Speaking of Self-Delusion

While we’re on the subject, Heather Wilhelm has a darned good explanation of my own impression about so much of the debate on income inequality in the United States:

Once you look past the patent silliness and First World problems of the almost-rich mentally scapegoating the already-rich, it becomes increasingly clear why income inequality has become the anxiety of choice for the upper-middle-class left. If you’re mad about your neighbor’s private jet, after all, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to ignore the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who was just denied access to a quality charter school—thanks, of course, to the charter-blocking policies of the politicians you voted (and perhaps raised funds) for.

The real income inequality isn’t among people in the United States at all. It’s between the people of the United States and rural farmers in most of the rest of the world. It will be much easier to take the prescriptions for ameliorating income inequality seriously when people start talking redistributing from the rich to the poor rather than from the rich to the “almost-rich” who will, of course, use the money on behalf of the poor.

28 comments… add one

  • steve

    Just another stupid version of the envy argument. First off, the guy with a private jet is not your neighbor. He might be neighbors with someone else who has a private jet, but not with people who cannot afford one. That said, most people dont care if some guy who invents a new product or starts a new company makes it big. We actually idolize those people if you look at what actually makes it onto TV and into other media. However, people are concerned about the huge concentration of wealth into the hands of few people who add no discernible value to the economy. 40% of GDO growth in the boom of the aughts went to the financial sector. What do we have to show for it?

    Also, the wealthy are much more involved in politics than most people were willing to recognize. Now that we can track even just a tiny portion of this on the web, it is clear how influential they are. Add in Citizens United, the clamor over the 501s, leading presidential candidates being almost entirely financed by one rich guy, and I dont think it is that difficult to see why people are concerned. Throw in the last straw of having the wealthy control the media, and if anything I am amazed that people think this is not a problem.

    Steve

  • steve

    Forgot to add, what is with the charter thing? There is no evidence they really improve outcomes, it just moves students around. The only thing it improves is parental happiness. Same with vouchers. AFAICT, they dont cost a lot, so if people want them, go ahead. But, if your real concern is that poor kid she is talking about, you need to do something other than charter schools. I suppose that will wash any latent guilt feelings away that she might have (doubtful), but doesnt really achieve anything.

    Steve

  • Just another stupid version of the envy argument.

    I don’t think it’s envy. I think it’s opportunism. The “almost-rich” want to go after the rich for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks.

  • As I hope I’ve made clear, I don’t know what to do about educating the poor inner city kid (those are the kids my mom spent forty years teaching). I see the failure to produce anything resembling a plan of action as a failure of professional responsibility on the part of teachers. The proletarianisation of teaching.

    It’s obvious that spending money is no solution. We’re spending more than three times as much per student in real terms as we did twenty years ago without a great deal in the way of results.

  • steve

    I am disappointed Dave. You apparently see no inherent problem with wealth becoming increasingly concentrated among fewer people. I dont really care what the almost rich want to do. What power do they have to implement things anyway? The problem lies with a small group of people who have the means (and will it seems) to have an outsized level of influence on the economy and our politics. Since this has been going on since the late 70s, early 80s, what do we have to show for it? Are there any indications it will get better?

    Agree with you on education, mostly. We actually do a pretty good job of educating middle class and above kids. We suck at educating the underclass, of all races. No one has a good, workable solution. Where I would disagree is that this is more than a problem with teachers. It is also a cultural thing.

    My most experienced advanced practice nurse is married to a guy whi is principal at a high school in coal country. Dirt poor, lots of meth and oxy around. Couple weeks ago he met with a mother who was concerned about her daughter and asked him to watch out for other girls who she thought were trying to catch the daughter alone and beat her up. After the meeting the mother drove the daughter to a pre-arranged fight with another girl. How do teachers cope with that?

    Steve

  • What power do they have to implement things anyway?

    This kind of power.

  • ...

    I am disappointed Dave. You apparently see no inherent problem with wealth becoming increasingly concentrated among fewer people.

    :/

  • ...

    Elsewhere this morning I’ve been ripping conservatives for their particular brand of bullshit. (The poor will all run out and get the jobs THAT THEY SAY DON’T EXIST just as soon as welfare benefits are reduced to zero.)

    What we’ve reached is a state in which every single issue is “contested” by carefully defined false dichotomies. So that on every issue, you either agree with someone entirely on every single point of contention, or you are for the exact opposite on everything.

    Incidentally, there’s evidence for this. You will not find a supporter of the President who will disagree with him on anything. Everything he does is wonderful, and everything the opposition does is awful.

    One the other side, everything the likes of Cruz does is wonderful, and don’t bother pointing out small details. For example, lots of righties are all in favor of President Cruz. If you point out to them that Cruz’s resume is just about as thin as Obama’s was in 2008* they’ll accuse you of being an Obama supporter.

    And God help you if you actually point out numbers to anyone on any issue. I’ve still got Republicans telling me that Mitt Romney’s budget plans (which were Paul Ryan’s budget plans) would have the country’s balance sheets balancing quickly.

    * That is, why should we expect Cruz (or Rubio, or Rand Paul, or Paul Ryan) of being a better executive and administrator than Obama has been? It’s great if the guy believes the same things you do, but can he get things done?

  • The poor will all run out and get the jobs THAT THEY SAY DON’T EXIST just as soon as welfare benefits are reduced to zero.

    Yes, that’s a particularly repellent instance of self-delusion and another case in which I think they genuinely believe it but I don’t find that exculpatory.

    And God help you if you actually point out numbers to anyone on any issue.

    Now we all have our own facts. In another comment thread I’ve got just such a conversation going on with Michael, who believes that rising healthcare spending ipso facto means more people are being treated.

  • ...

    Now we all have our own facts.

    It’s beyond that. Back in 2012 we hashed Hell out of Ryan’s budget proposals in the comment section here. It was found wanting on a great many levels when examined on its own. This wasn’t a case of having one person say, “Here’s a report that states THIS!” and then having someone else say, “But this report says NOT THIS, so I’m right!”

    That budget didn’t hold up to any scrutiny simply if examined on its own. The only outside sources one had to look at were the most recent actual federal ‘budgets’ and a chart of historic US growth rates. That was all it took.

    And yet, various Republicans still state that Ryan is the guy for a good, balancing budget. Incredible.

    (And I don’t want to hear any crap about the Romney/Ryan budget being better than whatever Obama had put forth. Even if I grant that, so fucking what? Romney was running at least in part on accountability and competence. In that case, produce a budget and be accountable for the work. And if it isn’t competent, well then….)

    It’s no better on the other side. We’re still being told that every single thing Obama has ever done has been wonderful, including such obvious fuck-ups as the economy and the roll-out of the PPACA.

  • ...

    One simply can’t point out any actual dishonesty or incompetence to the supporters of this group or that. They will not accept it.

  • ...

    Christ Almighty, now I see we’re going to discuss the name of the Washington Redskins again. Because nothing else of note is going on in the world. Public discourse suffers from an infestation of squirrels; it’s like seeing rats overrun those towns in the Outback years back.

  • ...

    This isn’t exactly what I’m thinking of, but it is close enough. Except that we’ve got squirrels instead of rats. Look, a CEO at Mozilla once gave money to a non-approved cause! Burn him! Burn him! And here’s a racist owner of a basketball team! Hey, here’s the President’s NCAA bracket! Here’s John Boenhner telling us about his favorite fake tan-in-a-bottle products! Here’s a Nigger With Attitude looking to buy an NBA team off a guy that doesn’t like black people!

    Here’s the latest from Marvel Studios! Here’s a new best seller about middle aged women in bondage – who want it that way! Here’s the latest dead drug-addict celebrity, and here’s the family members saying they had no idea!

    And on and on and on and on….

  • ...

    Here’s an athlete acting like they own the place! Crab and Punishment! Here’s the latest selfie from James Franco – and President Obama’s latest selfie after the break!

    Here’s how Jan Brady became a gun-totin’ bad motherfu-Shut your mouth! (Can you say that about a middle-aged white woman?!) Is Miley Cyrus sick again? Is Chelsea going to have a boy or a girl? Will she run? Will her Momma run? Is Kate the most popular princess ever? Here’s a fabulous dinner that you can’t have for $2,000!

    Eat it up suckers, ’cause we’re just gonna skim over the important stuff. We’ll tell you just enough to throw around some terms at dinner parties (if you’re THAT sort of person), or tell you just enough to put you in your place if you aren’t.

  • steve

    “This kind of power.”

    Sigh. Yes, it is disconcerting that an organization representing millions of people can donate as much money as a few thousand wealthy guys from the finance sector. However, we know that is just the tip of the iceberg. If Senator Bullmoose wants his kids to have good jobs and his friends to succeed, he cozies up to those who have the influence to provide jobs and connections. Ever notice that ex-Senators dont go work at the Post Office when they leave office? They dont join the AFSCME workers at the federal cafeteria? What are the chances you see an ex-Congressman delivering mail? Working for a big bank, law firm, defense industry, telecom, etc? Chances are pretty darn good. Think they get those jobs based purely upon merit? Sure.

  • The problem with your analysis is that the actual amounts of money just don’t support your claim but they do support mine. Docs, teachers, realtors, and bankers have been contributing to political campaigns to the tune of enormous sums for generations but you wave it off. That docs, teachers, realtors, and bankers all benefit tremendously by Congressional action is, presumably, just a coincidence.

    The answer you gave the last time we had this discussion, “Well, the numbers are invisible”, really isn’t very convincing.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. If I had my way income distributions would be a lot different than they are now (and political contributions would be, too). But the dependence of the top 3% of income earners on government for their incomes far surpasses that of the top .1% and that’s what I worry about more.

  • ...

    That docs, teachers, realtors, and bankers all benefit tremendously by Congressional action is, presumably, just a coincidence.

    Hmm, how big a chunk of the economy is that? Hmm.

  • ...

    Yes, it is disconcerting that an organization representing millions of people can donate as much money as a few thousand wealthy guys from the finance sector.

    It is when the millions of people are more interested in screwing the other few hundred million people in the country than they are in anything else. Makes them no better than the oligarchs.

  • That touches on an area of disagreement between Steve and me. I think that the producer surplus of healthcare is at least 30% of the total. He thinks it’s much less, presenting cross-country wage comparisons as evidence. I respond with cross-country wage comparisons of specialists and note that there’s a worldwide market for GPs (but, generally, not for specialists) and, consequently, high U. S. wages push the wages up worldwide.

  • PD Shaw

    I’ve regularly had Wilhelm’s observation while watching young “journalists” on MSNBC complain about inequality. Some of this is aesthetics. These are obviously very-well educated people that grew up and among the upper middle classes, and they don’t have the “dirt level” experience of earlier generations of journalists.

  • It is when the millions of people are more interested in screwing the other few hundred million people in the country than they are in anything else.

    That’s where the “roomful of money” theory comes in. I do not believe that teachers, for example, are “more interested in screwing the other few hundred million people in the country than they are in anything else”. I think that they believe that somewhere there’s a roomful of money and all that needs to be done is to take some out of that room and they can have anything they want what they deserve.

    It’s an amazingly prevalent and powerful theory.

  • PD Shaw

    I don’t really care much about income inequality, as do almost all Americans. I care more about number of jobs, costs of education, healthcare and housing, and whether the Redskins should change their name.

  • ...

    These are obviously very-well educated people that grew up and among the upper middle classes, and they don’t have the “dirt level” experience of earlier generations of journalists.

    Journalism used to be a trade, a craft, even. When it became a profession, it all went to Hell. And to the upper middle-class.

    (I actually think several people from this little community have made that point over the years. I think all have done so as a lament.)

  • ...

    It’s an amazingly prevalent and powerful theory.

    Yes, and when times were fat they could believe that. Now times are lean, and the bastards need to quit with the self-deluding bullshit.

  • ...

    I’m tired of the self-delusion of the privileged, and I’m tired of both the explicit and implicit collusion. At some point, these folks, many of whom are the self-appointed best and brightest, need to have their heads put into the fire until they see the light.

    But then, I am more tired and cranky than usual.

  • jan

    Wilhelm’s piece is aggravating for progressives as it points out the absurd, in a mocking, absurd fashion. Normally, this kind of rhetoric is exclusively owned by the progressives in their humiliating pillaring of conservative opponents . So, to have it turned back at them, making them appear like an arrogant, selfie-oriented societal class of people must provide a few teeth-clinching reflective moments they rather not have to deal with in any form of public discourse.

    I might add that when a poster negatively alludes to the Citizens United decision or the tea party 501c3 groups, as being unfair financial sectors contributing somehow to income inequality or some of the dismal financial problems we have today, I go back to the 2008 election where Obama opted out of the financial restraints of Campaign Finance Reform guidelines, after he agreed to abide by them with McCain. This was done because he wanted more money from big donors, some of which were poorly documented and even linked to overseas contributors.

    Also, as the Open Secrets link indicates, the democratic party is flush with organizations and rich donors seeking to ‘buy’ elections for their candidates, while they vehemently complain when it’s done by opposing parties . In fact the unions have long been in the pocket of the democratic party,arbitrarily donating union-collected dues to primarily democratic causes. To then go after the more middle-class, blue-collared tea party groups forming, trying to hold them back from having a non-profit status, seems alarmingly biased, especially when it involves using the IRS as a governmental instrument to accomplish this. This was decried when Nixon tried to do it with one group.W why is it now considered a phony scandal when it’s happening to multiple groups under Obama?

    Going back to the topic of Campaign Financial Reform — dems are trying to re-introduce legislation dealing with such reform — Udall from CO, I believe is sponsoring a bill. It’s ironic,though, being it was the dems who reneged on curtailing obscene amounts of money going into a campaign when it suited them. Now, they want to roll it all back, again, when it suits them. At the same time, the WH continues to court rich Silicone Valley CEOs, Hollywood elites, and other billionaires, bringing the next generation of billionaires into their lair just a week ago.

  • Andy

    “If Senator Bullmoose wants his kids to have good jobs and his friends to succeed, he cozies up to those who have the influence to provide jobs and connections. Ever notice that ex-Senators dont go work at the Post Office when they leave office?”

    Sure, but it seems like it’s pretty much always been that way. There’s never been a time when elites haven’t run this country and used their “eliteness” and position for their own benefit. The difference today, I think, is that the federal government has a lot more power, so the ability for politicians to peddle influence is much bigger. In essence, federal government insiders have a lot more power which strengthens the revolving door and creates incentives for all the problems you cite. Additionally, the sense of “noblese oblige” among elites is much diminished. IMO that is a consequence of the boomer generation and seems likely to continue with the next generation.

    Having said that, I think the role of money and “buying” elections is very much overwrought. You mention presidential candidates funded by rich individuals, but the track record there isn’t very good. Gingrich, for example, came in a distant third in the GoP primary despite all the money Sheldon Adelson threw at his campaign. And, considering that Presidential elections now cost well over a billion dollars per final candidate, the influence of rich individuals marginal in the aggregate. Finally, no amount of money can assure a candidate can get votes and, at the end of the day, votes is what gets candidates into office. Until money can actually buy votes, money’s influence will always be subject to other factors. Money and elite influence can, potentially, get one into a position to compete for office, but it is far from a guarantee for victory.

  • steve

    Dave- The number of teachers making up those contributions is in the millions. The number of bankers in the low(ish) thousands. What are the chances of an individual teacher getting to sit down and talk with a Senator? An individual banker?

    Andy-
    “Sure, but it seems like it’s pretty much always been that way.”

    Sure, but it can always get better or worse. If the wealthy elite control more of the wealth, they have more ability to influence outcomes. More ability to avoid being caught doing so.

    “The difference today, I think, is that the federal government has a lot more power, so the ability for politicians to peddle influence is much bigger.”

    I ma not so sure about having more power. It used to set prices for huge sectors of the economy. Used to draft people. While we worry about the NSA, the govt much more overtly spied on folks in the past. Meh. I think this all leads up to the argument that if govt was just smaller, the elites would have less to influence. I dont see it that way. When governments have been smaller, it looks to like elites have had just as much or more influence. Try to find a time in history when smaller govts were not dominated by the wealthy of the land.

    Steve

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