Rich Deserts

From In These Times:

Our new cult of money ensures that breeding shall evermore speak to breeding.

BY Chris Lehmann
October 20, 2012

On the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests, Americans got a pointed reminder of the country’s steady drift into plutocratic rule: Mother Jones magazine released the now-infamous video of GOP nominee Mitt Romney speaking at a Florida fundraiser. In his remarks—inconveniently delivered at the Boca Raton estate of hedge-fund manager Marc Leder, renowned for hosting raucous summer sex parties in the Hamptons— Romney dismissed half the country as professional “victims” so disfigured by their dependence on government that “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Of course it’s just not true that 47 percent of the nation’s population are indolent moochers who vote for Democrats as a unified bloc the same way that baby robins sing in unison at feeding time. But never mind. Romney is dealing not in policy prescriptions, but in social mythology narrowcasted to flatter his audience at the $50,000-a-plate event—to garland the fanciful notion that the biggest winners in today’s capitalist marketplace are also the possessors of the greatest swaths of plain human virtue.

But the real scandal is not what Mitt Romney professes to believe, but that this counterempirical canard is now the standard mantra of our commentariat. Consider one entirely representative specimen that appeared around the same time that Romney’s oligarchical bantering became public: Nina Easton, the Washington senior editor for Fortune, composed the September cover story “Is It Still OK to Be Rich in America?” Easton excitedly notes that the United States is not, strictly speaking, a hereditary aristocracy. “Most of the 1.4 million taxpayers who make up the top 1% gained their wealth through their own efforts rather than by inheritance,” she burbled, even though precisely no one within OWS was suggesting that the 1% was a class of coddled scions. And Easton duly intones the pet shibboleths of the overclass’s pet virtue-mongers: Wealth ultimately flows from the mystical provinces of education and culture—two realms that government can’t effectively control and that, by sheer coincidence, are taken to be the spontaneously won endowments of the model new rich in today’s America. “During the post-World War II decades, a period of extraordinary income equality that economists label the Great Compression, Americans had a relatively common and unifying set of incentives and values,” Easton primly marvels. She omits to mention that at the height of postwar prosperity, Americans enjoyed historic rates of union membership and enacted upper-bracket marginal tax rates of 90 percent.

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