“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Rich Boy”
Roger Simon has written an incredibly brain-dead article. Not that it’s really anything unusual for Mr. Simon or for that bastion of deep thought known as Politico.com. The phrase “class warfare” has been getting thrown around lately as if it is some new pernicious feature of American politics, along with the idea of “wealth redistribution.”
How stupid do they think the rest of us are? Class politics and wealth redistribution have been the fundamental components of governments, no matter what form they may take, since the beginning of civilization. It began when the head of one clan said to the head of another clan, “Your clan my better shoes than my clan. How about my clan growing enough food for all of us while your clan makes shoes for all of us.” So began division of labor, the specialization of skills, and the development of science and art that has created Beethoven’s 9th, the Guttenberg press, antibiotics, The Mona Lisa, and the Lunar Module to name just a few miracles. Along the way, clothes needed to washed and mended, garbage needed to be collected and hauled away, children needed to educated, public buildings like schools and libraries needed to be constructed and maintained. A society’s greatest achievements are not just the achievements of a few geniuses, they are also the achievement of the entire social and economic infrastructure supporting those geniuses. A society’s achievements, a civilization’s achievements, are made possible by the excess value created by everyone in it, whether it comes in the form of patronage from the rich, a government subsidy, or the disposable income of ordinary working people. The wealth of a nation is…the wealth of a nation.
It is inevitable that in any society wealth will tend to become concentrated. Social and political structures provide a kind of organic regulator that balances the distribution of wealth among all of the contributors to a nation’s wealth. True equality will never exist, and as the Bible says, “The poor will always be with you,” but one thing is certain. When the wealth of a nation becomes concentrated in a progressively smaller portion of the population, bad things happen: civil unrest, revolutions, stock market crashes, and economic depressions. As this disproportionate distribution increases, it gets reinforced by the ever-increasing influence of the very, very rich. Somehow, this is not ever characterized as class warfare. Only when this theft of a nation’s wealth is called out by its victims is it called class warfare.
F. Scott Fitzgerald made his reputation in the 1920’s, the last time that wealth was so disproportionately distributed. He moved in the circles of the super-rich, but wasn’t a true member of that class. He had come from a good family whose fortunes had dwindled over time. His success as a writer in the 1920’s brought him wealth, primarily from his short stories about the rich and privileged. He was fascinated by the rich, but he always viewed them with a critical eye. He is sometimes misread as celebrating the rich and their excesses, and was unfairly derided by Hemingway for it, but the truth is that his work exposes their moral corruption that lies just underneath the veil of respectability. No character more exemplifies that than Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Unlike Mr. Simon, Fitzgerald held no illusions about the rich and was never under their spell.
There is a commonly held delusion that we are a classless society, that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can raise themselves up into the most privileged classes in our society. There are, of course, some examples of this, but they are extremely rare. This mythical American Dream, which makes politicians of every stripe wax poetic and tear up, is what reinforces this delusion and convinces poor and middle-class members of our society to vote against their own best interests. Ninety-eight percent of them will never inherit a multi-million dollar estate, but if they did, they certainly wouldn’t want to be taxed. And so, while their schools crumble and fail to educate their children, their social security trust fund gets raided, their quality of life sinks at an ever increasing rate while super-rich allocate an ever increasing share of the nation’s wealth for themselves, enabled by ignorant tools like Roger Simon.
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