Are You an Elitist? Class Warfare and the New Nobility

Class warfare reflects a dysfunctional divide-and-conquer society.

One of the easiest ways to put someone on the defensive in America is to accuse him/her of being an elitist. The power of this accusation derives from a complex mix of dynamics. At least one goes all the way back to the founding principles of the nation: a profound and abiding distrust of monarchy and landed nobility, and a well-grounded fear that democracy could be subverted and a new form of feudal monarchy returned to power.

It is increasingly clear that a new form of feudalism has indeed subverted democracy, and that the New Feudalism is powered by concentrations of private wealth and centralized state control: what I call the New Nobility.

Recall my Feudalism Corollary #1:

If the citizenry cannot replace a dysfunctional government and/or limit the power of the financial Aristocracy at the ballot box, the nation is a democracy in name only.

This is why politicians bred in the hothouses of elite universities must perform “I’m one of you” rituals such as publicly enjoying low-brow snack food and attending mid-brow music performances. That such transparent immunizations against charges of elitism still work is testament to the credulity of a media-soaked populace.

There is an uglier aspect to the accusatory power of charges of elitism: as the sense that hard work and integrity are no longer guarantees of upward mobility in America, a corrosive class envy is coming to a boil.

This is the subtext of the emergent topic of the day, wealth and income inequality.

Since the vast majority of us cannot lash out in any satisfying way at the top .01% who own most of the wealth and control the political machinery–in other words, the New Nobility–we seek some other accessible target.

Expressing anger at the representatives of authority–police, Homeland Security, etc.–is a risky proposition, as being beaten and hauled off to jail or being shot are distinct possibilities.

Beyond the overwhelming use of raw force, authorities maintain an arsenal of soft weapons such as false public accusations, vague legal charges that keep morphing as the accused demolishes each specific charge, IRS audits, and so on.

This rage at the dominance of essentially feudal elites and their armies of underlings willing to enforce their rule is increasingly being directed at the elected toadies and lackeys. In response, craven politicos are restricting their exposure to angry serfs.

That leaves the top 10% as the only accessible target for class envy and the generalized rage of a peasantry that cannot identify the causes of their servitude.This is misdirection, of course; the top 10% of professionals and technocrats have benefited within the New Feudalism, but they are functionaries, not the New Nobility.

It’s clear that the top 10%–the class of technocrats, professionals, entrepreneurs and creatives–has managed to increase their wealth despite the dominance of the top .01%, whose wealth and power has pulled away from the top 10% and even the top 1%.

The Richest Rich Are in a Class by Themselves: top .01% and top .1%

The top 5% has done marginally better than the top 10%, and the top 20% have done better than the bottom 80%:

A household income of around $150,000 a year qualifies as a top 10% income:

$105,000 to $109,999: 81.09%

$145,000 to $149,999: 90.20%

$190,000 to $194,999: 95.21%

Because the super-wealthy are in the top 5% and top 1%, the average incomes of these groups are heavily skewed by the enormous incomes of the top 01%. As a result, it would be more accurate to remove the top .1% from the top 10%, top 5% and top 1%, but I haven’t found any statistical charts that reflect this.

For their part, the top 10%/5% are feeling unfairly targeted by this class envy, as they pay the vast majority of income taxes: CBO:Top 40% Paid 106.2% of Income Taxes; Bottom 40% Paid -9.1%

The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes

While inherited wealth plays a part in the top .1%, most of the top 10%/5% have earned their wealth the old-fashioned way, by obtaining professional degrees or starting businesses, and by being married/having two incomes: Explaining income inequality by household demographics.

Rather than being “the enemy,” the top 10% feels they’re the good guys, the ones providing jobs and paying most of the taxes that support the bottom 40%. While the bottom 90% focuses on their own set of resentments, the top 10% have their own resentments: the public services they pay for are often marginal or poor quality.

This reality is fueling a movement of wealthier communities to incorporate into new cities that are operated for the benefit of their residents: services are run more like businesses than spoils systems (the default model of large urban cities), taxes are kept low and feedback from taxpayers keeps service quality high.

I have covered the various class fault lines emerging in America many times: The Three-and-a-Half Class Society (October 22, 2012)

The New Feudalism a partnership of the Tyranny of the Majority, entrenched incumbents and the top .1% Elites. If the political Status Quo alienates the majority by making them pay more taxes, they risk losing power in the next election. If they alienate the top .1% who fund their multi-million-dollar campaigns, then they will also lose power. So they heap the tax burden on what remains of the middle class.

There is a social dimension to this emerging class warfare, a topic I discuss in Bifurcation Nation (June 24, 2013). The top 20% is characterized not just by wealth but by a set of cultural behaviors, values and norms that are increasingly divergent from the norms and behaviors of the bottom 80%.

The haves are married, have college degrees, rarely have military service, attend religious services, and have little contact with those outside their own upper-middle class.

The have-nots are divorced/single parents, less educated, more likely to have served in the military, less likely to attend church, and earn much less than the haves.

I myself am routinely accused of being elitist, on the grounds that few can afford the meals I present here. I have repeatedly proven this assertion to be absolutely false, as home-cooked meals are cheaper than fast-food “value meals” or packaged convenience food. America’s Excuse Book: Take Your Choice, Victim or Heartless Hypocrite (December 2, 2013)

These accusations are especially irksome because I have been low-income for most of my adult life and have carried far too much lumber on far too many jobsites to tolerate any accusations of elitism. I suspect many others routinely accused of elitism feel the same way.

The urge to accuse everyone with something better than you have of being part of an exploitive elite reflects not just generalized rage but the victory of victimhood. Sadly, one of the few ways for the marginalized in our society and economy to “get ahead” is to make claims of victimhood to secure disability, social services, etc. The core of victimhood is “it’s not my fault.” The system rewards victimhood, so it’s no surprise that has become a dominant social norm.

And where does this set of norms lead us? To a dysfunctional divide-and-conquer society in which the top 10% paying most of the taxes is increasingly resentful of the .1% New Nobility above them and the masses below that look at the 10% as the only accessible target of their generalized anger at the injustice of their servitude and powerlessness.

The top .1% New Nobility, which of course includes all the craven politicos in thrall to the super-wealthy, have the means to sequester themselves away in gated estates and private jets. No wonder the top 10% is actively pursuing whatever means are available to avoid the resentments of those below.

Meanwhile, those running the mainstream media and the machinery of governance have to generate targets for the generalized rage other than the actual sources of dysfunction: the centralized state itself and the private concentrations of capital that partner with the state’s elites in the New Nobility.

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6 comments on “Are You an Elitist? Class Warfare and the New Nobility
  1. charlie says:

    This guy is an idiot, if he thinks that “the urge to accuse everyone with something better than you of being part of an exploitive elite,” is a legitimate claim of what most people are thinking. Listen Charlie, if you cannot put up more than a few examples of people running around being angry because of what you claim “victimhood,” then you’re a ahole, pure and simple. Just to let you know, the rage comes from fraud and criminality, not due to your bullshit pop psychology.

  2. Useless Eater says:

    Are you sure you are not justifying your elitism, Chuck?

    LOL! Sort of just kidding. Honestly, I had no reason to suspect you were an elitist or even aspiring to be one until now.

    To be clear, now… are you saying that you are not an elitist because you had a blister once or twice carrying wood or are you saying that you resent being called elitist because you had a blister once or twice carrying wood?

    You and I appear to have a different understanding of what the criteria are for one’s elitistness. For example, if I were accused of being an elite, or an elitist, or merely participating in elitism, I would venture to guess that one of two things would immediately happen in response. First, and most likely, Hell would freeze over, followed by my head exploding and the second option would be that the accuser is either mildly knowledge-challenged or not of this reality. Suffice it to say, accusing me of being elitist would have little effect on me, save a giant guffaw or two (oh, and I would probably copy and paste it to show my friends!)

    So, it would seem to me, in my infinite wisdom, that someone concerned about being labeled something, (anything, really) like being elitist, then that person might well be concerned about more than just who was doing the labeling, but moreover why the concern in the first place.

    BTW, why is this kind of article appearing on Max Keiser anyway? Am I smelling more than just greed? Stick around here, Charles Hughes Smith and I suspect that you shall soon learn what being an elitist really means. I have seen quite an evolution over a fairly short period of time here. Perhaps an evolution would be more applicable to my perception, like the layers of an onion being peeled away and the odor increasing subsequently.

    Are things going hot? Are sides being chosen? I’m just wondering. I haven’t changed in years, and I don’t expect to change much ever again. I may not have influence, but I have been ready for this shit for years. My concern is, genuinely, for those who are getting concerned. Much stirs where the worm turns.

  3. kwazimota says:

    why should we care so much for what the majority think? The most reasonable people, to whom one should pay more attention, will believe that things were done as they were done

  4. G says:

    “This guy is an idiot, if he thinks that “the urge to accuse everyone with something better than you of being part of an exploitive elite,” is a legitimate claim of what most people are thinking. Listen Charlie, if you cannot put up more than a few examples of people running around being angry because of what you claim “victimhood,” then you’re a ahole, pure and simple. Just to let you know, the rage comes from fraud and criminality, not due to your bullshit pop psychology.”

    I think your ad hominem attacks are unwarranted – I think you are giving the public more credit than they deserve – why don’t you go and ask a cross section of the public what they think – the ‘fraud and criminality ‘ you speak of are undoubtedly true, but is just not on most peoples radars. That ‘pop’ psychology is actually quite accurate and not BS at all. I think most people don’t know where to direct their anger because they can’t articulate the underlying cause of their problems, and hence direct it at the top 10%. Go on, i bet most people can accurately articulate what happened in the ‘financial crisis’… phffff

  5. charlie says:

    @G, sorry to say this, but you’re as stupid as the OP. I was a high school teacher, I hear from my former students constantly, regarding how they got screwed, how the continue to get screwed, by a system that lied to them. I have no idea where you or the OP get your information, but given that I have to talk with people, how I am trying my damndest to get them some kind of job, puts me in a position to know a hell of lot more than you two posers. And you seem not to have understood the OP nor my post, he’s claiming that there exists some overt hatred of people who are better off, ala class warfare, and that’s part of victimology, which is putatively a rampant part of that envy. I will tell you this, you apologist POS, people got jacked with the housing bubble, they knew that the criminals who fabricated, got off, they also know that the colleges are no longer available to their progeny, and it’s due to unmitigated fraud. THAT’S what they know, because they keep saying it, though yapps like you and the OP want to ignore them.