11 September 2012

Going Galt

Nils at Small Precautions has a chilling summation of the challenge presented by the Rich Folks Who Own Everything separating themselves from the destiny of the rest of society which he calls, wittily, “plutocratic insurgency”.

One of the most important global trends of the last few decades has been the tendency of wealthy elites to hole themselves up in walled off enclaves. These islands of elitism are designed to be largely self-sufficient in their ability to deliver health care, food, security, education, entertainment, etc. to their residents, even as they sit amid seas of social misery.
plutocratic insurgency arises wherever you see financial and economic elites using such enclaves as staging areas for making war on public goods. This is what I take to be the defining political-economic feature of plutocratic insurgency: the attempt on the part of the rich to defund the provisioning of public goods, in order to defang a state which they see as a threat to their prerogatives.
it's worth noting that the idea of plutocratic insurgency on its face is paradoxical, perhaps even oxymoronic: shouldn't plutocrats be the folks most invested in the perpetuation of a system which has them at the top? Why would the system's biggest beneficiaries want to make war on the system? The answer lies in part in the rise of an ideology—or perhaps more accurately, a narrative—that has allowed society's winners to imagine their success not as being the result of either the luck or the skill to work the system for their maximum personal benefit, but on the contrary as having been arrived at by pure dint of their own rebellion against the system.
On the one hand, then, an ideology of rebellion and success through the undermining of “the takers.” The flip side is a material point: the very wealthy today are so rich that they can effectively afford to buy for themselves the sorts of goods which previously required a state to provide. The result is a phenomenon whereby many plutocrats today see no reason to contribute anything to their host societies, and indeed actively make war on the idea that citizenship imbues them with any economic or social responsibilities.

Horrifying. And I am reminded of Thomas Frank's essay from The Baffler, Why Johnny Can't Dissent.

The new businessman quite naturally gravitates to the slogans and sensibility of the rebel sixties to express his understanding of the new Information World. He is led in what one magazine calls "the business revolution" by the office-park subversives it hails as "business activists," "change agents," and "corporate radicals." He speaks to his comrades through commercials like the one for "Warp," a type of IBM computer operating system, in which an electric guitar soundtrack and psychedelic video effects surround hip executives with earrings and hairdos who are visibly stunned by the product's gnarly 'tude (It's a "totally cool way to run your computer," read the product's print ads).
Our businessmen imagine themselves rebels, and our rebels sound more and more like ideologists of business.

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