, when deregulation and privatisation turned more and more parts of life into investment classes. Everything became something which investors could buy and sell.
As financialisation grew, so did Bloomberg’s fortune: a computer terminal that put a number on ever-increasing aspects of human life was a big deal.
Initially his firm was called Innovative Market Systems and the terminal was called a Market Master but he renamed the firm Bloomberg and the terminal became known as “the Bloomberg,” so his name is said again and again everywhere bankers seek data.
Bloomberg likes to pose as a kind of “can-do” technocrat, with the slogan “Mike will get it done.” But his fortune defines his politics.
Bloomberg is super-rich because his product is embedded in Wall Street, so he doesn’t want more taxes for the rich or more regulation of Wall Street.
In 2001 Bloomberg clearly decided financial success wasn’t enough and set out to buy personal political power — he ran for mayor of New York and served from 2002 to 2013. He spent $70-$100m of his own money on each of his three elections.
Before he became mayor, Bloomberg was nominally a Democrat. But he switched to the Republicans to run for mayor, because they were willing to let him run. Now he has switched back to the Democrats.
His Democrat-Republican-Democrat switch either shows Bloomberg is such a right-wing Democrat that it is a short hop over the line to join the Republicans — or that he doesn’t care about trivial things like people’s heartfelt political views, he just wants to buy power.
During the 2001 debates for the mayoralty, Bloomberg implied both were true — that he was Republican-leaning Democrat, but equally didn’t really care which party he used to get power.
Asked why he switched party, Bloomberg said: “The labels don’t matter. The Republican Party is something that, in this part of the country, I agree with a lot of their philosophies, not with everybody or everything, but the fact that I got a chance to make a difference is what really matters.”
The politics of Bloomberg’s mayoralty are what you would expect from a “centrist” billionaire technocrat: as mayor Bloomberg declared: “We love rich people,” arguing it would be a “godsend” if “we could get every billionaire around the world” to move to New York.
Bloomberg gentrified New York for the billionaires and multimillionaires, approving luxury high-rise developments.
If you’ve been on holiday to Manhattan recently, it is obviously much cleaner — but is also increasingly dominated by expensive apartments.
At the same time, Bloomberg slashed spending on “public” housing, leaving the less well-off to live in shabby, badly heated blocks.
Bloomberg gave tax breaks to corporations but vetoed a living wage Bill from New York City Council which promised $11.50/hour to workers on government contracts; Bloomberg said this decent-wage measure was like something out of “the USSR.”
Bloomberg was supposedly “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” He has supported gun control, gay rights and abortion rights.
But there were limits, especially for a mayor who wants to be friendly to the rich and control the poor: Bloomberg promoted aggressive “stop and frisk” policing, arguing tougher enforcement had to be aimed at “minority neighbourhoods” because “that’s where the crime was.”
Despite his nominal “liberalism,” Bloomberg also reflected the deep sexism of Wall Street, making repeated sleazy and derogatory comments about women.
Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential run was all about the money: $500m worth of advertisements and a huge hiring of local organisers.
But it was a failure: the good news is his money could not make his pro-Wall Street politics and unattractive personality work on a national scale.
The bad news is his money still gives him a role as a power broker in the Democratic Party establishment.
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