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Friday, December 23, 2011

Do we hate the rich, or don’t we?

That’s the subject of a couple of blog posts by Andrew Gelman, who takes on the issue of seemingly conflicting poll results.

http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/do-we-hate-the-rich-or-dont-we/

http://andrewgelman.com/2011/12/surveys-show-americans-are-populist-class-warriors-except-when-they-arent/#comments

At issue is, in part, the tone of the 2012 campaign.  Should a successful Democratic candidate take on the trappings of a class warrior, or talk about getting people jobs.

Ambiguity

At heart is a natural American ambiguity towards the rich.

Americans don’t hate the rich. Why should Americans hate the rich? We all want to be rich. We cherish the opportunity to be rich. If we can't be rich, we want to work hard so our children can be rich. 

The ambiguity occurs here:  when we are rich, we will still call ourselves "middle class" and be humble and not push our way in line.  We don’t want to seem rich, even if we are. We’re not rich. We just have money.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzxF-M2erx8  -Joe Walsh singing "Life's been good (to me so far)".

And if we become super-rich, we’d like to give most of it away to do good in the world. At the end of the robber baron era, we have Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford all setting up highly visible charity and foundation efforts that endure today.  In our era, we have Bill Gates and Warren Buffet doing much the same thing.

I don’t see much advantage to the class warfare approach to campaigning.  We don’t hate the rich, we want to be rich.

Sure, we hate Bernie Madoff, the financial “geniuses” at investments banks who gave us a serious worldwide recession, and personal injury lawyers.  But we don’t hate them because they are rich. We hate them because they got rich immorally, or at least amorally, and didn’t create anything useful. Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was acclaimed.