There is a war between the onesThere is a reflexive tendency for conservatives to dismiss a wide range of arguments which are grouped under the heading of "class warfare" . . . Pointing out the increasing stratification of American society is variously described as Marxist, socialist, anti-capitalist . . . you get the idea.
Who say there is a war
And the ones who say there isn't.
--Leonard Cohen, There is a War
Income disparity is inherent to a free society, their argument goes, some people will do better than others, that's what opportunity is all about. Which is all well and good. Or would be, if it were the whole story.
Unfortunately, it's just not. Because what we have isn't a free market, a level playing field, or any other metaphor the economic anarchists care to invoke. We have an economic system which is supported and driven by government intervention. It's a plain fact. It may not be what many or most people want, but it needs to be acknowledged.
Because the government taxes generally and spends specifically, government policies almost universally have the effect of taking money away from a broad group and giving it to a narrower group. This is known as redistribution of wealth, and is another thing which conservatives claim to oppose -- but only in the situations they designate as such. Using tax dollars to feed the poor, for example, is called redistribution. Using tax dollars on medical research to develop a new drug, then giving an exclusive patent to a private company to market that drug . . . I'm really not sure what they call that, but apparently it's not redistribution, in their eyes.
In reality, of course, both are redistributive policies. And both have benefits other than redistribution of wealth. Putting money in people's pockets to buy food keeps commerce going in economically-depressed areas, creating opportunities for development. Tax-funded pharmaceutical R&D furthers our understanding of medicine and improves our quality of life. In either case, accountable and judicious administration is required to prevent abuse.
This is where the class war comes in: Since most (if not all) government actions in a market economy have some component of wealth-redistribution to them, there is a constant competition to get the government to enact policies that will benefit some group, or not to enact policies that will benefit some other group. Everybody wants the government to go regulate somebody else, and leave them alone. This is so much the case that an entire industry of class-war mercenaries has grown up around every seat of power in the country. These professional activists are called lobbyists. While the rest of the country goes about its business and hopes against hope for the government to do something that helps them for a change, lobbyists and other activists are in the trenches, fighting the class war. They fight -- through organization, through bribery, through protests -- to focus or divert the government's attention for the benefit of some segment of the global population -- say, union members, or people creeped out by homosexuals, or the Saudi government, or bus riders, or people making more than $500,000 a year.
This is the class war, fought every day on thousands of battlefields, with alliances and front lines constantly shifting from one day to the next.
Even so, the business/conservative strategy of claiming there's no class war has been highly successful. Because for years, especially during the first Internet boom, discussing the war has been taboo in the political mainstream. In 2004, John Edwards played at class-war rhetoric when he invoked the idea of "Two Americas" -- and even this fairly mild reference to the war provoked some fairly hostile responses from the ones who claim there isn't one.
What's the most impressive about this is that even as they've dismissed and mocked any hint of class-warfare rhetoric from the left, the right wing has been eagerly pushing its own brand of the same, under the euphemistic cover of the culture war. The culture war is, on inspection, just a repackaged class war. The emphasized issues are cultural, but the enemy is clear -- rich, snobby, urban elitists. The only difference is that it's not your land or your job or your right to organize that the right wing wants you to look out for. It's the homosexuals and movie studios who want to sex up your kids, the atheists and pagans who want to destroy your faith, and, of course, the liberals with all their class-war demagoguery.
It's a bit uncanny, really, how successful the right wing has been at simultaneously denying that class war exists and insisting that it does. More uncanny is the way they're able to push their war and simultaneously keep the left too gunshy to address it.
The good news is that seems to be coming to an end. Probably emboldened by the lack of attention the matter has received, the elites have managed to inflate class disparity to an insane proportion, so much so that people can no longer ignore the fact. Newly-elected Virginia Dem Jim Webb -- formerly a Reep, and briefly appointed Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy -- had an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, entitled . . .
The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.It remains to be seen whether a Dem Congress will be able or willing to actually fight this war in a meaningful and effective way.
But acknowledging that there's a war being fought is a step in the right direction.