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Oct 22 2012

Flip the terms

The New Yorker has an article on billionaires who’ve convinced themselves they’re “victimized” by Obama.

A hedge-fund billionaire called Leon Cooperman wrote an open letter to Obama which has been “widely circulated in the business community.”

Evident throughout the letter is a sense of victimization prevalent among so  many of America’s wealthiest people. In an extreme version of this, the rich  feel that they have become the new, vilified underclass. T. J. Rodgers, a  libertarian and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has taken to comparing Barack  Obama’s treatment of the rich to the oppression of ethnic minorities—an  approach, he says, that the President, as an African-American, should be  particularly sensitive to. Clifford S. Asness, the founding partner of the hedge  fund AQR Capital Management, wrote an open letter to the President in 2009,  after Obama blamed “a small group of speculators” for Chrysler’s bankruptcy.  Asness suggested that “hedge funds really need a community organizer,” and  accused the White House of “bullying” the financial sector. Dan Loeb, a  hedge-fund manager who supported Obama in 2008, has compared his Wall Street  peers who still support the President to “battered wives.” “He really loves us  and when he beats us, he doesn’t mean it; he just gets a little angry,” Loeb  wrote in an e-mail in December, 2010, to a group of Wall Street financiers.

Oh lordy – it’s so funny and so disgusting, both at once.

It’s familiar, certainly. I’m distantly acquainted with some rich people who talk that way. Aggrieved; resentful; embattled…in their huge SUVs and their 14 expensive houses.

It’s also familiar from the way MRAs and white supremacists and the Vatican talk. We are the real victims around here – we the rich, we the white, we the men, we the priests and cardinals and popes. We are not the bullies, we are the ones who get bullied.

Nick Hanauer is a Seattle entrepreneur and venture capitalist who was one of  the first investors in Amazon. In a book published this year, he argues that  since the Reagan era American capitalists have enjoyed a uniquely supportive set  of ideological, political, and economic conditions. Their personal enrichment  came to be seen as a precondition for the enrichment of everyone else. Lower  taxes for them were a social good, rather than a selfish perk.

“If you are a job creator, your fifteen-per-cent tax rate is righteous. If  you aren’t, it is a con job,” Hanauer told me. “The idea that the rich deserve  to be rich is a very comforting idea if you are rich.” Referring to Obama’s “You  didn’t build that” remark, at a rally in Virginia in July, which became a  flashpoint with the right, Hanauer said that “the notion that you built it  yourself is what you need to believe to feel comfortable with yourself and your  desire not to pay too much in taxes.”

I know people like that. They don’t just think all that, they even think everybody agrees with them. It’s bizarre.

 

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    … they even think everybody agrees with them.

    Alas, they haven’t kept up with their F. Scott Fitzgerald:

    The not-very-rich are different from you and me.

  2. 2
    Bix

    My boyfriend went to high school with the children of billionaires, and he said they had no idea how much money they had. They actually thought they were poor, which is probably what enables them to position themselves as a victimized underclass.

  3. 3
    Aratina Cage

    I know people like that. They don’t just think all that, they even think everybody agrees with them. It’s bizarre.

    And sadly, I know plenty of poor people who do agree with them and will defend the rich in that way.

  4. 4
    sweynTUV

    I have no problem with people being super-rich if they actually do create wealth and pay a fair percentage of their income in tax. Use your wealth to make low earth orbit more accessible or develop green technology and in my book you can be as rich as you like. The problem is that 99% of those that claim to be wealth creators are nothing of the kind. Their wealth typically comes from opportunistic abuse of unearned power and influence and rather than being spent in a way that drives the economy forward it is just hoarded. Once tradesmen longed to acquire the trappings of a parasitic aristocracy. Nowadays it seems to be quite the opposite.

  5. 5
    Shaker Srinivasan

    Whether the wealthy on Wall Street are being victimized in the political arena or not [I do believe that they are being vilified by the Obama Administration, but not as badly as by Hollande, not yet], I can say this as someone who had lived half his life in a country that was ruined by a bunch of Fabian Socialists from their “commanding heights of economy”: politics of envy spells economic ruin.

    I am also amused by the ease with which religion – yes, religion as in assertions unsupported by logic and evidence – replaces reason, anytime social discourse turns on economics. Suddenly everyone is an expert, as if all the doctoral theses, peer-reviewed publications, and research rewarded with Nobel Prizes in that field amounted to nothing.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Economics? What’s economics got to do with anything? This stuff is politics and rhetoric. Cooperman isn’t an economist; he has a business degree.

  7. 7
    Acolyte of Sagan

    Cooperman! I knew I’d heard that name somewhere…

  8. 8
    Shaker Srinivasan

    Ophelia, I was not talking about Cooperman. I don’t know him, and I don’t care. I was making a general point about the politics and rhetoric surrounding the 99% vs 1%, capitalism, “my real enemy is the world of finance”, and all that “fashionable nonsense”, as you put it in the title of your blog.

  9. 9
    iknklast

    I know people like that who are actually part of the “47%”. They aren’t rich, they aren’t entrepreneurs, and they are people that have suffered from the ongoing concentration of money at the top. And they still think the rich are “job creators” who are being “victimized” by “excessive regulation” put in place by our “socialist president” (who just happens to be black, IIRC).

  10. 10
    dirigible.

    Shaker – “The politics of envy” isn’t a serious Nobel-winning theory of society. It barely qualifies as a bumper sticker.

    But funnily enough the phrase describes those cargo cultists who idealise and defend the entitlement and machinations of the ultra-rich very well indeed.

  11. 11
    smrnda

    The comparison of ‘rich people’ to other minority groups is reprehensible, and a totally false comparison. Being a minority gives on a disadvantage socially and economically. Groups can be oppressed because of a lack of economic, social and political power even when they are a majority (happens in most colonies.) Rich people are rightly detested for having way too much power and influence, more than could possibly be justified by any question of merit.

    I also think part of is is that there’s this argument that nothing a rich person does in their own self-interest can be criticized as socially destructive for any reason.

    You also can’t expect rationality, humility or morals from people with massive amounts of undeserved privilege. They’ll always be the victims, no matter what in their own minds, so they should simply be attacked when possible and ignored when necessary, and people should be educated not to listen to their bullshit. It’s amazing how many not-rich people buy into it.

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