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Hullabaloo


Monday, January 27, 2014

 
A cluephone for Davos

by David Atkins

The jet set crowd in Davos is feeling very sorry for itself that no one seems to like them. Other billionaires are worried that Nazi storm troopers are coming for the rich any day now.

It seems almost superfluous to point out the obvious, but there are some very good reasons that animosity toward the top tenth of one percent of incomes is so high. They're simple enough that they can easily be expressed without comment in chart form.

Reasons like this one:



Or this one:




Or this:



Or, of course, this:



If the Davos crowd wants not to be reviled, they could start by doing something about all of that.

Because if they won't, people will end up doing something about it for them in a way that won't be good for anyone involved. If that makes them feel persecuted, then too bad. Our current economic system is neither natural nor value neutral. It wildly overcompensates the financialized "labor" of those at the top of the chain--much of which has little value to society--while dramatically undercompensating the real, necessary work of the people who build, teach, manage, maintain, clean, and service things and other people. If derivatives trading were banned tomorrow, most people would barely notice the difference. Meanwhile, the lives of real people might well be vastly improved by transaction taxes, tighter controls on vulture capital, and other efforts to undo the financialization of the economy and incentivize the world's best and brightest to enter fields less dedicated to the distasteful and counterproductive task of helping ludicrously overpaid rent seekers extract even greater rates of return on investment.

The world of mercantilism, slavery and hereditary kingship wasn't set in stone forever as the end of history. Our modern system of industrial capitalism on a Westphalian political substrate isn't the end of history, either.

If the Davos crowd wants to keep the current order that has made them so wealthy, they need to work on making it fairer for everyone. That means not just making it easier for a few lucky poor people to become rich, but also vastly improving the lives of all those in the poor and middle class who don't hit the lucky jackpot. Otherwise, sooner or later the current order will be replaced--peacefully or otherwise--with something better that actually provides results.


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