In “Temerity at the Top” Bobo gurgles that if we want to encourage more economic growth, we could start by not bashing the few super-ambitious people at the top. It would have been helpful, maybe, if Bobo had offered an example of such “bashing” but… Prof. Krugman, in “Disdain for Workers,” says these days we are getting to really see the beliefs of the party that is of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy. Here’s Bobo:
I guess we’re all supposed to be talking about how to build the middle class these days and look askance at the top 1 percent. But would you mind if I interrupted this cultural moment to point out that capitalism is an inherently elitist enterprise?
Prosperity is often driven by small enclaves of extraordinary individuals that build new industries and amass large fortunes. These driven, manic individuals are frequently unpleasant to be around. But, if your country is not attracting and nurturing them, you’re cooked.
Let’s take a contemporary example, Elon Musk, who was just beautifully profiled by Ashlee Vance in Bloomberg Businessweek.
For those who don’t read the financial press or the gossip blogs, Musk is a 41-year-old entrepreneur who grew up in South Africa. At 15, he migrated to Canada, worked on farms and at a lumber mill and then got into Queen’s University in Ontario.
After two years, he transferred to Penn, earning degrees in economics and physics. While there, as he recently told Jon Stewart, he concluded that the three areas that would most transform humanity were the Internet, sustainable energy and space exploration.
He dropped out of a graduate physics program at Stanford to help start an Internet map and directory company called Zip2, which was sold to Compaq for more than $300 million.
He took his share of that money and helped create PayPal, serving for a time as its chief executive. When that was sold, he poured his share of his money into SpaceX, a space exploration company; Tesla, an electric car company; SolarCity, a solar power company; and Everdream, a data-center software firm.
SpaceX is the first private company to send a rocket into space. Already profitable, it has a long line of orders to take things into space. Tesla is selling its second model for about $55,000 each. Musk decided to revolutionize three industries all at once and is sort of doing it. His net worth is estimated to be about $2 billion.
Musk also told Businessweek about two other project designs he is working on. The first is something called the Hyperloop, a tube capable of taking people from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in 30 minutes. The second is a vertical lift-off supersonic passenger jet that would surpass Boeing. He also hopes to open up a space colony on Mars within 10 or 15 years.
“Boldness of enterprise is the foremost cause of [America’s] rapid progress, its strength and its greatness,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote nearly a couple of centuries ago. Musk is a fountain of bold enterprises, though, of course, he also has the vices of his virtues.
Many employees love him, but there has been at least one blog set up to catalog his mistreatment of those he deems mediocre. He’s run through two marriages already, and his first ex-wife wrote a brutal but not necessarily persuasive takedown of him in Marie Claire. He’s taken a grand total of one vacation in four years, and his romantic life has faltered. As he told Vance, “I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need a girlfriend. How much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours?”
Musk is grandiose: a grand lifestyle, grand riches, grand vision and grand verbiage. Playing a computer game with a writer from ForbesLife, he let loose a characteristic burst of vast if vaporous ideas: “You can look at modern history where its not so much genetics going into battle as a battle of meme structures.”
Today, grandiosity is out of style. We’ve just been through a financial crisis fueled by people who got too big for their britches. We’ve got an online and media culture that specializes in ridiculing grand people.
Caution rules. The number of jobs created by business start-ups under President Obama is much lower than under the three previous presidents. The World Economic Forum ranks the competitiveness of nations, and the U.S. has lost ground in each of the last four years.
But, if growth is ever going to rebound, the U.S. will need a grandiosity rebound and the policies that encourage rich people with brass: immigration policies that attract people like Musk, tax rates that encourage risk and government policies that boost them along (SpaceX has benefited greatly from NASA, and Tesla received a big government loan).
Most of all, there has to be a culture that gives two cheers to grandiosity. Government can influence growth, but it’s people like Musk who create it. Stories like his are worth repeating because maybe some reader will think: What grand transformational process do I want to be a part of? If Musk pinioned his life to the Internet, electric cars and interplanetary travel, what are my projects?
A few ridiculously ambitious people can change an economy more than any president.
Bobo also didn’t mention the fact that Musk’s companies have been the recipients of millions and millions of evil government loans and grants… Here’s Prof. Krugman:
By now everyone knows how Mitt Romney, speaking to donors in Boca Raton, washed his hands of almost half the country — the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes — declaring, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” By now, also, many people are aware that the great bulk of the 47 percent are hardly moochers; most are working families who pay payroll taxes, and elderly or disabled Americans make up a majority of the rest.
But here’s the question: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.
For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.
Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day — a holiday that specifically celebrates America’s workers. Here’s what it said, in its entirety: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses.
Lest you think that this was just a personal slip, consider Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. What did he have to say about American workers? Actually, nothing: the words “worker” or “workers” never passed his lips. This was in strong contrast to President Obama’s convention speech a week later, which put a lot of emphasis on workers — especially, of course, but not only, workers who benefited from the auto bailout.
And when Mr. Romney waxed rhapsodic about the opportunities America offered to immigrants, he declared that they came in pursuit of “freedom to build a business.” What about those who came here not to found businesses, but simply to make an honest living? Not worth mentioning.
Needless to say, the G.O.P.’s disdain for workers goes deeper than rhetoric. It’s deeply embedded in the party’s policy priorities. Mr. Romney’s remarks spoke to a widespread belief on the right that taxes on working Americans are, if anything, too low. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal famously described low-income workers whose wages fall below the income-tax threshold as “lucky duckies.”
What really needs cutting, the right believes, are taxes on corporate profits, capital gains, dividends, and very high salaries — that is, taxes that fall on investors and executives, not ordinary workers. This despite the fact that people who derive their income from investments, not wages — people like, say, Willard Mitt Romney — already pay remarkably little in taxes.
Where does this disdain for workers come from? Some of it, obviously, reflects the influence of money in politics: big-money donors, like the ones Mr. Romney was speaking to when he went off on half the nation, don’t live paycheck to paycheck. But it also reflects the extent to which the G.O.P. has been taken over by an Ayn Rand-type vision of society, in which a handful of heroic businessmen are responsible for all economic good, while the rest of us are just along for the ride.
In the eyes of those who share this vision, the wealthy deserve special treatment, and not just in the form of low taxes. They must also receive respect, indeed deference, at all times. That’s why even the slightest hint from the president that the rich might not be all that — that, say, some bankers may have behaved badly, or that even “job creators” depend on government-built infrastructure — elicits frantic cries that Mr. Obama is a socialist.
Now, such sentiments aren’t new; “Atlas Shrugged” was, after all, published in 1957. In the past, however, even Republican politicians who privately shared the elite’s contempt for the masses knew enough to keep it to themselves and managed to fake some appreciation for ordinary workers. At this point, however, the party’s contempt for the working class is apparently too complete, too pervasive to hide.
The point is that what people are now calling the Boca Moment wasn’t some trivial gaffe. It was a window into the true attitudes of what has become a party of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy, a party that considers the rest of us unworthy of even a pretense of respect.