Reading Between the Lines at the New York Times
By Paul Street at Nov 19, 2006
The reactionary, power-worshipping bullshit never stops over at the "liberal" New York Times. Just look at the "Week in Review" section in today's Times. On the first and third pages you can read about a "New Class War" that has broken out in the U.S.
Who are the great combatants in this "class war?" It's (a) the "the merely rich" versus (b) "the superich" inside the elevated circles of American wealth.
The "merely rich" are those in the top 1 percent, where households receive an average annual income of $940,000. This group has seen its income rise 57 percent between 1990 and 2004.
The "superrich" are those with an average household income of $4.5 million. They make up the top tenth of the top 1 percent - the top 0.1 percent. Their income increased 85 percent between 1990 and 2004.
There's also what we might call the superduperrich - the top 100th of the top 1 percent, with average household incomes of $20 million a year. The .01 percent's income rose 112 percent during the same years. So basically the superdupers have been seeing their income rise at twice the rate as that of the merely rich.
If anyone cares, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of U.S. households rose by 2 percent between 1990 and 2004. In lower income categories, income has stagnated and fallen.
For what it's worth, the poverty rate has risen for five straight years in the U.S. - something that has never happened as long as national poverty statistics have been kept and which does not receive mention in this Times article.
What is the nature of the "war" in question? Apparently the "merely rich" are beginning to privately express "envy" over the stupendous fortunes of the "super-rich." Some of the "merely rich" even suggest that dramatically escalating "superich" incomes are "against the notion of a meritocracy" because they go far beyond - imagine! - any actual achievement or special worth on the part of those receiving $20 million a year or more.
According to Times writer Eric Konigsberg, however, the "superrich''s" incomes may not in fact violate the wonderful American principle of "meritocracy." He quotes the noted liberal author Nicolas Lemann, who explains that the American ideal has always been "equality of opportunity, not equality of result."
The "new class war" is being played out with special intensity in New York City, "a city whose physical layout has always engendered a lot of class mixing." Apparently there are a few spaces in which the two great class combatants regularly confront each other: the priciest neighborhoods of Manhattan, the Hamptons, and the wealthy private schools where the econonomic "elite" sends its children.
It's a "class war" driven by the envy felt by a cohort that averages nearly a million dollars a year in income (we won't even talk about wealth). It is fought over the monumental question of whether or not people "making" $20 million a year really deserve that sort of grotesquely excessive share of the total social income in a nation where more than a million children live at less than half the notoriously inadequate federal poverty level...in a planet where billions live at less than a dollar a day... and in a society where tens of millions or ordinary, hard-working households work extremely long hours just to keep their heads above water and find themselves shouldering an ever larger share of the cost of their basic health care and retirement expenses... and where working- and and lower-middle class kids are increasingly priced out of college and where.....[ fill in the blank...the list of this nation's unmet social needs is endless].
Sorry, but nobody "deserves" more than a twentieth of the "merely rich's" income in a world where so many needs are unmet and poverty is so rife. The rich and superrich's wealth is based to no small extent precisely on the material misery of millions and billions at home and abroad and on the destruction of liveable ecology by the endless pursuit of private capital accumulation.
Other highlights of the "Week in Review" section include a liberal Frank Rich column downplaying internal left-right divisions within the Democratic Party. Rich denies the simple fact that the Democrats' recent mid-term election victory came despite the party's core corporate-plutocratic failure to present a coherent progressive alternative to radical Republican regressivism and imperial militarism. Rich ends by calling for Republicans to "heroically come together" to "save the country" from the madness of boy King George.
Today's mostly affluent Times readers also got to hear from moderate Republican Times columnist David Brooks and the disgraced former Harvard President, onetime high Clinton administration official and purported liberal Lawrence Summers on the benevolent wisdom of the recently deceased arch-regressive economist Milton Friedman. Brooks recalls once being a silly youtfhul socialist who got "demolished" by Friedman's knowing "free market" doctrines. He says that Friedman's noxious career on behalf of the rich and powerful was "an exhilarating demonstration of the power of ideas" and (this is not a joke) "one of the most exhilarating exodus stories of our time."
The "liberal" Democrat Summers - an economist who once advocated the export of more toxic waste to Africa (he reasoned the low life expectancies there meant that the dark continent was under-polluted) - says that he's never "voted the same way" as (the presumably Republican) Friedman. He ads that Friedman gave "too little weight to considerations of social justice" and had too much faith in [something state capitalists like to call - P.S.] "the free market." Still, the former neoliberal Treasury Secretary says that he "lost a hero - a man whose success demonstrates that great ideas convincingly advanced can change the lives of people around the world" - with the passing of Milton Friedman. I wonder how many Times readers know and/or care that for Freidman social justice and its partner democracy were great obstacles to the "free" operation of the insivible hand of markets (translate to mean the visible hand of corporations) whose glorious outcomes we see in the savage inequalities of a society where stunning hyper-opulence for the privielged few combines with insecurity and poverty for the restless many. I wonder how many of them know or care that democracy is impossible in a society like the U.S. where the the "laws of the marketplace" give half of all wealth to the top hundredth of the population, which owns a probably larger share of the nation's political and policy processes. .
One "great idea" of Friedman's that both Brooks and Summers cite as examples of Friedman's greatness seems especially worth mentioning in light of current events. During and after an earlier imperial crime and quagmire called the Vietnam War, Friedman apparently argued "persistently" and "brilliantly" on the need for a so-called "volunteer military."
The nation's military problems have not exactly been overcome by that little innovation, which combines the savage social injustice of the poverty draft with creation of a defacto mercenary army whose members tend to lack the critical citizenship skills to question deceptive and unjust orders and who possess something of a vested material interest in the endless occupation of the world in the defense of something called "the free market," falsely conflated with something our leaders like to call "democracy."
The Times articles discussed are:
David Brooks, “The Smile of Reason,” New York Times, 19 November 2006, section 4, p.12
Eric Konigsberg, “A New Class War: The Haves Vs. The Have Mores,” New York Times, 19 November 2006, section 4, p 1..
Frank Rich, “It's not the Democrats Who Are Divided,” New York Times, 19 November 2006, section 4, p.12.
Lawrence H. Summers, “The Great Liberator,” New York Times, 19 November 2006, section 4, p.13.