Sunday, November 04, 2007

A World Without the Rich

“A World Without the Rich” (found via Robot Wisdom auxiliary):

“. . . the most insidious way whereby the rich corrupt American society. They corrupt the nature of society itself by turning their corrupting powers and dubious satisfactions into cultural standards for the rest of America. The great if largely forgotten social critic Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) made this point precisely and with disarming if utterly cynical simplicity. Wealth, Veblen argued, was a source of honor, and thus having it created an invidious distinction. Others emulated the rich to achieve wealth and status. Seeing this, the rich manifest their dominance through conspicuous consumption, which also has the happy effect of controlling and corrupting American institutions, as I have suggested above in the cases of elite higher education and medical care.”


“Instead of stripping the rich of their predatory and envy-making wealth, several hundred million Americans put their hopes and dreams into a chase after wealth and an orgy of conspicuous consumption. No more just social order emerges. No, instead the rich and their divine right are affirmed. After all, how can you be against wealth and predatory power if you chase it? Millions of American lives are wrecked in emulating the rich and pursuing their path. Millions more may not emulate the rich, but the rich and their wannabees economically and socially run them over anyway in the great chase for wealth and power. The poor, the working classes, hell, everyone in the bottom four fifths of American society are exploited by the rich at the same time they are upbraided for falling behind. You’d have to be a swell not to notice that the rich create a standard of living that only the rich can afford.

Ponder this and this observation of Thorstein Veblen’s:

‘The fact that the usages, actions, and views of the well-to-do leisure class acquire the character of a prescriptive canon of conduct for the rest of society, gives added weight and reach to the conservative influence of that class. It makes it incumbent upon all reputable people to follow their lead. So that, by virtue of its high position as the avatar of good form, the wealthier class comes to exert a retarding influence upon social development far in excess of that which the simple numerical strength of the class would assign it. Its prescriptive example acts to greatly stiffen the resistance of all other classes against any innovation….’ (Penguin Books, 1994, 200)”

Highly progressive taxation would cure a lot of the problem (it is remarkable that countries with the least progressive taxation rates are also those where pursuing the ‘American Dream’ is the most hopeless).  Of course, every country is moving in the opposite direction.