Our Marie Antoinettes are getting a little bit nervous

Our Marie Antoinettes are getting a little bit nervous

by digby

For years I've been writing that the wealthy are "begging for pitchforks" with their royalist behavior in the wake of economic crisis that seems to come straight out of the French aristocracy. (I would guess that only in America do they they simultaneously claim they are "middle class".) The smugness and entitlement of these "job creators" has been something to behold, particular among the Masters of the Universe who are largely responsible for the recent crash.

Way back when, I wrote about celebrity millionaire Ben Stein whining about his meager salary and got this in response from Tyler Cowan (the economist who is currently feverishly defending income inequality.) :
I read about this guy and his pitchfork and it genuinely scared me, especially his description of Ben Stein and his intermingling of the political and the aesthetic.
I must admit it gave me a little thrill. If only my metaphorical pitchforks really had such power. But that was the last I heard of any such thing as the nobles being frightened of the rabble. Mostly it's just been more whining and complaining about how nobody understands them.

Until now. This article in New York Magazine about billionaire Jeff Greene indicates that our betters are getting nervous:
Greene gazes across the bay at the multi-million-dollar houses peeking from behind the trees. I assume he’s quietly contemplating acquiring even more of the shoreline, but then he says something surprising. “If somebody wanted to go after a rich person,” he observes, “they have got their pick of the litter out here.”

It’s strange to imagine someone like Greene, who counts Mike Tyson as a close friend, and who has a streak that caused the L.A. party girls to refer to him as “Mean Jeff Greene,” feeling vulnerable. It’s hard to think of any superrich person as vulnerable, just as it’s hard to think that a bear with outstretched claws and giant teeth is more afraid than you are. But over the past few months, it’s become clear that rich people are very, very afraid. Sometimes it feels like this was the main accomplishment of Occupy Wall Street: a whole lot of tightened sphincters. It’s not a stretch to say many residents of Park Avenue harbor vivid fears of a populist revolt like the one seen in The Dark Knight Rises, in which they cower miserably under their sideboards while ragged hordes plunder the silver.

“This is my fear, and it’s a real, legitimate fear,” Greene says, revving up the engine. “You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.”

More often than not, fears like these manifest as loathing for the current administration, as evidenced by the recent wave of Romney fund-raisers in the Hamptons. “Obama wants to take my money and give it to do-nothing animals,” one matron blurted at a recent party at the Pierre for Dick Morris’s Screwed!, the latest entry into a growing pile of socioeconomic snuff porn geared toward this audience.

Greene, a registered Democrat, isn’t buying this school of thought. “It is kind of a problem in America that so many Americans believe if they elect a different president, everything is going to be fine. This whole idea of American exceptionalism, that we’re the greatest, when people don’t have health insurance, don’t have housing,” he says, swinging past the guesthouse, which has 360-degree views of the bay, and the staff house, which does not. “There are all these people in this country who are just not participating in the American Dream at all,” he says. This makes him uncomfortable, not least because they might try to take a piece of his. “Right now, for some bizarre reason, a lot of these people are supporting Republicans who want to cut taxes on the wealthy,” he says. “At some point, if we keep doing this, their numbers are going to keep swelling, it won’t be an Obama or a Romney. It will be a ­Hollande. A Chávez.”
I don't think he's showing quite enough imagination there, do you? A mainstream French socialist? A Latin America leftist? Please. America is far too exceptional for such small bore men on white horses. He should think much, much bigger than that.
This past April, at the Milken Conference, the annual confab hosted by the felon turned philanthropist, Greene sat on a lunchtime panel with Charles Murray, the author of Coming Apart: The State of White America, and historian Niall Ferguson, whose recent book could have been called the same thing. “Do you see this?” Greene asked the audience, pointing to a slide that showed the widening income gap. The crowd, whose members had paid the $6,000 entry fee to get investing tips, not guilt trips, made restless noises. Then there was a smattering of impressed applause, followed by uneasy laughter. Greene blinked, surprised. “People look at Occupy Wall Street as, This is just a little kind of a disorganized joke,” he said, raising his voice. “If we take another 10 percent of middle-class America’s income, who knows what kind of other social unrest could happen in this country and the changes that could happen to our way of life?”
He wonders why so many of the polloi back Republicans and thinks that's bound to change once they wise up and figure out who the real enemy is. And I wonder why he is so sure that will go the way he thinks it will. Nonetheless, it's interesting that the vastly wealthy are starting to notice that their greed and avarice might result in an unstable society. They're not the brightest bulbs on the planet but they do catch on eventually.

Update: And yes, Niall Ferguson is still reprehensible. Read the article. You'll understand why. (h/t to @eliasisquith)