Classism: The burning of a hillside city

Stocks are down, home values are down, jobs are down. People in every corner of America are struggling to get health care and a decent meal, and the poor and destitute around the world are suffering. All the while, the rich CEOs, doctors, insurance companies, your boss, and the guy down the street who recently renovated his home are all stuffing their pockets. America is a nation ruled by greed, apathetic toward any person or cause which doesn’t provide a financial advantage.

Or so goes the narrative.

As the fog of racism fades into our national past there is a new cancer looming in society that threatens to destabilize our nation through the tyranny of the masses. It goes by the name of Classism – prejudice on the basis of social and economic achievement. The term, like “racism” is commonly and mistakenly used to condemn hate from one group and ignore hate from another, when in fact the prejudice runs both ways. Many people are quick to point out the advantages of the affluent, and demonizing them works to advance their cause of wealth redistribution. There is typically a solid majority of our society that values hard work and innovation, and seeks to preserve the values of capitalism. However, in recent years fragments of this group have begun to break away, casting a shadow of doubt over the future of liberty and prosperity in America – and, by extension, the world.

One of these groups is formed by pseudo-anarchists who – largely fueled by conspiracy propaganda – have come to see nearly all authority as invalid and corrupt. They believe that economic, social, or political power is achieved only through making corrupt deals and stepping all over the rest of us. Hence, their authority cannot be trusted, as it will surely be used to make the “rich richer, and the poor poorer.” To be clear, they aren’t opposed to capitalism as a system. They like freedom and low taxes. But they see themselves as righteous enemies of corruption, and those “enemies” usually take the form of anyone who is financially successful. Their rants tend to sound a bit like the last lines of Marx’s Communist Manifesto: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

You simply cannot be pro-capitalism and anti-wealth at the same time. This “us” versus “them” approach has the net effect of working against private enterprise – a mentality which is the very cause of government expansion. It is a tragic irony.

During the French Revolution, a printer named Jean-Paul Marat became a leading voice for the revolution by filling his newspaper distorted rumors and vitriolic rhetoric against the ruling class. He advocated no other solution in the name of liberty than the severed heads of the practically the entire aristocracy and anyone that spoke against the revolution. While many modern-day anti-government activists have taken on this role, I believe a better persona by which to model the cause of limited government is that of John Adams, who deplored the violence in France, pointing to justice and reason as the appropriate ends of revolution. What is a revolution worth if justice is not the end result?

Another section of the typically pro-capitalist group that is taking up arms on the other side is a wave of Christians who have been influenced by books such as Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, and Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics, which preach a message of Christian utopianism; that if we will only change the way we live, we can rid the world of hunger, pain, poverty and war. How should we change? By adopting practices and policies that mirror the selflessness of Christ – seeking only to serve and never to gain. They criticize American culture for it’s over-consumption and capitalist system, which “promotes greed”, and is directly in opposition to the call of Christ.

While there is merit to the demand for moderation, this view goes above and beyond, subtly demoralizing any act through which an individual seeks financial or social gain. This view naively posits that gain for one person equals loss for another, therefore it is un-Christian to seek prosperity or advantage. After all, Christ never sought political power, and he told his disciples on several occasions that they should not expect financial rewards, or any sense of stability or security, for their service to God. Therefore, our government should increase welfare programs, stop military action and open the borders, among other things.

This argument is deeply flawed. As Jay Richard’s points out in his recent book Money, Greed & God, there is a difference between selfishness and self-interest, and that through self-interest we must pursue the course of wisdom. Is getting an education an act of selfishness? Protecting one’s family? Pursuing a promotion on the job? Of course not, they are goals which any reasonable man would seek. If, in fact, we are concerned with wisdom and not simply off-the-cuff judgments, we will see that capitalism is far more preferable, when compared to its alternatives, for the alleviation of poverty and disease in the U.S. and the world. I’ve written posts on this before, and surely will in the future.

Both of these segments of society have turned against our leaders in both the private and public sectors. Why did I refer to classism as cancerous? Two reasons: first, it is heavily influenced by lies, which it passes on to others in society. Second, it threatens the sustainability of our nation, which serves as a beacon of liberty, justice and the message of Christ, in the world. To many such a statement may sound extreme, but it’s quite simple really: By crippling our current leaders and stifling the ambitions and development of a generation of Americans, the City on a Hill will be reduced to something more akin to a village on the plain.

Perhaps the biggest lie on which these destructive arguments rest is that the economic “pie” is finite, so if a large piece given to one person necessarily means a smaller piece given to someone else – hence, capitalism is inherently selfish. In reality, wealth is created. How much total wealth was there 1000 years ago, compared to today? Most people in the middle ages were poor, except for a very small ruling class, but even then, middle class families today enjoy many of the royal luxuries of previous centuries. The total volume of wealth circulating among all classes is vastly more, and continues to grow – thanks to capitalism. America’s poor are better off than they were even 100 years ago. Because of progressive social programs? No. Socialism never made anyone better off, though it did manage to kill countless millions in Russia, China, Germany, Cambodia, Cuba, et cetera. The poor are in better condition because of the freedom to invest, innovate, compete and provide services and products as society demands.

It is a system on which our nation has been built, and from which it has acquired significant wealth. Everyone in the society benefits from this wealth, even if not proportionately. To think that it should be proportionate is to ignore the reality of the free society. There will always be the poor and the rich, and this is almost entirely based on whether a person can provide a valuable service to another. I find it an interesting phenomena that the building of wealth and the service one provides to society are so closely related. (“give and it shall be given…)

The true cause of poverty is that some among us fail to provide any service which would provide balance to a basic cost of living, by their own choice or not. They either cannot work, or their work simply isn’t of value. The way to fix this is not through forcing income redistribution and limiting individuals from seeking their full potential, but rather, allowing the system to function properly, raising the standard of health and well being for all. For those who simply cannot find valuable work, it is sensible to have programs to assist them through various means, but this does not have to be entirely funded – and therefore controlled – by the state.

The more taxes are taken up for government programs the less of a responsibility is placed upon the individual to be directly involved in the choices of sacrifice. If we remove personal choice from charity, what moral achievement have we made? People should be allowed to give directly to a person in need, or to a local church or charity who knows the needs of the community best, and are not restricted to the limitations of the state – most importantly, the full and unhindered message of liberation through the gospel of Christ.

Classism, which has taken hold of much of europe in the last century, comes with an inherent desire to weaken the influence of leaders in society, attempting a transfer of power to “the people.” Two very important illusions are created by those who advocate this. One, that the “people” are, in fact, a unified group with entirely unified goals. The second is that the very nature of power is the same, regardless of who fills the position. While the people may be unified in a common enemy at first, their common bonds will dissolve at the very moment of victory. Power of the “people” merely means that the will of some over the will of others.

Friedrich Hayek, in his book, The Road to Serfdom, written during the fight against Nazi Germany, argued that socialist ideology, spurred by classism and anti-capitalist resentment, attempted to create a more just world by using a powerful government to “organize” the economy so that each would get a more “fair” share. The very things which socialists leaders from Germany, Russia, Italy and elsewhere hoped to achieve in the early 1900s–liberty and equality–were effectively stamped out by their radical collectivist reforms, which brought only massacre. We must learn from these lessons, so not to repeat the mistakes.

Protagonists of the class war also fail to see the hypocrisy among its advocates. They condemn the wealthy for owning expensive vehicles or purchasing front-row seats at the ball game, but they feel they have a right to spend their money on the latest tech gadgets and the very new hit movie – on the big IMAX screen. They condemn CEOs for making a million dollars as they employ thousands of people and provide valuable services, but gladly endorse actors and athletes who make much more. They condemn government officials from making deals and funding wars, though they ignore the fact that we all make deals every day and protect our own homes and property from harm. This double standard is a puzzle which America’s affluent must constantly try to navigate. No one wants to be seen as elitist, selfish or arrogant. It is assumed that as you have a better job you will buy the things you really want but couldn’t afford before, but it seems there is a curve to this. If you make a good amount of money you are expected to buy only what everyone else does, lest you be labeled a snob.

Here are some sobering facts: Every nation is greedy. Every nation wants the economic and military strength America has. Every person would rather be wealthy than poor. Every person wants things they can’t afford. Every person seeks to protect what is valuable to them, and pursues the path in life that will help accomplish their goals.

These are not new, nor are they unique to Americans or to wealthy people. Humanity is kind and it is corrupt; generous and greedy; loving and hating; serving and controlling. To cast blame for evil on any race, nation, class or any other social group is not only wrong, but terribly destructive. But when we embrace what is wise and good, and celebrate the leaders of our society – immoral behavior notwithstanding – we are creating a unified body politic, moving toward peace, justice and prosperity, that can effectively bring about these things in every corner of the globe, wherever they are welcomed.

1 Comment

  1. Well said, your second to last paragraph reminds me of a great video by Milton Friedman. http://pwgi.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/greed/

    A couple additional things to say about:

    “The more taxes are taken up for government programs the less of a responsibility is placed upon the individual to be directly involved in the choices of sacrifice. If we remove personal choice from charity, what moral achievement have we made?”

    -Also, the more government takes in taxes the less is available for private investment in factories, etc. that create jobs. It is government that takes from the most productive and gives to the least productive. Even in giving to the very poorest for bare sustenance, most is lost through governmental waste. http://pwgi.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/help-the-poor-by-ending-welfare/

    -Compulsory charity, such as in the form of welfare doesn’t leave anyone fealing charitable. Do you feel the same about the FICA line item on your paystub as you would about anonymously picking up the dinner tab for a struggling family at a restaurant?

    Nice job!

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