America’s Elites Are on Top of the World

One percent of the rich, outweighs the 99 percent of the poor

Poor David Brooks…

Yesterday, while waiting for one dose of claptrap, we were whacked by another.

Fed chief Janet Yellen was scheduled to speak before the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill at 10:00am. Waiting, we read a column by Mr Brooks in The New York Times:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette.

I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Flattering frauds

Mr Brooks is making a very sensitive comment about how very sensitive he is.

He is also talking nonsense.

His lament is that there is a big gap between the elite and everyone else, illustrated by the divide between someone ‘with only a high school degree’ and himself.

But what kind of higher education would you need to know what soppressata and capicollo are?

A degree in Italian cooking!

And what kind of person, high school degree or not, could possibly care?

That’s the problem with social codes: They are mostly a waste of time.

No matter how much education you’ve suffered, remembering the ingredients in every gourmet concoction in Manhattan is probably not the best use of brain capacity.

And it takes no PhD in psychology to see that Mr Brooks has spent too many hours looking at himself in the shiny metal of sandwich shop counters. He needs to get some fresh air.

America’s elites are on top of the world — with more money, more power and more status than any elite since fourth-century Rome, just before the barbarians arrived.

Studying themselves in the mirror, they wonder: How come we’re so great?

This naturally leads to a lot of flattering frauds. We’re smarter. We’re nicer. We’re the ‘indispensable nation’. We’re more virtuous. We have a better sense of humour and better air conditioning.

Success makes people vain. Then, vanity makes them stupid.

Dervish of distractions

Every student of Economics 101 learns that markets work better than central planning. But Nobel Prize-winning economists insist on setting the price of credit — the most important price in the economy — by committee.

Meanwhile, billionaires ask for tax hikes…and give their money to charities — knowing full well that wealth is much more likely to fructify in private hands with profit motives.

Then there is Donald J. Trump — billionaire extraordinaire…capo di tutti capi.

Not only is he as rich as Croesus, but he also sits at the elite’s most powerful and prestigious desk.

Mr Trump shrewdly recognised that voters were sick of people like Mr Brooks and the elite they represent. They wanted a change. But there he is — up to the same limp tricks as Clinton, Bush and Obama.

He’s not taking away the elite’s cushy privileges. He’s merely swapping one for another…fidgeting with the tax code, rustling around with Obamacare — a dervish of distractions, whirling from crisis to gaffe while remaining in the same place!

But the thinking elite — endlessly interested in themselves — look more closely. They find faults. Then they find solutions.

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Ruining America

They hate our freedoms,’ said President Bush, vainly trying to understand how anyone could have a grudge against such wonderful people.

In the last few years, much has been done to correct this problem. Thanks largely to the Patriot Act, civil asset forfeiture laws, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), and other efforts, Americans’ liberties have been greatly curtailed.

But much remains to be done. The empire is ageing and degenerating, with many new wrinkles appearing on the face of the ugly elite.

David Brooks, for example, thinks we are ‘ruining America’:

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status.

They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

Mr Brooks identifies the chief strategies used by the elite to keep their kids among the winners. They develop ‘behavior codes’. They get tutors and internships for their children…and take them on resume-enhancing trips.

They also use the government as the elite always do: to exploit the common folk.

Zoning restrictions keep poor people out of good neighbourhoods and out of good schools.

The public school system is also a tool for wealth-based segregation. The elites live in good areas with good schools. Their children are surrounded by other good students from good families…and they go to good universities, later getting good jobs.

Mr Brooks singles out zoning restrictions for reinforcing class differences and lowering economic growth:

These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality.

An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Elites always try to protect their status and privileges. They do whatever they can get away with — from sumptuary laws and taxes to subtle language codes and foreign-language menus. (The Romans used Greek as an elite language after Sulla’s victory over the Greek army in 86 BC.)

But if Mr Brooks really wants to know what separates the elite from everyone else, we suggest he stop looking at himself and begin looking at the fake-money system.

It has done far more damage than zoning. And you can’t fix it with Botox.

More to come…

Regards,

Bill Bonner,
For Markets & Money

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Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America's most respected authorities.

Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and MoneyDice Have No Memory: Big Bets & Bad Economics from Paris to the Pampas, the newest book from Bill Bonner, is the definitive compendium of Bill's daily reckonings from more than a decade: 1999-2010. 

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