Bigotry Against the Rich: Is That a Thing?

ScroogeSo apparently the rich are an oppressed minority now.

Last month, in what is thought to have become the most widely read letter to the editor ever published by The Wall Street Journal, venture capitalist and former News Corp board member Tom Perkins writes, “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.'” He concludes, “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

In other words, mild resentment of the rich = the Holocaust.

What evidence does the eccentric Bay Area billionaire (or multimillionaire — there’s some disagreement, but let’s not quibble) cite for this astounding equation? The smoking guns seem to be Occupy Wall Street, protests against Google’s commuter buses in San Francisco, outrage over high real estate costs, and media attacks on novelist Danielle Steel (Perkins’ ex-wife).

Okay, I’m sold.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before we 99 percenters see the error of our ways. Perhaps we could start building museums and monuments to commemorate the systemic obstacles faced by the wealthy. The UN could establish some manner of international day of memorial to mark the injustice of anti-rich oppression. School districts around the world could develop lesson plans to teach children about the hurt feelings and bruised egos suffered by Perkins and his fellow job creators throughout history. Never forget.

Of course, Perkins has been dealt his fair share of condemnation over the letter. Some have accused him of paranoia and megalomania, of trying to use money to insulate himself from reality. Others might be inclined to state the obvious: that if the rich were truly persecuted, they wouldn’t be rich anymore. Even Perkins himself now says he regrets the Kristallnacht comparison, though not his letter’s message. (I thought the Kristallnacht comparison was the message, but never mind.)

All these critiques miss the point. What we must understand, apparently, is that the wealthy, simply by virtue of being wealthy, benefit everyone. Listen to deranged Canadian multimillionaire Kevin O’Leary, for example. “It’s fantastic,” he says regarding an Oxfam report that the world’s richest 85 individuals have wealth equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion, “and this is a great thing because it inspires everybody, gets them motivation to look up to the one per cent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people, I’m going to fight hard to get up to the top.’ This is fantastic news, and of course I applaud it. What can be wrong with this? Yes, really. I celebrate capitalism.”

Exactly. When those on the bottom gaze up to those at the top, they know it is time to start climbing. Only I’m not talking about wealth. I’m talking about the ability to engage in … let’s call it … artful hyperbole. That’s what I truly admire about economic übermenschen such as Perkins and O’Leary. For me, a political blogger, the scent of heaping shovelfuls of rhetorical manure is like perfume, and never in my life have I felt so envious and, at the same time, so inspired.

Just imagine what I could accomplish if I were to take the lessons of these two masters to heart. Imagine the powers of persuasion I too might possess if I would just buckle down, work hard, and — somewhere down the line — learn how to synthesize such potent strains of bullshit all on my own.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Exxon’s Love for the Poor

Rex TillersonAt Exxon Mobil’s annual meeting in Dallas this week, shareholders rejected a motion to set greenhouse gas reduction targets for the firm. CEO Rex Tillerson argued that such an extreme measure would hurt the world’s poor, stating, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”

So begins, I expect, the newest form of corporate philanthropy, wherein titans of industry the world over seek to ease their troubled consciences and aid the downtrodden by — what else? — frying the planet. Companies like Exxon already benefit from myriad government handouts, so why not do the obvious and simply relabel their tax credits “charitable”?

Never mind the fact that the effects of climate change will hit poor people the hardest, reducing crop yields and increasing food prices globally, threatening hundreds of millions with homelessness and possibly statelessness at the hands of rising sea levels. And never mind the devious misdirection at play in implying a clean separation between “planet” and “humanity,” as though the former were not where the latter so happens to spend most of its time.

After disparaging climate models and the atmospheric carbon threshold of 350 parts per million identified therein, Tillerson went on to say, “We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies and peoples’ health and well-being around the world.”

This common line of reasoning assumes a world marked by an unbridgeable chasm between environmental and economic well-being — identifying social justice and poverty alleviation solely with the latter — which, if true, would showcase a fundamental irrationality at the heart of our economic system. We can avert one kind of catastrophe or the other. Never both.

It is no wonder so many people seek alternative models, in which economic laws are recognized not as immutable, but as social constructs that can be bent, broken, and reconceived if we so desire. Alternative models in which — and I’m just spitballing here — the whole purpose of the economic system is to benefit the poor directly, instead of multimillionaire CEOs who make transparently self-serving excuses for climate inaction.

Crazy, I know. But a blogger can dream.

This post appears on rabble.ca.