The rich are "horrible people" -- at least those who lean to the right -- declares economist turned pompous New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in Friday’s “Privilege, Pathology and Power.” The text box: “Can we survive rule by self-centered billionaires?”
Liberal billionaire activist George Soros had no comment.
Krugman channeled opportunistic moralism, citing “social science” to confirm his prejudices that rich people who disagree with him politically are bad, bad folks (Krugman is no prince of humility and civility himself, but that’s a story for another day):
Wealth can be bad for your soul. That’s not just a hoary piece of folk wisdom; it’s a conclusion from serious social science, confirmed by statistical analysis and experiment. The affluent are, on average, less likely to exhibit empathy, less likely to respect norms and even laws, more likely to cheat, than those occupying lower rungs on the economic ladder.
And it’s obvious, even if we don’t have statistical confirmation, that extreme wealth can do extreme spiritual damage. Take someone whose personality might have been merely disagreeable under normal circumstances, and give him the kind of wealth that lets him surround himself with sycophants and usually get whatever he wants. It’s not hard to see how he could become almost pathologically self-regarding and unconcerned with others.
So what happens to a nation that gives ever-growing political power to the superrich?
But it’s also true that those empowered by money-driven politics include a disproportionate number of spoiled egomaniacs. Which brings me to the current election cycle.
Donald Trump took his predictable lumps, but Krugman says he's only getting started. Oddly, all of the awful rich people in American life were found on only one side of the political fence. But his examples were sparse and unconvincing like this caveat-heavy, lawyerly, thrice-removed passel of accusations against a famous GOP donor:
There have been some interesting news reports lately about Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas gambling magnate. Mr. Adelson has been involved in some fairly complex court proceedings, which revolve around claims of misconduct in his operations in Macau, including links to organized crime and prostitution....
But after Adelson, Krugman’s bottomless barrel of corruption and vileness gets awfully empty:
Are there other cases? Yes indeed, even if the egomania doesn’t rise to Adelson levels. I find myself thinking, for example, of the hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, another big power in the G.O.P., who published an investor’s letter declaring that inflation was running rampant -- he could tell from the prices of Hamptons real estate and high-end art. Economists got some laughs out of the incident, but think of the self-absorption required to write something like that without realizing how it would sound to non-billionaires.
That’s Krugman’s evidence for the evil rich?
Speaking of the self-absorption of the wealthy...the Times desperately tries to sell luxury dog houses and $300,000 cars to those same evil rich, while striking (like the extremely well off columnist Paul Krugman) a pompous pose of friends of the working class and Occupy Wall Street.
Or think of the various billionaires who, a few years ago, were declaring with straight faces, and no sign of self-awareness, that President Obama was holding back the economy by suggesting that some businesspeople had misbehaved. You see, he was hurting their feelings.
This is the same Obama who hypocritically called for civility in public life, yet released an enemies list of businessmen who had committed the crime of supporting Mitt Romney for president. That set off the dogs, as opposition research trolled through the divorce papers of one man named, Idaho private businessman and Romney supporter Frank Vandersloot, as documented by Kim Strassel at the Wall Street Journal.
Just to be clear, the biggest reason to oppose the power of money in politics is the way it lets the wealthy rig the system and distort policy priorities. And the biggest reason billionaires hate Mr. Obama is what he did to their taxes, not their feelings. The fact that some of those buying influence are also horrible people is secondary.
An interesting omission from Krugman’s parade of horribles: George Soros, even though the Times itself called out the billionaire liberal activist in a Wednesday front-page article as one of many billionaires taking advantage of tax avoidance schemes: “In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.”