SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Suicidal Ruling Class

Why Won’t the Rich and Powerful Try to Save Themselves?

I spent last week at Occupy Miami and Occupy Fort Lauderdale. One question came up several times: What if the system responds—or pretends to respond—to our demands? What if the political class agrees to create more jobs, help the unemployed, let distressed homeowners keep their houses?

Then the Occupy movement (and American progressivism) will be out of business. “President Obama could finish us off over night,” I said. “A speech would be enough. He wouldn’t even have to do anything.”

Obama could announce a big jobs bill, knowing full well that Congressional Republicans would kill it. It would probably increase his reelection prospects.

But don’t worry.

He won’t.

He can’t.

America’s corporate rulers and their pet politicians know that people are furious. They understand that their actions and policies are accelerating the pace of income inequality and creating a growing, permanently alienated underclass.

They know history. Sooner or later, the downtrodden rise up, overthrow and kill their oppressors.

It’s not a nice way to rule. Nor is it smart. So—if all it would take for America’s masters to save themselves from the raging mobs of the not-so-distant future are a few empty words, why not try?

There’s no doubt about the nature or scale of the problem. Economists from left to right agree that the United States suffers from high structural inequality. “At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations,” reported The New York Times on January 5th. According to a Swedish study 42 percent of American boys raised by parents whose incomes fall in the bottom 40 percent of wage earners remain in the bottom 40 percent as adults—a much higher rate than such nations as Denmark (25 percent) and England (30 percent), “a country famous for its class constraints.”

To be poor in the United States is not unusual. Half of Americans live under two times the poverty line. But the depth and persistence of poverty in America is unique among developed industrialized nations. The gap between the poor and the rich is bigger. Mobility—access to the American Dream—is less.

Born rich? You’ll more likely to die rich in the U.S. than in other countries. Born poor? You’re likelier to die poor.

“Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa, found that just 16 percent of Canadian men raised in the bottom tenth of incomes stayed there as adults, compared with 22 percent of Americans. Similarly, 26 percent of American men raised at the top tenth stayed there, but just 18 percent of Canadians.”

When family background determines your fate you look for other options. Like getting rid of the system that makes things that way for your kids and their kids. That’s what happened in France in 1789 and Russia in 1917 and China in 1949.

There is no better predictor of revolution than an absence of economic mobility.

Right-wing extremists dismiss empirical data with anecdotal evidence. “If America is so poor in economic mobility, maybe someone should tell all these people who still want to come to the U.S.,” Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation told the Times.

Someone should.

Most Americans are poor. They don’t need to read these studies. They’re living them. Which is why they want politicians to create big jobs programs, raise wages, establish permanent unemployment benefits (standard in Europe) and impose a moratorium on foreclosures. The polls are clear.

No one cares about Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program.

Yet here we are in the heat of a presidential election year, and no candidate—not “liberal” Obama, not the weird Republican, Ron Paul, no one—is talking about the issues Americans care about.

During the 1930s and 1960s liberal leaders ended street protests by promising change. Why not now? Why isn’t anyone promising to address income inequality? They could lie and break their promises later.

First, the rich are feeling squeezed. The global capitalist system no longer has much room to expand. Emerging markets have emerged. Globalization is not only nearly out of steam, it’s allowing the weakest trading partners to drag down their healthier partners. Feeling squeezed, our rulers aren’t in the mood to be generous. They’d rather loot the scraps of the pending collapse than expand the social safety net.

Second, the ruling classes have fooled themselves into believing that they no longer need to exploit workers in order extract surplus value. They make their profits without us in massive arbitrage transactions that collect spreads from borrowed money. To be sure, it’s a bubble. It’ll burst. But it feels good now.

Third, the rich think they can insulate themselves from the roiling masses of the dispossessed, safe behind high-tech alarm systems inside their gated communities. Arrogance rules.

Louis XVI had good security too.

Finally, there has always been a division within the elites between enlightened liberals and hardass thieves. The liberals don’t like us; they fear us. So they try to keep us satisfied enough not to revolt. The thieves count on brute force—cops, pepper spray, camps—to keep the barbarians at bay. The balance of power has shifted decisively to the thieves—which is why figures like Obama can’t even pretend to care about the issues most important to the great majority of people.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is



  • And political power?

    Well, in over 90% of races, no matter for what office, the person with the most money has won.

    So, you have no money and you have no voice. You just have Hope that some elite will come along and give you a hand. Kinda hard these days for that to happen because you are going to be stomped down by their personnel security force.

  • alex_the_tired
    January 5, 2012 11:12 AM


    Part of this goes back to a recent study (I’m sure it’ll show up on the google) that shows a correlation between sociopaths and the people running Wall Street. That, of course, goes back (at least) to a book, written decades ago, called “The I and the Not-I.” Basically, a lot more people than any of us would like to contemplate do not consider the rest of the human race to be “real.” The most recent example of this was on “Family Guy.” In the episode where Peter drinks kerosene, it turns out he needs a new kidney. The doctor mentions that although Peter’s wife isn’t compatible to give him a kidney, there is a little girl in the next room for whom Lois is a perfect match. And Lois’ response is “Doctor, let’s deal with THIS family’s problems first.”

    It’s what Wall Street has been doing for years. Morality and long-term strategizing have been eliminated because the sociopathic mindset cannot comprehend why everyone should be accorded a piece of the pie. The idea that the purpose of society is to perpetuate itself rather than to self-cannibalize is completely foreign to them. “What? Keeping the maximum number of people employed is a good thing? But, but, then I’ll only be rich, not disgustingly, obscenely rich. I should suffer practically not at all rather than many people suffering greatly? What? Huh? What are you saying? I see your lips moving, but I don’t understand the words coming out of them.”

    To them, it makes sense to wipe out the middle class because all those assets will travel UP the pyramid, into the pockets of the already-rich. As children, we’ve all done this at Monopoly. You end up with everything except Baltic Avenue, and you cackle with glee when one of the other players finally hits Boardwalk (yours, with six hotels). It’s fun as a child. Thank God, most of us are content to wipe out people only at the board game level. But there are people out there who delight, absolutely crow with satisfaction and then glibly toss off a non-argument like “Work smarter, not harder,” when they see someone’s entire life go down the toilet because some billionaire decided to make 2 cents a share more by moving a factory to Hellhole, South America, where workers make 11 cents American every three days.

    The long-term effects of the outsourcing actions are simply not relevant to these people. They seem to WANT the country to collapse into a landscape in which just a few do well. That, of course, goes back to the Protestant Saved/Damned Delusion. If you — so think the sociopaths — can become really rich, then God must love you (God knows, no one else does). And if God loves you, then you won’t disappear when you die. You’ll live forever and ever as one of the Privileged. And, of course, the fewer Privileged there are, the better your odds of sneaking into heaven.

    I can only hope that when the collapse comes, these people are found and locked away in one of the many prisons that dot the landscape. I’d suggest they be locked away in a mental hospital, but Reagan closed all those down.

  • Back in ’31, Pearl Buck wrote, ‘When the rich are too rich there are ways, and when the poor are too poor there are ways.’

    But Russia only overthrew the Czar because the rebels had help from the Kaiser; and China only managed to expel the vultures who had invaded because the vultures had gotten into a tiff among themselves and exhausted themselves to where they could not enforce their hold on their mainland concessions.

    Mostly, rebellions and revolutions fail without support from a major power motivated by hatred for the oppressor, as the Kaiser hated the Czar, and as the French hated the British and therefore supported the American Patriots (when rebels win, they get to call themselves Patriots).

    But what major power will support the Occupy movement?

    All the major powers are in complete agreement: to them what hath, more must be given, and from them what hath not, more shall be taken away.

  • Wow. Really? They wont do it, because they want more money? If only the wealthy would give their money away it would cure the depression? I really don’t see throwing all the money in the world fixing the problem.

  • Nom du jour,

    I am noticing many of the people i know work directly for multi-millionares and/or billionares, some new money, some old.
    I think its funny that these people can claim to be owners of small businesses in the same way the mom and pop noodle shop down the street does. They also view the fact that they are employing people as a form of charity. They claim every possible tax break, and constantly claim credit for it whenever possible. They leave town often, and you end up watching their houses for them. That’s the fun part…then, you realize, you are not being paid.

  • I’ve lurked here for a very, very long time and have let countless bouts of foolishness go by unremarked upon, but this is simply too perfectly ludicrous to ignore:

    patron002: “If only the wealthy would give their money away it would cure the depression? I really don’t see throwing all the money in the world fixing the problem.”

    WTF? Money is the only thing that fixes the problem. Literally. In fact, the “problem” is that the solution is obvious, so much of the western world’s propaganda is dedicated to obscuring the statements of non-corrupt or competent economists. Hand poor people the money that rich people stole and that, quite literally, solves the problem. This isn’t magic or mysticism, it’s the most banal example possible from the first chapter in a 10th-grader’s economics textbook.

  • innocent victim
    January 6, 2012 3:51 PM

    I don’t think that Louis XVI did have good security, Ted. I think his security ebbed as his ability to pay his acolytes with favors and appointments ebbed. He was gradually deserted, and after the national assembly and the drafting of a constitution, many of his court fled to England and to Austria. He soon became confined at Versailles with members of his court. When Louis foolishly failed to endorse the constitution, he sealed his own fate because the revolution could not afford to have him alive and a future threat. He did survive from 1789 to 1792, when he was executed after attempting to escape from France and was betrayed.

    I don’t think that revolution in the US is a prospect. For one thing, this is an age of high technology which is and will be used against those who are threats. Right now, police departments throughout our country are being armed as local military forces; the CIA has been working with local police, NYPD for example in domestic surveillance. We are a much divided people, ethnically and in other ways. Solidarity is a fiction. Most people do not think in terms of class divisions. The media still propel the fiction of a classless society.
    I see the future as a long descent for the so-called middle-class.

  • Sekmet, you do not understand at all. Power is not money, money is a current representation of power, but it in itself is not power. If we started bartering instead of using money you know what, most of those millionaires would still have access to means of production as well as crops, supplies, medicine ect, and would be just fine, the poor would still have nothing, power and money are two different things, they could print money like it was monopoly money and hand it out to people on the street, but it doesn’t mean that money would continue to have value, if you make it impossible for them to profit with money they will find a new way to control. Its that simple, money is important only because those with power make it so.

  • Good stuff, Ted, as usual. I very rarely disagree with you about anything, and you must be doing something right to be so roundly ignored on the syndication scene. Nobody wants to play with fire.

    I do disagree about the violence. It’s not violence we need, but committed organization.

    I do agree about the rich building their own gallows. I liken it to gentlemen farmers who have decided to increase their profits by cutting back on their stores of seed corn.

    I also think that the logical next step in the OWS movement is to set about organizing some kind of city-wide general strike on whatever level possible. Providing those efforts are successful, then mobilize to transform the city-wide strike into a nation-wide strike.

    Targeted strikes upon the 1% would work too. The lobbyists, the golf courses, the country clubs, the posh restaurants and clubs.

  • You missed the most obvious answer to why they do nothing, Ted. Because they don’t have to. Look, I will bet your annual salary vs. mine every year that there won’t be a substantive revolution in the US in the coming year. I’ll do it right now. I bet you my 2012 income vs. your 2012 income that there will be no meaningful revolt or change of economic and social structure in 2012. I will agree to do this every year as long as you and I both live…and I’m willing to bet I will win each year. I don’t think anything is going to happen……this year, next year, 10 years from now, 20 years from now……tomorrow we will have more of the same…just….more of it.

  • @patron

    “If we started bartering instead of using money you know what, most of those millionaires would still have access to means of production as well . . .”

    If we no longer used money, then millionaires would no longer be millionaires, because their money would be worthless. The same for billionaires and trillionaires.

  • “patron002 says: Sekmet, you do not understand at all. Power is not money, money is a current representation of power, but it in itself is not power.”

    That is a) wrong and b) irrelevant.

    a) Money is not a “representation” of power. It can be exchanged for goods and services that affect the world outside oneself. It is very much a form of power. Is it a universal form of power in all contexts? No, but such a universal form of power does not exist — we’d call such a thing “magic.”

    b) It’s also completely irrelevant, so much so that I can’t even comment on the response. It’s so ungermane to the point that I would actually have to create a criteria linking it to the point in order to critique it.

    What matters is this: we have a consumer economy. Is that an objectively good thing? Hell no. But we have one. To work, a consumer economy needs several things, one of those things being that consumers must consume a crap-ton of goods. To consume a crap-ton of goods, consumers must have money.

    Do our consumers have money? No.
    Do they therefore consume a crap-ton of goods? No.
    So can our economy work? No.

    Where did that money go? Rich people stole it. Not mismanaged, not borrowed, not @#$*&*#$&(@$( gambled and if I hear one more person piss and moan about the “Wall Street Casino” I will become consumed with the desperate need to perforate said individual with sporting equipment. Wall Street didn’t gamble a damn thing. They took your stuff. Casinos don’t gamble with your money: you gamble at a casino. Casinos take your money. That’s what happened, what always happens, with a U.S. aristocracy.

    The trick is, said aristocracy stole so much money that consumers had nothing left with which to drive the economy. The aristocracy stole the seed-corn. Their response? Steal even more money to restore the economy. The problem here is that there’s nothing left to steal. They are trying to suck up vacuum. It’s blood from a stone.

    But why do this? Why engage in what most, erroneously, deem stupidity? Because the money is a point of pride. The taking and the having is proof of one’s worth. Hoard cats and you’re crazy, hoard newspapers and you’re pathetic, but hoard a billion dollars and you are a success. They could no more give up money than you could give up a slice of your own genitals. They’re not stupid people — okay, well, their individual stupidity varies. They are not inherently a stupid people. They are horrible people and they select for horribleness and do their damnedest to expel non-horrible people from their number. And it goes against said horribleness to give poor people back the money that was stolen from them, even if it saves their own skin.