Are the super-wealthy the new secessionists?

Eric Garland Generational Conflict Leave a Comment

I have spent a lot of time covering secession movements – from my native Vermont and Quebec to Texas and…lesbians? (Yes, lesbians, I will explain in a future article.) Mike Lofgren, author of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted suggests in The American Conservative that the real secessionists are the plutocrats at the top of the economic pyramid:

To some degree the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools. But now this habit is exacerbated by the plutocracy’s palpable animosity towards public education and public educators, as Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated. To the extent public education “reform” is popular among billionaires and their tax-exempt foundations, one suspects it is as a lever to divert the more than $500 billion dollars in annual federal, state, and local education funding into private hands—meaning themselves and their friends. What Halliburton did for U.S. Army logistics, school privatizers will do for public education. A century ago, at least we got some attractive public libraries out of Andrew Carnegie. Noblesse oblige like Carnegie’s is presently lacking among our seceding plutocracy.

In both world wars, even a Harvard man or a New York socialite might know the weight of an army pack. Now the military is for suckers from the laboring classes whose subprime mortgages you just sliced into CDOs and sold to gullible investors in order to buy your second Bentley or rustle up the cash to get Rod Stewart to perform at your birthday party. The sentiment among the super-rich towards the rest of America is often one of contempt rather than noblesse.

This is spot on. When I hear Americans suggest that the “elites” in this country are somehow GS-11 federal workers with a decent salary and some guaranteed healthcare, I immediately know that they do not have any idea of how wealth is distributed throughout this fantastically rich economy.

But can the 0.01% keep their winnings forever?

But in globalized postmodern America, what if this whole vision about where order, stability, and a tolerable framework for governance come from, and who threatens those values, is inverted? What if Christopher Lasch came closer to the truth in The Revolt of the Elites, wherein he wrote, “In our time, the chief threat seems to come from those at the top of the social hierarchy, not the masses”? Lasch held that the elites—by which he meant not just the super-wealthy but also their managerial coat holders and professional apologists—were undermining the country’s promise as a constitutional republic with their prehensile greed, their asocial cultural values, and their absence of civic responsibility.

Lasch wrote that in 1995. Now, almost two decades later, the super-rich have achieved escape velocity from the gravitational pull of the very society they rule over. They have seceded from America.

Not for long they haven’t. This kind of thing only works as long as a great number of people somehow think they might achieve the same. It’s the problem with locking in your winnings and locking out upstarts – eventually the people at the bottom of the pyramid figure out that it’s a scam. In the words of James Howard Kunstler on these issues, the super-rich tend to find out that the hedge row in front of their Hamptons getaway is not enough to hold back the tide of angry unemployed plumbers from Port Jefferson.

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