America, especially now that it is dominated by the Greediest Generation, aka the Baby Boomers, focuses on comparative wealth with an obsessive intensity reminiscent of caste societies. We are always ranking ourselves by percentiles of wealth or income. We have the 1 percent, the 99 percent, and now Mitt Romney’s free-loading 47 percent.
Growing up right after World War II to parents who suffered through the Great Depression, many Baby Boomers were exposed to an economic angst that lingered over their parents’ generation like the dull, throbbing pain of a wound not yet healed. Fears of deprivation haunted the Greatest Generation who never wanted to experience abject destitution again, and certainly did not want their children to experience it.
What the Greatest Generation saw during the hard times was that the suffering was widespread but unequal. Those with means weathered the withered economy relatively unscathed. And, when the economy revived after the war, the victims of the Great Depression never forgot the shame of poverty or the vulnerability of being anything but rich.
The economic anxieties of their parents affected the Baby Boomers who, in spite of their youthful disdain of materialism and dedication to social-economic egalitarianism, became hippies out to make it rich, obsessed with class, status and having it all.
What they have wrought is a culture in which the attainment of wealth, or at least the accoutrements of wealth, is the greatest virtue. The result is a ballooning consumer economy fueled by the hot air of aspirational status seeking, entitlement, easy credit and public debt. Everyone wants more. All the tribes in the economic jungle — corporations, labor unions, academia, medicine, government — are all jostling for more.
The arguments over socialism versus free-market capitalism are diversions. Regardless of the economic model to which they subscribe, the elite, or the haves, of the various tribes have successfully diverted ever more to themselves — ergo the growing concentration of wealth in the economic food chain’s top tiers. A consequence is a kind of economic class warfare whereby both the private and public sectors are manipulated to distribute wealth or the means to generate it to the advantage of some and to the disadvantage of others.
In this pig race, we have damaged our economy’s ability to not only distribute wealth more equitably but also to grow the economic pie. Opportunities to share in the economy are fewer — ask folks under 30 years old or anyone who is under or unemployed.
By colluding with venal politicians, the fattest cannibals in the economic jungle have ensured that more is diverted to them by securing advantages through manipulative tax law, government subsidies, lax regulation and free-trade legislation. The world may be flat but it is decidedly tilted in the direction of China and other near-slave-labor nations. Free-trade policies, while enriching the few, have off-shored many American jobs and diminished the middle class.
Morally, there is little difference between the Brahmans who game the system to avoid taxes and gain economic advantage, particularly through the aegis of government, and the lower castes who take advantage of taxpayer-funded welfare programs or who run up huge debt chasing after lifestyles they cannot afford. They are all selfishly feeding off other people’s money or, worse, the burgeoning federal debt funded by the Fed’s printing presses.
So, for Romney to pat himself on the back for being a self-made man while condemning 47 percent of the population as parasites is like a leech berating mosquitoes for being blood suckers.
Neither Romney nor President Barack Obama is going to revive the nation’s economy and rescue the middle class. Romney is a self-satisfied Brahman who will leave the lower castes to their “deserved” fates and will continue the feasting at the top. Obama is a pragmatic idealist, if there can be such a thing, but cannot overcome the entrenched interests vested in and advantaged by a tilted playing field.
Efforts to reignite economic growth by printing more money have, so far, failed. Nor can the fading working and middle classes or the manipulating elites continue to be subsidized by government’s deficit spending. Unless taxes are greatly simplified and progressively equitable, and government budgets balanced, the weight of public debt will bring down the whole house. Unless Americans are willing to work for third-world wages, or globalization adjusts to first-world labor laws, many jobs will remain overseas and an economy fueled by consumerism will run out of gas.
Maybe when the Millennial generation succeeds the Baby Boomers, the obsession with class and status seeking will mitigate, and the nation’s economy will evolve to a sensible, cleanly refereed, model somewhere between free-market capitalism and socialism.