The United States has long shown itself to be the most magnanimous, the most generous country in the world. Wherever there is a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a natural disaster, an epidemic, who is the first to help? The United States. Who helps the most and unselfishly? The United States. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Many now claim that America is an oligarchy. Mostly I find the people saying this to be the same people that are cynical about everything American. They want badly to find fault. So I was and am a little skeptical when they say that America is an oligarchy, a term I’ve seen bandied around for about 5 years now.So I did some research.
I figured that the best way to see if the dreaded 1% had gained an inordinate amount of the wealth in America was simply to look at the past numbers compared to now.
What I found, is that the percentage of wealth controlled by the top 1% in America is not by any means out of the norm when compared to other times in American history. It seems now, that on so many topics, people in the media can just say something is true, and merely toss out some bromides without providing the facts or sound logic to back up what they are saying. First, let’s look at the numbers for the 1% since 1910 in America, then let’s consider what this really means.
As one can see, as of 2010, the percentage of wealth held by the top 1% is certainly not out of step with the norm of American history in the last 80 years. There have of course been variances, but 2010 was comfortably within what seems a normal range of wealth distribution.
The criticisms stink to me of the normal Marxist sentiments so common to the Left. They cannot explain of course how one person being rich, even absurdly rich, in America, keeps another poor.
There are laws that prevent monopolies in the US. The more corporations, the better off we are. All those who complain about “corporatism” and corporations, wake up and make their coffee in their Black & Decker corporation coffee maker, check their email on their Apple corporation laptop, call their friend on their Samsung corporation cell phone, then drive to work in their Toyota corporation car. All the while listening to a left-winger complain about the American oligarchy on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded, NPR. The fact is, corporations made America a superpower, not the magic of the undefined “people.”
Corporations are going, we are told, to destroy the country. But what would this country be but for corporations? Who have developed it? Corporations. Who transact the most marvelous business the world has ever seen? Corporations. ~Jay Gould
For all the Left’s complaining about its all important equality, and its assertions that America is drowning in inequality, the UN’s Human Development report rated the United States third in the world in “Human Development Index” , in 2013. The HDI measures inequality and the score could be maximized if there were no inequality, which to me would be an impossible and destructive goal. Equality tells us almost nothing about the quality of people’s lives. Prisoners in Stalin’s gulags were very equal, and very miserable. Never the less, the cry of inequality in the US seems unwarranted. We’ve had this argument before:
The idea the rich should not get richer displays either a massive lack of economic understanding or a preference for wealth redistribution at all costs, and therefore Marxism. Perhaps I repeat myself. Of course the rich will make more and more money, because it takes money to make money. 86% of all millionaires in the US are self-made, they did not inherit or steal their wealth. They created it via investment or invention. When we as a country reach the tipping point where investment and invention are no longer profitable, we’re on the fast downward slope.
Want a true oligarchy? See Russia, where last year 110 people owned one third of the country’s wealth. Funny thing is, it’s still better off than it was under communism. But don’t tell Paul Krugman that. Vladimir Putin is the richest man in Europe. But don’t tell MSNBC. The Left has confused its boredom, the result of the American hyperpower, for the true angst generated by true poverty, of which there is almost none in the US. As Eric Hoffer pointed out, one of the most astonishing things about the US is the level of relative wealth in which the country’s so-called poor live.
Even the Huffington Post admits that the US is the most generous nation in the world.
Much of the mythology about the American oligarchy is the the result of heretofore unseen level of populism in American politics. Those who worry about the history of wealth concentration in democracies should also study the effects of demagoguery. Playing upon the false and stormy passions of the populace in order to generate votes and approval ratings will prove disastrous for America.
America’s first “oligarchs” the Left’s favorite villains, the robber barons, in reality did more to build America and faster than any other people in history. The freedoms allotted the likes of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and JP Morgan, combined with their ingenuity and energy, launched America past Britain and the rest of Europe. Yet the Left can’t see past Das Kapital.
We’re all dupes now.
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.~Hebrews 13:5-6
One issue I am striving to overcome since returning from Afghanistan, is my persistent displeasure with fellow Americans who don’t seem to realize how good they have it, with how much tough work went in to making this country, with the willing sacrifices that were made, and mostly just how outrageously easy the day to day life of an American really is. The thoughts of the cellulite-ridden mall shoppers standing in line complaining about this or that is a national embarrassment.
The ungrateful person is not concerned about others, he does not complain about injustice so much as their own momentary discomfort, without a second thought about their relative situation. The ungrateful person manifests many of the deadly sins, mostly sloth and gluttony and envy. Since the ungrateful person’s appetites can never be sated, work is seen as evil, since it gets the person no closer to satisfying his personal needs ( an impossibility), this results in sloth. The ungrateful person, paradoxically, never stops trying to satisfy himself, thus gluttony often results, and not only in the overeating of food, but in the hoarding of useless trinkets, clothes, etc, firmly entrenching in him severe materialism. Finally, despite his laziness and his hoarding, he always wishes to have what his neighbor has, and in fact he wishes that his neighbor would lose some of what he has.
Ultimately the ungrateful society is primarily comprised of people without any real skills. They expect all of their needs, including their personal safety, to come from outside sources. As such, they make increasingly poor decisions for themselves. Our state and society has become the great enabler of the ungrateful person, encouraging a plague of horrible personal decisions among its citizens.
An ungrateful society loses its sense of perspective, its ability to tell good from bad, evil from holy. Soon, the democratic state which supports an ungrateful people finds itself the victim of its own populism. It throws money about, just as did the Roman emperors who gained the throne via assassination; they baited Rome’s soldiers and citizenry with exorbitant amounts of money, merely to mollify them. The result backfired utterly, as a people so eligible for purchase will be the first to sink the dagger in the back of the next ruler. Discipline disintegrated. These emperors would have done better for themselves had they offered the money, then had crucified anyone who took it.
An ungrateful society finds itself unable to protect itself at a personal or national level. The weight of self-defense is placed on emergency services. The same skills that are necessary for the individual farmers of history, be they from ancient Greece, Rome or even the original settles of America translate well to that of soldier. Thus, these people were extraordinary fighters, hardy, resilient, cunning, grateful with little. In those societies, before they began to crumble and while they still maintained the visage of nobility and strength, even the aristocrats were able to live ascetically when needed. Make no mistake, George Washington was an aristocrat. Yet he drove himself as he did his troops at Valley Forge. Eventually ungrateful people are overwhelmed by hardier peoples.
Now, I understand that “ungrateful” can be relative, that circumstances can always become so uncomfortable that anyone would complain. Still, when we look at our wealth and the trivial nature of our complaints, can anyone truly say that most are justified? Where are the days when a beer, a cup of coffee, a good book, the beach, were enough? It’s not to say that we should not strive to be better, but our gluttony is destroying us. Clearly, as a people, we have asked far more from our nation than we have put in to it. History’s largest debt supports my thesis. When I hear people complain about the weather, even though it is not hurting any plans, even though they don’t have a job that requires them to be out in the weather, when I hear people complain about perfectly good food, about how walking is hard, breathing is hard, thinking is hard….well I complain about their incessant complaining. Life just isn’t that difficult for me.
Ungrateful people are outraged by nature itself. Someone, the government most likely, should do something to make it all ok. The government should stop hurricanes, make it warmer, make it colder, stop hunger, stop war. The government. If the power goes out, it’s outrage against the government. We’ve become so weak that everything is an outrage. Am I hallucinating, or was it against the rules as a child to even complain about the food on the table in the 1970s? What were the options? Go hungry or eat. Are we doing our children, the world a favor by scrambling for a food that tastes better? As parents are we so stupid as to not know what is actually good for our 3 year old?
I stand by my words, that America past was better than America present. That our people were better. That ungratefulness is the root of our problems, our debt, our gluttony, our lack of important skill, our welfare system, the root of feminism, socialism, liberalism.
In parting I’ll leave you with a tract from Livy’s, The Early History of Rome. Ask yourself, does it portend our ending?
I invite the reader’s attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were the men, and what the means both in politics and war by which Rome’s power was first acquired and subsequently expanded; I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, the the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them. …no country has ever been greater or purer than ours or richer in good citizens and noble deeds; none has been free for so many generations from the vices of avarice and luxury; nowhere have thrift and plain living been for so long held in such esteem. Indeed, poverty, with us, went hand in hand with contentment. Of late years wealth has made us greedy, and self-indulgence has brought us, though every sensual excess, to be, if I may so put it, in love with death both individual and collective.
“Pressure makes diamonds”~General George S. Patton
The stress of being in the military has changed me. And for the better. Though never one to rest on my laurels, my time in the Army has made me sharper, a better organizer and tougher and driven me to expect more of myself and others. I’ve learned not only how to give orders as an NCO, but how to take orders from officers who want something done–and they want it now. My learning experiences were not always pleasant. I’ve dealt with some downright evil people who used authority as a tool for bureaucratic punishment. But all this only drove me to learn the system as well as they had learned it.
We live in the age of vastly lowered expectations. I’ve read several accounts of older people’s experiences in grade school and high school in which they received an “F” on any paper with misspellings, regardless of the quality of the content. Now, some teachers take no points off final grades for spelling mistakes. We lowered the bar for our children and they have sunk to our expectations. Our society pats itself on the back for “helping” little Johnny, when in reality it was just trying make things easier for teachers and slack parents.
Anyone can now join a revolution or even a war. Just press ENTER. In Evgeny Morozov’s excellent book, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, he writes about “Slacktivism”, or the opportunity that social media like Facebook and Twitter provide for anyone living in their mother’s basements to suddenly become a warrior for freedom and democracy, with virtually no danger to themselves. Merely click the “Like” button, and you’re running with the Libyan rebels through Tripoli. But not really. Morozov goes on to study one of my favorite philosophers, Kierkagaard, (I’m an existentialist at heart). Morozov himself, conducting an experiment, even joined Russia’s Cyber War against Georgia and all it took was a laptop, an internet connection, and one hour.
Morozov states in his book:
But whereas the majority of contemporary philosophers and commentators lauded this great leveling as a sign of democratization, Kierkagaard, thought that it might result in a decline of social cohesion, a feast of endless and disinterested reflection, and a triumph of infinite but shallow intellectual curiosity that might prevent deep, meaningful, and spiritual engagement with a particular issue.
The author continues:
This is the kind of shallow commitment that Kierkagaard detested and saw as corrupting the human soul.
Kierkagaard’s main thrust seems to have been: That which costs us little, we value little. In order for something to have value, its acquisition and maintenance must require effort. We do not grow as humans or as societies when all of our needs are met without any danger to ourselves. And thus is my problem with the creeping proto-socialism of Europe and America. It is not that I am against helping the poor, but as with children, we have to know when to take the training wheels off the bike. Otherwise we create the society we have: large groups of people with their hands out but who have never contributed in any way to the strength of the system–and more importantly–have no desire to.
Talk about pressure. Let’s look at a typical Israeli Defense Force Lieutenant. Israeli society has benefited greatly from two things: 1) Mandatory service in the military. 2) The incredible pressure placed on young conscripts faced with warding off Israel’s myriad enemies.
This is not an endorsement for conscription in America because America is missing the key ingredient that Israel has: Pressure from an existential threat. Few Americans fear death or dismemberment as a result of the Iraq of Afghanistan wars. This is a hugely under appreciated aspect of daily Israeli life. But the result of this pressure is an army that allows its NCOs and junior officers to make serious decisions. Young officers and NCOs are expected to perform and with that expectation they’re given the flexibility they need. Also, Israel’s small population necessitates conscription.
As one Israeli Major puts it:
The most interesting people here are the company commanders. They are absolutely amazing people. These are kids–the company commanders are twenty-three. Each of them is in charge of one hundred soldiers and twenty officers and sergeants, three vehicles. Add it up and that means a hundred and twenty rifles, machine guns, bombs, grenades, mines, whatever. Everything. tremendous responsibility.
Perhaps readers have heard of Parkinson’s Law, which states: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. It’s likely that most people can do the same amount of work in 4 hours as they can in 8. Perhaps no person better used the power of Parkinson’s Law than Fyodor Dostoevsky. Saddled with debt from his gambling addiction, and ordered by his publisher to produce books quickly or have the rights to the scripts taken from his, Dostoevsky worked feverishly on two novels: Crime and Punishment and The Gambler–and finished them both in one month. Hit with an “impossible” deadline and facing dire straits kicked in Dostoevsky’s survival mechanism and enabled the miraculous. Today, however, the average American looks to government to save him, squandering the opportunity of strife. We can imagine now, Dostoevsky on the government dole, waiting not for his next inspirations for a great novel, but his next block of government cheese.
As I age, I make a point not to settle and to keep pushing myself. I make things difficult on myself, but not so much as to ensure failure. First, I take online college classes while working full-time. A couple of tricks I use to ensure I get things done (procrastination is a weakness of mine) is first, to try to do one thing a day that I don’t absolutely have to do, but should be done anyway. Secondly, I make a list of things I need to in a day, and check them off as I finish them. This is a good little poke to my psyche, the list is always nagging at my mind and there’s an odd satisfaction from checking off the achievements.
I’ll end with a thought from Sabastian Junger in his book on the war in Afghanistan, aptly titled: War. In his mid 40s and working as an embedded journalist in Kunar Province, Junger has to keep up with 20-something Soldiers climbing mountains at 7000 feet above sea level. Junger made a statement in his book that stuck with me. He says that even when he was hurting badly, he knew from his days running cross-country in college that when the pain begins to set in, you haven’t even come close to going as long or hard as you can.
Anyone who stops when life starts to hurt, anyone who quits at the first sign of trouble is short-changing not only themselves, but the world. If something costs us nothing, it’s worth nothing. And we don’t need Kierkagaard to tell us the truth, we only need our high school football coach: No pain, no gain.
Morozov, Evgeny. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. Public Affairs, 2011.
 Singer, Dan Senor and Saul. Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. Twelve, 2009.
A country cannot remain a superpower without a powerful military. And we simply cannot maintain our current military’s level of power if the entitlements continue to multiply.
They were right, the cynics. America just wasn’t good enough. At least its health care wasn’t. Neither were its white people. Apparently the only thing good enough was the central government.
This is the saddest state I’ve seen this country. It’s amazing really, a country now controlled by a bunch of theorists who went to France on vacation and came back with some deluded ideas about free health care.
Being the best just wasn’t good enough for a lot of people. After all, we were only the best because of all the evil, cheating Americans, greedy business men who made the poor stay in ghettos. And we fought so many wars.
Smug Europeans, who 50 years ago had the choice of the Nazi goose step or the communist one. France? They wanted to be Nazis. “The Germans are here! Yayy! Oh, the Americans are here, too! Yayy!” Pretty French girls tossed flowers at the feet of German storm troopers in the streets of Paris while their men sat confused at the Maginot Line. The French are bitter to this day about that embarassment. Losing wars withers the soul of a country.
Then there’s the Italians. Boy did we whip the hell out of the Italians in WWII. No one even really remembers that. The Germans had to come fight for them. More Teutonic boys with Prussian souls. And so we killed off all the German alpha males, so now you’ll see more German Emo men than German Soldiers.
In the end though, I guess it’s the Europeans who won. We seem to want to copy them in everything. We like their hospitals, though most have never been to one. We like the fact that they don’t fight wars–because America fights them for them. There’d be no war without the US, right? Americans just like spending trillions of dollars and thousands of their sons’ lives in third-word hell holes. It’s so fun. We should copy the Europeans and do nothing for them, like they do for America.
Thank you cynics and Proto-Marxists. You’ve given me everything a 21 year old journalism major could ever want.