“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Liberals contrived a story in folk psychology that they have tried, with varying success, to hoist upon the hoi polloi since the muckraker days. In this story, the explanation for the inequality of wealth in America is that the member of governing class are greedy. Supposedly, some weird disparity in the greed quotient explains why bankers gouge third world countries, or scarf up the pension funds of retired airline employees. As a cartoon, this has a certain vividness; but as a reiterated rhetorical trope, it has ended up convincing only those who mouth it.

The idiocy of the thing is two fold. First, the greed explanation is unlikely. The third world coffee picker or the black lung afflicted coal miner isn't less likely to be less greedy than the emerging markets manager -- they simply don't have the large scale opportunities to exercize their greed. We suspect that behind this unbelievable picture is another picture, that old myth of some chosen people -- the working class, the urban black, the feminist lesbian collective -- which seems to haunt lefty projects. Perhaps it is time to say hasta la vista to all of that. History has no special peoples or classes. To work against oppression is one thing; to assume that the oppressed are expecially virtuous is quite another. If the lefty journalist or movement worker doesn't know this, the oppressed themselves sure as shit do. While they -- the oppressed -- are as happy as any other biped to be flattered for virtues they don't possess, usually these are virtues of the powerful: strength, for instance, as in living in a country strong enough to bomb the crap out of a less powerful country. The virtue by identification syndrome tends that way.

The second idiocy is that the rhetoric obscures and actually skews the actual progressive progam, which should be about encouraging the working class to pursue its self interests with the same techniques that the governing class employs. David Brooks has promoted the idea that, if you look at polls, the endebted class identifies with the creditor class so that it votes for the interests of the creditor class. Brooks thinks this is all about hope; LI thinks this is all about hopeless economic illiteracy. The argument for creating a pursuing countervailing egalitarian trends in a capitalist political economy that tends towards extremes of wealth is that the endebted class is never going to leap the gap to creditorhood unless it limits the gap. When the agricultural laborer or the waitress makes her two hundred thou a year, she can decide, then, whether to vote for her further monetary aggrandizement or whether she can afford to listen to the better angels of her nature. But the better angels are just telling her the cold truth when they advise her to attack as she can the difference between the rich and herself. Among other things that the current state of equality has wrought is a certain connective poverty -- the endebted class can not only not make the money of the wealthy, their kids and their housing and their connections are no longer in the vicinity of the wealthy. Increasingly, the upper management type segregates him or herself in neighborhoods of her or his kind, sending their children to schools where the janitors kids are only seen if they come in to help the janitor. Anybody who has studied the recent "science of networks" knows that connection -- social capital, as it is euphemistically called -- is essential to the preservation of class status.

So instead of coming out full bore against greed, perhaps progressives might think of coming out for countervailing greed. In any case, they shouldn't reach for the term anytime they want to handily abuse the wealthy. Because the word has zero resonance.

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