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