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Monday, June 16, 2008

Anatomy of Class Warfare

Playing class warfare has become an artform in the last twenty years. The elements are almost always the same. First, you take on a populist message. You are for the little guy. Then, you find an individual or group to demonize and you demonize them. Finally, you blame the system that caused it. What happens is that through effective class warfare, you turn an argument for Socialism into one of populism. Now, let's take a look at this article from the Nation. Right from the start, the article plays class warfare. Here is the title...

The Rich and the Rest of Us

So, right away, it is a text book example of two of the three techniques in good effective class warfare. Right away, the article takes on the populist message. The authors are on the side of the little. Second, it immediately demonizes the wealthy.

It doesn't take the article long to effectively use technique number three.

Over the past three decades, market-worshiping politicians and their
corporate backers have engineered the most colossal redistribution of wealth in
modern world history, a redistribution from the bottom up, from working people
to a tiny global elite.

This special issue of The Nation exposes the widespread costs of this
rising inequality and offers a blueprint on how to reverse course. We will never
achieve social and economic justice for those at the bottom of our economic
pyramid until we tackle wealth concentration at the top.

Just like all tools of class warfare, it is naked capitalism and free markets that are always to blame for the ills of the poor. The wealthy are unfairly over rewarded in such "naked" systems and their obscenely unfair rewards come at the expense of the poor.

Now, what this piece does, much like all that practice textbook class warfare, is to twist around the manner in which free markets and capitalism work.

Doug Henwood begins the issue by placing our current extreme inequality in historical context. We now live, he writes, in a second Gilded Age. Today, as in the robber baron era a century ago, the gap between those at the top and the rest of us is simply staggering. The richest 1 percent of Americans currently hold wealth worth $16.8 trillion, nearly $2 trillion more than the bottom 90 percent. A worker making $10 an hour would have to labor for more than 10,000 years to earn what one of the 400 richest Americans pocketed in 2005.

Now, there is no doubt that capitalism always favors those at the top. That's because the basis for capitalism is competition. Competition goes by the old adage

there's no points for second place

So, of course, those at the top benefit benefit overwhelmingly compared to those at the bottom. Ultimately, that's what capitalism is...a race to the top. What those that demonize capitalism don't say is that the race to the top ultimately also benefits everyone as well. While they went on to painstakingly mention that our income gap continues to grow, what they didn't mention is the overall growth in overall wealth the entire nation has had. The U.S. has more GDP than the next four nations combined. So, while our newfound wealth may in fact have benefitted those at the top in an overwhelming way, the bottom line is that we have also seen an enormous growth in wealth compared to every other country.

Now, while the authors demonize capitalism and everything related to it, their solutions are nothing more than boiler plate central government controls.

To reverse this reckless course, we need to change our nation's dominant political narrative and restore faith in the critical role that government must play to protect the common good. But we can't stop there. We need to confront directly the threat posed by this inequality.

Of course, when government plays a critical role for the common good we call that Communism.

In fact, the piece goes further than that...

We need to heed the lesson imparted by those who reversed the first Gilded Age: over the first half of the twentieth century, organized labor and other populist and progressive social movements advanced a program that explicitly aimed to reduce concentrated wealth and power. They and their successors fought hard to lift up the bottom and bring down the top, through efforts as varied as the original GI Bill and high tax rates on high incomes. Thanks to their efforts, our nation went from the Gilded Age of Newport mansions to a postwar era that celebrated a thriving middle class, full of economically secure families who owned their own homes and could afford to send their kids to college. Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati, in their contribution to this special issue, show us how we can do this again. They lay out a practical guide on how to reduce our ignoble concentrations of wealth, a necessary step toward realizing efforts to reduce poverty, invest in green energy systems, rebuild our infrastructure and expand educational and economic opportunity for all.

Any successful mobilization against plutocracy must first dramatize the high price that wealth concentration exacts from the rest of us. In her contribution Barbara Ehrenreich laments a consequence of extreme inequality that few of us have adequately recognized: the plutocratic monopolization of our nation's beautiful places. Gabriel Thompson tells the story of extreme inequality in one neighborhood--juxtaposing the hedge-fund titans who occupy the top floors of two Manhattan office buildings with the low-wage workers who guard their doorways and deliver their lunches.


Now, of course this is classic Marxian class warfare (the kind I talked about here). It isn't all right to simply demonize the system, those that benefity, but you also find a symbol of each and demonize the symbol. In this case it is those evil, evil private equity managers. Now, you aren't going to find any tangible or specific solutions. What you are going to find is an indictment of the current system and ultimately a call to arms to transform the system.

This is of course classic class warfare techniques. The authors, much like Marx himself, prey on the natural envy of the working class. Of course, every working class stiff has a natural envy for the private equity fund managers. A message in which the system that made them fat while the stiff is poor is going to resonate. Of course, it is no different than the message that Marx employed in the 1800's. What were the merchants and bankers of that era are all updated to the private equity fund managers. The system that creates the discrepancy is the same and so are the solutions. The message is no less dangerous.

The greatest irony is that the authors use the very capitalistic system that they condemn in order to earn a handsome living condemning it. In fact, the very idea that news and commentary could ever be transmitted electronically over a world wide network could only come about through the very capitalistic system that encourages exactly that sort of entrepeneurism. The authors are benefitting greatly from that system, and yet, they have the chutzpah to condemn it.

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