Sunday, January 21, 2007
Billionaires Indignant Over Plight Of Middle Class
American hypocrisy knows no bounds. Followers of Jesus preach intolerance and exclusion. Our political leaders sing the praises of "the untamed flame of freedom" while they strip away our civil liberties. Now we have billionaire tycoons bellowing indignantly over the plight of the middle class. Tycoon Stephen Schwartzman, owner of a $30 million apartment once owned by John D. Rockefeller, laments, "The middle class in the US hasn't done as well over the last 20 years as people at the high end, and I think part of the compact in America is everybody has got to do better." Mega-greedster and "corporate restructuring" specialist Wilbur Ross booms, "It's an outrage that any American's life expectancy should be shortened simply because the company they worked for went bankrupt and abrogated health-care coverage." Well, duh. The twist here is not what is being said - which almost any person with ears and eyes would agree with, or even say themselves, if there was anyone to quote them - but who is saying it. Billionaires are decrying the depredations of billionaires.
Why? According to Slate magazine, "The very rich are just as trendy as you and I, and can be so when it comes to politics and policy." Compassion for the poor, suffering middle class is the newest social attitude du jour - a touch comparable to debutantes hosting parties in their penthouses for Black Panthers in the Sixties. The rich just want to show us that they care about the downtrodden even more - and, of course, more eloquently - than the downtrodden do, or can. But the article at the link below reminds us that there is more to it than that. The hidden motive of self-interest lurks within this patronizing pulpitry. The billionaires are more aware of their sins than anyone else, and this hyperawareness may foster guilt among some - even among many. And when a class as inherently sociopathic as the rapacious rich starts feeling guilty, you just know their sins have gone over the top. Do they fear reprisals? Certainly. But it is also something else.
There is a hard-headed practical concern behind all the high-falutin' mimicry of compassion. Slate suggests, "It's possible that plutocrats are expressing solidarity with the struggling middle class as part of an effort to insulate themselves from confiscatory tax policies," but adds, "But the prospect that income inequality will lead to higher taxes on the wealthy - before 2010, when the Bush tax cuts are supposed to expire - doesn't keep plutocrats up at night. They can live with that." What they fear is the ultimate collapse of the whole feedback loop that made them wealthy to begin with - the destruction of the worldwide consumer class on which they depend, and the imposition of protectionist policies, both here and abroad. The billionairies can sense that the political winds are changing, and are afraid that Congress will pass laws to curtail free trade and cripple of the pace of globalization that has enriched them. They fear above all the removal of the drug to which they have become addicted. And that drug is not just wealth, but the sheer acceleration of the growth of that wealth. They fear, not poverty or disfavor, but simply slowing down.
It remains to be seen, however, what Congress or anyone else can do to preserve the middle class without taking a bite out of the billionaires. Nor does it seem likely that the billionaires themselves will put their money where their mouth is. That makes the trendy indignation of our "compassionate capitalists" seem even more like the deluded shriek of self-centered desperation that it most likely is, deep down.
"Plutocrats of the People" from Slate