Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Class War In The Open

So I’m glad Romney’s comments to wealthy millionaire donors are getting some attention, because it’s finally out in the open what the ruling classes really thing of the rest of us.This is what the ruling class says behind closed doors. One of the best things I read came from a blogger at Forbes (!!!):
This is where more than thirty years of confusing wealth with virtue and deriding Americans who aren’t impossibly rich as indolent and entitled slackers will leave you:  with a multi-millionaire candidate for president who made his fortune by depriving other people of their livelihood, who doesn’t even bother to hide his contempt for the ever-increasing number of economic losers engendered by our one percent economy, a world his own policies and actions helped create.

Even Marie Antoinette thought the peasants deserved cake.
Even the venal plutocrats of the Gilded Age realized that they ultimately owed their fortunes to the labor of the coal miner, the seamstress, the ironworker and the farmer, and that it was only through their good graces and the limited application of violence that they were allowed to keep their gains. Today’s plutocrats think their fortunes spring ex nihilo from their own greatness as they ship jobs to slave wage countries and gamble in the stock market. The fact that so fewer of us have outlets to sell our labor power is a matter of concern. But it has nothing to do with laziness; the capitalistic system is breaking down. And the ruling class berates the unemployed masses for their own indolence. Nice. As bad as Obama might be, do we want to hand the reins of power to someone has nothing but sheer and utter contempt for nearly half of the American population?

I’ve had interactions with a lot of these ‘corporate executive’ types. And let me tell you: Romney is not an anomaly: the majority of them believe the exact same thing! That’s why he made those comments at a exclusive fundraiser behind the closed doors of Richistan. These people despise us. They truly believe that those of us who work for a paycheck are just useless eaters. They believe that without their hatching deals and the golf courses, schmoozing their friends in luxury boxes at sporting events and gambling on investment vehicles the rest of us who are chained to our desks eight hours a day would be starving and shivering in the dark, unable to lift a finger to help ourselves without the megalomaniacal John Galts of the world. They see the rest of us as nothing but parasitic ticks on the body of society who need to be deloused. We need to be pulled from the government teat to fend for ourselves and claw what we can from the impersonal market.  I’ve personally heard the beneficiaries of nepotism decry "government socialism." I guess what I’m trying to say is this:

Ayn Rand’s sociopathic doctrine has become the prevailing ethos of the ruling class!

It’s not confined to America, compare Romney’s comments to those of Australia’s richest woman, who also inherited a vast fortune yet believes she pulled herself up by her bootstraps:
Just in case you were beginning to think rich people were deeply misunderstood and that they feel the pain of those who are less fortunate, here's the world's wealthiest woman, Australian mining tycoon Gina Rinehart, with some helpful advice."If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain," she said in a magazine piece. "Do something to make more money yourself -- spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working."

Rinehart made her money the old-fashioned way: She inherited it. Her family iron ore prospecting fortune of $30.1 billion makes her Australia's wealthiest person and the richest woman on the planet."There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire," she said by way of encouragement. "Become one of those people who work hard, invest and build, and at the same time create employment and opportunities for others."

Why are people poor? Rinehart blamed what she described as "socialist," anti-business government policies, and urged Australian officials to lower the minimum wage and cut taxes. "The millionaires and billionaires who choose to invest in Australia are actually those who most help the poor and our young," she said. "This secret needs to be spread widely."

These beliefs are endemic among the ruling class. Who’s really fighting the class war here? Even the kings and queens of the Feudal ages had some sense of noblesse oblige. Today’s plutocrats see us as nothing more than cattle to be milked and slaughtered. As a Republican legislator put it recently, “do not feed the animals.”

We are truly ruled by monsters.

And see also the heaping helping of Horatio Alger served up at the Republican convention, and Romney’s comments that college wasn’t necessary since if you were hard worker you could just borrow a few thousand dollars from Mom and Dad to start a sandwich business. The people at the top are megalomaniacal sociopaths, and they got where they are precisely because they are megalomaniacal sociopaths (or the children of same). Forget Peak Everything, this is the reason why society is going over a cliff and people are preparing for collapse and civil war.

These people are the real takers: they take the labor of all of us who show up for work day after day – the teachers, the policemen, the engineers, the inventors, the accountants, the plumbers, the network administrators, by doing nothing more than manipulating the financial system. Work creates wealth, not sitting around in board meetings. Need I trot out once again the chart showing how all of our productivity gains have accrued to the super-rich? Sorry if that sounds dangerously Marxist.

And of course plenty of people on the government teat will vote for Romney anyway. To the uneducated white, rural class which reliably votes Republican, the 47 percent Romney refers to is seen by them as the image at the top of the article: Chedda gets Cheddar. This is what they are railing against, neck wattle quivering as the ride to Tea Party rallies on their Medicare scooters. And yes, they do think that represents 47 percent of all Americans. Republican have been mining this for decades – I’m sure you’ve seen Romney’s most prevalent ad (which is completely false) about Obama eliminating the Welfare to work requirements (“they just send you a check”). Not too subtle is it? As Jay Gould said, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
In Chisago County, Minn., The Times’s reporters spoke with residents who supported the Tea Party and its proposed cuts to federal spending, even while they admitted they could not get by without government support. Tea Party aficionados, and many on the extreme right of the Republican party for that matter, are typically characterized as self-sufficient middle class folk, angry about sustaining the idle poor with their tax dollars. Chisago County revealed a different aspect of this anger: economically struggling Americans professing a robust individualism and self-determination, frustrated with their failures to achieve that ideal.

Why the stubborn insistence on self-determination, in spite of the facts? One might say there is something profoundly American in this. It’s our fierce individualism shining through. Residents of Chisago County are clinging to notions of past self-reliance before the recession, before the welfare state. It’s admirable in a way. Alternately, it evokes the delusional autonomy of Freud’s poor ego.

These people, like many across the nation, rely on government assistance, but pretend they don’t. They even resent the government for their reliance. If they looked closely though, they’d see that we are all thoroughly saturated with government assistance in this country: farm subsidies that lower food prices for us all, mortgage interest deductions that disproportionately favor the rich, federal mortgage guarantees that keep interest rates low, a bloated Department of Defense that sustains entire sectors of the economy and puts hundreds of thousands of people to work. We can hardly fathom the depth of our dependence on government, and pretend we are bold individualists instead.

As we are in an election year, the persistence of this delusion has manifested itself politically, particularly as a foundation in the Republican Party ideology — from Ron Paul’s insistence during the primaries that the government shouldn’t intervene to help the uninsured even when they are deathly ill, to Rick Santorum’s maligning of public schools, to Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate. There is no doubt that radical individualism will remain a central selling point of their campaign. Ryan’s signature work, his proposal for the federal budget, calls for drastic cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Pell grants and job training programs, among others. To no surprise, as The New Yorker revealed in a recent profile of Ryan, the home district that supports him is boosted by considerable government largesse.

Of course the professed individualists have an easy time cutting services for the poor. But this is misguided. There are many counties across the nation that, like Chisago County, might feel insulated from the trials of the destitute. Perhaps this is because they are able to ignore the poverty in their midst, or because they are rather homogeneous and geographically removed from concentrations of poverty, like urban ghettos. But the fate of the middle class counties and urban ghettos is entwined. When the poor are left to rot in their misery, the misery does not stay contained. It harms us all. The crime radiates, the misery offends, it debases the whole. Individuals, much less communities, cannot be insulated from it.

Thanks to a decades-long safety net, we have forgotten the trials of living without it. This is why, the historian Tony Judt argued, it’s easy for some to speak fondly of a world without government: we can’t fully imagine or recall what it’s like. We can’t really appreciate the horrors Upton Sinclair witnessed in the Chicago slaughterhouses before regulation, or the burden of living without Social Security and Medicare to look forward to. Thus, we can entertain nostalgia for a time when everyone pulled his own weight, bore his own risk, and was the master of his destiny. That time was a myth. But the notion of self-reliance is also a fallacy.
Deluded Individualism (New York Times)
It never ceases to amaze me that only four years after the American people were ready to storm the streets with torches and pitchforks and hang Wall Street bankers from the nearest lamppost, almost half of America is ready to elect a plutocrat so stereotypical of Wall Street that even Hollywood casting directors would have a difficult time doing better. That after thirty years of deindustrialization hollowing out Middle America, Middle America is the center of support for a slick takeover artist who inherited millions and whose job was parachuting in to companies and stripping them to funnel as much wealth as possible to Wall Street, regardless of consequences. That in the worst economy since the great depression, and the greatest gap between rich and poor since that time, a candidate can run on a central platform of gutting the social safety net and cutting taxes on the very richest of the rich, and have the support of nearly half of all voters. This guy had a horse in Olympics fer chrissakes!

Incidentally, here is the wellspring for their mode of thought: Producerism.

Producerism, sometimes referred to as "producer radicalism," is a right-wing populist ideology which holds that the productive members of society are being exploited by parasitic elements at both the top and bottom of the social and economic structure.

Except it’s kind of a limited producerism insofar as it focuses exclusively on parasites at the bottom of the system and sees the people at the top as heroic wealth creators whose fortunes are exactly in proportion with what they’ve contributed to society. It’s part of the three other pillars of modern conservative ideology: The Objectivist Movement, the Just World Hypothesis and (to a limited extent) Christian Reconstructionism. I encourage you to click on the links and read the Wikipedia entries on these ideological movements so you can understand what the ideals of the ruling class are. See also Calvinism, Social Darwinism, The Horatio Alger Myth, and the Powell Memorandum.

I’ll give the last word to this excellent post from Morris Berman:

Finally, without being explicit, the film does suggest that there is something mentally unbalanced, if not downright sociopathic, about the American ruling class. The top 1% could care less about society at large, is the impression we get from this documentary; the only thing on their minds is profit. Recent years have seen the publication of a fair number of articles claiming that psychological studies of such people show that they have very little capacity for empathy, along with very high dopamine levels in the brain, which also depresses empathy and keeps them hyped up, always “on the go.” These people cannot grasp, as former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall says at one point in the movie, that taxes are the price of civilization; that every society must have civil institutions; and that the ideology of every man for himself is the antithesis of civilization—the ideology of lunatics, if I may embellish on his remarks.


  1. "a limited producerism insofar as it focuses exclusively on parasites at the top of the system"

    I suspect you meant to say at the 'bottom'.

  2. Wow...there are so many people who need to read this incredibly concise synopsis. Unfortunately most wouldn't believe it. I wonder if that's due to unwillingness to understand, or a frank inability to grasp these facts? Sometimes I think many people can only believe goodness of the ruling class because otherwise their whole belief system would be shattered...with only scary ideologies left to replace it. These are the timid folk I guess. I had no idea there were so many without courage to face the unknown.

  3. Funny, because last night my wife asked me if I'd seen the clip and we discussed it and I said, "This is Romney's Atlas Shrugged moment."

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  5. I have a nice graphic model of the Producerist Narrative on my Flickr account. I should post it at my blog as part of a commentary on your entry.

    Speaking of commentary on your entry, this is the first time you've used "Richistan" here, according to a search of your blog. I wonder where you got that term. :-)

    1. Indeed so, but of course we both got it from somewhere else. I love neologisms that capture in a single word the essence of an idea (in this case, the secession of the wealthy from the rest of society), so I steal them when necessary (thankfully they are not copyrighted yet) - e.g. terms like 'flyover country' and 'bankster'. I also ripped off 'corn-pone Nazis' from Jim Kunstler - it's hard to top that.


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