Pity the Billionaire The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

Thomas Frank




Trade Paperback

240 Pages



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Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for change—or at least it's supposed to. But when Thomas Frank set out in 2009 to look for expressions of American discontent, all he could find were loud demands that the economic system be made even harsher on the recession's victims and that society's traditional winners receive even grander prizes. The American Right, which had seemed moribund after the election of 2008, was strangely reinvigorated by the arrival of hard times. The Tea Party movement demanded not that we question the failed system but that we reaffirm our commitment to it. TV phenom Glenn Beck demonstrated the commercial potential of heroic paranoia and the purest libertarian economics. Before long a reinvigorated Republican Party marched to victory at the polls, soon thereafter bringing a debt-burdened nations to the "day of reckoning" it thought we all deserved.

In Pity the Billionaire, Frank, the great chronicler of American paradox, describes what he calls the "hard-times swindle": the sleight of hand that has caused dire economic circumstances to yield wildly unexpected political results. Using firsthand reporting, a deep knowledge of the American Right, and a wicked sense of humor, he gives us the first full diagnosis of the cultural malady that has transformed collapse into profit, reconceived the Founding Fathers as heroes from an Ayn Rand novel, and enlisted the powerless in a fan club for the prosperous. The understanding Frank reaches is at once startling, original, and profound.


Praise for Pity the Billionaire

"Thomas Frank is the thinking person's Michael Moore. If Moore, the left-wing filmmaker, had Frank's Ph.D., he might produce books like this one."—Michael Kinsley, The New York Times Book Review

"Frank's wit is as sharp as ever, and his eye for detail and his ability to capture a scene reminded me of reading zoologist Dian Fossey on a group of strange political primates."—Washington Post

"A spirited, acerbic, stylish exploration of the Republican resurrection."—Boston Globe

"A feisty and galvanizing book . . . This is the kind of analysis—historically astute, irreverent and droll—that makes Frank such an invaluable voice. As he's done in a series of perceptive books, Frank cuts through the partisan blather and explains how money and cynical ideas shape a certain kind of contemporary politics. Pity the Billionaire is further evidence that he's as good at this as any writer working today."—San Francisco Chronicle

"A sobering account of how the architects of the economic downturn convinced a plurality of Americans that austerity, draconian budget cuts, zero regulation, refusing to tax the rich, and the withering away of the state is the answer to hard times." —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Concisely detailed . . . Well researched . . . A must-read for the historians who will one day attempt to explain just what happened to the United States during the Great Recesion. Step by painful step, Frank recounts the process by which the economy was subverted for private gain as the defense stood by watching. Highly recommended."—Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Pity the Billionaire deserves to be read by Right and Left alike The thesis is provocative, and the book is witty and highly readable. It is also backed up by some revealing ethg ethlography that Frank h; nk has collected after months of tracking the 'resurgent Right' across America A timely reminder that it is not just personalities that matter in the Republican contest; there are also some bigger shifts under way in America's social fabric." —Financial Times (London)

"No figure on the American left knows more about the American right than Thomas Frank: columnist, editor, and hawkeyed observer of conservatism high and low."Christian Science Monitor

"A road map for everyone who wonders, while watching the hodgepodge of Republican presidential candidates: How the heck did all this happen?"—Fortune

"The question Frank goes on the road to investigate this time is: [What] is wrong with America? Short-sighted fiscal policies have tanked the economy Great Depression-style, millions are jobless, foreclosures are at record highs, and pizza has been declared a vegetable . . . Tom Frank, as ever, makes some wickedly clever observations and produces some surprising answers."—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

"No one fools Thomas Frank, who is the sharpest, funniest, most intellectually voracious political commentator on the scene. In Pity the Billionaire he has written a brilliant exposé of the most breath-taking ruse in American political history: how the right turned the biggest capitalist breakdown since 1929 into an opportunity for themselves."—Barbara Ehrenreich

"Brisk and searing and deeply informed by the lessons of history, Frank's latest guide for the perplexed is nothing less than a precious gift to us."—Rick Perlstein

"Thomas Frank has crossed the Styx and returned to sing of the tortured, tormented souls of the Tea Party and their sufferings in the Socialist America they have conjured from thin air. This he does with grace, style and humor."—James K. Galbraith

"Thomas Frank writes English and not the chat of the pundits and mainstream columnists. He has learned things from Twain and Mencken, but the cartooning in this book is if anything restrained . . . The country is in suspense, from causes of which Pity the Billionaire gives a highly convincing account."—Guardian Books

"Thomas Frank lays out with biting wit how today's conservatives co-opted that symbol and forged a pseudopopulist front to defend the enablers of market failure . . . A guide to help real populists elude their saboteurs."—Mother Jones

"An insightful, bitingly humorous book."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Signs and Wonders

This book is a chronicle of a confused time, a period when Americans rose up against imaginary threats and rallied to economic theories they understood only in the gauziest terms. It is...

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  • Pity the Billionaire by Thomas Frank--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Thomas Frank's book Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right. From the bestselling author of What's the Matter with Kansas? comes a wonderfully insightful and sardonic look at why the worst economy since the 1930s has brought about the revival of conservatism. Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for change—or at least it's supposed to.



  • Thomas Frank

  • Thomas Frank is the author of Pity the Billionaire, The Wrecking Crew, What's the Matter with Kansas?, and One Market Under God. A former opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler and a monthly columnist for Harper's. He lives outside Washington, D.C.

  • Thomas Frank Jane Magellanic
    Thomas Frank