From Rethinking Social Exclusion, by Simon Winlow and Steve Hall, pg 116:
One of these is the apparent desire of the rich to retreat into private enclaves free from the malignancies of the real world. They want to encounter only those judged safe, subservient or ‘like them’ –and even then only in sufferance –and to restrict their social experience to appointed outlets or institutions that also offer safety from any encounter with the Real. This suggests a growing desire to evacuate the social to occupy a strange post-social and entirely artificial securitised world comprised of sanitised, protected and approved nodes and arteries that cut lines of travel and repose across what was once social space. The movement of the relatively rich from office to gated community, from gated community to private school, from school to retail space, from retail space to country club, from country club to airport, and so on, indicates quite starkly the ‘problem of the social’ in the present.
What I’m keen to explore under the banner of ‘defensive elites’ is the long term cultural consequences of his evacuation for the elites themselves. What about for the children and grandchildren who are raised under these conditions?
In my search for ‘defensive elites’, which is to say high-net worth individuals exhibiting insecurity and defensiveness about their position within society, I’ve tended to focus on the business world. But this fabulously readable book by Harry Browne, The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), suggests I’ve cast the net too narrowly. From loc 877:
Drummer Larry Mullen Jr, not always a reliable ally of the man whose ass he had gazed at across a thousand stages for thirty-plus years, showed similarly touchy out-of-touchness when he whined about dirty looks at Dublin Airport: there was ‘a new resentment of rich people in this country … We have experienced [a situation] where coming in and out of the country at certain times is made more difficult than it should be –not only for us, but for a lot of wealthy people … The better-off [are] being sort of humiliated.’ Without the entrepreneurial rich, Mullen concluded with accidental accuracy, ‘we’d be in a very, very different state’.
Can anyone think of comparable examples? I’m sure there must be loads out there.
Bono on loc 1510 from the same book:
‘It’s much more glamorous to be on the barricades with your handkerchief over your nose than it is to have a bowler and a briefcase and go to work … But … that’s the way to get the work done. It’s uncool. It’s incredibly unhip. But it’s the way to get it done.’
A really interesting overview of the changing composition of the 1%, including the over-stated but nonetheless interesting claim that we are seeing the beginning of a new age in which the 0.1% are coming out from “their behind-the-scenes positions and stepping right onto the political stage”:
All told, the 0.1 percent now owns about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of America combined. And that’s just the official numbers. Plenty of their wealth is parked overseas and in places where it’s hard to get an accurate count of what they’ve accumulated. To get into the club, which comprises around 115,000 households, you need to start with a nest egg of $20 million — and that’s at the very bottom of the super-rich group. George W. Bush just barely makes the cut. He’s very rich, but not among the highest fliers in today’s second Gilded Age.
As you move on up the 0.1 percent ladder, you get folks like Steve Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire who bought a 14-foot shark in formaldehyde for his office, as if to signal his shady business practices (his previous firm, SAC Capital, was shut down by the feds for insider trading). Cohen doesn’t have just one mansion, he has lots of them. His $23 million principal home is in Greenwich, Connecticut, featuring an indoor basketball court, a glass-enclosed pool, a 6,700-square-foot ice skating rink with a Zamboni machine that smoothes the ice, a golf course and a private art museum. He also has five other homes just in the New York area alone.
People like Cohen are a big part of the undue concentration of wealth at the expense of workers and communities — they create little of value for society and siphon off funds for our schools and infrastructure with tax loopholes allowed by bought politicians, like the notorious “carried interest” loophole. You also get bankers CEOs like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and corporate chieftains paid stratospheric salaries even while driving their companies into the ground, like erstwhile GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, formerly of Hewlett Packard.
It used to be that simply being a billionaire would get you into the Forbes 400 list — that was true up until 2006. No more. Our current herd of fatcats has blown past their Gilded Age counterparts to seize an even more gigantic share of the economic pie. According to the magazine, in 2014 you had to have $1.55 billion in the bank vault to make the list. That was $250 million more than in 2013. By 2015, you had to have even more: Carol Jenkins Barnett, whose wealth derives from Publix supermarkets, was too poor to make Forbes with her paltry $1.69 billion.
The hurdle continues to rise rapidly. By 2015, the wealthiest 20 people owned more wealth than half the American population. This group is where you’ll find Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Google, as well as the most successful financiers, like Warren Buffett and George Soros. But the ranks of the very top are no longer filled by mainly by entrepreneurs or even financiers who are self-made. Increasingly, they are populated by people who, thanks to several decades of regressive tax policy, have inherited their wealth; names like Walton and Koch have become common at the apex of wealth. This is the new hereditary aristocracy of means and power. – See more at: http://inequality.org/01-percent/#sthash.bcLCuvNb.dpuf
I wonder how widespread this sentiment is? Obviously there are particular aspects of the Cameron case that this analysis applies to, but it’s hard not to suspect that it reveals a broader world view in which wealth is seen as a constraint due to residual class antagonism:
You often hear of people being “trapped in poverty”, but it is also possible to be trapped in wealth. This is David Cameron’s fate. He is not a financially greedy man, or stinking rich, but he comes from a background in which hereditary wealth is the norm; his wife Samantha even more so. He does not think such wealth is wrong – if he did, he would have an easy remedy: get rid of it – but he finds it embarrassing. He also knows that it can make him politically vulnerable.
Once he began, years ago, to play along with the essentially Left-wing idea that private money is suspect and that tax-planning and legal avoidance are immoral, he was trapped. Now everything he has done in this area is made to look dodgy. Yet it is little different from saving in a tax-free ISA or even buying duty-free drink.
To what extent can we see this same idea expressed today, through the discourse of ‘wealth creators’? What action does it license in the minds of those who hold it? What action might it license?
A great round up plutocrats being absurdly defensive about their social position: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-12-20/bankers-join-billionaires-to-debunk-imbecile-attack-on-top-1-
If anyone encounters further examples of this, I’d love it if you were willing to share them with me. I’m in the early stages of trying to systematically catalogue this stuff.
This is a fascinating account in Mother Jones of the, seemingly botched, attempt by the Koch brothers and their political organisation to smear a New York Times journalist:
Prize-winning New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer made headlines recently when she released a new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, that revealed how the father of the Koch brothers once helped build a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany that was a pet project of Adolph Hitler. Overall, the book tells the tale of a small number of ultrarich donors—including Richard Mellon Scaife and Harry and Lynde Bradley—who did much to create the modern conservative moment, with a strong emphasis on billionaires Charles and David Koch. “It is not easy to uncover the inner workings of an essentially secretive political establishment,” the New York Times‘ review of the book notes. “Mayer has come as close to doing it as anyone is likely to come anytime soon.” And there’s a section in the book that should be particularly chilling for journalists, for Mayer describes how she became the target of a nasty opposition research effort after she wrote about the Koch brothers several years ago.