The crybabies at the American Spectator have put out their new cover, a heaping load of hysteria that equates a proposal to raise taxes to a death sentence for . . . is that Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly?
That these hacks don’t hesitate to take up the sartorial mantle of Jazz Age plutocrats says a lot about the Right’s self-image. But as someone who writes for a magazine who uses the National Razor as part of its branding, I feel moved to respond.
Of course, this cover is just the latest in Piketty mania: everyone in publishing wants to get a piece of the sensation who can sell a bunch of books without featuring a single mythological creature (outside his definition of capital). Piketty says what everyone who’s been paying attention has known — has felt in their bones — for years: the rich are getting richer. But they’re also getting more brazen, and that’s caused the few remaining well-heeled with consciences to cast nervous glances over their shoulders.
So that trickle of piss running down James Piereson’s leg and pooling in his wingtip is another iteration of billionaire victimology, just another boring maneuver from the Reagan playbook that kids these days are totally over. Yes, after the massive heist of the financial crisis of 2008, exactly one Wall Street executive, Kareem Serageldin, is heading to jail, while thousands of victims head to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Serageldin’s Christ-like gesture: to do thirty months for the sins of the financial elite.
Not a bad deal — and yet how they complain. They whine about being called “banksters” — the ignominy of such disrespect is enough to make the Chateau Petrús turn bitter in one’s mouth. On the other coast, tech-overlords are so intimidated by the specter of tax-raising masses that they’ll sink millions into childish fantasies of Galt Islands, while openly disdaining democracy.
Meanwhile, their cadre of aspiring thought-Führers are working on new theories of racist Social Darwinism, bolstered by the fashion for Malthusianism among the superrich. If “bourgeois morality” ever existed, it’s dead now: today’s decadent elite are among the most immoral to ever exist.
If today’s capitalists can’t physically secede, at least their money can. Rather than invest cash into new companies and technology, plenty of the rich (when they aren’t simply sitting on it) sink their riches into more stable investments, like luxury watches and handbags. Much safer that way: your Patek Philippe will never go on strike or demand a higher wage.
Sometimes US lefties trip on how happy things could be by pointing to social democracy across the pond, but things aren’t much better there. In Perry Anderson’s assessment, members of the European political class from both ends of the spectrum loot with impunity:
Commonplace in a Union that presents itself as a moral tutor to the world, the pollution of power by money and fraud follows from the leeching of substance or involvement in democracy. Elites freed from either real division above, or significant accountability below, can afford to enrich themselves without distraction or retribution.
The worst you get if you’re caught with your hand in the biscotti jar is a text message from arch-villain Tony Blair telling you to keep a stiff upper lip and pop a couple Xanax.
When Marx undertook his analysis of capitalism, he sought to describe its internal laws and tendencies independent of any malice, greed, or hatred among individual owners. But the class system on which capitalism depends (unlike Piketty, Marx didn’t argue that capitalism produced inequality, but that it started from it) produces a real loathing, and fear, of the poor on whom it relies.
We could see this mixture of hard-heartedness and chickenshit boot-quivering as the class struggle landing a few blows squarely on the bourgeois psyche. But it makes it that much easier for the feral rich to justify the outrageous violence that is an integral component of maintaining current property relations, weekend class warriors steeling themselves for the counterrevolution.
It’s the same phenomenon that lets cops (and now even just your run-of-the-mill racist citizen) kill unarmed people because they “felt threatened” — though so many of these unarmed dead people possessed “superhuman strength,” it’s no wonder we’re arming cops like they’re contra death squads. After all, violently grabbing a protester’s breast can be so dangerous, it can damage a poor officer’s eyesight — though in which eye, it’s impossible to be sure.
Remember this: no matter how many country clubbers flip through Piketty’s book, at bottom, the rich hate us. They disdain us. They mock us. And they fear us, even though the current balance of forces favors them overwhelmingly and sometimes “common ruin of the contending classes” seems like an optimistic outcome.
Yet I have to fall back on some advice I got as a kid: If the American Spectator wants to cry about class warfare, we should give them something to cry about.