The Soulless Rich People

January 4, 2016


New Years Day 2016. I am in the office – that is where I can write, not at home. Paul Krugman on January 1, 2016 started off the year with a bang-up comment.

Wealth can be bad for your soul. That’s not just a hoary piece of folk wisdom; it’s a conclusion from serious social science, confirmed by statistical analysis and experiment. The affluent are, on average, less likely to exhibit empathy, less likely to respect norms and even laws, more likely to cheat, than those occupying lower rungs on the economic ladder.

And it’s obvious, even if we don’t have statistical confirmation, that extreme wealth can do extreme spiritual damage. Take someone whose personality might have been merely disagreeable under normal circumstances, and give him the kind of wealth that lets him surround himself with sycophants and usually get whatever he wants. It’s not hard to see how he could become almost pathologically self-regarding and unconcerned with others.

I have been saying for years that capitalism puts money and therefore power in the hands of the most selfish, and I would agree the most egocentric. Little did I know that there were actual statistics to prove that fact. There is a certain frustration with being 74 years old and all of these books coming out that confirm that view point I felt instinctively but did not have the intellectual and factual foundation to support my gut feelings.

Think of it, in the last few years there has been a surfeit of very influential books.

  1. Michelle Alexander. Mass Incarceration. I had said for years that the ruling class replaced segregation with imprisonment. Until Alexander’s book, it was just a statement. Now mass incarceration is a part of the general vocabulary.
  2. Rebecca Sklott. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks’ Hela cells were vital in uncovering secrets of cancer, vital for developing polio vaccine and producing an entire industry worth billions. The entire concept of exploitation is illustrated; that is using working people with out compensation. In addition, it along with a number of other books destroys the concept of racial differences. We are all a part of the human race.
  3. Thomas Picketty. Capitalism in the 21st Century. He established that the concentration of wealth is an inevitable law of capitalism. And Krugman above quoted explains why fascism is such a dangerous, possibly inevitable, result of Capitalism.
  4. Randall Wray. Why Minsky Matters. Minsky an economist that has not been given sufficient recognition, proposes a federal work program as an addition and in many ways a replacement of welfare. In other words, anyone who wants a job would have a job addressing the many needs of infrastructure, ecology, and energy efficiency of this country. In addition, he proves that so called capitalist stability is inherently unstable.
  5. Eric Hobsbawn. The Age of Extremes. He explains that there was only one period – 1945 to 1973 – when capitalism appeared to function. And that was when we were most active in the 1960s.
  6. Doris Kearns Goodwin. Lincoln Team of Rivals. Most importantly, she reveals the complicated tactics which every leader including left leaders must master.
  7. Edward E. Baptist. The Half Never Told. He documents the extreme brutality of slavery but also how slaves were mortgaged creating the wealth to industrialize the country. The extreme exploitation that exposes the necessity of reparations.
  8. Sven Beckert. Empire of Cotton. He proves that cotton provided the mechanism of the industrialization of the entire world and slavery provided the cotton.

All of this tremendous intellectual work which confirms positions we took in the 1960s. And this work is not unimportant. A correct analysis is more than satisfying. It provides guidance. I read a book in the early 1970s called the Rich and the Super Rich. From that book, I learned that being rich is not about income; it’s about assets that produce income. So often the corporate media focuses on income but never discusses the truly wealthy. For instance, the corporate media discusses the income of athletes but not the wealth of those who buy the athletes.

Back to the analysis of Krugman. The generally accepted view is that the concentration of wealth is neither dangerous nor relevant. For instance, the militarization of the police with the consequence of police murders of African Americans, Latinos and poor working class whites is never linked up to the wealthy and to the concentration of wealth. Yet, the legislation of stand your ground has been promoted by the DeVos family whose wealth is in the billions. In fact, Blackwater, the murderous organization of mercenaries who wantonly killed civilians in Iraq was created by Eric Prince, the son in law of the DeVos family. It was his wealth as well as the egotistical lack of empathy that propelled him to create the murderous organization.

In other words, it takes a lifetime for progressives to absorb all the information to destroy the intellectual framework of capitalism and develop the tactics to fight that system. But the capitalist, by contrast, having unlimited assets, can store and buy intellectuals just as they store and buy assets.

Because as Martin Luther King states the arc of history bends towards justice we always have the reality that we will win victories and ultimately justice. That is, if we can prevent the capitalist from destroying the world in the meantime.

That leads to the question of fascism. In my book, I take the position that capitalism necessarily leads to fascism. Fascism is such a pregnant word that includes so many evil implications such as genocide, hatred, murder, rejection of all concepts of civil society. For that reason, most academic intellectuals shy away from the use of that word. But in the more politically practical terms, fascism includes the corporate control of government, the mobilization of a section of the working class using hatred which ever it is: racial hatred, misogyny, or hatred of immigrants or of sexual choice or just the generic hatred of those who are made to be threatening of that section of the working class that the capitalist want to mobilize.

For instance, Oligarchy does not necessarily require hatred as a political force. All the other terms – crony capitalism, disaster capitalism, etc. do not account for the current political ideology now being generated by the Republican Party.

If the rich are egotistic and lacking in empathy as the statistics reveal, then the use of hatred – racial and otherwise – would necessarily follow as a requirement for political power. Obviously, the rich are small in numbers. They must use some method to gain support for their policy.

Yours in Struggle,

Ron Glotta


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