[Editor’s Note: The following post is by TDV contributor, Wendy McElroy]
Early immigrants fled Europe to America because the New World offered a glistening promise: the classless society. It was not a society without rich and poor because freedom always produces an inequality of results. It was a society in which people were equal under fair laws and they could move fluidly from one class to another. The North American dream said people could rise by merit and hard work into economic independence and become the rulers of their own lives.
My ancestors are among the 50% of Irish immigrants who did not die in journeying to the 19th century's brave new world. Immigrants knew the risk and accepted it because they hungered for their children to stand on both feet as the equal of any man. For most of my life, I did. Or it was close enough.
The immigrant dream ends
The Obama administration is busy completing what has been a slow erosion of the classless society in America. History is prelude. It tells us that, when the classless society is dead, it is replaced by class warfare. To a massive extent, the replacement is already in play.
Some aspects of the increasing class warfare are quintessentially American and contemporary: minorities v. whites, women v. men, gays v. the non-approving. But the two oldest forms still lead the way and they fuel all the other warfares: the rich v. the poor, the legally privileged v. the productive.
[Note: the rich are often called the 1%. The definition of rich and who belongs in the 1% is fluid but it commonly refers to millionaires and households whose annual income exceeds $250,000. The 1% allegedly owns the political structure and so oppresses the 99% through wielding undue influence.]
Resentment of what is called “the 1%” has grown into a blind anger directed at anyone who is rich. No distinction is being made between two fundamentally different categories of 1%ers: those who acquired wealth through economic excellence (free market competition); and, those who acquired wealth through state privilege. It is a key distinction in at least three ways.
The productive rich:
• validate the American dream and so give hope to everyone;
• take nothing from people except in a free exchange for value;
• enrich the general economy by producing genuine wealth.
The state-fed rich:
• invalidate the American dream by disabling merit in advancement;
• steal through taxes and policies barring competition and opportunities;
• drain the general economy by living off wealth produced by others.
In other words, not all 1%ers are equal. In fact, the productive v. the state-fed constitute two distinct and antagonistic subclasses within the more general class of “rich”.
Resentment of the rich in America is now between 'simmer' and the boiling point. Alas, revolutions and warfare rarely pause long enough to draw such fine distinctions between rich people. And, so, it is in the interest of the state-fed rich to preemptively ensure that people believe it is the productive 1% who are a problem; the state-fed 1% are the solution, and on their side. The rush is on among the state-fed to ensure that public rage flows toward the productive, not toward them.
The state is conducting a full-court press to demonize and punish the productive. Rather than lower taxes, the state points to the wealthy who secure their assets from theft through foreign investments or by conducting business abroad; “they're stealing your tax-money and jobs!,” it tells Americans. Instead of saluting the private sector as an engine of production and employment, the state introduces knee-buckling regulations like Obamacare; “they're the reason you don't have equal pay, full time employment, health care and pensions!,” the state exclaims to voters. We are the voice of the oppressed, Obama proclaims.
Meanwhile he slips billions to banks and to Wall Street. More billions are handed to privileged industries, like green power. The privileged industries are “the solution” even when the funds vanish and the companies are exposed as miserable failures. What is it they solve? They solve the free market and the choices of a free people. They cure freedom itself, because freedom is the deadliest enemy of the state and the state-fed. If only the people could be made to believe it was their enemy as well…
Like Lenin's Rolls Royce
Where does America fall between simmer and boil? An indication that class warfare is on the brink or over the edge is when leaders no longer bother to hide the discrepancy between their majestic lifestyle and that of those who go without to provide it.
Obama has been called the “food stamp” President. From the time Obama assumed office in January 2009 through October 2012, the number of people on food stamps spiked from 31.9 million to 47.5 million, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture. Approximately 1 in 7 Americans and 1 in 4 children participated. The program's cost doubled in four years, from $30 billion to $72 billion. The number of enrollees has continued to increase dramatically. Some of the growth is politically-motivated. For example, Democrats have aggressively expanded dependency because the dependent are more likely to cast sympathetic votes. But much of the growth is because America is getting 'hungry' in the most literal sense of the word.
Meanwhile, the spending of tax-money by the Obama family is so extravagant that it cannot be hidden. The Independent Journal Review (Feb. 11, 2014) ran the headline “Whoah! Obama's Opulent State Dinners Cost Taxpayers About Half A Million Dollars Each”.
Can Obama pull off the pretense of championing the oppressed while living a Louis XIV lifestyle? This is a key aspect of convincing the public that the productive 1% and not the parasitical class are the problem. There is historical precedent for believing he might pull it off.
Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik Revolution to create a classless state; any history book will tell you that. But did he? In the same year the Soviet Union was formed (1922), Lenin treated himself to a Rolls Royce – the rich man's car. His first Rolls was the top-of-the-line Silver Ghost, which he purchased for 1,850 pounds. That amount is currently equivalent to 85,530 pounds or $142,835 US (at a conversion rate of 1.67). The purchase was made during the Russian famine of 1921 which lasted through 1922 and killed an estimated 6 million people. And, yet, history keeps a straight face in calling him “a man of the people.”
Or, perhaps, Obama and the state-fed 1% no longer feel a need to convince the public. Perhaps they have become that comfortable in their power.
The poor in America have always resented the rich; after all, Americans are human beings, and that is a human response. It is akin to a physically plain person envying someone who is naturally beautiful.
But the similarity ends (or did end) there because the poor used to know that they or their children could rise through merit and hard work. And, so, resentment of the rich was tempered and usually expressed in relatively innocuous ways like gossip or slander. But when the poor are robbed of opportunity, the resentment turns malignant. When the poor see their children go hungry while rich ones dine with silver off porcelain, the resentment boils. Sometimes it erupts through laws against the productive 1%, which become the legal equivalent of confiscation. Sometimes it erupts against the state, which is insurrection and revolution.
The state vastly prefers the former. Expect productivity and merited success to be painted as theft and corruption. Expect the sleight-of-hand to become a sleight-of-fist.
[Editors' Note: The old American Dream has taken on a new form. Today the American Dream has re-constituted itself in the form of the Permanent Traveler lifestyle, largely abetted by technology and new forms of communication. To learn how to arbitrage this, click here.]