The manners and morals of the plutocracy are once again provoking negative reactions within the United States and around the world.
Back in 1977, in the midst of an earlier economic crisis, John Kenneth Galbraith examined the claims of and on behalf of the super-rich during the age of “high capitalism.”
Chrystia Freeland [ht: sm] is doing something similar today—studying contemporary plutocrats and how they justify their exalted status.
Those at the very top, Freeland says, have told her that American workers are the most overpaid in the world, and that they need to be more productive if they want to have better lives.
“It is a sense of, you know, ‘I deserve this,’ ” she says. “I do think that there is both a very powerful sense of entitlement and a kind of bubble of wealth which makes it hard for the people at the very top to understand the travails of the middle class.”
One standout moment Freeland recalls is a conversation with a billionaire who spoke with great sympathy about some friends who’d come to him for investment advice. “And he said to me, ‘You know what? They only had $10 million saved. How are they going to live on that?’ I kid you not, he was really worried about them.” . . .
So how are the super-rich that Freeland interviewed different from the super-rich of the past — say, 1955? Well, there are many more of them, and they’re a lot richer than they used to be.
“One of the things which is really astonishing is how much bigger the gap is than it was before,” she says. “In the 1950s, America was relatively egalitarian, much more so than compared to now.” CEOs earn exponentially more now, compared with their workers, than they did 60 years ago.
“The other difference is that now the super-rich are global. And that’s not sort of a cultural choice of theirs, that is something which is imposed on them by the nature of the world economy,” says Freeland. “Increasingly, I think you are actually seeing what, ironically, was the dream of Marxists, right? You are seeing the emergence of an international class.”
While Marx almost certainly wasn’t dreaming of global billionaires, Freeland says he might have recognized what’s going on right now. “This notion that borders wouldn’t matter, that we would have commonality of interests around the world. Well, guess who got there first? The plutocrats.”