|The nation’s super-rich have decoupled
themselves from the fate of the nation
Something happened the other day that spooked me. I was caught off guard by a casual comment made in my presence by a fantastically wealthy former senior economic adviser to the Obama administration.
I happen to know that this man (and let’s face it, senior economic advisers still tend to be men) has paintings by Picasso and Cezanne on the walls of his cavernous penthouse overlooking Central Park. You could say he represents one percent of the one percent, the cream of the cream. The very sunlight seems to rearrange itself around him to illustrate that he’s a person of some stature.
Even from a distance he looks like a fabulous emissary from a world of superior tailoring and hairdressing.
Perhaps its because his skin glows courtesy of what I presume are the organically farmed sustainable vegetables his live-in chef prepares for him nightly. Further study reveals, for a man in his fifties, a notable absence of worry lines.
People like this, and there are many of them, now live in an alternate Harry Potter universe of comfort and ease that we mere mortals can never enter.
They are not bad people, mostly. I have some experience of being in their rarefied orbit and I have learned this much -- their concerns are not as yours or mine.
In fact we might as well be speaking Urdu to them these days. Increasingly we’re just a kind of hive-like background noise they hear in the time it takes to walk from the cab to the club.
I listened as someone asked this man this week if he was at all worried about the growing sense most Americans have that the nation’s super-rich have decoupled themselves from the fate of the nation?
He was worried, he replied. It’s very worrying to think that the majority of people in the nation are starting to think dark thoughts about what the future really holds for them and the rest of the middle class.
That wasn’t the part that spooked me. Asked if he had any suggestions about what to do to stop the one percent from their increasing isolationism, their retreat from the life of the nation, he said this -- no. He had not one idea.
This is one of the senior economic advisers to the Obama administration. He was charged with the task of rescuing America from the sea of economic troubles that surround it. He was stumped.
In fairness to him, he was given a particular job to do involving a targeted industry and he performed his task to the satisfaction of all. I don’t doubt his competence.
What I do worry about is the strength of his (and other people in his income bracket) commitment to the democratic ideal of equality.
There was a time when our lofty plutocrats saw the point in promoting the general health of the nation as a worthwhile consideration. Now, in the era of the global markets, nation states and their fortunes aren’t nearly the pressing or patriotic concern they once were. Obamacare can take a hike too, they’re telling us.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was right -- the rich are different. The problem is they keep on getting more and more different from the common herd.
When you are living in a country, but no longer of it, you can start looking and acting like the Anglo Irish lords and ladies our ancestors came here to escape. It’s why men like this one can sound so stumped by the problems confronting the people who actually live in it.
The thing about the last decade, the era of George W. Bush, is that economically, politically and often spiritually it felt like a lost one.
If a functioning middle class is the key to a functioning democracy (and it is), by the time of the housing crash it was becoming harder to make the case we still have one, and our gridlocked Congress makes it even harder.
In addition to losing a major share of America’s income in the last decade, the country’s middle class saw most of its wealth wiped out. A volatile stock market (boom times for Wall Street and a major housing bust for the us) have stripped middle-class assets, decreasing their net worth by almost 30 percent and erasing two decades of solid growth, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
We can’t rely on the highborn doyennes of Washington or the party they bankroll to bail us out of this mess.
These days they have neither a plan or a need to.
Like the Anglo Irish of the 19th century, they’ve retreated to their castles and in every way we’re on our own. It’s time we admit it.