Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The New Class Warriors

It's two weeks since the election, but the analysis is still rolling in. Here's a piece I missed when it was posted the day after the election. Daniel Gross' analysis on how the Democrats are encroaching on the GOP's natural "base" -- the wealthy:
On a nationwide basis, the wealthy still vote Republican. But not by much. According to the 2006 exit poll, on a nationwide basis, of all homes making more than $100,000, Republican House candidates received a 51-47 majority, and among those making more than $200,000, Republicans racked up a 53-46 majority. Here's the irony: As the number and relative weight of the wealthy grow, their incomes rising in part because Republicans have cut taxes on their incomes and capital gains, they're proving themselves less likely to vote their economic interests. Somewhere in Manhattan today, the agent for a National Review writer is surely circulating a book proposal: What's the Matter With Greenwich?
Gross has a point -- and it's one that Matt Miller stumbled upon a couple of weeks before Election Day:
Here's my outlandish theory: that economic resentment at the bottom of the top 1% of America's income distribution is the new wild card in public life. Ordinary workers won't rise up against ultras because they take it as given that "the rich get richer." But the hopes and dreams of today's educated class are based on the idea that market capitalism is a meritocracy. The unreachable success of the superrich shreds those dreams.

"I've seen it in my research," says pollster Doug Schoen, who counsels Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton, among others. "If you look at the lower part of the upper class or the upper part of the upper middle class, there's a great deal of frustration. These are people who assumed that their hard work and conventional 'success' would leave them with no worries. It's the type of rumbling that could lead to political volatility."

Lower uppers are doctors, accountants, engineers, lawyers. At companies they're mostly executives above the rank of VP but below the CEO. Their comrades include well-fed members of the media (and even FORTUNE columnists who earn their living as consultants). Lower uppers are professionals who by dint of schooling, hard work, and luck are living better than 99% of the humans who have ever walked the planet. They're also people who can't help but notice how many folks with credentials like theirs are living in Gatsby-esque splendor they'll never enjoy.

This stings. If people no smarter or better than you are making ten or 50 or 100 million dollars in a single year while you're working yourself ragged to earn a million or two-or, God forbid, $400,000-then something must be wrong. You can hear the fallout in conversations across the country. A New York-based market research guru--a well-to-do fellow who's built and sold his own firm-explodes in a rant about ultras bidding up real estate prices. A family doctor in Los Angeles with two kids shakes his head that between tuition and donations, ultras have raised the ante for private school slots to the point where he can't get his kids enrolled. A senior executive at a nationally known firm seethes at the idea of eliminating the estate tax; it is an ultra conspiracy, in his view, a reprehensible giveaway to people whose outsized lucre bears little relation to hard work. As one civic-minded lower-upper businessman told me, even his charity now feels insignificant: When buyout kings plunk down $1 million for a youth or arts group, his $20,000 contribution doesn't get him the right to co-chair a dinner, let alone a seat on the board.
I've seen Miller's point with my own eyes. I recently had a conversation with a friend -- a successful small-business entrepreneur. He talked about the fact that, "on paper, I'm a millionaire." However, in reality, he felt that he was running on a treadmill to keep up -- what with paying for private school for his daughter, while putting aside money for her college, plus all the other acoutrements of suburban living.

He's a strong Republican; however, the level of frustration in his voice was palpable -- and echoed the market-research guru Miller cites above.

In short, if Kevin Phillips were writing his bestseller of fifteen years ago, he might entitle this situation,
The Politics of Rich and Super-Rich.

And when class issues raise their heads, Democrats tend to take advantage (hat tip: the always interesting Tim Cavanaugh).

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