The current round of class warfare taking place in this country can hardly be called that because it is taking place within a single class. This is no great conflict between the construct of a 1 and 99 percent, this is a civil war taking place within the 1 percent. The very name of the Buffett Rule makes that all too obvious. When your class warfare bid relies on 1 percenters like Warren Buffett and Elizabeth Warren, then what you have isn’t a class war, it’s an internal conflict among some of the wealthiest Americans over whether the future lies with an all-encompassing state or a looser libertarian system.
Buffett’s position as the champion of the government class isn’t as irrational as it might seem. For the average taxpayer, the tax code is a vacuum cleaner, but for Buffett it’s an investment. The more money people pay in, the more money the government has available to salvage troubled banks that he can swoop in on at a hefty profit. The average taxpayer loses money to the government, but Buffett gets back money from the government.
Plenty of 1 percenter New York Times readers whose worldview is shaped by buffoons like Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman have taken on the worldview that we need government expansion to drive the economy and remain competitive. And for them it’s even true.
If you’re investing in windmills, then government spending looks like it’s creating economic growth, which it is, just not for the massive numbers of unemployed and not in a sustainable way. But most people, rich or poor, generalize from their own personal experience. If you’re pounding the pavement looking for work, and then have to sign over a check to the IRS, then you’re not likely to have a positive view of the government as an economic arbitrator, but if you’re investing in environmental gimmicks, picking up government money and turning a profit without having a viable product, then you can only admire how well the government is stimulating economic growth.
To people like that, taxes aren’t a loss, they’re an investment. Pay more to Uncle Sam and he’ll roll out a stimulus plan to buy more windmills, and then everyone wins, except the people who have to pay for the windmills or rely on them for electricity. And it’s natural for them to think that if everyone just paid more money, the government would have more money to invest in windmills and other important things that they can profit from. They don’t think of it as crony capitalism, to them it’s just good business.
Government class 1 percenters, whether they are directly or indirectly employed by the government, or just acting as crony capitalists, are making money from the government. The problem is that it’s ill gotten loot. Government sinecures and insider profiteering are as old as the republic, as old as every nation on earth and then older some, but the participants used to have a better idea of what they were doing and why.
The ideological wrapping paper gives the system a degree of intellectual and economic credibility that it does not deserve. The Tammany Hall crony trading contributions for government contracts understood what he was doing and why, his successors lie to themselves that they are supporting a progressive cause and making the world a better place. They aren’t corrupt, it’s their enemies who want to destroy the environment, starve the poor and destroy the country for their own profit who are the rotten ones.
The government class 1 percenters really believe that if we just invested more in infrastructure and education, threw out our remaining immigration laws and provided comprehensive social services for everyone, we could have a first class economy, just like Europe. Their globe trotting court jesters like Krugman and Friedman breezily recite anecdotes and channel FDR’s ghost to make unsustainable spending seem less like a pyramid scheme and more like a promising payoff. But they believe all of this because they have to, the alternative is to come to grips with a vision of themselves as vultures feeding off the carcass of the republic through cronyism and corruption.
Unsustainable is the key word. The numbers aren’t hard to crunch and the only way to escape their cold relentless logic is through rose tinted glass that see a utopia of unrealistic growth and global selflessness ahead. Only by believing that conventional capitalism and the nation-state are dying, can they justify their part in killing them. And only believing that they are investing in a better world that will replace the old world that they are destroying, can they see themselves as patrons, rather than plunderers.
But there is also something bigger than that going on here and that is the purpose of wealth itself. Amassing wealth, like any human activity, requires a larger sense of purpose, a moral framework to give it a higher sense of accomplishment. The plutocrat as patriarch is on its way out. Fewer billionaires are interested in leaving money to their children, the philanthropic foundation dedicated to a better world and the body of the state and its world government are their true offspring.
They’re not patriots, often they don’t even believe in American exceptionalism or the future of the nation-state. But it’s not the nation part they’re interested in, only the state part. It is not people or flags that interest them, certainly not national identities or histories, only institutions. The state, regardless of borders or governments, as the great mother and father of mankind is the idea that compels their worship. Their philanthropic activity takes the form of floating pseudo-states that travel the world solving national problems and breaking up borders, and their foundations are obsessed with bulking up government and getting them to tackle one problem or another.
They have come to see the state as an extension of themselves and their mission is to expand the power and scope of states. Individual freedoms meet with little regard from them. To their lofty eyes the mass of people are sheep and require herding. Their money goes to activist groups who boast of being able to herd men with the aim of making governments better able to control their subject populations.
Their great dream is a global state to which everyone would be subject, a perfectly functioning government machine that would see to everyone’s needs, end all wars, eliminate different thinking and usher in a golden age for mankind. It’s an old dream, a stupid dream, and the natural dream of people who have lost the ability to believe in anything but the state, who have no higher aspiration than to create a perfect grandiosity, a King Kong of governments that would seize the people in one fist and leer from a high point at a puny world.
It’s a dream as grand, as it is cruel and useless. They would not be the first men to squander everything on a fit of grandiosity. The inhabitants of Easter Island, all but destroyed themselves to fill the island with stone figures, leading to famine, mass death and cannibalism. But from their point of view building them would raise the status of the chiefs and provide for their social needs. There was no need to worry about the consequences of throwing all their resources into the labor, because the heads would take care of the chiefs and the chiefs would take care of them.
We have our own chiefs and they are obsessed with making their own stone heads and if we all have to be enslaved to go on making stone heads for their glorification, that’s all-right because the stone heads will take care of us. Just like they have in Greece and Spain, and Rhode Island and California.
Every civilization builds giant useless things to stave off the march of time. Egypt had the pyramids, Eastern Island had its own stone heads and we have government institutions. But unlike them we are not concerned with venerating the past. Our best and brightest live in a world outside time at the end of history when the clock of ages has ticked its last. They are unconcerned with progeny and the perpetuation of nations and cultures, only with managing their transition to that final civilization that is to be the state at the end of the universe.
The Easter Islanders thought of their ancestors, the Egyptians of the world of the dead, but our leaders think only of marching forward to the world of tomorrow. The world of government which they have been obsessed with for over a century. The pyramid tomb of our civilization from which they believe that an immortal world-state will rise like a phoenix to usher in a new age.
An age in which spirituality and reason, wealth and scarcity, individualism and collectivism, along with all the other irresolvable and irreconcilable paradoxes of human existence will be reconciled within a brilliantly conceived system of human existence. An age whose harbingers are leaders like Obama, empathetic communicators, political healers and inspirational thinkers. An age that will require the sacrifice of all our resources and our rights to bring about.
It isn’t class warfare in the wind here, but a clash between the government class and the rest of us. Between the unselfishly selfish and the selfishly unselfish. It’s not about the poor against the rich, it’s about a split among the elites over the direction of our civilization. A split that is muddied with class warfare rhetoric by 1 percenters who want to confiscate wealth for their own private benefit and the public good of the stone heads and pyramids of the utopian state.
Behind that clash is the spiritual and cultural malaise of a society that cannot envision any more horizons, that despairs of new frontiers of human accomplishments, and instead has been laboring steadily on its own government tomb, while profiting from insider mummy deals and construction contracts. Like all conflicts, it is about power, but it is also about the moral right to power. It is a conflict between those who have written the eulogy for America and the human race in the tomb of government and whose who believe that we can reclaim the possibilities left behind by stepping out of the tomb, casting down the stone heads and fighting for the future
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