Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream
Directed by Alex Gibney (2012)
Park Avenue is about the 31 billionaires who live in the luxury cooperative building at 740 Park Avenue. The building was originally commissioned by Jackie Kennedy’s grandfather James T Lee. He lived there with a consortium of Wall Street millionaires who engineered the 1929 stock market crash. Most of the present residents are hedge fund managers.
The documentary examines how 740 Park Avenue billionaires use their money and power to become even richer – funding election campaigns and lobbying for tax cuts and laws that reduce financial, environmental and health and safety regulation.
I’ve always found this level of geed quite puzzling. A psychologist featured in the film discusses his research into the sense of entitlement conferred by extreme wealth. An interview with the building’s doorman is even more revealing.
Among the billionaires profiled, two of the most powerful are Steve Schwarzman and David Koch. Schwarzman headed mergers and acquisitions at Lehman Brothers when they went bankrupt and is presently CEO of the Blackstone Group*. He (and his pal Senator Charles Schumer) were personally responsible for blocking the repeal of the “carried interest provision” in the federal tax code. This provision taxes the earned income of a hedge fund manager at the capital gains rate of 15%. Largely thanks to Schumer (who has raised the most Wall Street money of any Democratic candidate), Obama’s initiative to repeal this loophole failed, even with a Democratic majority in both houses.
David Koch, whose primary wealth is in oil and coal, has (with his brother Charles) donated to the campaigns of over half the members of the house and senate, as well as numerous right wing think tanks. The Koch brothers are also the big money behind the Tea Party, numerous right wing think tanks they have created and (along with Exxon) the climate denial movement.
The brothers are personally responsible for the recent anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and other Midwest states. They’re also the main sponsors of Paul Ryan’s rise to fame, as well as the Republican Party’s adoption of Ryan’s Path to Prosperity. The latter advocates for privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to trillions in tax cuts that would virtually do away with all public services outside the military and police.
*An American multinational private equity, investment banking, alternative asset management and financial services corporation based in New York City.