The New York Times, despite everything conservatives find reprehensible about it, still showcases interesting and arguable ideas, especially on Sundays. One such article turned up the other day, The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent. There is plenty right and plenty wrong with it. It is a modern Progressive’s portrayal of a static, class-based, social order that does not comport with reality. Unless things are really different now and going forward, how does anyone miss the fact that America is always churning through a new set of “elite” individuals and families? Few families that were truly wealthy still are in three generations, and new people become wealthy all the time. Prosperity is not static nor class-based in America and our main social problem isn’t wealth.
“You can see America’s creeping Serrata in the growing social and, especially, educational chasm between those at the top and everyone else. At the bottom and in the middle, American society is fraying, and the children of these struggling families are lagging the rest of the world at school.” I am as ready as anyone to complain about the state of education in America. However, lack of education never kept anyone from making a fortune in America. Are we really frozen into classes in some immutable hierarchy based on education? Heck, winner takes all and loses it. Then another winner takes all and eventually loses it. Those names on the Forbes or Fortune lists of the wealthiest people change over the decades as different people come up with new and better ideas, regardless of education. Of course, while education might not be necessary for the entrepreneur, it is very necessary for anyone in management, as the successful prefer to be advised by the educated. “An elite education is increasingly available only to those already at the top.” When has this not been mostly true? When in history has this not been the case that while those few of merit might gain scholarships and grants, some organizational indulgence as an aid to education, most people in prestigious colleges and universities are there because their parents can afford to send them.
In addition, this article makes the argument of some conservatives, that government always ends up benefiting the wealthy. Again, when has this not been true? It is one of the best arguments going for smaller government. Bureaucracy is the defense of the wealthy against democratic forces that destabilize the status quo. I do not think Chrystia Freeland is a conservative. Still, she notes that, “In the early 19th century, the United States was one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet. ‘We have no paupers,’ Thomas Jefferson boasted in an 1814 letter.” America did have poor people, but opportunity was lying on the ground and anyone with a Lockean bone in his body could go make property out that. As some of the early Progressives did, she blames industrialization and a closed frontier for changing the dynamic. But we knew national prosperity. Heck, “America may have needed its robber barons; Roosevelt said the United States was right to accept ‘the bitter with the sweet.’” She is taking that statement out of a context. FDR’s normal campaign rhetoric was of economic warfare. However, his actual assault on wealth through progressive taxation was abated for those businesses that knew how to work with and within government. Bureaucracy protects some wealth, that of those who are favored by government protection. Yes, she’s so right; government protects the wealthy more than it does the poor, despite standard political rhetoric from both major political parties. Still, people like this author clamor for more bureaucracy as a defense of the rest of society, the middle class and the poor. They suggest that the situation can be changed by simple public policy adjustments, but that actually never makes a difference. Given the rhetoric, we’ve been “adjusting” in that direction for well over a hundred years and still wealth is the primary influence in government.
“It is no accident that in America today the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the Gilded Age.” (Possibly true, and yet the poor have never been better off at any time or place than they are in America today.) “Now, as then, the titans are seeking an even greater political voice to match their economic power.” (I say, tell it to Herbert Hoover and FDR who believed exactly the same thing and purported to create government to prevent that.) “Now, as then, the inevitable danger is that they will confuse their own self-interest with the common good.” (Doesn’t everyone do that?)
If we premise that government protects the wealthy and gives them an unequal voice, then why do we want a larger government that will, presumably, give the wealthy an even larger voice? That’s the confusion of progressives.