Rich Americans control the nation's wealth and its power. They're hoarders with bigger houses, a collection of Howard Hugheses who see poorer people as threatening germs. They hear the non-rich banging at the gates so the rich are calling for help. And The Wall Street Journal is there to provide it.
Remember when the venture capitalist Tom Perkins wrote a letter to the Journal last week worrying that the Google bus protests were a step down a path toward the German night of anti-Jewish violence known as Kristallnacht? In its effort to step up to the plate for Perkins, the Journal's editorial board first had to get the Nazi analogy out of the way, which is generally a sign your argument is an uphill one. "[A] useful rule of thumb is not to liken anything to Nazi Germany," the editorial board writes on Thursday, eager to get to its broader defense of Perkins' real argument: that the rich are put-upon and at risk.
The Journal's concern about the Nazi analogies is short-lived. That sentence then continues, "unless it happens to be the Stalinist Soviet Union." Or, in other words: "you may not make Nazi allusions unless you are comparing Stalinists to Nazis, and by the way Stalinists were anti-capitalist." You may also use Nazi allusions in headlines. The essay is called "Perkinsnacht," implying that Perkins has fallen victim to Kristallnacht-like violence, thereby making precisely the same Nazi comparison that Perkins first made.
At Politico, Ben White explains "Why the rich are freaking out" — or, more accurately, explains that the rich are freaking out in a very he-said-she-said manner. An anonymous rich person explains the thinking to White, no doubt while standing in the shadows of his own personal parking garage.
“You have a bunch of people who see conspiracies everywhere and believe that this inequality issue will quickly turn into serious class warfare,” said this person, who asked not to be identified by name so as not to anger any wealthy friends. “They don’t believe inequality is bad and believe the only way to deal with it is to allow entrepreneurs to have even fewer shackles.”
And he means serious class warfare, it seems; actual French-Revolution-style barricades on Park Avenue. The rich are worried we are coming for them, and that they will be unable to run to their helipads fast enough on knees weakened from inbreeding.
Salon's Alex Pareene, who in 2012 brilliantly explained the then-Romney-focused fears of America's wealthy, returned to the subject on Monday. "What makes the wealthy persecution fantasy so risible," Pareene writes, "is that our political class is responsive almost solely to the priorities and views of the rich, but the fantasy serves a purpose: It prevents Congress from actually acting to address economic inequity."
As The Wire explained earlier this week, wealthy Americans demonstrably and disproportionately influence politics to their benefit. "[W]e listen to their opinions, no matter how stupid they are," Pareene writes, "because our elected officials listen to their opinions, and their jobs depend on not recognizing or acknowledging how stupid they are." That's a particularly ungenerous formulation, but it's not wrong. The rich have the resources that politicians need to keep their jobs, both money and influence, and politicians trade an open door or a spot on the golf course for those resources. And the priorities of the rich — less government spending resulting in hopefully lower taxes, fewer business constraints — become priorities on Capitol Hill.
That's influence. It's power. What the rich subconsciously fear isn't that the poor will forcibly take their homes or, Kristallnacht-style, smash their floor-to-ceilings — the rich fear losing that influence. The Journal made that point quietly at the end of its Perkins defense: "The liberals aren't encouraging violence, but they are promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents." The rich fear losing power, just as surely as they fear losing their money.
Last year, a survey found that the rich are saving money at three times the rate that they did in 2007. They hoard it. "This whole hoarding episode just tells us once again that any society that lets wealth concentrate at the top is making a very foolish move economically," Sam Pizzigati of the Institute for Policy Studies told the Huffington Post. But we "let" that wealth concentrate because the wealthy have also hoarded political power.
What's remarkable about White's piece and the Journal's defense is how terrible the justifications for the hoarders' fears are. Have you ever seen the actual show Hoarders? Every tiny, nonsensical rationale for why something might someday be useful is enough justification for never getting rid of it. Similarly, any tiny perceived or actual slight is a reason to fear the barbarians who operate their own washing machines. Bill de Blasio didn't plow the Upper East Side of Manhattan! Obama's IRS "targeted conservative political groups for scrutiny in an election year"! Obama ranted against inequality! Liberals were mad a rich guy called them Nazis! Therefore: We must protect this mansion.
There's always been class conflict; it's often tracked closely with how far apart the economic classes are. Ironically, the paranoia of the wealthy demonstrated by Perkins and his defenders only makes matters worse, causing people to more directly question why on Earth we ever listened to them in the first place. Hoarders need psychological help to break the grip of the obsession. Here's hoping they receive it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.