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Saturday, January 18, 2014

 
Identifying with the plutocrats won't help you

by digby


Krugman looks at the prevalent view among the elites that the poor are lazy sods with moral failings that account for their lack of millions. Then he looks at the other side of the coin:

There is also a counterpart on the upside of the income distribution: an obvious desire to believe that rising incomes at the top are kind of the obverse of the alleged social problems at the bottom. According to this view, the affluent are affluent because they have done the right things: they’ve gotten college educations, they’ve gotten and stayed married, avoiding illegitimate births, they have a good work ethic, etc.. And implied in all this is that wealth is the reward for virtue, which makes it hard to argue for redistribution.

The trouble with this picture is that it might work for people with incomes of $200,000 or $300,000 a year; it doesn’t work for the one percent, or the 0.1 percent. Yet the bulk of the rise in top income shares is in fact at the very top. Here’s the CBO:


What’s a sociologizer to do? Well, what you see, over and over, is that they find ways to avoid talking about the one percent. They talk about the top quintile, or at most the top 5 percent; this lets them discuss rising incomes at the top as if we were talking about two married lawyers or doctors, not the CEOs and private equity managers who are actually driving the numbers. And this in turn lets them keep the focus on comfortable topics like family structure, and away from uncomfortable topics like runaway finance and the corruption of our politics by great wealth.

He goes on to make the point that the 99% vs the 1% Occupy slogan was brilliant in this regard (although he would say that the real problem is more like the .001%.) I agree. The key was to understand that Americans don't resent people who do well. Or even people who do really well. The problem isn't the upper middle class or even the "normal" wealthy. It's these gilded age monsters at the very top who are scarfing up more and more of the wealth at the expense of all the rest of us.

Paradoxically, I think the poor and middle class may understand this instinctively while it's the upper middles who may need the educating. I'm sure they are loathe to be lumped in with the crude, undisciplined proles, but to these ultra-wealthy plutocrats, that's exactly what they are.

Update: Someone more astute than I pointed out that this post was a reaction to David Brooks' latest whine about class warfare.


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