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Revolt of the Rich: Have Our Financial Elites Already Seceded from America?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Richard Clark     Permalink
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Schwarzman benefits from the so-called "carried interest rule" loophole:   financial sharks typically take their compensation in the form of capital gains rather than salaries, thus knocking down their income-tax rate from 35% to 15%.   But that's not the only way Mr. Skin-in-the-Game benefits:   the 6.2% Social Security tax and the 1.45% Medicare tax apply only to wages and salaries, not capital gains distributions.   Accordingly, Schwarzman is stiffing the system in two ways:   not only is his income-tax rate less than half the top marginal rate, he is shorting the very Social Security system that others of his billionaire colleagues, like Pete Peterson, say is unsustainable and needs to be cut.


After the biggest financial meltdown in 80 years and a consequent long, steep drop in the American standard of living, who is the nominee for one of the only two parties allowed to be competitive in American politics?   None other than Mitt Romney, the man who says corporations are people and whose effective rate for federal taxes, at 14%, is lower than that of many a wage slave.


Opposing him will be the incumbent president who must raise a billion dollars to compete.   Much of that loot will come from the same corporations, hedge-fund managers, merger-and-acquisition specialists, and leveraged-buyout artists the president will denounce in pro forma fashion.


The super-rich have seceded from America even as their grip on its control mechanisms has tightened  


That wealth-worship -- and a consequent special status for the wealthy as a kind of clerisy -- should have arisen in the United States is hardly surprising, given the peculiar sort of Protestantism that was planted here from the British Isles.   Starting with the Puritanism of New England, there has been a long and intimate connection between the sanctification of wealth and America's economic and social relationships.   The rich are a class apart because they are the elect.


Most present-day Americans, if they think about the historical roots of our wealth-worship at all, will say something about free markets, rugged individualism, and the Horatio Alger myth -- all in a purely secular context.   But perhaps the most notable 19th-century exponent of wealth as virtue and poverty as the mark of Cain was Russell Herman Conwell, a canny Baptist minister, founder of perhaps the first tabernacle large enough that it could later be called a megachurch, and author of the immensely famous "Acres of Diamonds" speech of 1890 that would make him a rich man.   This is what he said:


"I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich.   " The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community.   Let me say here clearly " ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest.   That is why they are rich.   That is why they are trusted with money.   " I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small.   To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins " is to do wrong " let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings."


The conjoining of wealth, Christian morality, and the American way of life reached an apotheosis in Bruce Barton's 1925 book The Man Nobody Knows.   The son of a Congregationalist minister, Barton, who was an advertising executive, depicted Jesus as a successful salesman, publicist, and the very role model of the modern businessman.


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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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