In the fever swamps of the white-right, the conversation is about whether President Obama is a socialist, a fascist or a communist — as if they even knew what these critters are. The more on-point provocative question is whether the rich hate the American middle class and have declared war on it.
I know, I know: This is going way over the top, Talton. The crisis enveloping average Americans has been building for decades and comes from complex sources, not a conspiracy, for goodness sake. The capital markets may produce some destructive results, but it's not part of a master plan devised over cigars and cognac in the VIP suite at the Oval Room. True enough. And there are some inspiring examples of some wealthy people giving to worthy causes. This is a complex issue, which makes it beyond the talk radio- and television-addled masses. Still, it must be addressed. It doesn't take a conspiracy to create a community of interests that produces a similar result. Phoenix and Arizona are a textbook example with the Real Estate Industrial Complex.
Somebody pushed for questionable trade agreements, job offshoring, union busting, monopolistic industrial concentration, the shredding of pensions and benefits, a financialized economy, deregulation, big government welfare for corporations and the lowest taxes on the rich in generations. Somebody continued to expand these policies even after their destructiveness was well known. Somebody profited hugely. Now, with the Great Recession, the long and growing estrangement between the elites and the rest of us has snapped. Corporate America sits on $1.8 trillion cash while millions face years of unemployment and most see years of wage stagnation. Two Americas, indeed.
Don't take my word for it. Even Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal has written about what it calls "this surprising decoupling," quoting Michael Lind of the New America Foundation:
If the American rich increasingly do not depend for their wealth on American workers and American consumers or for their safety on American soldiers or police officers, then it is hardly surprising that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people. The rich don’t need the rest anymore.
The story continues:
Some would argue this is a vast overstatement. The U.S. remains the largest consumer market in the world and still matters to Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Lloyd Blankfein alike. The American wealthy benefit greatly from the country’s legal system and business transparency, not to mention its armed forces.
Yet the increasingly global elite do seem to be forming something of their own financial culture, unattached to any single nation or set of rules, and increasingly free to move their money and resources (and tax dollars) wherever they are treated best.
Rather than having a second home in Richistan, an increasing number of rich people seem to be moving their money there full time.
Understanding this phenomenon takes us into three distinct but interlocking groups. First are America's millionaires and billionaires. They increased their share of national wealth during the Great Recession while the rest saw their share fall, a virtually unprecedented event. Their numbers have rebounded close to their 2007 peak of nearly 3 million. They are increasingly gaining from overseas markets. Second are the capital markets themselves, including the big banks, the shadow banking system such as hedge funds and trading markets both regulated and unregulated (about $600 trillion is the "value" of the play money in the unregulated derivatives market). They, many worry, hold America hostage through debt and demands for "austerity." Third are corporations nominally headquartered in the United States, but have much or most of their operations and jobs overseas (and some have moved their headquarters there, as well). Together, these elites have captured the federal government and all too many politicians of both parties. A good many of them spend billions to lobby and fund right-wing organizations.
It doesn't really matter if they are consciously plotting against the middle class. The kid dealing drugs on the corner didn't mean to shoot an innocent civilian. Both are savagely greedy, desperate for instant gratification. Only the poor, underclass people, victims of tax-cut schools and lack of real jobs, face punishment. This was one of the subtle themes of the HBO series The Wire that apparently made white viewers so uncomfortable. The elites are so detached from the lives of average Americans that one is reminded of the old Soviet politburo, where it was said that its members' shoes had not even touched the cobblestones of Red Square for decades.
In the case of the American nomenklatura, they are after "multiples" of growth that can only come from forcing down the living standards of most Americans who live off their paychecks, not their investment portfolios, from destroying America's productive economy and infrastructure. If that means sending jobs, plants and entire industries overseas, so be it. If that means more mergers and layoffs, and now an effective national hiring freeze, that's just business. These things are essential to preserving the constant outsize growth of wealth for these playerz. It's not sustainable, but since when have the really rich and coddled people been smart?
The point is that the interests of the average American and the plutocracy have diverged in almost every area. The plutocracy and their allies have destroyed places like Dayton and now they're coming for you. That the ditto heads and Fox viewers don't get it is immaterial — the ruling elite want you stupid and distracted. Indeed, a couple of areas remain where the antagonists behave similarly. Jim Kunstler has written of the "worship of unearned riches" that has corrupted middle America, most obviously with the proliferation of gambling. Second, sprawl, endless driving and the destruction of real towns and cities has severed the bond many Americans feel for place. Thus, for example, "cutting back government" or postponing work on climate change become abstractions, not acts that will damage your community. Americans have voted for their fate not only through repeated "conservative" electoral victories, but every time they shopped at Wal-Mart or left a real place behind for a walled-off set of tract houses.
We're in an situation not seen since the latter 19th century, from robber barons, speculative swindles and income inequality to hatred of immigrants. The differences would make a wonderful historical discussion, but I worry that our mess is more explosive. I just don't know which way the charge will blow.
Addendum: If you want an example of the war on the middle class by the capital markets check out this swindle pulled on the Denver school board. Then there is the constant drumbeat about the huge deficit in pensions for public-sector workers, here framed as a class war between government employees and taxpayers. Really? The conflict actually highlights the consequences of consistently underfunded government, due to irresponsible tax cuts, and a group of middle-class workers who retained the pension promises once common in the private sector, but have been steadily taken away by the economic elites.