So What’s Wrong With Inequality?: the Case for Elites

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This website has from the outset seemed dedicated to the proposition that after a conservative interregnum of almost 50 years (1980-2008) the country was returning and would Inevitably return to a more Progressive-New Deal- Great Society mentality, updated for the decades 2 through 5 of the Twenty First Century. And this is certainly true.

 

But we will be less interesting, and just one of dozens of blogging talk-athons about the evils of socio-economic inequality and the selfishness of the rich, if all we did was present thought-clips promoting progressive ideas and agendas. Progressives cannot prevail, their progress will be sluggish—mark or words—if we cannot get inside the heads of the following: conservative Republicans (are their any other kind), Tea Party “Republicans,” Independents wary of too much Obama and Clinton (Hillary And Bill) kinds of changes, and last—but not least—the great 40-50% of adults who do Not regularly vote.

So we offer the following “contrarian” thought bullets using the voice of someone who is making a good case for “enlightened” or realistic elites—elites of wealth and accomplishment and the desire that government and academia not try to tamper with this existing order:

 

  • Item- Historically, from Egyptian, Mesopotamian and early Chinese times, an elite class has governed: this has been the natural order of things; they have held a vastly disproportionate share of their societies’ wealth, they were true one per-centers in every sense of the word

 

  • This elite class has been responsible for much of what we study in history: the building of great temples and public buildings, the forging of ever larger states and empires, the development of agriculture, irrigation, ever larger urban areas, learning and especially writing, making their territories safe for the religions and social practices of their choice…i.e. Pyramids, jungle and desert Temples, fortified towns, cathedrals and castles, great chateaux and manor houses: all of these are elite, one percent undertakings and accomplishments
  • Eventually something that would be called universities and physical infrastructure: roads, bridges, harbors, and facilities to foster trade and exploration would be promoted by this elite class, as would, of course, the arts of warfare: defensive and offensive
  • Many of the wealthiest “elite” Americans, and more so than Europeans or other population “zones—are only a few generations, perhaps only one—away from humble, even poor origins. Yet the Henry Fords and Andrew Carnegies, with no silver spoon-feeding, built great industrial empires and spread wealth and ingenuity+- around in different but impressive ways
  • It can be argued that to a degree outstanding talent and drive have fueled social mobility in America, the “Horatio Alger” phenomenon, though it is more accurate to say that these exceptional cases nourish a kind of cultural narrative that Americans seem to Need to believe in because there are many outstanding examples, and also many examples in which poverty, race, gender, and importantly bad luck or timing Prevented or impeded social mobility in spite of themselves
  • There is a plausible argument that concentrations of capital, from the Pyramids to cathedrals to railroads to Silicon Valley have made possible critical masses of construction, urbanization, exploration, invention and technology, economies of scale – to offer a somewhat random sample of wealth generated social “goods;” and of course it can be argued in all of these cases that the wealth concentrations have been abused, wasteful in many conspicuous consumption (read T. Veblen) cases
  • The flaws in the Iron Law of Oligarchy (Michels) and the tendency of wealth—not always fairly earned—to perpetuate itself, will be teased out in future posts, but we emphasize that the wealthy, the Social Darwinist’s, the “aristocrats or plutocrats” depending on your point of view have some compelling points to make, and these points must be taken seriously… Marx himself stood in awe of  “just pre-Gilded Age capitalism” as the most powerful social force of history to that time (the 1840’s to 1870’s) and then went on to critique it in devastating fashion, focusing partly on the cost to the working classes, who did not rise up—at least in the way he predicted… So we end with recognition of the considerable accomplishments of elites and then capitalist elites, and we will want to fast forward to the 21st Century and examine both the rationale for concentrations of wealth, for “neo-laissez faire”, and the considerable costs to the poor and middle classes and the unique Dysfunctions of many forms of inequality

ALSO SEE “THE RICH SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH” Atlantic Monthly, June 2014

p 36    ATLANTIC HOW THE RICH SHALL

 

 

4 thoughts on “So What’s Wrong With Inequality?: the Case for Elites

  1. Pingback: So What’s Wrong With Inequality?: the Case for Elites | MemePosts

  2. You are right in asserting the importance of coming fully to grips with the various rationales that have been offered for the ever widening gap in wealth and income between the super-rich and everyone else. For far too long, Progressives have on the whole failed to defend vigorously and openly the intellectual premises of their economic agenda. As a result, conservatives have been able to push the national debate on economic and financial policy substantially to the right; and the American people now have less faith than ever in the efficacy of government policy.

    In summarizing the conservative defense of the dramatic and continuing increase in inequality, you mention( but do not endorse) the claim that most who have built great fortunes did it on their own–that neither luck nor inherited wealth very much mattered in deciding who prospered and who remained poor. This claim was rebutted in a speech delivered in 2012 by Elizabeth Warren who argued that individual success in business is made possible by essential facilities of transport and finance that are usually supplied or subsidized by government.

    Moreover, it has become increasingly obvious that it is largely inherited privilege that decides who will enter the ranks of the super-rich. Wealthy families are able to confer advantages upon their offspring that are usually unavailable to the sons and daughters of the middle and working classes. The children of affluent families normally attend first-rate colleges, and nearly always obtain their degrees within four years while the great majority of those who attend college never even graduate. There are literally millions of young people who have taken courses in college and have nothing to show for it but debts that that will take many years to pay off.

    Your article also notes the claim that, historically, it has been the elite classes of past societies that have been responsible for humanity’s greatest achievements. This seems a half-truth because elites did at times encourage the arts and sciences, but such advances were seldom originated by governments or by millionaires. The railroad, the automobile, and the airplane were not invented by aristocrats or bishops, or even by wealthy businessmen but by men of limited means from ordinary families. Some of these inventors and business pioneers prospered and became part of their nations’ elites, but others, found that, in the words of Andrew Carnegie, “pioneering don’t pay. ” Thus, the inventor of the sewing machine died broke and Alexander Graham Bell beat a rival inventor to the patent office by a few hours. And there were so many others, luckless men and women, crushed by circumstance, who were poor through no fault of their own.

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  3. Frank,
    Kudos for a well articulated response. Let me briefly take your paragraphs one by one:
    1. I essentially agree with your first paragraph, though my stress was less on a wishy washy response to plutocracy by progressives (with a few exceptions) than that Social Darwinian [sic] elites– self styled as of the late 19th C. have always “been with us”– like the poor

    2. You’re right, I hold with Elizabeth Warren completely (and go further) and was only presenting the “company line” that most of the elite truly earned their place there; the majority did not

    3.Your next paragraph on the unfair cycles of wealth>elite college> wealth and no student debt contrasting with middle over working class students saddled with crushing loans

    4. Again, regarding elite claims of landmark achievements, perhaps I was too straight-faced and not clearly arch enough. I don’t think anyone would deny that the Pharaohs built the pyramids, the Chinese emperors used a cadre of proto engineers to manage the empires rivers, that cathedral builders were churchman and kings, granted using funds spiritually extorted in large part from the believing peasantry, and military/scientific educated elites put men on the moon, etc. under the directions of elite presidents or presidents purchased by the economic elites. And of course non-elite innovators (on a spectrum of wealth and privilege) get credit for a great deal of progress. Often however the ultimately came to be Backed by elite or became part of the top elite (Edison?, Ford?) through their resourcefulness.

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  4. I think the best way to describe the role of governments in creating cultural monuments and other public works is as entrepreneurial, adopting an idea and then commanding and organizing the resources to carry it out.

    It appears that the majority of Americans nowadays have not the slightest awareness of the massive part played by the federal government in such national achievements as the revolution in transport, the construction of the railroads, the development of the computer and the internet. Even where there is bound to be awareness of government involvement, as
    with the GI Bill, TVA, the moon landing, the interstate highway network, and that most impressive of all, the incredibly successful mobilization of the US economy during World WarII, such successes are not viewed as demonstrating that government has functioned effectively in the past and that there is no reason why it cannot do so in the present and future.

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