What’s Wrong with Class War?

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From time to time, I will hear someone on the news cautioning participants in a conversation that they are saying things in support of “class warfare.” Inevitably, that shuts the conversation even quicker than calling someone a racist (or trotting out some stomach-churning childishness like references to ‘the N word”) . Apparently any notion that doesn’t glorify socioeconomic stratification in our society is denigrated as “class warfare”, and all parties go scurrying for cover.

This has irked me for quite some time, but it never occurred to me to mention it on Slope until today, when I saw the following letter to the editor in that centerpiece of superb journalism, the Palo Alto Daily Post. The emphasis in yellow I added, although I encourage you to read the entire letter:


Now, let me say at the outset I understand what this person is saying, and in a certain world, I would actually agree with him. That “world” would have……..

  • Had no TARP or any other bailout in 2008;
  • Would have allowed any business facing bankruptcy (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc.) to have done so;
  • Would have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of white collar zillionaires tossed into prison, led by Lloyd Blankfein and Dick Fuld;
  • Would have passed draconian regulation following the financial crisis to assure it never happening again;
  • Would provide simple-to-understand information to the public laying out what had happened and who the perpetrators are, just so Joe Six-Pack had a sporting chance of understanding what actually took place (I assure you, in the real world, Mr. Six Pack has no clue)

In case you didn’t notice, we don’t live in a world anything like that. Instead, the rich got richer (much, much richer), none of them went to jail, and it’s as if nothing had ever happened (with the sole exception of Madoff, who was some kind of sacrificial lamb in the whole thing). So the notion that we live in some kind of meritocracy in which everyone plays by the rules is just plain wrong. The game is heavily, heavily, heavily tilted toward the “haves”.

If, in fact, it was pretty much a dog-eat-dog world (even if the “dog” in question is Lloyd Blankfein or Goldman Sachs), I’d align pretty squarely with the letter writer’s main point, which is not to pick on folks who have made it to to the top. After all, if you’re a so-so actor working at your local playhouse doing musicals in the summer, should you shoot arrows at Kevin Spacey just because he’s a rich, successful actor? No, you shouldn’t. Because he’s undoubtedly a hell of a lot better actor than you are, and he deserves his success.

Let’s stay in fantasy world for another moment and pretend there were no bailouts and there was no moral hazard. Should we agitate for punitive taxes against Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, and other billionaires, simply because they are billionaires and we are not? Again, no. If we’re all playing by the same rules, and the system is fundamentally fair, then I say: good for you, billionaires! Well-played!

As it is now, though, things are far afield from the level playing field I’m pretending might exist, thus, I really have no beef with someone like Bernie Sanders trying to raise hell and take on the rich corporations and rich individuals as well as specific issues like offshore tax havens and the ridiculous carried interest tax rate.

To compare someone like Bernie Sanders to bloodthirsty monsters like Stalin and Pol Pot is too ludicrous for words. I’ve heard of slippery slopes before, but good lord, this guy must be totally off his rocker. And as for the mewing about how we should never engage in talk that might incite class warfare? My response is: the class war is already started, and it’s the rich that fired the first shots.