Friday, September 27, 2013

More Wealth Supremacy — the Divine Right of Billionaires

Paul Krugman has a nice essay today on sociopathy among America's wealthiest citizens. He begins:
"Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of the American International Group, said something stupid the other day. And we should be glad, because his comments help highlight an important but rarely discussed cost of extreme income inequality — namely, the rise of a small but powerful group of what can only be called sociopaths."
Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group (who through a $3 million birthday party for himself in 2007) said, "It’s a war; it’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939." Krugman left out Lloyd Blankfein's "We are doing God's work".

Berkeley scientists published a 2012 paper: "Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior." Inequality promotes rule-breaking, indifference to others, etc., in those who are better off.

Is it any surprise that greater inequality causes greater immorality? In the course of their money-grubbing, the Benmosches and Schwarzmans and Blankfeins must realize that there is no real justification for anyone making billions while huge numbers struggle at minimum wage. People like Michael Bloomberg (whose wealth grew by about $4 billion in just one year) must either admit that they are leaches or they must invent some 'justification'.

Psychologists call it "cognitive dissonance". Orwell called it "doublethink".

In a different time, monarchs invoked a "divine right of kings". Blankfein, Benmosche, et al., think likewise, that they are divinely entitled. Right-wing economists like Gregory Mankiw appeal instead to innate superiority deriving from genetics. This is a familiar phenomenon in the US. Horrific American behavior in Iraq or Afghanistan is excusable because "Americans aren't really like that". Americans are "exceptional" — citizens of, as Christiane Amanpour put it, the world's "most moral country" or as Madeleine Albright said, "the world's only indispensable nation".

Whatever it's called, the outcome is the same — a wonderland in which gross misdeeds aren't simply justified, they're moral.

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