Saturday, January 21, 2012

A new form of "class warfare"?

No less than three recent articles have identified a marked division between an 'elite' class, whose influence largely controls Western nations, and the rest of society in those nations. Each article provides a different perspective on the issue, but taken together, they're remarkably supportive of one another.

Charles Murray, writing in the Wall Street Journal, calls attention to 'The New American Divide'.

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

When Americans used to brag about "the American way of life" — a phrase still in common use in 1960 — they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity.

Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America's core cultural institutions.

. . .

If you are invited to a dinner party by one of Washington's power elite, the odds are high that you will be going to a home in Georgetown, the rest of Northwest D.C., Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Potomac or McLean, comprising 13 adjacent ZIP Codes in all. If you rank all the ZIP Codes in the country on an index of education and income and group them by percentiles, you will find that 11 of these 13 D.C.-area ZIP Codes are in the 99th percentile and the other two in the 98th. Ten of them are in the top half of the 99th percentile.

Similarly large clusters of SuperZIPs can be found around New York City, Los Angeles, the San Francisco-San Jose corridor, Boston and a few of the nation's other largest cities. Because running major institutions in this country usually means living near one of these cities, it works out that the nation's power elite does in fact live in a world that is far more culturally rarefied and isolated than the world of the power elite in 1960.

And the isolation is only going to get worse. Increasingly, the people who run the country were born into that world. Unlike the typical member of the elite in 1960, they have never known anything but the new upper-class culture. We are now seeing more and more third-generation members of the elite. Not even their grandparents have been able to give them a window into life in the rest of America.

There's more at the link.

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph in England, identifies a similar phenomenon in what he calls 'The Rise of the Overclass'.

What constitutes a fair society is no longer just a matter for academic theorists. Suddenly it’s the hottest subject in politics.

The reason is simple: growing public revulsion at a new class of super-rich who seem to be immune from the restraints that govern the lives of ordinary people. Senior bankers, private equity moguls and hedge fund managers appear cut off from the rest of us. They often pay little or no tax, increasingly live in heavily guarded enclaves, and some have little or no real allegiance to Britain. The sources of their wealth are often mysterious, and appear unrelated to merit. These feral rich pose, in their way, every bit as much of a danger to society as the rioters who stole and pillaged London streets last August.

. . .

Even more than Britain, the United States has experienced the emergence of an arrogant and deracinated “overclass” of super-rich. Economists say that the super-rich in the United States are now seven times better off than they were 30 years ago. Troublingly, this massive growth of wealth and power has come directly at the expense of ordinary people. Statistics show that the income of the average working male in the United States has flatlined since the 1970s.

This sharp division of wealth has been accompanied by an even more troubling phenomenon: the ideals of the founding fathers have been shattered as class divisions in the US have widened beyond anything seen in Victorian Britain.

. . .

Among both the very rich – the “overclass” – and the very poor – the “underclass” – the idea of responsibility, duty, patriotism and neighbourliness has been destroyed. Both the rich and poor are coming to live lives entirely isolated from the rest of society. And between the two is the group which Ed Miliband has christened the “squeezed middle” – that section of society which pays its taxes, does not cheat, always tries to do the right thing – and has been taken for granted by British politicians.

It has been obvious for a number of years that something has been going terribly wrong, though it has taken the impact of the recession and last summer’s riots to bring the problem to the surface.

Again, more at the link.

Pete Kofod, a guest writer for Casey Research, goes further, identifying three major classes that have developed in modern society. His emphasis is on the third.

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker – The Economic Class

The Economic Class, at least in the United States, has historically been the numerically dominant group, although in recent decades its dominance has noticeably waned. The economic class would traditionally be called the Private Sector, but even that term has become misleading for reasons we will delve into later in this article.

Members of the Economic Class provide goods and services that are voluntarily sought by consumers and paid at rates that the market will bear. In an unfettered environment, the economic class would count farmers, engineers, coal miners, artists, physicians, janitorial staff, security guards, merchants and company executives among its membership.

. . .

The Lazy Highwaymen – The Political Class

Like the Economic Class, members of the Political Class are not properly defined by their wealth but rather by how they exert influence in the market place. Whereas members of the Economic Class engage the market openly and voluntarily, members of the Political Class employ coercion and deceit to achieve their economic objectives. The coercion and deceit may either be exerted directly or, as is increasingly observed, through a variety of proxy agents. The most obvious members of the Political Class are, unsurprisingly, politicians. This group includes elected individuals at every level of government as well as various appointed officials.

In addition to this primary membership category, a second distinct group exists within the Political Class. It consists of various advocates including lobbyists, influence peddlers and miscellaneous other supplicants of government cheese. These creatures exist to serve as envoys for the third distinct group, which is made up of a patchwork of commercial entities that have learned that employing a politically well-connected pitch man replaces the need for an effective sales and marketing organization and in some cases even the requirement to have a desirable product.

Furthermore, it is commonly observed that members of the Political Class routinely migrate between the three aforementioned groups.

. . .

Legions and Lictors – the Praetorian Class

The Praetorian Class includes members of the Armed Services, federal, state and local law enforcement personnel as well as numerous militarized officials including agents from the DEA, Immigrations, Customs Enforcement, Air Marshalls, US Marshalls, and more. It also includes, although to a lesser extent, various stage actors in the expanding security theater such as TSA personnel. The main mission of the Praetorian Class is to keep the order of the day. This requires displaying an intimidating presence in their interactions with the Economic Class.

As the Praetorian Class ascends, the clear, albeit unstated, message that emerges is that actions and events in the Economic Class only occur with its tacit consent. Whether driving on roads, traveling in the air, visiting public land, walking down the street or even living in your own home, every action you take is predicated on its permission. By preconditioning the populace to enforcement of its edicts, most of which are completely arbitrary, the Praetorian Class sets itself up for a high degree of autonomy in its actions. This is confirmed by the fact that consequences for malfeasance within the Praetorian Class are almost never observed, and when it happens, it typically becomes a grotesque spectacle in which one of their own is sacrificed as an example, so as to keep appearances of effective internal controls.

. . .

As they serve in their martial role, members of the Praetorian Class learn to despise members of the Political Class and to view the plight of the Economic Class with detachment or even contempt.

More at the link.

When one reads all three of these articles together, it's astonishing how many parallels there are between them, and how much common ground. In fact, I was cynically amused to come across a report today that confirms (if confirmation were needed) the descriptions cited above of how out-of-touch with reality the 'political elite', or 'overclass', or 'political class', has become.

MPAA Directly & Publicly Threatens Politicians Who Aren't Corrupt Enough To Stay Bought

Reinforcing the fact that Chris Dodd really does not get what's happening, and showing just how disgustingly corrupt the MPAA relationship is with politicians, Chris Dodd went on Fox News to explicitly threaten politicians who accept MPAA campaign donations that they'd better pass Hollywood's favorite legislation ... or else:

"Those who count on quote 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake,"

. . .

People were protesting not just because of the content of these bills, but because of the corrupt process of big industries like Dodd's "buying" politicians and "buying" laws. To then come out and make that threat explicit isn't a way to fix things or win back the public. It's just going to get them more upset, and to recognize just how corrupt this process is. If Dodd, as he said in yesterday's NY Times, really wanted to turn things around and come to a more reasonable result, this is exactly how not to do it. It shows, yet again, a DC-insider's mindset. He used Fox News to try to "send a message" to politicians. But the internet already sent a much louder message... and, even worse for Dodd, he bizarrely sent his message in a way that everyone who's already fed up with this kind of corruption can see it too. It really makes you wonder what he's thinking and how someone so incompetent at this could keep his job.

More at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.

All the articles cited above make interesting and worthwhile reading. Recommended.


1 comment:

Old NFO said...

That was a half hour well spent reading those, and I agree, there IS a significant set of parallels between them; none of which bode well for the US, unless we get back control of the government.