Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Which Side Are You On—Ruling Elite Turns On Itself

My Super PAC Can Beat Up Your Super PAC (Image by Mike Licht, NotionCapital.com)

Mitt Romney has recently come under fire by his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination for his record at Bain Capital, where he led the restructuring of numerous companies resulting in hundreds of job losses. His rivals have accused him of being a “job killer,” an epithet they hope will bamboozle the millions of still-unemployed and desperate Americans into voting for them. However, according to Democracy Now, Newt Gingrich claims he’s being pressured by “extraordinarily wealth institutions” to stop his criticism of Romney and to “shut up.”
Image by DonkeyHotey

Apparently, Wall Street is concerned that the attacks on Romney’s record of corporate raiding will only aid and abet the Occupy Movement and encourage American antagonism toward the wealthy. Their fear is not completely unfounded. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that about two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor. This is up 19% since 2009 and there have been increases in this sentiment among most ethnic groups.

As much as the media might like to give the OWS movement credit for this trend, the greed and antagonism of the wealthy toward the rest of us has been readily apparent by their actions and public statements, including recent attacks on public sector workers and collective bargaining, making it quite obvious that there is a class conflict being instigated by the ruling elite. Furthermore, with continued high unemployment and personal wealth still a fraction of what it was four years ago for most Americans, combined with the continued increases in wealth for the top 10%, it is surprising that only 66% believe there is a strong class conflict.

Of course we’d all like Gingrich to shut up, about everything. However, increasing awareness of class conflict does not mean that antagonism toward the rich is also growing. Indeed, according to the Pew survey, 43% of Americans say they believe the wealthy gained their wealth through their own hard work, which is almost the same as in 2008, whereas 46% believed that the wealthy gained their wealth primarily through their familial and social connections.

While it is curious that the two most popular responses were “wealth gained through hard work” versus “through connections,” neither response is particularly critical of the rich. Why didn’t more people say they got wealthy by exploiting their workers, paying them a fraction of the value of their labor—which is the primary way the capitalists make their profits and wealth—or through exploitation of tax loopholes, deregulation, downsizing and outsourcing, illegal business practices and union busting?  Of course if these choices weren’t available on the survey, the results would be heavily biased toward the naïve and favorable belief that the rich are simply hard workers or the slightly less naïve and nominally critical belief that they exploit social connections unavailable to the rest of us. In either case, it seems like Americans are still are long way away from rising up against the rich.

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