No Surprise that Survey Shows the Rich Don’t Think Like the Rest of Us

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Pete Woiwode figures that if the 1 percent is going to take a stand against the 99 percent, it might as well be at a country club. Source: Mother Jones

New Orleans   The rich contras have been organizing in Illinois to elect their own and decimate the social safety net in that state, long regarded as a progressive, liberal bastion under both Democrats and Republicans on many core issues. Republicans tended to be moderates able to understand the value of unions and public employees and work with them, and Democrats tended to be Obama-better, but for the most part old school, go-along and get-along types. In recent years, a half-a-billionaire hedge funder was elected governor and has proven to be a radical “aginner” of the first order. An article in the Times detailed how unleashed personal spending and political donations from rich Republicans and Democrats are trying to unsettle the status quo there to make Illinois their personal playground rather than an even playing field.

The piece mentioned a small, but in-depth survey done under the auspices of Northwestern University a couple of years ago with anonymous one-percenters that opened wide a window into many of their highly retro conflations of their own interests with the rest of the population. I looked up the survey with the rather ungainly title, Survey of Economically Successful Americans and the Common Good. The takeaways aren’t pretty for the most part, some are self-serving in the extreme – these were interviews after all — and few were surprising, nonetheless it’s worth taking a look at what they say when they put their cards on the table.

 

**Members of the one percent feel federal and elected officials are part of their entitlement. About half had been in touch with their US Senators which is way more than Joe Public. They pick up the phone quickly, and they expect to be heard.

**Many tilt toward cutting, rather than expanding, popular entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare. Most favor charter schools, merit pay and other market-oriented education reforms. More than two-thirds say the federal government “has gone too far in regulating business and free enterprise.”

** The one percent are obsessed with the federal budget no matter how little they understand it while members of the general public (57%) think the economy and jobs are the nation’s most pressing problem and only five percent of the general public thinks it is the deficit.

**The one percent may not like politics but they follow it closely compared to the general public and don’t mind spending money to buy their way.

**They claim to care about the common good, but can’t seem to prevent themselves from seeing it through their own experience, so believe market-based miracles and private philanthropy are solutions which they understand and support rather than government.

 

In short, if the rich of Illinois are any barometer, if you’re hoping for a fair deal and some decrease in inequality, don’t wish too much on the stars of the one-percent, unless you’re prepared for harder times, less support, and more disappointment.

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The “Carefree” Entitlement

US Hunger Belt - InfographicNew Orleans   Even after bingeing on the popular cultural phenomenon of Thanksgiving, we still dove deeper and did a bit of binge watching on the clever, funny, and even somewhat political, new Netflix series by comedian Aziz Ansari called “Master of None.” The title is a giveaway obviously, signaling that this will entail self-deprecation of sorts, but that’s just a head fake, like so much of the show.

There’s a throwaway line that is hardly a spoiler alert, but like so much, gets you thinking when Aziz or Dev, as he’s known in the show, is thrown into a typical bit of existential funk towards the end of the run of episodes and wonders what happened to his “carefree” youth and whether he’s running out of time in his early ‘30’s to still chart a different path for his life. What to do? Work? Relationships? Family and children? Stay or go? Watching the show and laughing where appropriate and thinking where forced, I though little of it at the time. This early-30 decision point was common among organizers and staff I supervised over the years. We would often anticipate the conversations, try to preempt decisions with new plans, deeper commitments, promises around projects and locations, and pretty much throw anything we could in front of the path to keep from losing good organizers at the crossroads of their futures.

But, mi companera asked me later about that notion of feeling “carefree,” and caught me short, and made me think about it harder. I can’t remember “carefree” except in the most episodic and haphazard circumstances since before I had memories I guess, or much of them, maybe when I could count my age in single digits. What a fascinating cultural observation of young, middle and upper class privilege to believe that there is a “carefree” entitlement that keeps ticking through the teens, twenties, and into the thirties.

Somewhere in that sense of entitlement is a bridge too far for billions. Bread for the World issued a report saying that 50 million Americans daily face hunger and good insecurity, where they literally have to worry about what to eat and where their next meal will come from. This is a long way from the dominant cultural fear of FOMO or fear of missing out. For the vast number of people in the huge 60% to 80% of US families and likely way more globally, there’s no FOMO, there’s just missing out period, and there’s definitely not a “carefree” entitlement.

And, once lost, it’s gone forever. It’s not something where we catch up again once we’re old as dirt. In fact, the numbers seem to indicate that somewhere between 5 and 10 million elderly are hardly able, or completely unable, to care for themselves and are bilked and abused when they need to be most “carefree.”

Not sure how we demand the right to be carefree, but the more you stop and think about it, the more it seems to be another huge marker of our inequality and the vast divisions between us both financially, and it seems, culturally now as well.

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