Greed is good

When I was at Berkeley, I had only a few decent professors.  One of them (who was really wonderful) taught a British history class covering the period from 1760 to WWII.  He taught us that the Industrial Revolution, though it started in England, petered out.  It lacked the ferocity and longevity that characterized the American version of that same Revolution.

The professor’s explanation for this phenomenon was the class system. Since British workers could not raise themselves out of their class — since they could not live in the fancier neighborhoods or wear the “upper class” clothes — their acquisitiveness quickly maxed out.  Getting together a small nest egg, making sure the roof didn’t leak, having enough food, and being able to go to the pub for a pint were their goals, and those goals were fairly quickly satisfied.  With the vast majority of citizens neither buying nor striving to buy, the pure capitalism of America, which allows people to work and acquire to their heart’s content, just never kicked in.

Certainly when I moved to England some time later, my own observations bore out this same principle, and that was despite the fact that I lived there in the 1980s, not the 1880s.  Working class kids didn’t want champagne, they wanted fake orange drink.  They didn’t want fine leather shoes, they wanted punk boots.  They didn’t want to travel the world, they wanted to binge at the pub.  Their tastes remained simple, so they had little need to work hard or invest or to be innovative.  Add to that the fact that the Government readily provided enough funds for these limited tastes, and you had complete stagnation.

I’m waffling on about this point because of a wonderful batch of paragraphs in an IBD editorial taking apart Obama’s Marxist economic views:

In arguing for a heavier mix of government, he assumes that capitalism unfairly favors the rich, almost exclusively so, and fails to spread prosperity.

“The rich in America have little to complain about,” he carps. “The distribution of wealth is skewed, and levels of inequality are now higher than at any time since the Gilded Age.”

Obama cites data showing a yawning gap between the income of the average worker and the wealthiest 1%. He thinks it’s government’s job to step in and close it — “for purposes of fairness” — by soaking the rich, among other leftist nostrums.

“Between 1971 and 2001,” he complains, “while the median wage and salary income of the average worker showed literally no gain, the income of the top hundredth of a percent went up almost 500%.”

But such a snapshot comparison would be meaningful only if America were a caste society, in which the people making up one income group remained static over time.

Of course that’s not the case. The composition of the rich and poor in this country is in constant flux, as the income distribution changes dramatically over relatively short periods. Few are “stuck” in poverty, or have a “lock” on wealth.

As I see it, aside from being fundamentally wrong, Marxism, to the extent it has a smidgen of rightness in it, applies only to Europe and other stratified societies.  It has absolutely no place in the social fluidity that is America.  I guess this rather obvious point is one more reason explaining why Obama’s European junket was so well received abroad, but left him with fewer fans at home.