Steve M over at No More Mister Nice Blog wrote, The Conservative Ethic: Punish the Losers. It’s a comparison of two articles by Paul Krugman: one about Jeb Bush and the idea that Americans should work more, and one about Europe’s cruel treatment of Greece. They certainly are linked. The essence of conservatism is that those with power are the right kind of people and those without it are the wrong kind of people. This is what leads to hundreds of billions of dollars given to banks without a thought but protests in the streets about helping home owners.
But I think Steve trivialized the situation a bit when he wrote, “The underdogs are supposed to do all the sacrificing, because the world is divided into the deserving and the undeserving, and the deserving shouldn’t really sacrifice at all.” Certainly, that’s true on some level, but it is just how the disease presents itself. The cause is deeper. And he got at it when he summed up the thinking of the power elite, “They think of themselves as the ones who have a genuine work ethic and who are willing to delay gratification, but in reality they insist that their gratification must proceed uninterrupted, because they deserve that.”
There are two attributes of the power elite that motive them. The first is a callousness toward others. All people have a tendency to over-honor those they are around and to mistrust those they aren’t. But the poor don’t dehumanize the rich, because our entire media and entertainment system is designed to lionize the rich. For every appearance of Montgomery Burns, there is an appearance of Undercover Boss and literally dozens of “rich people as oracles” segments on the news. And that is to say nothing of rich guy superheroes like Bat Man and Iron Man. These are the images our society has of the rich. The images the society has of the poor are of unkempt and dirty street people — usually also criminals. So it is no wonder that the rich especially can disregard them as undeserving.
The other attribute of the power elite is that they are shortsighted. That is a great irony, of course. As Steve noted, they are the ones who think they delay gratification, but they do no such thing. And the best example of this is how they fight tooth and nail against anything that will help the working class. You literally cannot help the poor without indirectly helping the rich. But you can very easily help the rich without helping the poor. Helping the poor grows the economy. The rich would be richer with more equality, but that might take a couple of quarters — even years. Can’t have that!
But it also takes us back to the first attribute of callousness. To a large extent, the rich don’t care about the absolute level of their wealth. It is the relative wealth. And that is a zero sum game. The rich can’t feel rich unless the poor are doing badly. If it came down to it, I’m sure the rich would be happier being poorer if the working class did even worse, than they would be to be wealthier if the working class were to close the gap. Of course, I don’t expect a rich person to think this in the abstract, but this is the conclusion based on how they act.
So there you have it. The rich are shortsighted and callous. It isn’t that they are necessarily horrible people — at least at first. But our system of economics and politics makes them horrible. And this is why they feel very good about themselves as they call for the lower classes to work more hours or for Greece to suffer for another decade or two.