Comment on Jon Schwarz’s “Today’s Class War Is the 1 Percent Versus the People Just Below Them”

Jon Schwarz in the Intercept wrote an intelligent and innovative essay Today’s Class War Is the 1 Percent Versus the People Just Below Them, in which he summarizes some of the economic history of the United States since World War Two and references Adam Smith’s warnings about the “great proprietors” of feudalism. Schwarz thinks the super-rich, in their endless greed, are planning to go after the wealth and power of the technocrats — those in the top 10% of wealth holders.

Schwarz’s analysis is not just plausible but is a much better explanation of our society’s dynamics than you’ll get from most of academia, and certainly than what’s transmitted by the MSM. He’s absolutely correct about Adam Smith. It’s not just that the elite don’t like to read stuff, Smith is hard to read with arcane language. So most of the advocates of laissez faire economics have never read him. Maybe Ayn Rand.

I do have some quibbles.

There are four main classes in the US today, not three.
• The owners, 1% or so with a .01% sub class wielding the real power.
• What Schwartz calls the technocrats, what used to be the high end of the working class, which is all that’s left of it. It also includes a segment of unionized trades who are still paid a living wage and small business owners.
• Guy Standing’s Precariat. The gig economy, wage workers one setback (illness, rent hike, job downsized, car accident, crime victim) away from disaster because they have no savings, are in debt up to their eyeballs, and are losing ground steadily. The Uber drivers and others trying to capitalize their transportation asset as a way to make ends meet, but with absolutely no control.
• The underclass, growing exponentially since the 2008 meltdown. About to explode as consolidated ownership of the housing stock drives more and more of the population into homelessness, and metastasizing debt of every kind traps people (thanks for that Bankruptcy Law Joe Biden). Includes our huge prison population. There is no way out except death, no matter how hard you work.

The presence of the Soviet Union had a lot more to do with allowing redistribution to the working class than the memories of WWII horrors experienced by scions of wealth. More of them served in WWII than in later conflicts, but the really connected still mostly avoided the worst duty. Besides, both the US and UK ruling classes would have preferred not to fight Hitler, but circumstances, for once, went against them. They liked the way Hitler and Mussolini dealt with the destabilization of the working classes. They always would have preferred to join forces with him against the USSR. Stuffing the workers full of cheap food and consumer goods was expressed as a strategy in fighting Communism and Socialism, which has scared the shit out of our ruling class ever since 1917, and worried them quite a bit even before that. Fred Kaplan’s, “1959” in describing a trip to the US by a Soviet minister makes it clear that even the Soviets recognized how well that strategy was working. Our elites even made some money doing it, but nothing like what they are raking in now, looting the Treasury, privatizing public revenue streams, and collecting a percentage on our entire financialized economy.

This isn’t a case of a new generation greedier than the last. It’s the result of a strategy, largely, but not completely outlined by the Powell Memo. Add which had roots at least as far back as the Du Pont brothers’ American Liberty League in 1934. The shellacking that Goldwater took espousing all the ideas the ruling class held dear scared them as much as the Bolsheviks killing the Tsar and his family had. The largesse was always going to be temporary, but they saw it had outlived it usefulness and was about to result in expanded demands from the working class, and they didn’t have the political power to stop them at that point. The Soviets Union was still around, but it was clearly a dead man walking. Besides, communists and socialists in the US had been almost completely purged, labor unions largely emasculated, in the late ’40s through the ’50s, with tens of millions of independent small farmers, always a potential source of trouble, driven from the land in a slightly slower process that wrapped up in the ’80s. Democratic politicians instead of pointing to the real causes of the stagflation of the ’70s, were falling all over each other to be the most “fiscally conservative.” Who was going to lead a Left or Left populist rebellion in the US?

They combined a final push against the USSR (Zbigniew Brzezinski convincing Carter to arm the Mujahideen, outright attacks on Left leaning sovereign governments in Latin America, Reagan’s military buildup) with a full court press against any vestige of social liberalism and Keynesianism, and with a restoration of market worship and privatization starting with the Carter administration. (A nice man, perhaps our best ex-president ever, but a lousy president who normalized a lot of right wing economic nonsense within the Democratic Party, and who squandered the political capital of Watergate, the real cause of the Vietnam disaster, rampant interventionism, and the findings of the Church and Pike committees for nothing in return.) That there was a tax rebellion, a sagebrush rebellion, a shareholder rebellion, a rewriting of why the Vietnam War was a disaster, a Libertarian Party formed, and more right wing unrest, all beginning in the late ’70s early ’80s is no coincidence.