Thursday, July 14, 2011

Greed, Excess and America's Gaping Class Divide

From Matt Taibbi's blog over at Rolling Stone, courtesy of digg:

All of this is a testament to the amazing (and rapidly expanding) cultural divide that exists in this country, where the poor and the rich seldom cross paths at all, and the rich, in particular, simply have no concept what being broke and poor really means. It is true that if you make $300,000 in America, you won't feel like you're so very rich once you get finished paying your taxes, your mortgage, your medical bills and so on.

For this reason, a lot of people who make that kind of money believe they are the modern middle class: house in the burbs, a car, a kid in college, a trip to Europe once a year, what's the big deal? They'd be right, were it not for the relative comparison -- for the fact that out there, in that thin little ithsmus between the Upper East Side and Beverly Hills, things are so fucked that public school teachers and garbagemen making $60k with benefits are being targeted with pitchfork-bearing mobs as paragons of greed and excess. Wealth, in places outside Manhattan, southern California, northern Virginia and a few other locales, is rapidly becoming defined as belonging to anyone who has any form of job security at all. Any kind of retirement plan, or better-than-minimum health coverage, is also increasingly looked at as an upper-class affectation.

That the Tea Party and their Republican allies in congress have so successfully made government workers with their New Deal benefits out to be the kulak class of modern America says a lot about the unique brand of two-way class blindness we have in this country. It's not just that the rich don't know the poor exist, and genuinely think a half a million a year is "not a lot of money," as one "compensation consultant" told the New York Times after the crash.

It also works the other way -- the poor have no idea what real rich people are like. They apparently never see them, which is why the political champions of middle America are at this very minute campaigning in congress to extract more revenue from elderly retirees and broke-ass students while simultaneously fighting to preserve a slew of tax loopholes for the rich, including the carried-interest tax break that allows hedge fund billionaires to pay about half the tax rate of most Americans

More here.

It really bugs me whenever right-wingers dismiss liberal observations that the wealthy are really screwing up the nation with responses along the lines of "Well that's just class warfare." Never mind the fact that the rich have been waging class warfare continuously since the founding of the republic. Never mind the fact that the rich are almost always winning the class warfare they wage. Never mind the fact that the poor, working, and middle classes almost never fight back. What really bugs me is that such statements actually have resonance across the American class spectrum. That is, it is as though Americans actually believe that America really is a nation without economic class, taking something that was a goal of some of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson for one, and simply believing it to be reality.

Of course, anybody who reads a newspaper can see that we are not a classless society, if they choose to see it; sadly, all too many of us prefer the fiction over the reality. And this really serves greatly the interests of the super-wealthy who own and operate the country. I mean, if you refuse to acknowledge that this nation has great wealth disparity, that such disparity not only impoverishes millions, but also radically undermines our democratic system, and you consequently tend to sympathize with the amazingly rich as though they lived down the block from you, then the political battle is all but over. The rich have won our hearts and minds.

Like that great Baudelaire quote that "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist," the greatest trick the wealthy ever pulled was convincing Americans that we're all in this together. Obviously, we are not all in this together, and it will become increasingly clear in the years to come as ten percent unemployment becomes the new normal, the super-wealthy retreat into their plush gated and security guarded enclaves, crime skyrockets, resources and food become ever more scarce, and we become essentially a banana republic third world nation.

As victors over a conquered people, the monied class warriors will dance and drink and rape on top of our misery.

Hey, as long as I'm comparing the wealthy to the devil, it's as good a time as any to dust off this fine passage from the Bible (Mark 10: 17-25):

17And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

18And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

19Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

20And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

23And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

24And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!

25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
That's right. Personal wealth is so immoral that no less than Jesus himself asserted that you cannot go to Heaven if you are wealthy. Hey, I totally agree, myself, but this is Jesus H. Christ here! Everybody should take him seriously. And what the fuck is up with all this "prosperity gospel" shit anyway? Like I said, it's actually the wealthy who wage class warfare, continuously, and they've pretty much already won: Jesus, the pauper-god who angrily threw the money changers out of the temple, is now an infomercial bauble hawker adored by millions.