This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
1. The most important man in finance. As the head of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, Laurence Fink oversees the investment of more than $4 trillion in assets. The company is so huge and a party to so many federal contracts that many think it’s too big to fail. As a senior bank executive told Vanity Fair, the company is “like the Blackwater of finance, almost a shadow government.” Yet it—and Fink—are barely known outside Wall Street.
2. Deficit slayer. Peter Peterson, the co-founder of the Blackstone Group, a private- equity firm, has funneled $1 billion into the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and other initiatives aimed at reducing the federal deficit, balancing the budget and cutting safety-net programs. His efforts have earned support among the political elite—a classic case of financial capital being converted into political capital. He and his campaign deserve much more scrutiny than they have gotten to date.
3. Equity ≠ equality. Blackstone is one of scores of private-equity firms that have acquired immense wealth by arranging leveraged buyouts, mergers and acquisitions. Others include the Carlyle Group, Apollo Global Management, KKR & Co., Silver Lake Partners and Warburg Pincus. To what extent have they contributed to the growth of inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class?
4. Media-mogul mecca. Every July, media executives gather at the Sun Valley resort in Idaho for a week of schmoozing and deal-making with bankers and financiers. A select group of journalists is also invited (participants have included Charlie Rose, Ken Auletta, Tom Brokaw and Thomas Friedman), but because the conference imposes a strict blackout on its proceedings, coverage is scant. An account of what takes place there could offer insight into the forces contributing to media concentration in America.
5. The plumpest of them all. Depending on the year, Carlos Slim is either the first-, second- or third-richest man in the world. Slim’s telecommunications companies dominate the provision of fixed lines and mobile phones in Mexico, enabling them to charge outrageously inflated prices. His operations have contributed to the endemic poverty in Mexico that drives so many migrants to the United States. In the last year, his empire has finally become a target of Mexican antitrust regulations, but his name rarely surfaces in the American press. As it happens, he recently became the largest individual shareholder in The New York Times. It’s time for the paper to show that such an investment can’t buy silence.