Thursday, January 12, 2012

Romney's Vulture Capitalist Envy

In recent days, there has been considerable discussion about Mitt Romney's reaction to those who criticize "wall street"- criticism he conveniently chooses to regard as "class warfare" and sheer "envy of the wealthy". As Romney said, these are certainly topics to be discussed, but not publically, only "in quiet rooms." So, surrounded by the detritus of an enormous deficit - created in large part by an elective war, and a decision to simultaneously reduce the marginal tax rates on the wealthiest among us to the lowest rate ever ( twin decisions that no president in the history of this country was ever ignorant enough to make), we hear from Romney that it is really class envy that drives these critiques!! Left unsaid is the implied view (which I have heard directly from conservative friends) that these critics have no political standing - they must be socialists, anticapitalists, diversity- or Europe lovers !! (No doubt they eat French Fries too !!).

Just bear in mind, however, that like Spiro Agnew, many Republicans - including my neighbors down the street - are arrogantly and studiously anti-empirical, and thinly veiled racists as well. Following Mitt's nostrums, if you are unemployed, it must be because you are lazy, or unmotivated, or lack character ( the fact that a lot more people suddenly got lazy and unmotivated is not a hypothesis that they want to explain). If a ton of Occupy Wall street folks are banging on the door, the last thing that you want to do is to openly, publically, address the issue of wealth inequality. Why?? Because there is overwhelming evidence of great wealth inequality in this country. More importantly, as the PEW Economic Mobility Project has clearly revealed, intergenerational mobility in this country ( a key element of the exceptionalist American Dream) is stalled. Other - typically European democracies, do a far better job of this.

Parenthetically, I would note that the iconic writers who contributed to the American exceptionalist trope - like Horatio Alger - did so with their writings about young men who rose from the most abject poverty on the basis of their motivation, effort, and virtue. The paramount assumption in these writings was that intergenerational mobility was possible to all. And, envy of the wealthy was NOT a part of this credo !!! Romney's unwillingness to discuss these matters in public space is a clear sign of its dangerousness politically. The country has become a highly stratified plutocratic society. And, as Princeton social scientist Jim Bartells has made clear in his insightful book, Unequal Democracy, under Republican regimes, wealth inequality had increased, under Democratic regimes, it has diminished. These are not just "economic issues" - they are political governance issues. American citizens need to wake up and recognize this.

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