I think I could write something every day about the sense of entitlement of the well-to-do in the US and their obliviousness about how bad things really are and how obnoxious their behavior is. The latest example comes from California where the wealthy are balking at cutting back on water use in the face of the extreme drought. For them, money is the primary determinant of what can and cannot be done.
Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.
People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”
Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.
These are the kinds of people that billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanuaer warns his fellow wealthy are soon going to be the targets of pitchforks if they don’t wise up and quickly improve the conditions of the poor and lower middle classes by boosting the minimum wage and other measures.
But his message will likely fall on deaf ears because of the widespread belief among the well-to-do that the poor actually have it easy.
Most of America’s richest think poor people have it easy in this country, according to a new report released by the Pew Research Center. The center surveyed a nationally representative group of people this past fall, and found that the majority of the country’s most financially secure citizens (54 percent at the very top, and 57 percent just below) believe the “poor have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”
This message, exemplified by Mitt Romney’s expressions about the 47% during the last elections, has been flogged relentlessly by the Republican party and conservative media outlets like Fox News and has trickled down and become part of the folklore even among many non-wealthy sectors of the public. Commenter Brian Murtagh’s description about a conversation he had with a woman shows the kind of vague rationalizations made by people in order for the belief to be sustained in the face of contradictory evidence.
All of us like to think of ourselves as basically good people although we recognize that we may have some minor faults. For the very wealthy to sustain that belief, it is necessary to justify extreme inequality by thinking that wealth is correlated with virtue because that lets them off the hook for doing anything because it implies that people can, and indeed should, improve their own conditions. It suggests that helping others is less virtuous because you are then rewarding indolence and making the situation worse. For such people, the welfare state, meager though its benefits may be in the US, is the cause of the problem of poverty, not an attempt to ameliorate its effects.