January 23, 2012

So tally ho and sally forth, brave class warrior! Forge into battle by resurrecting cheesy, century-old cartoons of evil capitalist robber barons flicking cigar ashes on Uncle Sam and evil giant capitalist starfish sucking lifeblood from “the people.” There’s nothing cliché or oversimplified about any of that.

Unless it’s for laughs, I’m not especially turned-on by any group’s infantile demonization of any other group. I might talk about how one group seems dumber, less logical, more annoying, uglier, or smellier than another group, but you’ll never hear me using that mystically retarded and emotionally arrested word “evil.”

By the way, have you seen “the people” lately? Is there really much worth celebrating there? The main problem with a classless society would be its utter lack of class.

And I am no emotional stranger to class envy. Fifteen years ago, I wrote a book largely motivated by it. I still believe working-class whites are routinely scapegoated for deeds they had no power to commit, then or now. I still believe that one’s economic class partially dictates one’s options and shapes the way one ends up viewing the world.

And I still believe, just like any twelve-year-old does, that life is often tragically unfair. Some people probably “deserve” to be richer and some poorer, but how might one propose unraveling that tangled ball of squirming sea worms?

But I’ve also come to believe that at least some forms of “wealth inequality” are due to the, well, unfair fact that humans are themselves unequal. Some people pretend as if every great fortune is nothing more than random good fortune—i.e., luck. Er, good luck with that theory. Or there’s the presumption that behind every great fortune—not some, but every—is nothing more than theft, greed, and remorselessly pulsating, writhing, Medusa snakes of evil. But you can’t explain it all away with a dumb magic-wand incantation such as “evil.” That’s really not…fair.

I think it’s fair to say that envy is not the sanest or most durable plywood upon which to build one’s entire political and philosophical platform. Fighting greed with greed just turns the whole world into pigs. So a little less oinking and a little more working, please. And kindly have the manners to never mewl about “the rich” when you are around people who are obviously poorer than you are. It’s not classy at all.

What’s most insulting about being rubber-stamped with this “you’re only apologizing for the rich” charge is the assumption that I have ever claimed to be anything more than an agnostic regarding economic matters. At most, I know that economics are somewhat bound by mathematics, but they’re also inextricably chained to human nature. But I have yet to pore over the Laffer curve and the Gini coefficient to any appreciable degree. One day I’ll use my slide rule and abacus and try to reach immutable conclusions about economics. But for now, I remain an econotard.

For the love of Pete—and to be fair, I don’t know who “Pete” is—all I’d said was that I distrust the government, especially their practice of making me significantly less rich by seizing money from me and spending it on things I never chose to buy. In my little world, that seems more than a little unfair.

In the end, I got one of my verbal sparring partners—the “toady” one, not the “stooge” one—to acknowledge that neither of us had the world-class economic expertise to say with certitude what sort of financial system would not only be most desirable, but most workable. Fact is, we simply weren’t well-versed enough in the topic to reach any firm conclusions.

On that we shook hands, which seemed fair.



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