Thursday, February 20, 2014

If the 1% wants class warfare, maybe it's time to start fighting back

From The Guardian UK:

What Tom Perkins and Co don’t know can only make the rest of us stronger, Tuesday 18 February 2014

The White House administration official who proposed taking on “income inequality” as the dominant theme of Obama’s second term must have thought the move was at least halfway clever: I mean, try as the Right may to argue against the administration’s preferred mechanisms to undo income inequality, honestly, what kind of jerk would straight-up defend it? 

Well, it turns out there are two kinds. Call them the emotional alarmist and the pseudo-scientific apologist. Both variations were on display in the past week, in the form of zillionaire Tom Perkins and economist-to-the-zillionaires, former Romney adviser Greg Mankiw. Both Perkins and Mankiw are correct to be worried about how the widening income gap might inspire more class consciousness. They’re just wrong about which side is the underdog.

Perkins, the venture capitalist and emotional alarmist, has been in the news quite a bit lately, due to his Wall Street Journal letter-to-the-editor comparing agitation about income inequality to declaring war on the wealthy. Specifically, declaring World War II: Perkins warned that “‘progressive’ radicalism” is the “descendent” Kristallnacht.

The ensuing uproar had Perkins rethinking his vocabulary but not backing down from the imagery. “Kristallnacht should never have been used,” he said in the splashy aftermath of the assertion. “I regret the use of that word. I don’t regret the message at all.” In other words: I’m sorry I used a term that refers to the early stages of the Holocaust, but we’re in the early stages of a Holocaust. At a Fortune magazine event last Thursday that took its name from the larger point of his original screed – “The War on the 1%” – he went a step further. Higher taxes, he said, will lead to the “economic extinction” of the 1%. So there you go: he didn’t mean genocide, he meant something worse. At least as far as Tom Perkins is concerned.

The use of a Nazi metaphor is so provocative, and apologizing for it is so vital, that it’s easy to lose sight of what else is wrong with the Perkins analogy: it’s not the rich who are being attacked; they are now the ones doing the attacking. The metaphor was terrible – and he got it backwards anyway. There is, for instance, already one side of his imagined conflict living in ghettos. Even more to the point, there is not an epidemic of rich people dying younger and younger or becoming sicker and sicker. Would it comfort Tom Perkins to know that the “life expectancy gap” in America is widening even more quickly as that of income? In 1980, the richest Americans could expect to live about 1.8 years longer than poorest; by 2000, they could expect to live 4.5 years longer, a jump of almost 40 percent. Meanwhile, income inequality has increased by 25 percent.

This is good news for the apocalyptic scenario of super-rich America! Perkins and his compatriots won’t have to fight off the poor; they’ll just have to wait them out. Far from facing “economic extinction”, the 1% will just have even more trouble finding good help.

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