The American Aristocracy

In an opinion in the October 14, 2012 Sunday New York Times, “The Self-Destruction of the One Per Cent,” Chrystia Freeland describes the collapse of one of the world’s richest economies. She draws a parallel between 14th Century Venice and 21st Century United States that might be taken as a lesson in class warfare.

Venice became rich and powerful because her middle- and merchant-class citizens were able to invest in ventures alongside the city-state’s elite. This egalitarian participation in risk and reward benefitted everyone. However, in 1315 the upper class published an official register of the nobility – the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold. No one who was not in the Book could join the ruling oligarchy. This change, called The Closure, or La Serrata in Italian, resulted in cutting off commercial opportunities for new entrants. The nobility became entrenched and commerce was stifled, resulting in an ever-widening gap between the one percent and the rest of society.

We can see the seeds of our own decline in the ever-widening gap between the one percent and the rest of us. Our plutocrats cry “class warfare” if a tax increase on the wealthy is proposed. However, the war is being waged by our plutocrats on our middle class. The financial starvation of our public school systems and legacy admissions to elite colleges are turning education into a “gated community” reserved for the American aristocracy.

The incestuous, nepotistic nature of corporate governance and the flagrant rape of corporate treasuries by CEOs and directors has been described in “Bank Piggies” and “‘Get Your Boot off My Neck’ is Class Warfare?” Ms. Freeman’s column shows that the recent Recession may have been triggered by a real estate bubble and poorly regulated financial institutions, but the cause was a more prolonged fiscal malaise that is reflected in the stagnation of lower- and middle-class earnings. The unrestrained accumulation of the nation’s wealth by the super-rich is pushing the rest of us deeper and deeper into debt and despair.

It is not just the exportation of manufacturing jobs to other countries that forces so many of us to work for lower wages and no benefits. It is also the American version of La Serrata and elimination of the progressive income tax. In the Eisenhower Administration, income tax rates ran as high as 90%, yet we were in a period of economic expansion that created the Interstate Highway System, put human beings on the moon, built a massive nuclear weapon system, established Medicare and Medicaid, and fought a devastating series of wars in Indochina.

What brought us down? Perhaps it was relieving the wealthy of responsibility for paying their fair share of the cost of government and allowing them to establish themselves as oligarchs and aristocrats.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2012 John B. Payne, Attorney

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