Wednesday, April 09, 2008

No rich progressives

There are some rich people who are nice, relatively reasonable people, but there are no rich progressives. Just like there are no slave-owning abolitionists. There may have been slave owners who treated their slaves humanely, but they were still slave-owners.

The essential ideological property of progressivism is a rough equality of power. Not some paranoid anti-communist straw man of the absence of individual differences, but rather the incredible differentials of power which "free" market capitalism creates by virtue of lies, bullshit and outright coercion. Power corrupts, and rights have meaning only between equals. We see in every one of the 20th century productive socialist economies, especially in Scandinavia, that the elimination of poverty entails the elimination of great wealth. No homeless means no millionaires.

(Which is why I feel absolutely no white liberal guilt at my essentially lower-middle-class lifestyle. It's a lifestyle I know that almost everyone can live; the lifestyle that most 20th-century European socialist countries maintained for the vast majority of their populations.)

The reasons that Stuff White People Like is so screamingly funny is that it's not really about white people per se, it's about the hypocrisy and double-think that rich Western "liberals" (who mostly happen to be white) have to employ to keep their wealth and maintain the illusion that they're trying to help the people their wealth has forced into poverty (who are mostly not white).

What's also screamingly funny is that no small few "advocates" for minorities and the oppressed are not working against an economic system that has to find someone to oppress, but rather trying to make sure that admission to the elite club of the ultra-wealthy is gender- and race-neutral.

16 comments:

  1. What's also screamingly funny is that no small few "advocates" for minorities and the oppressed are not working against an economic system that has to find someone to oppress, but rather trying to make sure that admission to the elite club of the ultra-wealthy is gender- and race-neutral.

    I think it’s problematic to make it a moral duty for women and minorities to eschew wealth when you don’t see a whole lot of white men doing anything similar. That’s a recipe for leaving the wealth and power in the hands of white men.

    Since a lot of advocates for women and minorities tend to BE women and minorities, your statement is asking them to go on being oppressed until there’s a revolution in our economic system.

    In the here and now, women and minorities need to work for themselves. White men can embrace poverty for a change.

    And by the way, you can’t pretend to be lower middle class, I’m afraid. We’re solidly middle class.

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  2. Since a lot of advocates for women and minorities tend to BE women and minorities, your statement is asking them to go on being oppressed until there’s a revolution in our economic system.

    Under the current system, only a tiny fraction of people can actually escape oppression, and only then by becoming, directly or indirectly, oppressors. I'm not "asking" anything; I'm merely observing that the upper class becoming race- and gender-neutral, while not a bad thing in itself, is not going to lift most people — black or white, women or men — out of poverty.

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  3. The economic problems in America today are at least partly a result of heavy deregulation. There is nothing to show that with higher levels of government regulation, there cannot be a solid middle class. In fact, this did exist in America for a good many years in the 20th century.

    "Only a tiny fraction" escaping oppression is a gross exaggeration -- that sounds more like Pakistan. In fact, a relatively low percentage of people are below the poverty line. There is, and has been, plenty of prosperity under capitalism in America.

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  4. There is also the additional consideration that unless there is a revolution, our present system is vastly improved with the introduction of women and minorities into the power structure, because these communities tend to support the causes that lift oppressed people's out of poverty and powerlessness. So you see, there is a progressive benefit from me getting rich.

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  5. There is also the dangerous aspect of ceding power. It's mostly starry-eyed liberals (and often women and minorities) who don't want to be one of the "immoral" rich. Guess who that hurts?

    When I've tried to raise money for causes, my rich friends have done more good to the cause than any number of my impecunious friends, liberal and good-hearted though they might be. One's usefulness to charities and the progressive cause when one is barely scraping by is exactly zilch.

    It's going to be a long time yet before money stops mattering. And until then, the more of it liberals and progressives have, the better for all of us. The way to distributing wealth more equally is not via foregoing wealth (which will only go straight into the pocket of some Republican asshole). The world will not magically become fair and equal if you refuse to get rich.

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  6. The economic problems in America today are at least partly a result of heavy deregulation. There is nothing to show that with higher levels of government regulation, there cannot be a solid middle class.

    But of course. But that's precisely the problem. Government "regulation" is a euphemism for transferring wealth from the very rich to the middle and lower classes (effectively raising much of the lower class into the homeowning middle class).

    In fact, this did exist in America for a good many years in the 20th century.

    Again, true. The point is that the trend is downward. For instance, one measure of income inequality, the Gini coefficient, shows that US income inequality has been steadily increasing for 40 years, and is now substantially higher (more unequal) than the rest of the Western world.

    All the other metrics, income by stratum, as well as indirect metrics, such as infant mortality, differences in life-span and the obvious fact that a rising percentage of Americans have no health care at all, supports this view.

    And that's just up to now. For the last 5 years, Americans have been sucking out the wealth of their primary residences, rather than actually producing goods and services, to fuel their middle-class lifestyles. But the piggy bank is now empty, and the taxpayers are going to have to bail out the lenders.

    We're about to hit a depression, and depressions always increase economic inequality: the rich buy up assets for pennies on the dollar and the rest of us are screwed.

    It won't be very many years before the US has a level of inequality that rivals Pakistan or Brazil.

    There is, and has been, plenty of prosperity under capitalism in America.

    Yes, because of the socialistic measures taken by FDR and fully implemented after WWII. These measures are being steadily eroded, and we see both the rise in multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires as well as the decline of working people.

    Our present system is vastly improved with the introduction of women and minorities into the power structure, because these communities tend to support the causes that lift oppressed people's out of poverty and powerlessness.

    I don't buy that argument at all. Individual women and minorities, not communities, are being brought into the power structure. And individuals tend to support their present economic class more than their race or gender. Condaleeza Rice. Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell. Maureen Dowd. Ann Coulter. Margaret Thatcher. Benazir Bhutto. And that's just off the top of my head.

    The last rich progressive we had was FDR, and he was a progressive only out of dire necessity, facing the imminent economic collapse of the US in the Great Depression.

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  7. When I've tried to raise money for causes, my rich friends have done more good to the cause than any number of my impecunious friends, liberal and good-hearted though they might be.

    Indeed. But the fact that there are "causes" in the first place, that these issues aren't being handled by the government bureaucracy, is a result of the economic inequality.

    When you give a $1 to a homeless guy, it's not all that wonderful if he's homeless because you're rich.

    It's going to be a long time yet before money stops mattering.

    When did I say money doesn't matter?

    The more of it liberals and progressives have, the better for all of us.

    But the having of money turns people with liberal and progressive morality into apologists for inequality. The last thing you want when you have serious money is to lose it; a progressive economic system means that you will lose serious money; it'll be taxed away.

    The way to distributing wealth more equally is not via foregoing wealth. ... The world will not magically become fair and equal if you refuse to get rich.

    Nor will the world will not magically become fair and equal if I do get rich.

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  8. I don't buy that argument at all. Individual women and minorities, not communities, are being brought into the power structure.

    True. One does need to reach a certain tipping point before the individuals translate into a community force. Even now, the number of women and minorities in power and with wealth is very low. More women will mean better policies (and I'm not just talking about economic policies) and better funding for women's causes. Case in point, my corporation, because it is woman-dominant, has a "mother's room" even though it's otherwise a very typical corporation. It does make a difference who calls the shots and I see part of our society's problems stemming from power imbalances not just between the rich and poor, but between men and women, whites and darkies.

    We're basically in agreement about what level of government interference in business and redistribution of wealth is a good thing. America has never tended to communism. I support a basic welfare state, something we certainly aren't doing right now.

    But barring that, I believe in looking out for yourself and your causes. I have, for instance, the brains, ability and opportunity to make a million dollars in 10-15 years. If I do get there, not only will I be able to afford leisure (I'd love to bring leisure to everyone, but barring that, I want it at least for myself, and probably you), but much of my money and time will go to an organization like Planned Parenthood rather than who I currently work for.

    Is that a bad outcome?

    The problem is, no matter what theory you espouse, you have to live in the present, in the real world, and make the best of the circumstances you find yourself in. You can't boycott the system. The system couldn't possibly give a fuck and will roll on without you, possibly crushing you and those like you.

    You say the world will not magically become fair and equal if you do get rich. No, perhaps not "magically." But it will be better off. Better off than if your Republican neighbor makes that money and donates it to McCain.

    To a certain extent, American society allows a degree of freedom and flexibility. The system has been corrupted -- but that's fixable and it's not inherently a flawed system, no more than any other would be.

    Governments also waste untold amounts of money. Many non-profits are forced to operate on a tight budget and be efficient. People voluntarily giving (and they do give -- in huge amounts) is a better thing than forcible excessive taxes, especially if there is a fair taxing system in place (this has been damaged of late, of course).

    I have a lot of criticisms of the American system, but I think it's a mistake to assume any other system has been much better.

    Your arguments are sounding like the inverse of, "I've got mine, Jack."

    "I haven't got mine, Jack, so you should give up yours too."

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  9. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're smart, you'll make the system work for yourself and then use what power and wealth you gain to do good, both for yourself and others.

    If you choose to be impotent within the current system because you disapprove of it, well, fat lot of good that will do. Give me an honest capitalist any day than a useless "progressive."

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  10. I really enjoyed this post. It's a pity that so many people can't see it.

    And, thanks for the link to Things White People Like some of which is incredibly funny.

    Wife
    I'll spare you a drawn out sociologist's diatribe on the definition of class. Even taking it on your equation of upper class with uber-wealth, I think you'll find that roughly - oh I don't know, say 50% - of the "upper class" have always been female. Or how did they reproduce themselves?

    Minorities? More complex but I think you'll accept that a fair number of the US upper class are almost certainly gay or Jewish. In Nigeria, you'll find the upper class is pretty well all black. In Saudi, the upper class is Muslim. and so on.

    Divisions based on ethnicity or gender might support class structures but you can't assume that any given division is necessary.

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  11. Hmm, George Soros is not a rich progressive?

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  12. George Soros is not a rich progressive?

    No, he's not. He's a non-batshit-crazy conservative.

    Giving a dollar to the guy you made homeless does not qualify as "progressive".

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  13. Soros is a non-batshit-crazy conservative, like most of the Democratic party.

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  14. But the having of money turns people with liberal and progressive morality into apologists for inequality. The last thing you want when you have serious money is to lose it; a progressive economic system means that you will lose serious money; it'll be taxed away.

    Is this sort of akin to 'walking a mile in their shoes'? Here's a thought: You contend that wealth equals power and that power corrupts. But in order to redistribute wealth, you must have power. So how can we expect a corrupt body to willingly redistriubte the wealth which brought it to power in the first place?

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  15. So how can we expect a corrupt body to willingly redistriubte the wealth which brought it to power in the first place?

    PC, that's a very perspicacious question, and I'm damned if I know the answer.

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  16. PC, that's a very perspicacious question, and I'm damned if I know the answer.

    Perhaps that is the strength of my progressive conservatism (wink, wink). A little dose of reality in the midst of lofty goals.

    As I have said previously, you will get no arguement from me that power corrupts, but I guess we have to trust that some are able to have some of that power and use it wisely. Without that trust, progressivism is dead.

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