David Atkins, writing at Hullabaloo, has an interesting post up examining why stoking pension envy isn’t “class warfare” in the same way it’s “class warfare” to point out the stunning imbalance in wealth distribution in our country. The short answer is that pensioners don’t have nearly as much money invested in PR campaigns as the Koch Brothers and their brethren.
But, a more interesting angle is that we know the types of people who have pensions, and we can see directly that they’re no better, smarter, or industrious than we are. We basically know what their job entails and have a pretty good notion that we could do that job. We can grasp what it means to have health insurance and a pension even if we don’t have those things. Therefore, it understandably rankles that they should be spared the anxiety of having insecure access to healthcare or an uncertain retirement when we work just as hard as them. Hell, there is a whole political movement busily telling us that, because they work for government and we don’t, we’re better than them. In fact, they should probably be kissing our collective butts because we’re taxpayers!
Contrast that with hedge fund managers or the Koch Brothers or the Romneys. We have no concept of that level of wealth. A four car garage with an elevator in one of our many houses, just for the hell of it? Might as well ask us what it’s like to live on the moon as ask us to relate to that kind of wealth. And, as Atkins points out, with transportation and communications being what it is, we don’t exactly rub shoulders with these people; or, when we are, we don’t know it. Their jobs are esoteric and many among us may feel that maybe it’s orders of magnitude harder than ordinary people jobs.
And it’s this separateness, I think, that makes it easy to pit the recently middle class against the diminishing middle class in order to distract them from what’s going on with the upper class. “There are no classes in the United States,” says Rick Santorum. “We are a nation of haves and soon to haves,” says Mitch Daniels. “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” says Verbal Kint.
The very wealthy have learned a trick or two since the days of Jay Gould who allowed himself to be quoted as saying, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” Instead, they provoke agitation in the economically insecure against the barely secure. It’s astounding that in the richest country in the history of the world we should come to regard health care and worker pensions as unsustainable extravagance instead of things we ought to aspire to provide to everyone willing to work hard and play by the rules.