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Pitchforks

by Colman Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 05:27:36 AM EST

I know we've covered this elsewhere, but I think this is a notable piece, capturing the capitalist arguments for some sort of social justice that we've covered here often enough. Massive inequality doesn't even make economic sense for the very rich.

Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and Iím sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us donít. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isnít bad for capitalism. Itís an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable. And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us.

The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. The folks like us at the top have always told those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically, we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics.

What nonsense this is. Am I really such a superior person? Do I belong at the center of the moral as well as economic universe? Do you? My family, the Hanauers, started in Germany selling feathers and pillows. They got chased out of Germany by Hitler and ended up in Seattle owning another pillow company. Three generations later, I benefited from that. Then I got as lucky as a person could possibly get in the Internet age by having a buddy in Seattle named Bezos. I look at the average Joe on the street, and I say, ďThere but for the grace of Jeff go I.Ē Even the best of us, in the worst of circumstances, are barefoot, standing by a dirt road, selling fruit. We should never forget that, or forget that the United States of America and its middle class made us, rather than the other way around. Or we could sit back, do nothing, enjoy our yachts. And wait for the pitchforks.

Politico, weirdly enough

Elsewhere the writer makes the argument that a rich population will make the already rich better off in absolute terms.

What I fear he's missed is that too many people aren't concerned with their absolute wealth, only their relative wealth: they need other people to be very poor so that can feel very rich.

Once you accept that excessive inequality is a bad thing you're arguing about the details of how you deal with that. The current argument almost everywhere is whether people having to depend on the charity of food banks is a good thing or not.


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He's also missed, or avoided, the issues around class and race in the US.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 05:29:05 AM EST
The very rich (at least the more intelligent ones) don't have a problem with the argument above - after all they will still be very rich after some income re-distribution, and that re-distribution can be regarded as an insurance payment against economic and social revolution.

The problem lies with the nearly poor - the once who are a little better off than the very poor but feel very threatened by the very poor.  Unlike the very rich, they can't buy the political system, pay for security guards, and develop off shore businesses and properties.

The nearly poor guard their minor differentials with the very poor very jealously - and invent all sorts of religious, economic, racial, and political reasons to justify and fortify those differentials, of pay, of status, of property location, of education, and a whole load of spurious indicators of their relative moral superiority and "merit".

Any political "interferience" in those (often very minor, and sometimes only symbolic) differentials are met with extreme hostility - crys of "socialism", social deviance, criminality, laziness, racial inferiority, religious apostasy, and concrete actions like police repression, pogroms, racial rights, dismissals, redundancies, threats of disinvestment and off shoring, and political mobilization - see Tea Party in the US and various zenophobic nationalist parties in EU.

The very rich regard those nearly poor with absolute contempt, but also with some bemusement, because the nearly poor direct their anger not at the very rich (home they aspire to join), but at the very poor (who they fear and detest). Conservative parties foment, manipulate and channel this anger to ensure the nearly poor vote solidly for them rather than with their more natural allies, the very poor.

So don't be surprised that the mega rich like Buffett and Gates support higher taxes for the rich, and engage in all sorts of philanthropic activities. There are only so many Yachts you can enjoy. But expect the fiercest opposition form the nearly poor who struggle every day to differentiate themselves from the great unwashed very poor.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 07:11:58 AM EST
I'm not sure that's true, necessarily. It's quite clear that some segments of the very rich, concentrating only on the next quarter's results, are entirely opposed to the argument in this piece, either because they believe whole-heartedly in the idea that their riches reflect their brilliance and moral superiority or because they can use it to manipulate others.  

Very rich people can be stupid too.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 07:27:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From one mega-rich individual to another, I suspect there are different attitudes to status and power.

First of all, which of status or power is their vibe, or what mix in what proportions? Some may prefer status as feedback from others in their group or just below it, or as approbation from society at large (the philanthropic temptation). Others may mainline on the power their situation offers.

On status, I don't think it's right to say that the mega-rich have all the status symbols they could jones for, so they don't need to pursue further enrichment. There is always something higher to "aspire" to. My private jet is the right one to have. I own an island, or my island is bigger than your island. Humans are constructed to keenly feel even minute disparities in standing at whatever social level.

People like Gates, Buffett, or Soros go for the high status of major philanthropy which gives them positive feedback from society, governments, international institutions, NGOs.

Then there are certainly those who get their kicks from the exercise of power. Over people, large organisations, enormous sums of money. Over the political process in their country and increasingly transnationally.

In all cases, these people are driven. There is some big thrill they get from capturing and using wealth. This is why they don't just give up and retire with a big enough bundle of billions, but go on fighting for more.

Please note I'm not supporting the view that these are exceptionally talented or deserving people. Just restless, driven, ruthless, lucky... or plain fortunate to be born into the money.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 09:04:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're rich it's not a personality disorder.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 09:23:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're poor we can diagnose you at age three.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 09:45:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But being "driven" to be rich or to aspire to enormous power/status over others can be evidence of deep seated insecurities or immaturities and CAN be evidence of a personality disorder (however you may wish to define that somewhat contentious term). Not only are rich people often very stupid, they are often very immature as well - although I have no evidence to suggest that that may occur in greater proportions in the rich than in the general population.  However I would argue that seeking to define yourself and others in purely material terms IS a personality disorder, and a very sad one at that, because if you were then to lose your wealth you would effectively lose yourself as well..

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:15:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was joking, but not entirely:
A person is classified as having a personality disorder if their abnormalities of behavior impair their social or occupational functioning.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:20:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It impairs their social functioning.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:21:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That may not be how they see it. After all, wealth and high status are a social reward.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:27:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Few people with personality disorders perceive themselves to have one, surely?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:28:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose most people who voluntarily go to a therapist (as opposed to beig referred to one) do so because they themselves perceive "their social or occupational functioning" to be impaired.

This appears to tbe case at least for obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Psychologist even have nice Greek terms for this: Egosyntonic and egodystonic behaviours:

Many personality disorders are considered to be egosyntonic and are, therefore, difficult to treat. Anorexia nervosa, a difficult-to-treat Axis I disorder, is also considered egosyntonic because many of its sufferers deny that they have a problem.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is considered to be egodystonic as the thoughts and compulsions experienced or expressed are not consistent with the individual's self-perception, meaning the patient realizes the obsessions are not reasonable.

The social dimension of all this is illustrated by stories such as The Affluenza Defense: Judge Rules Rich Kid's Rich Kid-ness Makes Him Not Liable for Deadly Drunk Driving Accident (Time, December 12, 2013).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:39:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is not a very good definition as many social and occupational contexts require very deviant functionality.  A well adapted torturer or concentration camp guard would have no personality disorder by that definition.  Also, the term "personality disorder" is generally used in a psychological, psychiatric and medical context which results in pharmaceutical treatment rather than any consideration of the sanity or appropriateness of the social or occupational context.  Remember, the last pope referred to gays having a "disordered personality" which by your definition could be objectively true if their sexuality impaired their "social or occupational functioning".

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:59:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is not a very good definition
I suppose the DSM series of manuals is not very good, eh?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 12:35:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 12:39:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it really isn't.

Like capitalism, it's merely less bad than any of the alternatives.

Frank is right - diagnosis depends heavily on social context, and Darwinian success gives you a get-out-of-jail card.

It's not individuals who need to be diagnosed, but the disconnect between stated and actual collective values.

And there's no DSM for cultures.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 12:41:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank is right - diagnosis depends heavily on social context, and Darwinian success gives you a get-out-of-jail card.
I thought that was my point, while Frank was trying to argue there is some objective notion of personality disorder?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 02:12:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was arguing that the whole concept of personality disorder is problematic - at best - with it's lack of a social contextual critique being it's most obvious flaw. It's the way a dominant social order defines those who don't/won't/can't easily accommodate themselves to it as "sick". By that definition anyone who wants to change society or adapt to it or can't exhibit it's preferred sexuality etc. is defined as being the problem, when the problem may be societal.

Of course, if they have internalized the values of the dominant social order and/or want to adapt to them but find that they can't, then they, themselves, too may consider themselves to be "sick" and exhibit behaviours characteristic of sickness.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 05:12:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At least the fact that the problem may be societal is hinted at by the inclusion of the "impairment of social or occupational functioning" as part of the diagnostic criteria. So the DSM is not all that bad. What's lacking is a translation of that into a societal debate about inclusivity of idiosyncratic behaviours.

How to deal with antisocial personality disorder ("sociopathy") is a different kettle of fish.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 05:37:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you'll find that the whole focus of the Psychological/psychiatric/medical professions is to "cure", "rehabilitate", or assist in the adaptation (sometimes forced) of the individual to society, and not vice versa.

ps I am not arguing that society or employers don't have legitimate requirements they can impose on individuals/employees, or that individuals who have difficulty meeting those requirements don't experience real problems - financial, legal, social acceptance/status, self-esteem, etc. which can result in real psychological problems, self harm etc. - just that the level of adaptation possible/desirable is variable and the stresses involved can be too high.

It may not always be in the best interests of the "patient" to even try, and a "caring" profession and professional diagnostic criteria should not be totally focused an enforcing/enabling conformity. It may be a cliche and only true in a minority of cases, but most social change is due to unreasonable and otherwise remarkably mal-adapted or unconventional people. If you are rich or richly talented, you tend to get a pass when others do not.

The professional/client relationship is also about power and the medical model is remarkably reductionist seeking to find "medical causes  or symptoms" for "personality disorders" which can be "cured"  for behaviours which may have social origins or which might be "functional" in other contexts. Medical model approaches to (say) addiction have been remarkably unsuccessful when compared to more holistic approaches.


Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 06:00:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you'll find that the whole focus of the Psychological/psychiatric/medical professions is to "cure", "rehabilitate", or assist in the adaptation (sometimes forced) of the individual to society, and not vice versa.
"Vice versa" quickly turns into patient advocacy which may get intensely political and be a career killer for the brave medical professionals who attempt it.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 06:07:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely, but in Ireland at least, and to some degree elsewhere, there is increasing recognition of the need for patient advocacy groups, patient charters, and more consultative and holistic approaches to patient care. We should not be surprised that the slow process of human evolution over the millenia has had difficulty coping with the pace of social/technological change in the past 2 centuries, in particular. Many of the "personality disorders" now regarded as deviant/unfunctional may have had some evolutionary advantages in some contexts in the past.  On the other hand nature can be pretty brutal about eliminating those with poor adaptation skills...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 06:17:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No. Famously so.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 12:48:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect (from the ones we've known or known of) that there are very rich people who got that way more-or-less as a byproduct of doing something they enjoy or are very good at and those for whom the pursuit of huge amounts of money and/or power is a symptom of a disorder.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:20:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding philanthropy: it has economic value - If you are Bill Gates and your company is on the verge of being divided in two, nobody really likes you then moving your money into a foundation to eradicate malaria will transform you into a saint overnight. You will become politically untouchable, because you "gave" your money to a good cause.

And, you lose nothing from it: Look BG still is considered one of the richest man on the planet in spite much of it being managed by a philanthropy organization. Indeed, it might even make sense from a financial perspective: granted you have to invest ~4% of your worth per year, but there are no taxes to be payed. Sound wealth-management if you ask me, especially if you are in a growth industry. But even if you are not, the money that you have to spend can be spent in many ways that is directly and indirectly recouped.

Oh, and another thing regarding the approach here that the tide that lifts all boats benefits all (bottom-up version). It does not if you define your wealth in the power that you have over others. For example:

In the time of the fascist dictatorship my grandmother served (she was a servant, really) at a house of rich people. She would get room and board for her work. She was quite "lucky" that she served on a house where she could eat the left overs from her masters (as oppose to servants in other houses which had very-low quality food for them). In a society where the poor have some affluence, the rich will have no servants (or at least will have to pay them dignifying wages). If you are a sociopath and like to put the rabble in their place, there is clear advantage in a more poor society: even at the expense of ones own wealth.

And if you are really wealthy, it really does not matter the absolute value of your wealth: there is only so much food you can eat, so many cars and houses you can have.

At some levels, a materialistic view makes no sense: its all about power and class relations.

A big caveat: do not get me wrong - I am not suggesting that rich people are sociopaths (indeed I believe the sentiment is evenly distributed around classes). I am just making the point that material arguments are not the major issue and any arguments built around materialism capture very little of what might be going on.

PS - And regarding goals like eradicating malaria: you must think of yourself with god-like powers if you believe that you can accomplish such thing. This is probably a good indicator on how some people in the upper echelons see themselves.

by cagatacos on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:23:21 AM EST
Malaria may be beyond our reach. But we killed smallpox, and we could easily kill polio, measles and a few other vaccine-preventable conditions with no animal reservoir, given the requisite political will.

In fact from a purely technical perspective it would be completely trivial relative to the power of a fully mobilized industrial society. Most people in first-world countries would not even notice the expense.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:44:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Except that people in first-world countries are busy bringing back diseases by not vaccinating their children.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:46:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, so a small minority of citizens of first-world countries would notice the effort, since the effort would involve rounding them up and giving them the choice between vaccination or a quarantine camp.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 11:53:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Rich people are more dangerous as sociopaths, because they're not constrained in the same way that poorer sociopaths are. Sociopathy, wealth, and power are pure social poison.

A poor sociopath might murder a few people. A rich sociopath might murder a few million. At the very least they'll cause personal misery on a much wider scale.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 12:44:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Pitchforks Are Coming... For Us Plutocrats - Nick Hanauer - POLITICO Magazine
If we don't do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn't eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It's not if, it's when.

As I mentioned in the WE open thread, between a police state and a pitchfork uprising, Mr Hanauer fellow zillionaire's choice is quie clear.

by Bernard (bernard) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2014 at 05:02:37 PM EST
Well, the ancient Rome was a highly unequal society, especially during the transition from the republic to the empire. The society was dynamically stable for centuries. Even the dream of most Spartacus men was to exchange the positions with their lords rather than to change the system. The ancient Mycenae, Sparta, Athens were just as unequal - and are we going to argue about the ancient Egypt, Babylon? Or any other great civilization?

After a few decades of egalitarian confusion, the humanity is perhaps turning to a very stratified global society. What is more crazy - to assign this to calculation, indiscipline, or suspect well-tested human instincts?

by das monde on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 08:24:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was dynamically stable only as long as it continued to expand, and there was a promise - no matter how unlikely - that if you spent enough time in the army and didn't get killed you'd get a farm and a wife.

Once it became obvious that there was no possibility of progression no matter what you did, it because the Roman equivalent of the 1% were keeping everything and trying to take more, it started to decay.

The only thing that kept it alive was immigration. Instead of making promises to natives, the 1% began making promises to foreign mercenaries, because they were cheaper and easier to fool.

Eventually the mercenaries turned on what was left of the Empire and ate it from the inside out. The Eastern empire split off to become a theocracy, and the Western Empire stopped being an Empire altogether.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 01:21:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A neat analysis! We are on the same track on those parameters - still attractive to emigration from the non-first world. Just the speed appears much higher - and the civilization will be eaten outside out as the last prey of Venture Capitalism, no? All with a whimper...
by das monde on Thu Jul 3rd, 2014 at 01:33:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Archdruid Report, June 25, 2014
Arnold Toynbee, whose monumental work A Study of History has been a major inspiration to this blog's project, proposed that civilizations on the way to history's compost heap always fail in the same general way. The most important factor that makes a rising civilization work, he suggested, is mimesis -- the universal human habit by which people imitate the behavior and attitudes of those they admire. As long as the political class of a civilization can inspire admiration and affection from those below it, the civilization thrives, because the shared sense of values and purpose generated by mimesis keeps the pressures of competing class interests from tearing it apart.

Civilizations fail, in turn, because their political classes lose the ability to inspire mimesis, and this happens in turn because members of the elite become so fixated on maintaining their own power and privilege that they stop doing an adequate job of addressing the problems facing their society. As those problems spin further and further out of control, the political class loses the ability to inspire and settles instead for the ability to dominate. Outside the political class and its hangers-on, in turn, more and more of the population becomes what Toynbee calls an internal proletariat, an increasingly sullen underclass that still provides the political class with its cannon fodder and labor force but no longer sees anything to admire or emulate in those who order it around.

by das monde on Fri Jul 4th, 2014 at 08:29:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, to a very considerable fractions of its population, a slave economy is indistinguishable from a police state.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Jul 7th, 2014 at 07:15:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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