The influence of the ruling class comes from its position in the economy and its ability to pay for the politicians’ campaigns. There are not a lot of working-class people at those fundraisers President Obama has been attending lately. And I’d underscore that I am not using the term to argue for a Marxist economy. We need the market. We need incentives. We don’t need our current levels of inequality.
Those at the top of the heap are falling far short of the standards set by American ruling classes of the past. As John Judis, a senior editor at the New Republic, put it in his indispensable 2000 book, “The Paradox of American Democracy,” the American establishment has at crucial moments had “an understanding that individual happiness is inextricably linked to social well-being.” What’s most striking now, by contrast, is “the irresponsibility of the nation’s elites.”
Those elites will have no moral standing to argue for higher taxes on middle-income people or cuts in government programs until they acknowledge how much wealthier they have become than the rest of us and how much pressure they have brought over the years to cut their own taxes. Resolving the deficit problem requires the very rich to recognize their obligation to contribute more to a government that, measured against other wealthy nations, is neither investing enough in the future nor doing a very good job of improving the lives and opportunities of the less affluent.