This is an important article about our society today. It is titled “The Revolt of the Rich.” It is especially interesting that it appears in a conservative magazine. The author, Michael Lofgren, was a long-time Republican (now independent); his new book is called The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted. Read Bill Moyers’ interview with him here.
There is an apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway in which Fitzgerald allegedly said, “The rich are different from us,” and Hemingway allegedly answered, “Yes, they have more money.”
The article linked here says the super-rich are indeed different from the rest of us. They have no sense of place. As the article begins, the thesis unfolds:
It was 1993, during congressional debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement. I was having lunch with a staffer for one of the rare Republican congressmen who opposed the policy of so-called free trade. To this day, I remember something my colleague said: “The rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens.”
That was only the beginning of the period when the realities of outsourced manufacturing, financialization of the economy, and growing income disparity started to seep into the public consciousness, so at the time it seemed like a striking and novel statement.
The author worries that the people who have disproportionate power in this country don’t care about anyone but themselves:
Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?
The super-rich, he says, have seceded from America. They have no regard for our public institutions. They are disconnected from the lives of ordinary people. They don’t even have a sense of noblesse oblige. This explains their contempt for public schools attended by other people’s children:
To some degree the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools. But now this habit is exacerbated by the plutocracy’s palpable animosity towards public education and public educators, as Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated. To the extent public education “reform” is popular among billionaires and their tax-exempt foundations, one suspects it is as a lever to divert the more than $500 billion dollars in annual federal, state, and local education funding into private hands—meaning themselves and their friends. What Halliburton did for U.S. Army logistics, school privatizers will do for public education.
What is so astonishing these days is that the super-rich–call them not the 1% but the 1% of the 1%–have control of a large part of the mainstream media. They can afford to take out television advertising, even though their views are echoed on the news and opinion programs. And the American public, or a large part of it, is persuaded to vote against its own self-interest. A friend told me the other day that his brother, who barely subsists on social security, was worried that Obama might raise taxes on people making over $250,000. How can you explain his concern about raising taxes on those who can most afford it?
People like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton Family, and Michael Bloomberg have a disproportionate influence on our national politics. They have only one vote. But their money enables them to control the instruments of power and persuasion. Their money gives them a voice larger than anyone else’s. Governors, Senators, presidential candidates come calling, hoping to please them and win their support.
This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind.