A couple of worthwhile reads during the Christmas downtime, and most appropriate for what’s supposed to be a season of giving.
Matt Taibbi writes in A Christmas Message from America’s Rich:
People like Dimon [as both CEO of JP Morgan Chase and Chairman of the New York Fed, he gave his own company a bailout], and Schwarzman [Blackstone CEO, who said the poor do themselves a disservice by not having skin in the game] , and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.
What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.
Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It’s called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don’t do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn’t take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life’s savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.
But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.
Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things. Or, if a person did do those things, you’d at least expect him to have enough shame not to whine to a Bloomberg reporter when the rest of us complained about it.
But these people don’t have shame. What they have, in the place where most of us have shame, are extra sets of balls.
And “drdlpenwell” writes in Jesus and the Plutocrats:
The argument by those who contend that the wealthy must be protected from the suggestion that they don’t already give enough, an especially nimble plutocratic dance move, goes something like this:
“The wealthy earned their wealth through hard work. Moreover, the wealthy create jobs with their wealth. Therefore, everyone who’s not wealthy has a vested interest in the wealthy accruing as much unfettered wealth as possible. So, let’s don’t make them feel bad for being so successful.”
Leaving aside the myth of the “job creators,” it’s important to articulate the assumptions that underly this sentiment. At its base, the “don’t tax the wealthy” approach to governance assumes that society will be better off in the long run if wealthy people not only get to keep all of their wealth, but are appreciated for the mere fact of being wealthy. On this account, not only is wealth a communal good in the abstract, those who possess wealth, unless proven otherwise, also find themselves on the noble end of the moral spectrum in virtue of their wealth.
Of course, this conflation of wealth and honor isn’t new. The whole idea of describing character and behavior as noble comes from its historic attachment to the nobility (L. nobilis)–that class of citizens who were “well-known or prominent”–which class, generally speaking, also implied an association with wealth.
However, the equating of virtue and wealth doesn’t just have implications for how we view wealth and wealthy people and their responsibilities to society; it also affects how we view poverty and poor people. If being wealthy is understood to be a communal good, then being poor cannot help but be understood as a communal vice–a status to be avoided. Poor people have not only themselves to blame as individuals, perhaps just as importantly, the implication is that they’re not pulling their communal weight. The idea that poor people, as Stephen Schwarzman says, don’t have “skin in the game” is worthy of comment.