A Plaintive Plea from America’s Rich: Can We Please Change the Subject?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

America’s elites have for decades now enjoyed — and exploited — a mainstream political consensus.  America is doing just fine, this consensus has held, but just not for everybody. We have some poor, unfortunate souls in our midst, the consensus continues, and decency demands more “opportunity” for them.

Aspiring politicians have always loved this opportunity message. They can spout it and sound compassionate and caring to the voting public. The message’s more important attraction: Pols can spout it and not in any way come across as threatening to the deep pockets they count on for campaign cash.

The rich, after all, simply adore the mainstream “opportunity” gospel. Talking about increasing opportunity distracts attention from how rich people — and the corporations they run — behave, how what the rich do to become and stay rich keeps poor people poor and most of the rest of us struggling.

But this mainstream political consensus has over recent years collapsed. Precious few analysts are still claiming that the nation is doing “just fine.” The United States these days is essentially working well only for the rich, and appreciable numbers of Americans no longer just wonder why. They’re demanding checks on grand private fortunes and the behaviors that pump these fortunes up.

All this has today’s rich worrying. Really worrying. Recent headlines tell the story. From the Financial Times: “Why American CEOs are worried about capitalism.” The Guardian: “The kings of capitalism are finally worried about the growing gap between rich and poor.” The Washington Post: “U.S. billionaires worry about the survival of the system that made them rich.”

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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