A coming class war?

Posted: 19 September 2015 in Uncategorized
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1percent grand compromise

Ray Fisman and Daniel Markovits suggest that we’re seeing right now, with the insurgent campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and elite hopes that they will just fade away, are “early skirmishes in a coming class war.”

Why? Because their research (along with coauthors Pamela Jakiela and Shachar Kariv, just published in Science) revealed stark differences between attitudes toward economic justice between ordinary Americans and those at the top. Basically, the elites (both intermediate and extreme) are much more likely to be selfish as their compatriots in general. What’s more, elite Americans show a far greater commitment to efficiency over equality than ordinary Americans.

Our results thus shine a revealing light on American politics and policy. They suggest that the policy response to rising economic inequality lags so far behind the preferences of ordinary Americans for the simple reason that the elites who make policy—regardless of political party—just don’t care much about equality. Hemingway’s illusory but widely shared view that the only thing that separates the rich from the rest is their money thus disguises a central pathology of American public life. When American government undemocratically underdelivers economic equality, the cause is less party than caste.

So, even though the United States has exhibited growing and increasingly grotesque economic disparities between a small group at the top and everyone else for almost five decades, little has been done to address the problem of economic inequality. The tendency, as I have argued, has been to pathologize the poor.

What Fisman et al. do is to turn their attention to the pathologies of the rich and the fact that “elite Americans are not just middle-class people with more money.”

They display distinctive attitudes on basic moral and political questions concerning economic justice. Simply put, the rich place a much lower value on equality than the rest. What’s more, this lack of concern about inequality among the elite is not a partisan matter. Even when they self-identify as progressive Democrats, elite Americans value equality less highly than their middle-class compatriots.

The question going forward is who will control public policy: the small elite who aren’t much concerned with issues of inequality or the majority of the population who place a much higher value on equality.

The fact is, one side in the class war has been winning since the mid-1970s. Now is the time to turn it around, so that ordinary Americans will get the policies they want and deserve.

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