(Fortune Magazine) -- Not long ago an investment banker worth millions told me that he wasn't in his line of work for the money. "If I was doing this for the money," he said, with no trace of irony, "I'd be at a hedge fund." What to say? Only on a small plot of real estate in lower Manhattan at the dawn of the 21st century could such a statement be remotely fathomable. That it is suggests how debauched our ruling class has become.I actually know quite a few "lower uppers", and I have to agree - some of them are really bitter and angry at the way income is flowing to the upper-uppers. They're as smart (or smarter), they've worked just as hard, but they just haven't gotten that one lucky break that separates the rich from the super-rich. Who knows what such resentment could cause?
The widening chasm between rich and poor may well threaten our democracy. Yet if that banker's lament staggers your brain as it did mine, you're on your way to seeing why America's income gap is arguably less likely to spark a retro fight between proletarians and capitalists than a war between what I call the "lower upper class" and the ultrarich.
Here's my outlandish theory: that economic resentment at the bottom of the top 1 percent of America's income distribution is the new wild card in public life. Ordinary workers won't rise up against ultras because they take it as given that "the rich get richer."
But the hopes and dreams of today's educated class are based on the idea that market capitalism is a meritocracy. The unreachable success of the superrich shreds those dreams.
"I've seen it in my research," says pollster Doug Schoen, who counsels Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton, among others. "If you look at the lower part of the upper class or the upper part of the upper middle class, there's a great deal of frustration. These are people who assumed that their hard work and conventional 'success' would leave them with no worries. It's the type of rumbling that could lead to political volatility."
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Class Warfare: Rich v. Super-rich
Matt Miller tells a story in this week's Fortune Magazine that is almost a parody. Almost, but not quite. Because he may actually be on to something...