American Elites: Distant from some problems, but not others

First thoughts on Christopher Hayes’ new book,

I am reading Christopher Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites—well worth the $26 I paid for it. Hayes’ book strikes several chords with me. One simple point concerns the pernicious consequences of elites’ great and growing social distance from ordinary people in American society. When less than two-percent of fighting-age adults serve in the volunteer military, most policymakers are personally insulated from the consequences of the ill-fated venture in Iraq. This matters, too, for our policies regarding the continually grinding low-level engagement in Afghanistan.

Something similar might be said regarding the millions of Americans affected by the foreclosure crisis. Members of our nation’s various elites are genuinely saddened by the accompanying human costs. Yeah, white papers are written. Hearings are held. Yet our society’s lack of urgency is abetted by the great social and economic distance between the families losing their lifesavings and the key public and private actors who will decide their fates. Too many of our national leaders behave rather as I’ve done, passing several empty houses on my street. I feel terrible for the affected families. I still scurry home, hit the web, and take solace in the ballooning value of my 401(k) supported by my tenured professorship. Pretty soon, I’m pondering other things.

Hayes recounts the Katrina fiasco, and the lesser-known failures here in Chicago that produced hundreds of Chicago deaths chronicled in Eric Klinenberg’s Heat Wave.  In both cases, elites’ distance from—and thus ignorance of—basic life realities of vulnerable people produced serious mistakes and failures when a natural disaster struck. FEMA decision-makers failed to anticipate the huge numbers of New Orleans residents who didn’t own cars, lacked cash or credit for gas, or were rendered immobile through disability.

For the development-minded, both stories are reminiscent of Amartya Sen’s famine work, in which the great economist documents needless starvation among politically, socially, and economically marginal groups. Potentially deadly famines rarely result from some absolute food shortage below levels required to sustain life. Rather some shock such as warfare, rapid shifts in commodity markets, or drought induces sharp changes in wages and prices, such that the poorest people (ironically often agricultural workers) lack the purchasing power to meet their family needs.

Well-functioning democracies respond quickly to such emergencies. Indeed that may be the working definition of a well-functioning democracy. Elected officials have strong incentives to recognize these problems and to send quick and potent help. Mass tragedies are more common when political and economic elites are more distant from these realities, when they are not held to account for their failures to effectively intervene. Sen rightly notes that post-colonial democratic India made many mistakes in its economic policies. It has not experienced millions of famine deaths as have occurred in Communist China, and as occurred in India’s 1943 Bengal famine under colonial British rule.

American democracy doesn’t look so good when we apply these same standards to our less-deadly but economically punishing times. Our weakened political feedback loops—weakened by institutional gridlock, rising inequality, and the sheer social distance between the bottom and top layers of U.S. society—have hindered our ability and our willingness to effectively respond.

American democracy doesn’t always respond so poorly. With the support of the Century Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Investigator program, I am now researching intellectual disability policy. Viewed in historical terms, this has been a quiet triumph of American social policy. In so many ways, our society has opened its heart, its legal system, and its wallet to embrace people who live with these disabilities and to embrace their caregivers. Religious conservative Christians, liberal atheist Jews, Democrats, Republicans, and political commentators, homeboys in the inner-city have all helped to make things better.

Americans’ intimate familiarity with the issue has been fundamental to social progress. It seems that everyone has a child or sibling, cousin, uncle, classmate, or friend who is personally touched by these issues. Moreover, family caregivers are an articulate, popular, politically-engaged constituency that no elected politician wishes to cross. In many ways, these were the original community organizers ironically criticized by Sarah Palin. They forced others to pay attention. Americans who most matter—socially, politically, and economically–are not so distant from this issue. This matters.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

35 thoughts on “American Elites: Distant from some problems, but not others”

  1. A powerful and eye opening discourse on my 43rd father’s day. Most of my children will no doubt agree. A few may not. Thank you.

  2. Every one of these phenomena can be explained by the simple equation of concentration of wealth with concentration of political power. Can anyone produce the slightest evidence that “social distance” – whatever that means exactly – mediates this relationship or elites’ behavior?

    This has the look CH’s book-length tribute to himself for not knowing any pipe fitters. Perhaps this David Brooks approach to the world, in which one’s own minute experience is amplified to political significance and the entire world is understood through the lens of one’s own blessed – but entirely deserved, of course – lack of suffering, is irresistible to some segment of the pundit class.

    1. Adding to this – we have massive an undeniable evidence that non-meritocratic elites can be vicious and savage in their neglect of non-elites. The elites who *do* take a serious interest are notable precisely for this.

      An example: “When less than two-percent of fighting-age adults serve in the volunteer military, most policymakers are personally insulated from the consequences of the ill-fated venture in Iraq. This matters, too, for our policies regarding the continually grinding low-level engagement in Afghanistan.”

      Viet Nam. A vast proportion of policy-makers had military experience; those who didn’t likely had sons who served. However, they were quite willing to sorta kinda thrash around, sending (to the extent feasible) the sons of the non-elites to die while Washington fiddled around.

      Finance – what we are seeing now is the pre-New Deal behavior, with looting and crashes and vast frauds.

      Poverty – again, the norm is that the elites don’t generally give a flying f*ck; a few do, but not enough to matter.

      Resource depletion, violence, the list goes on.

      What we saw in the New Deal Era was that there were countervailing forces, who fought the elites, and won victories. They didn’t sit around pleading for mercy, but worked and fought and bled for what they got.

      We forgot that lesson (with the courtiers to the elites working very hard to persuade us).

      1. I think the analysis here is a bit oversimplified as a description of American and European societies historically (although a pretty good description of the current American situation). At least in England and the US there was a strong tradition of the elites fighting and dying in national wars. The First World War basically wiped out the English upper class. Up until Vietnam there was also a strong tradition of generals who travelled to the front lines with only a driver or a couple bodyguards. Since Vietnam something has obviously changed in both our society as a whole and even within our military.

        1. Just want to second your comment on generals taking risks up until Vietnam. One thing that both fascinates and disgusts me as a junior officer who served in both OEF and OIF is that the risk averseness and force protection measures that apply generally to American forces have been magnified for generals, all of whom inevitably come with PSDs, often even on base (e.g. a 4 SUV convoy for a 2 star on BAF). I actually once had a colonel tell me he was “too valuable to ride in the lead truck” with a straight face.

          1. Tierce,
            Does that really come from the senior officers themselves? My sense was that it came from an awareness by higher of the need not to lose the war in the American media, and the impact news of losing a senior officer would have. I agree military history often tells a simple tale of good general = fearlessly leading from the front, bad general = hiding miles from the front line in a secure bunker.

        2. The expected combat leadership of the (sons of) the elites seems to have stopped in the USA by the time of the Korean War, IMHO.

          The problem with Chris’ thesis is that massive, widespread and catastrophic misbehavior by the elites was normal long before any ‘meritocracy’ was even being born.

      2. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones said it well:

        Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

        My son is a currently serving officer in the Army. It was his choice: it is something he does to honor his grandfathers who both served. One of the things that frightens me about Willard M. Romney is his distance from people who served in wartime (let alone in a war theater). He took a religious deferment to be a missionary in Paris. Saigon may have been the “Paris of Southeast Asia”, but in that era the one in France was a heck of a lot safer place to be. His father did not serve in World War II, although he was of a generation (34 at the time of Pearl Harbor) where many did serve.

        My father served in the Navy. My uncles served in the Army, Navy and Air Force. My grandfather worked in the rebuilding of Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack. My friend’s fathers (and a few mothers, too) mostly served. We grew up hearing some of the war stories: it was clear that while war is sometimes necessary it is properly a last resort.

        Romney didn’t grow up surrounded by men who “saw the elephant.” Now, he would have us believe that he desperately wished to serve in Vietnam. No one wanted to go to Vietnam: most who were ordered to go, went. Only god knows what ill-advised war he would get us involved in.

        I fail to understand the appeal Romney holds for veterans of my father’s generation. The man could have gone to Vietnam as easily as visiting a recruiter’s office and enlisting, or signing up for OCS. He chose instead to avoid (not evade, avoid legally) the draft. That’s fine, it was his choice. It is also his choice to rewrite that bit of his personal history, without explaining why he never did what was so easy to do at the time.

        1. “I fail to understand the appeal Romney holds for veterans of my father’s generation. The man could have gone to Vietnam as easily as visiting a recruiter’s office and enlisting, or signing up for OCS. He chose instead to avoid (not evade, avoid legally) the draft. That’s fine, it was his choice. It is also his choice to rewrite that bit of his personal history, without explaining why he never did what was so easy to do at the time.”

          This is part of the breakdown which occurred long before there was Chris’ ‘meritocracy’. The right gave up on the idea of citizen and military service; probably from necessity, once the well-connect sons of their leaders came of age [Chris slam – it was far easier for people with connections and resources to gracefully avoid Vietnam – so much for the ‘meritocracy’]

          BTW – this is also a reversion to the norm for the US. Soldiering was generally considered to be a career for the dregs. Upper class sons could go in as officers, but really it was best to leave that for strivers.

      3. *courtiers to the elites*

        Yes, totally. Attributing massive economic and political shifts to cultural causes is dangerous. This book will do harm as it tries to implicate the elites’ experience as the root of our ills, and gives a few more clowns permission to preen and puff as they contemplate their relative privilege. A few of them will forget that their privileges trace to egalitarian postwar policies like robust investment in higher education and other public goods, need-blind elite universities, universal protection from various life hazards, the GI Bill, empowered unions. As they preen, they’ll forget that the 01% has them by the balls.

        As for the emotional pull of pride and self-congratulation: probably each time Brooks writes another recitation of Brooks’-class v. working-class lifestyle, he goes and j*cks off afterwards. [RBC – PLEASE DO NOT BAN ME OR DELETE THIS FOR VULGARITY]

        I don’t see the point of much of Harold’s second paragraph. How does his privileged lifestyle abet policy indifference to foreclosure? In spite of relative privilege, Harold votes (I would guess) for the most left-wing of available candidates, and so do many like him. Somehow, his preferences, and those of the foreclosure victims, are never translated into policy, because the furthest left of candidates for office are still too far to the right, and our money and politics nexus guarantees a government that serves a tiny superwealthy claque and no one else. In what way does his privilege abet anything? I was afraid Hayes’s book would assert this without evidence, and I’d like someone to offer a case beyond assertion, if there is one.

        1. “This book will do harm as it tries to implicate the elites’ experience as the root of our ills, and gives a few more clowns permission to preen and puff as they contemplate their relative privilege. ”

          I have not seen even an attempted defence of this book which is worth a rat’s *ss.

          Frankly, I’ve filed it under ‘everything was good until the b*tches and n*ggers and sp*cs came in and ruined it’.

  3. To revisit the turmoil of 1968 is to put our current state of elite/hoi polloi relationship in context – one in seven Americans were living under the poverty line in ’68; U.S. policy was not reflecting a “War on Poverty” but a War in Vietnam; we lost two brave souls who were trying to make a difference in light of our national indifference; and SCLC organized and carried out the Poor People’s March on Washington!

    Though not ultimately successful at that time, The Poor People’s March may be what we need today to shake off the creeping malaise affecting our democratic institutions!

  4. George Will has recently written that Romney should EMBRACE judicial activism to defend private property against democracy. Hey, we the 99% thought that, these days, it was democracy that was in thrall to private property.

    Has George Will decided that inherited wealth and power is preferable to democracy? Does Mr. Will support an estate tax that protects American democracy against a return to rule by inherited wealth and power, or is he a true courtier? Exactly how much does Mr. Will enjoy his glittering evenings in the castles? Should we have never kicked out King George, Mr. Will? Does Mr. Will see court-empowered Blackwaters defending the castles? Who is it, Mr. Will, that you see choosing the Commander in Chief in 50 years? The people? Some council of glittering elites? Perhaps the royal heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune can one day sit on that council. Oh wait.

  5. Harold: I thought one of Sen’s basic points was that famines don’t happen when there is a democracy *and a free press*. You don’t mention the press in your post and I wonder how you see their role in this situation…do they make it worse, better or some of both? And how could they do a better job in their traditional role of not letting people turn away from widespread suffering?

    1. That’s a great point requiring a separate post. I should have included that.

      My short answer is that the press needs to do two things: Present the human face of tragedy, and focus on the actual policies and proposed responses to these problems to see if they are helping. It’s hard to focus on the boring mechanics of policy. But there’s a real need for that, e.g. in understanding the poor performance of various efforts to help underwater home owners.

      1. I think the poor performance was basically a result of ambivalence, and of not really *wanting* to help. And I think Sheila Bair said basically the same thing in an interview. It’s not an accident at all.

        1. And I admit I’m a bit ambivalent myself. Would it have been better to just let real estate prices fall to the bottom? It is hard not to feel bad for the people whose homes were basically stolen from them by people who took advantage of their naivete. And it’s also very hard to want to do anything that might help a complicit banker.

          I’m just saying, this should all have been debated and settled once and for all, instead of the half-a**ed approach that was actually taken, with programs designed not to work.

  6. Some courtier-sounding words from George Will Himself: “Yet Romney promises to appoint “restrained” judges. If, however, the protection of liberty is the court’s principal purpose, it must not understand restraint as a dominant inclination to (in the language of Romney’s Web site) “leave the governance of the nation to elected representatives.”

  7. Thanks Harold for a very thoughtful post. While I agree that the decline in the number of Americans who fight in wars might create the risk of adventurism that you mention, and the increase in inequality has various other risks, I wonder if the weak response to foreclosure crisis is part of this dynamic. One difference here is that lots of ordinary Americans seem to feel, whether rightly or wrongly, that the borrowers are often at fault morally, and therefore shouldn’t be helped. I’ve read a few writers on finance who turn this point around. They say that they’re surprised at how few Americans whose houses are ‘under water’ have walked away from their mortgages. Their point is that, from a purely financial point of view, a lot of people would be better off if they went into bankruptcy and started over, but their sense of duty tells then to keep making payments. The homeowners’ sense of morality about making payments is wrecking their future. So there’s a moral aspect to the foreclosure crisis that may make it significantly different from, say, the policy response to people with intellectual disabilities.

    1. There is some truth to this. The people I know who are underwater and struggling are generally pretty sympathetic figures. They are modest-income people who stretched to move into a (say) $200,000 home in the community with the only decent and safe integrated schools in the Chicago southland. Then something happened to a job or a marriage, and they got into trouble. Many lost lifesavings.

      1. “One difference here is that lots of ordinary Americans seem to feel, whether rightly or wrongly, that the borrowers are often at fault morally, and therefore shouldn’t be helped. ”

        This is not an unusual response; it’s been around for many centuries, and probably thousands of years.

        BTW – before the New Deal, mortgages were customarily short-term (5-7 years), with a balloon payment required at the end. If times were bad at that point, one could easily be refused a new mortgage, even if one was capable of paying the monthly payments.

        Again and again, people assume that old vices are new, largely because we (in the USA, at least) temporarily decreased them.

        This is like people looking at epidemics, and assuming a moral/cultural direct cause, while ignoring the fact that the sanitation systems have been allowed to decay.

      2. One difference here is that lots of ordinary Americans seem to feel, whether rightly or wrongly, that the borrowers are often at fault morally, and therefore shouldn’t be helped.

        Then something happened to a job or a marriage, and they got into trouble. Many lost lifesavings.

        One part of this is that many people who aren’t underwater also lost a huge portion of their life savings, and thus think (with some reason) that whatever the resolution is, it shoudl help them as well.

        My situation may be instructive. In 2006, I bought a piece for land and built a small house near where I worked. I financed it about 40% with savings (pretty much all my non-retirement savings since I finished college) and about 60% with a mortgage.

        In 2009 I was laid off when my employer closed down their operatiosn in the area. In 2010 I got a job, but it was 100 miles away, so I moved. I’m still trying to sell the house for the mortgage value (which was, remember, 60% of the construction cost.)

        I do not think it would make sense for me to end up worse off than if I had financed it 95%.

  8. As an attorney serving consumers, elders, and nonprofits, I see daily the inner workings of a system in which the poor figure mainly as “other” to the elites.

    Noting the failures of the legal notice system — the outrageously costly system that is supposed to be the mechanism by which people are assured of governmental transparency and fair notice of things like, oh, the nonjudicial foreclosure of their home — I also applied a little time to noting that there is absolutely nothing that makes the legal notice system be expensive and worthless except that the publishers have somehow managed, while continually writing editorials about how everyone else needs to stop crying about the spilt milk of automation and offshoring (and many newspaper families, made rich by their grandparents efforts in competitive markets, enjoy absurd family fortunes and campaigned tirelessly to abolish estate taxes, while also enjoying the ability to set monopoly prices for legal notices) to avoid having anyone (but me) propose that the requirement to publish legal notices in tiny type on costly paper be abolished in favor of a statewide system that would provide web access for all notices AND actual assured notice for anyone who submits their own name or address, so that any notice published in any paper is automatically sent to the subscriber via email or snail mail, with no need for guessing which “paper of general circulation in the county” carried the tiny notice.

    The way legal notices work today is that the monopoly newspaper in the major markets sets an exorbitant price for the notices, and the poor, only occasionally involved, pay that price, reducing their net from Mom and Dad’s estate; attorneys who play in the system frequently ask each other which papers — the weeklies in small towns nearby the major market often serves — can be used to both satisfy the legal notice requirement while, bonus, making it very unlikely that a poor defendant will ever actually get notice, and thus make it hard for the plaintiff bank or creditor to obtain a default and begin garnishment. In both cases, because of the cost, the notices are tiny little bricks of mice type that are all but unreadable.

    My proposal to create a centralized, web based system that would do a much better job (letting notices contain images and links, for example, and providing a way for people to subscribe to any notice aimed at them for free) at a much lower cost also includes another wrinkle, that the money generated, even if we only charged 25% of the current dead-tree cost, would produce millions for legal aid services (which get cut precisely when they are most crucial, such as when forecloses skyrocket).

    The elites in the bar immediately identify with the newspaper publishers and fabricate reasons that this reform can’t possibly happen; the abject failure of the current system to do even an adequate job of, you know, actually providing legal notice, goes completely unremarked (because creditors pay people to read them), and they pay NONE of the costs themselves (no matter how overpriced the newspapers set the costs, the bar doesnt squeak because the costs just get loaded into the judgment levied against the defendant, or passed onto the clients).

    I’ve never seen a clearer example of elite disconnect than this. The poobahs in the bar write article after article about how lawyers need to contribute to efforts to provide legal aid to the poor, but when someone suggests a way that we could actually put legal aid on a self funded basis, providing a valuable service more efficiently and effectively, the poobahs turn white as ghosts because it would mean offending another poobah group, the publishers.

    1. JMG, I have serious allergy head today (I am zombified) and don’t know if I totally agree with you, but this strikes me as a very good suggestion you’ve come up with. (On a better day, I might want to tinker with the opt-in, just because, in general I think people don’t opt in nearly as often as they should.)

      But anyhow, it sounds like a good idea you have, trying to reform the notice system so that it actually works. It’s pretty crazy that that should be considered a radical idea. I hope you keep at it! Let us know here if you need help. Can’t hurt, might help. Lots of smart people hang around here.

    2. Hi, me again. This is exactly the kind of problem that policy masters students are very good at, and they could get credit for it, and that would be less work for you. Once someone’s written a report on something, it’s harder to ignore the issue. So maybe you should hit up Mark’s students next year. They could probably design you a great p.r. campaign to boot.

  9. Harold, we can concede that there was some “moral failure” among some who bought when housing prices were inflated and the mortgage marketing machine was in high gear. I have a nephew who did this (twice!). But we are also right to insist that individual consumers had limited information on which to base their actions, and the far greater moral failure came from the banking industry and an inadequate regulatory system. I’m sure you’re familiar with what happened in Marquette Park on the Southwest side of Chicago. The industry, or elements of it, clearly targeted that community for inundation with unsustainable mortgages, and the result is devastation for individuals and the entire community.

    1. “Harold, we can concede that there was some “moral failure” among some who bought when housing prices were inflated and the mortgage marketing machine was in high gear.”

      Not based on 2012 neuroscience and social science, it seems to me.

  10. I’ve been increasingly concerned with the way inequality is structured into our labor force so as to perpetuate economic and socio-cultural segregation. There are vast areas of the economy that is dependent on a labor force that requires little skill or education, is underpaid, has little opportunity for advancement, often lacks adequate healthcare or retirement benefits. This paper has some interesting statistics:

    These are low-status occupations, employing people who higher-status, educated, higher-skilled workers will have only fleeting contact with. They live in largely segregated “poor” neighborhoods rife with crime and dysfunction. Their children’s schools are thus concentrated with a student population that is difficult to teach, having in general much lower levels of human capital, and in constant, close proximity to social breakdown – incarceration, addiction, health problems, marginal employment, etc.

    When I was in education school, the mantra was that “every child should go to college”. This is absurd on its face, and reflects the incoherent neo-liberal embrace of right-wing notions of meritocracy and social-Darwinist notion of organic sorting by talent and ambition; while the right believes implicitly in blaming the poor, the neo-left sees the problem only as one of technocratic scaffolding, and that proper social policy will lift everyone into the professional, learned, middle class.

    Yet as currently designed – whether explicitly or by default – our economy demands a low status, undereducated, underpaid labor force. The right sees this as a sort of convenient sorting mechanism that allows the “cream to rise to the top” (ignoring of course the entire discourse of privilege and rent). The neo-left, likely afraid of the radical implications of acknowledging this reality (as a challenge both to their sense of political pragmatism as well as personal morality – they are now implicated as an elite class), chooses to believe in a fantasy that all workers will join their children at university one day in a sort of bucolic, post-class progressive era.

    Obviously this isn’t an easy issue to overcome in capitalism. But neither can we pretend that there isn’t a level of socio-economic exploitation imbedded in our economy that requires a disempowered underclass, and which perpetuates a maintenance of low levels of human and societal capital. While many of the specific causal factors that drive this process are known, many are less clearly patterned. Most epistemologically problematic is the role of culture and norms in poorer communities that place downward pressures on human capital acquisition. For instance, the stunted development of social capital, in terms of trust, self and community efficacy, identity, the interplay of ethnicity and race, etc. are difficult to pin down. In other words, to what extent does poverty itself – the experience of, the geography of – inhibit the development of behavioral capital? To what extent, thus, does the *presence* of high-status elites and status inequality create an internalization of lowered aspiration? Here, there is not even a direct exploitation of the underclass, but rather an indirect sort of signaling that solidifies attitudes.

    Ironically, one is reminded of the old conservative claim about progressivism contributing to a “culture of victimhood”. A progressive response is that victimhood has not been created, merely brought to larger social awareness. Yet, to what extent might an unintended consequence be that – especially in light of larger failures of society to solve the underclass problem – this consciousness indeed contributes to a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, and (pragmatically?) downward aspirations?

    1. Eli, you’ve said a mouthful. Even just the mental health aspect of what you’re saying is huge and seems to go unnoticed for the most part, though I believe there is research on the high rates of trauma and depression among poor people.

      I was with you right up until the last para. I think talking about things is almost always better than not talking about them, even if things get hairy in the short term. For “the Left” (what there is of it…) to tell people that not everything is their fault doesn’t mean that they should sit and wait to be rescued, or give up. And no one said that, anyhow.

      I think the same cultures that might at times hold people back in some ways can also have a lot of creativity and resilience, especially when people work together. (Like, when they form unions.) Keep hope alive, right? Anyway, I dug what you said.

      1. Oh, I agree. Ever the skeptic, I merely wonder if there are indeed costs to class consciousness. As an atheist, I’m reminded of the studies finding happiness correlating with religion. It isn’t a case for believing in something just to feel better, but it makes one wonder about the role of psychology in all this. I do struggle, however, right now with what seem like such overwhelmingly intransigent economic dynamics of exploitation. At least with slavery, you could point to a simple biological fact and say, “this is wrong, let’s not do it”. But wage slavery, generational poverty, systemic lack of access to human and societal capital are such a large part of our economic and social system. Bah… it’s summer and, like Harold, maybe I’m hit with the reality that my low-SES students have it so hard while I bask in the relative glow of my “eliteness” and I’m venting.

        1. You’re right that the psychology is right at the center. Even when I think about your basic Wall Street “type,” I think our ideas about individualism are unrealistic. Even the coldest greediest person wants money mostly for reasons that have to do with other people, not just for him or herself. Even if it’s just to get on a Forbes list, or to score with chicks, or whatever. That doesn’t make them any nicer necessarily, but the worship of “individualism” that we have here flattens something that I think is more complicated.

          And perhaps one difference between that person and a more proggy type, imho, is the question of who they think the “us” is. Just like Harold is saying. If one thinks humans are unalterably base and untrustworthy, and it’s all dog-eat-dog, then of course one would want to amass a big pile of money to hide behind, or beat others over the head with, or [insert metaphor].

          No hardworking teacher such as yourself should ever feel guilty for having a good life, btw! That is why we have unions, that is why we need unions. I think everyone should have a pension, and people who think otherwise have obviously been brainwashed.

    2. our economy demands a low status, undereducated, underpaid labor force. This is Galtian propoganda. In reality, our political system permits a low status, undereducated, underpaid labor force.

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