Paul Krugman: Shattering the ‘myth of the deserving rich’

3 Comments | Leave a Comment

The reality of rising American inequality is stark. Since the late 1970s real wages for the bottom half of the workforce have stagnated or fallen, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have nearly quadrupled (and the incomes of the top 0.1 percent have risen even more). While we can and should have a serious debate about what to do about this situation, the simple fact — American capitalism as currently constituted is undermining the foundations of middle-class society — shouldn’t be up for argument.

But it is, of course. Partly this reflects Upton Sinclair’s famous dictum: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. But it also, I think, reflects distaste for the implications of the numbers, which seem almost like an open invitation to class warfare — or, if you prefer, a demonstration that class warfare is already under way, with the plutocrats on offense.

The result has been a determined campaign of statistical obfuscation. At its cruder end this campaign comes close to outright falsification; at its more sophisticated end it involves using fancy footwork to propagate what I think of as the myth of the deserving rich.

I’ve noted before that conservatives seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor. This may once have had a grain of truth to it, but for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich.

The story goes like this: America’s affluent are affluent because they made the right lifestyle choices. They got themselves good educations, they got and stayed married, and so on. Basically, affluence is a reward for adhering to the Victorian virtues.

What’s wrong with this story? Even on its own terms, it postulates opportunities that don’t exist. For example, how are children of the poor, or even the working class, supposed to get a good education in an era of declining support for and sharply rising tuition at public universities? Even social indicators like family stability are, to an important extent, economic phenomena: Nothing takes a toll on family values like lack of employment opportunities.

But the main thing about this myth is that it misidentifies the winners from growing inequality. White-collar professionals, even if married to each other, are only doing OK. The big winners are a much smaller group. The Occupy movement popularized the concept of the “1 percent,” which is a good shorthand for the rising elite, but if anything includes too many people: most of the gains of the top 1 percent have in fact gone to an even tinier elite, the top 0.1 percent.

And who are these lucky few? Mainly they’re executives of some kind, especially, though not only, in finance. You can argue about whether these people deserve to be paid so well, but one thing is clear: They didn’t get where they are simply by being prudent, clean and sober.

So how can the myth of the deserving rich be sustained? Mainly through a strategy of distortion by dilution. You almost never see apologists for inequality willing to talk about the 1 percent, let alone the really big winners. Instead, they talk about the top 20 percent, or at best the top 5 percent.

These may sound like innocent choices, but they’re not, because they involve lumping in married lawyers with the wolves of Wall Street. The DiCaprio movie of that name, by the way, is wildly popular with finance types, who cheer on the title character — another clue to the realities of our new Gilded Age.

Again, I know that these realities make some people, not all of them hired guns for the plutocracy, uncomfortable, and they’d prefer to paint a different picture. But even if the facts have a well-known populist bias, they’re still the facts — and they must be faced.

Comments

Our local

job market is a joke. With most of our manufacturing jobs going overseas (thank you China for manipulating your currency), the blue collar America many of us remember has become a thing of the past. This consumer based society we live in is only adding to the problem - all the trips to Walmart to buy more garbage made in China that will last a couple years at best.. Planned obsolescence is the norm. Naturally the cheap overseas wages are only adding to the profit margins of the few. So what’s the fix? Less taxes to encourage more home grown production / job creation? Higher tariffs on imports to offset cheap overseas overhead? Perhaps a combination of both? One thing we can all do is change our perspective... and quit buying garbage manufactured overseas - most of which we don't need if we stop and think about it. My wife and I are taking a long hard look at all the junk, stuff and mess we’ve accumulated over the years. We’re looking at ways of simplifying our lives; ways to de-clutter and downsize… We can all ask ourselves if we're being good stewards of what the Lord has blessed us with. I'm guilty of doing a terrible job in that department - for too long chasing things of this world. What it took for me was the realization that everything I have belongs to God – everything… I’m just a steward… As we’ve put that truth into action, it’s amazing how the blessings just keep coming. God’s economy is 180 degrees out of what this world teaches – and His plan actually works… we’re living proof! I encourage everyone who can to give – not just out of abundance… God loves a cheerful giver – and you’re guaranteed to receive a blessing! And remember – it takes very little to out give our Vice President (avg. $369.00 a year)! Let that be your first hurdle – remember - baby steps!

As our economy gets worse

people look for the cheap junk. They can't afford the local, more expensive stuff. Add to that the greedy, self-serving attitudes of the general public (that's why they keep voting liberal)and the situation is not likely to change much, at least until things get desperate. The businesses that produce domestic products are constantly vilified and excoriated by left and the public keeps buying the lie. Prime example: Obamacare. Even with the ripoff obvious at this point, they keep buying into it. In the end they gett what they voted for.

We fought against people like

We fought against people like Krugman during the cold war in the old Soviet Union and in Viet Nam. Why are we putting up with them now? And by what freak of nature and circumstance did he land a job teaching this propaganda in an American University?

Add comment

Login or register to post comments

Top Jobs