The phrase "class warfare" is making the rounds here in the United States. President Hopey-Changey would like to restore tax cuts for the rich implemented during W's first term. Republicans, who have chosen 1st-term Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan to carry water for the wealthy interests, have declared that imposing "new" taxes on the rich amounts to class warfare.
At moments like this, I wonder why I still get out of bed to write these blog posts. We've always had class warfare in the United States, with the rich winning most of the battles. The distribution of the income & wealth has waxed and waned over these last 200 odd years, with the middle getting a greater or lesser share depending on the times. In the decades after World War II, the middle had a larger share than they normally do.
This has been called America's Golden Age, and for good reason. The good times ended as the 1970s wound down. The latest class war started in Reagan's first term, and that war has been all but over for many years now. The share of wealth & income going to the rich is greater than it's been at any time since the late 1920s. No doubt this share will only increase in the future.
The data demonstrating the truth of these statements is freely available to anyone who cares to look. But the rich have so thoroughly won this war that nobody cares to look. A large number of Americans have been so effectively propagandized over these last three decades that they have, against their own best interests, completely bought into the idea that the rich deserve everything they have and more, even if it comes out of their own pockets (which it does). This perverse stance presents yet another challenge to the notion that our misnamed species Homo sapiens, in its guise as Homo economicus, is fundamentally rational.
This latest class warfare nonsense indicates that human beings are fundamentally malleable. Propaganda works. Every American, if they were honest with themselves, would need to deconstruct every piece of pernicious junk floating around in their heads, stuff like the rich are deserving of everything they have and more. An American harboring this bogus assumption might ask himself: where did this self-defeating nonsense come from?
Unfortunately, few will engage in this useful exercise, for the same propaganda that persuaded them that the rich are deserving also says that thinking is not in their best interests, and the real enemy is those who have the temerity to question popular assumptions.
If you want to go down this admittedly dangerous, discomfiting path, a good place to start is sociologist G. William Domhoff's website Who Rules America?
Q: So, who does rule America?
A: The owners and managers of large income-producing properties; i.e., corporations, banks, and agri-businesses. But they have plenty of help from the managers and experts they hire. You can read the essential details of the argument in this summary of Who Rules America?, or look for the book itself at Amazon.com.
Q: Do the same people rule at the local level that rule at the federal level?
Q: Do they rule secretly from behind the scenes, as a conspiracy?
A: No, conspiracy theories are wrong, though it's true that some corporate leaders lie and steal, and that some government officials try to keep things secret (but usually fail).
Q: Then how do they rule?
A: That's a complicated story, but the short answer is through open and direct involvement in policy planning, through participation in political campaigns and elections, and through appointments to key decision-making positions in government.
Q: Are you saying that elections don't matter?
A: No, but they usually matter a lot less than they could, and a lot less in America than they do in other industrialized democracies. That's because of the nature of the electoral rules and the unique history of the South.
Q: Does social science research have anything useful to say about making progressive social change more effective?
A: Yes, it does, but few if any people pay much attention to that research.
There it is — few if any Americans pay much attention to that research. I have explained just above their utter lack of curiosity about who rules America, and the obvious effects it has on their well-being.
A video of Elizabeth Warren has gone viral lately. In an informal talk on the campaign trail in Massachusetts, Warren points out some fundamental but inconvenient truths about the relationship of the rich to the rest of us. That's a good place to end this post. For some Americans, maybe it will be a good place to start the long journey toward understanding the society they live in.