Challenging The Increasing Levels of Inequality and the (Derisively Distracting) Accusation of ‘Hating Rich People’
As July 14th came rolling around and Bastille Day was once again the subject of commemoration (a date which is also, appropriately enough, Woody Guthrie’s birthday), it got me thinking again about the piece published in Politico back in 2014 by Nick Hanauer, the extremely wealthy entrepreneur, on how The Pitchforks are Coming For Us Plutocrats. That piece went viral and became a hot topic of conversation, especially among the social media sphere.
However, there seemed to be a lot of accusations leveled at those who joined in the critique on the growing and dramatic imbalance of wealth in this world, as if such critiques were somehow examples of people “hating” on the rich, or being driven by some kind of “class envy.”
This argument is a red herring, one designed to distract from the legitimate and required discussions regarding the underlying causality of the current situation, and the solutions that may be required to help solve it. It is an argument that serves only to personalize the issues at hand, which is the very chum that the corporate entertainment complex feeds off of.
The nature of the problem should no longer be in question. It has been cogently described by everyone from Thomas Piketty to Tom Petty, who pointed out the problem isn’t about people wanting to make money. It’s about people who want to make all the money.
After all, one can obviously make money doing very constructive, contributive things to society, which is a great (and to a certain degree necessary) thing. What should be rejected are those who enrich themselves by gaming the system, manipulating processes that are destructive to people’s lives and well-being, as opposed to supporting and benefiting those lives.
There can be no respect for those who acquire vast wealth through playing games by, say, getting clever with the books in the selling of financial derivatives through a form of control fraud or mortgage backed securities and other forms of market rigging and price fixing, of which the Libor scandal is the most grotesque example.
The corrosion is also manifested in the corporate health insurance scams, where profit is amassed not by providing care to people, but by denying it. It is embodied in the work of the vulture hedge fund capitalists who buy businesses and tear them up, selling off the parts for profit, but leaving the workers and the communities they live in decimated. Operations like these are the poster boy for all of the clichés regarding capitalism at its very worst.
Yet when the fact is pointed out that the typical household income is now worth a third less than even just a decade ago, and that this state of affairs should be considered fundamentally wrong, out come all kinds of defensive and accusatory responses. The fact that critical analysis of the systemic flaws and injustices in our current system can be so readily dismissed as the rantings of class warring “Marxist-loving leftists” who “hate the rich” is testament to the kind of BS that our well-heeled, Frank Luntz-infused propaganda system has managed to frame such criticism as.
Take a term like “job creators.” It’s an attractive enough, yet simultaneously distractive phrase. It is designed to spin perceptions regarding many of the near sociopathic figures responsible for this current state of affairs, from being that of oligarchs to ones of altruists. For these “job creators” to actually realize the kind of world they propagate, they would actually need an environment conducive to the creation of the needed consumer demand necessary to support those jobs. For it is the willingness and ability of the people to purchase those goods and services who are the real “job creators.” For it is a fact that business owners don’t hire in order to support the workers. They hire them only when there is the necessary demand that needs to be filled, and when they need the support and infrastructure of an additional and enabled workforce to be able to fulfill that demand.
Our corporate-backed media provides a more than an ample share of defenders of the current systemic status quo. This even includes platforms like NPR, with its Marketplace program, and their report on the supposed commonality of people’s ability for making it to the 1 percent. This feature has so many things to take issue with one wouldn’t even know where to start. This story reiterates why this may be my least favorite program on public radio, as here it serves to provide an effective advertisement for an ideological framework which is seriously and fundamentally flawed. For one, using the slogan of “the 1%” as a specific metric for measuring the degree of wealth inequality itself misses the mark. The most shockingly dramatic disparity of wealth is found among the .001%, the ramifications of which was disturbingly laid out in a recent Oxfam report on global wealth inequality. Additionally, it is stories such as the Marketplace feature (in this case about someone writing a song and acquiring a lot of money for it, which is an outlier of an experience for the vast majority of musicians and songwriters in this country), which have little to nothing at all to do with the point of a society becoming an oligarchic plutocracy. Or much more dangerously, it serves to advance the conflation of ideas that to oppose oligarchy means to oppose someone’s ability to financially succeed.
A listener’s comment on the Marketplace website left a related, and probably more effectively thorough response in regards to these issues, and in pointing out a couple of the glaring deficiencies of the story (and I would say that entire program)…
“I’m surprised that Marketplace reported on this research so uncritically, as if it somehow blunted the very real issue of income inequality raised by the Occupy movement. The protesters were not shouting themselves hoarse about a songwriter or an app designer lucky enough to make a few hundred thousand one year. They were talking about the investment bankers and corporate tycoons whose wealth gives them access to political power the vast majority of Americans will never have–the people whose unbridled greed and hubris brought the economy to the brink of collapse with almost complete impunity. This is in fact NOT a group that millions of Americans move in and out of each year. If the Occupiers got something wrong it was their math–rather than “the 1%,” it’s probably more like the .01% or maybe even the .0001%. But then again, “We are the 99.999%” doesn’t quote have the same ring….”
“Two things about this report: First, it seems that the more relevant “1%” is not income but wealth. I doubt that that population fluctuates nearly as much as income. Second, if Rank and Hirschl were actually interested in a fair discussion of government policy, they would also discuss what portion of the population spends time in the bottom 10% or 20% of the income scale. This report is silent in that regard, even though Rank and Hirschl probably have access to that data….”
This video on how literally The 1% Are Literally Rich Beyond Measure details some of the key points of the reporting on the topic…
We cannot provide even a brief addressing of this topic without noting what is possibly one of the most disgraceful aspects of mass wealth inequality, that of how Inequality Affects Health. As friend and colleague Dr. Karen Korn once pointed out, “Inequality damages us all. Human health. Environmental health. Political health. It’s unhealthy for any society to have great disparity of income, and even more unhealthy to have a great disparity of wealth. This is clearly demonstrated in history. Why do we even want to question this ‘fact’ unless if it is to attempt to create some sort of collective cognitive dissonance?”
Good question. And speaking of inequality and health, there’s the always relevant Yves Smith, who posted a piece featuring David Llewellyn-Smith on how ebola is an economic black swan, highlighting some of the dramatic consequences which transpire when we default our response to collective problems to “individual incentives” and traditional “market forces.” This specific case is regarding the economic causalities behind the ebola outbreak, but it could very well be about any number such health crisis caused by such related neoliberal economic policies. For in the end, we all pay when this kind of inequality becomes systemic throughout the very processes that our society functions upon, and the kinds of problems it responds to.
Unfortunately, many of the evangelists of neoliberal ideology seem no closer to understanding that “the market” may not be the most efficient and effective arbiter for solving many of the social problems and civic challenges we face. These zombie policies of “trickle down” economics seem to continue to be paraded through the corridors power and the media outlets that serve it, no matter how much damage they do and suffering they demonstrably inflict.
What might be most disingenuous about these efforts is the rather effective propaganda campaign waged in its defense, as if any alternatives are somehow a kind of un-American, leftist commie undermining of our free society, no matter how many times they have been effectively implemented throughout the nation’s history (worker’s rights, social security, public education including state-supported higher education, the public highway system, the list goes on).
Perhaps most ironically, many of these self-perceived patriots would never dare to question the efforts or intentions of America’s so-called “Greatest Generation,” who were fighting explicitly for many of these very things now dismissed as “socialist welfare statism” (see Harvey Kaye’s work on FDR and The Fight for the Four Freedoms). Not only that, but the Second World War itself was won not by letting the “market” solve it, but through the implementation of a form of command economy. It was one that worked by tapping into entrepreneurial business, but on the terms and objectives set by the government. (One would think there resides some historical lessons here regarding approaches to tackling the problems of climate change).
It took the implementation of such a system to win that war, just as it is going to take an increased level of shared effort to address the rapidly growing economic problems being inflicted upon the dwindling middle classes (to say nothing of the already suffering poor), ones caused by the ever-expanding wealth gap. This is a gap which has been politically engineered over the previous decades, particularly since the rise of Reagan and Thatcher. The political re-engineering of such a system, one which increasingly works only for a small minority, is way overdue. And it is becoming not simply about providing needed relief to those in need, but for many, including one could argue for the nation itself, is now a matter of survival.
And one doesn’t have to ‘hate rich people’ to understand that.