Lifestyles of the rich and empathy-deprived

One of the things that the Trump shutdown made glaringly obvious is that the wealthy people around Trump have no idea what life is like for ordinary people. Wealthy people have no lack of sources who would give them credit and banks rush to lend them money. They seem to think that this is true for everyone, as evidenced by multi-millionaire commerce secretary Wilbur Ross expressing puzzlement as to why workers were going to food banks when they could just get a loan from a bank, or Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow claiming that the furloughed workers were proud to volunteer for the government, as if doing their jobs was like the unpaid internships that rich people’s children do. Meanwhile, Trump thinks that shops will be more than willing to give credit to furloughed employees.

Then came Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, who called the shutdown “just a glitch.” He went on in a midday gaggle with reporters: “Am I out of touch? I don’t think I’m out of touch. I’m addressing the problem. I’ve met with my individual staff members and God bless them. They’re working for free. They’re volunteering. But they do it because they believe government service is honorable and they believe in President [Donald] Trump.”

“Is this the ‘Let them eat cake’ kind of attitude?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked Thursday. “Or, ‘Call your father for money’? Or, ‘This is character-building for you, it’s all going to end up very well just so long as you don’t get your paychecks’?”

As Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, asked on Twitter, “Have none of these people ever known someone who was broke?”

Asked Thursday about Ross’ comments, Trump said, “Perhaps he should have said it differently.” He said his commerce secretary was trying to say that beleaguered workers would be given breaks by local businesses.

“Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else,” Trump said. “They know the people, they’ve been dealing with them for years, and they work along.”

Seth Meyers had some thoughts last night about these empathy-deprived people.


  1. jrkrideau says

    Wilber Ross and his loans reminds me of the President of one of the major Canadian banks.

    In some kind of meeting a student questioned him on the interest rates for student loans. He said he understood the problem and recommended that individual students should negotiate rates with their bank managers.

  2. suttkus says

    I don’t even know enough about loans to know how that’s stupid. Is negotiating rates a thing people can do? I’m guessing it’s not in a practical sense as otherwise your post doesn’t make sense.

  3. says

    Is negotiating rates a thing people can do?

    Sure, if you’re Paul Manafort negotiating terms with a Russian oligarch who loans you money. Otherwise you gotta be really rich.

    In a sense it’s true -- with some banks you might be able to talk them into loaning you money against home equity, but if their computer says “foreclose” then you’re homeless. That just happened to a friend of mine. He says ot’s guillotine time.

  4. Sam N says

    I don’t think the wealthy have any idea where the knife’s edge is. I don’t either. Only a few are intelligent enough to back progressive policies and understand just how good they have it.

  5. lochaber says

    More and more frequently I find myself linking/quoting Pratchett:

    The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
    Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

    But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

    This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

  6. RationalismRules says

    I happened to see that Kudlow gaggle (on one of the MSNBC shows, I think) and it was one of the few occasions when a reporter immediately called him on the bullshit. Something like this:
    Reporter: “But they’re not volunteering, are they?”
    Kudlow: “What do you mean?”
    Reporter: “They’ve been ordered to work without pay. That’s not volunteering.”

    Kudlow’s brilliant response?: “I don’t want to get into that.” (looking very uncomfortable)

    I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the clip now, sadly. That clip should be sent to every reporter who covers this administration, as a lesson in how to actually be a reporter instead of just a bullshit-distribution-enabler.

  7. EigenSprocketUK says

    Assuming they eventually agree on federal govt funding, will the employees receive back-pay? The cost of overdrafts and extra loans must be considerable even if they do eventually receive the missed pay cheques.
    I can’t imagine they wouldn’t get back-pay, but then there once was a time when I couldn’t imagine USA electing trump either.

  8. Mano Singham says


    Actual federal employees will get back pay. But contractors will not, and they are a huge number. Many of the people doing jobs that look like they are federal employees (such as the janitorial staff that cleans government buildings) are often contractors working for private firms. There are many, many such people due to the drive to ‘privatize’ government services over the past decades. They will be left high and dry. See the comment by lanir to another post for a better explanation of this.

    This privatization was justified on the basis of ‘making government more efficient’ but it also benefited the owners of the private businesses with no obvious savings or improvement in services . The private prison industry is one glaring example.

  9. flex says

    “Making government more efficient” is basically a lie. What it means is really that the accountants will pay less for the services, regardless of any real change in quality or quantity of service. When you measure everything on a per-dollar basis, it is much easier to change the denominator of that equation than trying to quantify the quality of widely differing goods and services.

    This is a fundamental problem with how we perceive efficiency. We measure efficiency against money. Even worse, we equate lower costs with higher efficiency. From this perspective, hiring a private company which charges an office $5000/month for janitorial services is more efficient than hiring two people at $15/hr and a burdened rate of $20/hr, costing about $6,400. The private company may only pay their employees $10/hr, and the burdened rate may be $12/hr, costing the private company $3,840 and netting the private company about $1000 profit. If the same employees clean multiple buildings in a day, and many do, the private company makes even more profit.

    But the efficiency of the job has not changed, only the cost to the company contracting out janitorial services. Service may well have gotten worse, a clogged toilet may take hours to clean because the contract janitorial service must be called and then has to find someone to send out. Even replacing a roll of toilet paper may be delayed by hours, closing down a bathroom and causing great inconvenience to all the workers in an office. The economic theory is that this $1,400 savings in money for the company means the money can be spent on other ways to grow the company, but the reality is that if all parts of a company are saving money this way, the money saved goes into executive’s pockets. Or to bonuses for the accountants who reduced services and saved money.

    This doesn’t even discuss how the contract employee’s lives have gotten worse when they are forced into a contract situation rather than a direct hire one.

    There must be a better way to measure efficiency than by using money as a proxy. Although a wide-spread adoption of an efficiency metric which doesn’t use money as a proxy would probably close a lot of the rent-seeking contract houses. I would consider that a good thing, but there would be a lot of money spent to oppose such a change.

  10. John Morales says

    There must be a better way to measure efficiency than by using money as a proxy.

    Technically, efficiency is the ratio of output to input, but when it comes to things like social services, only proxies are possible, since the metrics themselves are derivative and subjective.

    It’s clear, however, that all else being equal, non-profit enterprises are more efficient than profit enterprises, since (definitionally) any profit detracts from efficiency, it being an externality. So privatisation (not to be conflated with outsourcing) is a priori less efficient than the alternative, and most perniciously, tends to be monopolistic.

  11. Onamission5 says

    @stuukus #3:

    Most college students in the US do not take out private bank loans. The debt they accrue is through the US Department of Education, therefore the US government is their lender, not any specific bank with a branch manager one could speak with, and interest rates, while usually quite low compared to a private loan, are not remotely negotiable. I assume based on jrkrideau’s comment that Canada’s student loan program is similar.

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