Having read neither of the books themselves, I can’t say whether I agree with Felix Salmon’s review of Paul Krugman and Timothy Noah’s recent books as a review. But it’s always nice to see someone who is willing to name, in a national publication, the essential problem for our country: capture of our resources and our government by the very rich.
Rich people have more power than poor people, and they use that power to get what they want — which is, normally, more wealth and more power. Across America, politicians invariably reflect the views of their richest constituents. And the Federal Reserve, too, appears to have been captured by the rich: It seems much more worried about the specter of possible future inflation (which might be bad for the rich) than it is about the tragedy of present-day unemployment (which is calamitous for today’s jobless)…. This is now a country run by the rich, for the rich. And nothing in either of these books gives me reason to believe that there’s any hope of changing that.
Very stark, very true, very necessary.
At some point, the Very Serious people got together and decided that there are never legitimate conflicts between different economic classes. They therefore dismiss any discussion that operates on the assumption of such conflict as “partisan,” “populist,” “unserious,” etc. To my great dismay, many of the vaguely leftish wonky types who were once an alternative to the Very Serious crowd have simply become Seriouser and Seriouser as time has gone on, and in doing so have accepted this big lie that we can fix our current problems without privileging the needs of the lower classes against the desires of the top class.
For example, contrast Salmon’s piece with this review of the movie Inside Job by Ezra Klein, which I feel is one of the more wrong-headed pieces I’ve read. (I’m not alone.) Klein disliked the movie because the supposed lesson to take from the financial crisis was not that our financial system was out of control, or that the greed and excess that animates it damage our country, or that a small group of fantastically wealthy, accountability-free plutocrats destroyed the economy and caused abject human misery for millions. No, the lesson to take from the financial crisis, according to Klein, is that life is complex and people are only human, and, you know, liberals are know-it-alls.
I think there’s a very stark choice to be made between talking like Klein or talking like Salmon, and I think it matters. The problem is that talking like Klein is probably more conducive to a prominent career in journalism.
We’re facing a very essential question: when one group of people has captured the system, do we have what it takes to take it back? Like Salmon, I’m rather pessimistic. But we can’t possibly succeed unless we acknowledge that there is a real conflict here, a class conflict. Many i our media believe the rosy, destructive lie that what’s good for the top is always good for those on the bottom. Books like Krugman’s and Noah’s attempt to rebut that idea, empirically, and demonstrate that when one group takes such an enormous percentage of wealth, the inevitable result is stagnancy and malaise for the rest of us. We need more people speaking like Salmon, in frank terms about the grasp the rich have on our political system. The interests of a tiny group are in direct conflict with the interests of the large majority; that’s reality. To fix our country, you’ve got to speak plainly, and angrily, about it.