Monday, October 8, 2012

The Rage of a Privileged Class

The New Yorker did a recent piece on why the super-rich feel victimized by Obama, even though they are economically doing quite well.  Their basic answer is that Obama criticizes them instead of praising them as "job creators,"  and that speaking ill of the rich and powerful is divisive and amounts to class warfare.  Needless to say, they don't see anything divisive or class warfare in dividing the country into "makers and takers," "people who work for a living and people who vote for a living," or Romney saying of 47% of the country, "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Felix Salmon commenting on the article, is unconvinced.  He is unconvinced that it is anything as superficial that the super-rich can't bear to be criticized. After all, the worst Obama has said about them pales in comparison to what they have said about him.  (One financier compared Obama's attempt to eliminate their preferential taxation to Hitler's invasion of Poland).  

Instead, Salmon sees three main reasons so many billionaires are outraged at Obama.  One is that the outrage is largely confined to the financial sector.  Another is that they really, really like Romney who is, after all, one of their own, and that they have to justify their passion for Romney with a countervaling hatred toward Obama.  I am less convinced on that one.  After all, this hatred began well before Romney had locked up the Republican nomination.

More plausible and appalling is the final answer.  Salmon points out that Wall Street strongly supported Obama in 2008.  Various reasons have been suggested why this was so -- that Obama resembled Wall Street's financiers in background and education, or that Wall Street is socially liberal and therefore dislikes Republicans.  But Salmon believes that hard self-interest was at work.  Obama, far more than McCain, recognized just how serious the financial crisis was, and financiers were confident his team would do whatever was necessary to prevent the financial system from collapsing.  McCain inspired no such confidence.  But once the financial crisis was over and profits came back, they saw no reason for anything to change from before the crisis.  They certainly didn't see themselves as bearing any blame for the crisis, or the crisis as grounds for stronger regulations.  That's crazy talk!

In other words, the two political parties hold two ideologically consistent views about finance.  Democrats fear financial crashes and will bail out the banking system, but in return want tougher regulations to prevent a repeat performance.  Republicans want to leave things to the free market -- let banks do as they please and if they fail, so be it.  (Presumably they think that a serious financial crisis will scare enough sense into the surviving banks to prevent a repeat performance).  So financiers respond to this in the most economically rational way possible -- support Republicans in good times and Democrats in bad times.  Then they can run riot all they want and be bailed out if they run into trouble.  This is a great deal for banks, but understandably unpopular with everyone else.

This is possible, but maybe we should be taking bankers at their word, that they hate Obama because they resent being criticized.  Quite simply, they are economic royalists.  They believe that, as agents of the free market, they must be treated for all intents and purposes as infallible, and that no lesser mortals have the right to criticize them. Obama is a lesser mortal.  One of the bankers said that he had never worked a day in his life.  When called on it, it turned out that he meant Obama "never made payroll.  He's never built anything."  In other words, if you do not run a business, you are not really "working" and certainly don't have the right to criticize people who do.  Or, to paraphrase Colonel Jessup's rant, "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who walks and sleeps under the blanket of the very wealth I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.  I'd rather you just said thank you."  That, I suspect, is what really lies at the root of it all.

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