Reading this post from Andrew Gelman, I was reminded of certain of Chamfort’s anecdotes about ancien regime society in France. For instance, this one:
“Do you know why, M. said to me, one has more integrity in France in one’s youth and just up to thirty years than past that age? It is because, after that age with us, one is undeceived – for with us one must be the hammer or the anvil; one sees clearly that the vices under which the nation trembles are irremediable. Up to then, one resembled a dog which defends the dinner of its master from the other dogs; after that age, one is like that same dog, who takes his part with the others.”
This has the stamp of the cynicism characteristic of the end of the regime. But at the end of our regime, the old democracies, giving way rapidly to plutocracies of the vilest type, one has to amend the fable, for the guard dogs in the American republic, incredibly enough, simply switch from defending the master to defending the pack of dog thieves. Their reward is to think that they are somehow, by being dogs, like the dog thieves.
Of course, they are encouraged in this belief by a rather rotten, financial unstable, but still necessary print propaganda machine. Time Magazine, through thick and thin, has assured us that the pack of dogs are the finest fellows in the world, all sprung from log cabins and making their millions by the sweat of their brows. Thus, as Gelman quotes a story in Time assuring us credulous outsider dogs who hold the mag in our earnest little paws that the top layer is made up of smarties and the most industrious:
“[Sam] Lessin is the poster boy for today's Times story on Facebook "talent acquisitions." Facebook spent several million dollars to buy Lessin's drop.io, only to shut it down and put Lessin to work on internal projects. To the Times, Lessin is an example of how "the best talent" fetches tons of money these days. "Engineers are worth half a million to one million," a Facebook executive told the paper.”
Gelman provides this gentle little corrective:
We'll let you in on a few things the Times left out: Lessin is not an engineer, but a Harvard social studies major and a former Bain consultant. His file-sharing startup drop.io was an also-ran competitor to the much more popular Dropbox, and was funded by a chum from Lessin's very rich childhood. Lessin's wealthy investment banker dad provided Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg crucial access to venture capitalists in Facebook's early days. And Lessin had made a habit of wining and dining with Facebook executives for years before he finally scored a deal, including at a famous party he threw at his father's vacation home in Cyprus with girlfriend and Wall Street Journal tech reporter Jessica Vascellaro. (Lessin is well connected in media, too.) . .
It is almost Horatio Alger time in Bush-Obama America – you too can rise from the bottom if you only manage to get the keys to your dad’s vacation home in Cyprus!
However, as in ancien regime France, where Chamfort felt the undercurrents and eventually transformed himself from a disabused observer of the nobility to a very fine revolutionary writer proposing their at least collective decapitation, in ancien regime America one feels that the currents underneath are gathering against the plutocratic orgy at the top. There was a remarkable Gallup poll released a couple of weeks ago and touted by the right that showed that only 47 percent of the American people supported heavy taxation of the rich to produce an unspecified ‘redistribution’ of the wealth. I was astonished – almost half the country would support the most radical measure I can think of. Specify that ‘redistribution’ – say, instead, heavy taxes for ‘deficit reduction’ – and the numbers go way up. Pew shows that more than 40 percent of the Republicans support that. In spite of the money poured into position management (the news networks, the think tanks, the media in general), the screws are shaking loose of the machine.
Such moments are unpredictable. In 2008, the electorate thought that they were voting for change from one or the other candidate. Instead, they were voting for the continuity of Bush’s policies, with a little Romneycare thrown in for good measure – a policy that is in many ways less helpful than Bush’s much more expensive pill bill. A Republican treasury secretary and a Republican Defense secretary have been the pillars of our ‘bi-partisan’ policy. A Republican Fed chief can look back with satisfaction on a policy of loaning over 6 trillion dollars to the wealthiest Americans at 0.025 percent interest (a fact I enjoy pondering so much that I would like to include it in everything I write to the day I die) and leveraging a stock boom and a commodity futures greedorama. Which act was disguised behind TARP, so that comparatively few Americans realize how TARP was dwarfed by the free money policy. And those who do realize it are assured, in infinitely patronizing tones, that the Fed and the Obama administration only took the painful course of making the rich much, much richer because it was good for all of us – otherwise, it is laissez faire all the way!
The dogs, with their Cyprus summer homes and their Harvard pedigrees, will fight for the gigantic scraps of an economy that is still a world historical wonder for a while, while the middle class squabbles because some among them, after working twenty to forty years as public employees, actually get the pensions they were promised twenty to forty years ago. Unfair! It is squabbling dogs all the way down. But I’m thinking some of the dogs are suspecting there is no master at the table, and that the top dogs are, well, weaker than they look. Oh, let that moment come!