Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The self-loathing feedback loop

Billionaire Warren Buffett raised a few eyebrows recently when he said that he and his fellow high-rollers should pony up a few more bucks in taxes each year.

Republicans were up in arms, astounded that someone would dare challenge their anti-tax religion.

Democrats rejoiced, pleased that a respected rich guy appeared to be echoing their calls for additional revenues.

They're both missing the point.

This is not just about taxes. Our nation faces a wealth disparity that rivals that of China (see they're not kicking our ass at everything!) The top 1% essentially own everything. The rest of us are in debt. And the divide just keeps growing.


Because our government policies are set up to benefit those at the very top. Makes sense, when you realize that the wealthy are the ones financing all of our political campaigns. It's basic capitalism at work. Provide a service to your customers and get rewarded financially.

The worst part?

As more money gets concentrated at the very top, the more incentive government has to get their share of that growing pie. And the more they choose to ignore the needs of the rest of us.

So why do we stand for it?

Because we buy into the fantasy of upward mobility. For years, we've been fed the line that all it takes to succeed is a little hard work and dedication. Anyone can make it to the top if they just get up off their fat ass and apply themselves.

Sounds like great advice, right?

Except it's completely unsubstantiated by the facts. Our country offers almost no economic mobility whatsoever. Which means, if you're born poor, you will likely stay that way. And if you're born wealthy, you have almost no risk of dipping down into the ranks of the great unwashed.

Sure, there are exceptions. And those are the stories we get fed on a regular basis, which makes them seem that much more prevalent. Cinderella gets the prince. Rocky becomes heavyweight champ. Some homeless dude played by Will Smith gets a fancy job in a high rise.

These are all great stories. And they're all theoretically possible (in fact, the Will Smith one is actually real). But make no mistake—they are exceptions to the rule. Unfortunately, the rule doesn't make for great theater. Who wants to watch a movie about a working class guy who busts his ass for years, only to be left with arthritic hands and an underperforming 401k?

The end result of this ongoing narrative is that people only blame themselves when they don't make it to the promised land. And they hang on the mistaken belief that the keys to the castle are always within reach as long as they keep plugging away.

Which fits right into the master plan.

When people think they have a legitimate shot at reaching the top, they don't care if the people already at the top get special treatment. Because they want to make sure they'll get that same special treatment when they get there.

Which means they'll sit idly by as our government guts programs that benefit most Americans while lavishing more and more new spending and tax loopholes on those who need it the least.

When most Americans inevitably fail to reach the top? They just learn to hate themselves a little more. Why am I such a failure? Why can't I get ahead? I must not be smart enough or work hard enough. Guess I'll just have to dig in, pull myself up by the boot straps and work even harder.

Go right ahead, monkey. That's exactly what the top 1% want you to do.

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