Plutocratic Socialism and War on the Middle Class
The future of the republic depends on the middle class virtues that property ownership helps to cultivate.
It is becoming increasingly obvious something is amiss. One might be tempted to recall the words of a nineteenth-century revolutionary: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Communism.” But the bloody history of the last century has demonstrated beyond question that Marx was no prophet.
However, a specter is, indeed, haunting not just Europe but the entire world, and ground zero for this strange new spirit is the United States, a land where communism never gained a foothold. This rising spirit has no widely recognized name at present, but it has certain definitive characteristics that coalesce into a singular, grotesque reality. Call it Plutocratic Socialism.
First, consider some facts. In a 2019 Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans claimed that some form of socialism would be good for the country. When the same question was put to Americans in 1942, only 25 percent looked favorably on the socialist agenda. The same poll found that a majority of Democrats today have a positive view of socialism. The political agenda being pushed by Democrats in Congress and by the White House suggests, at the very least, a concerted effort to expand government programs, and in the process expand the lists of clients who find themselves increasingly dependent upon the largesse of the federal government.
Public intellectuals give voice to rising concerns that capitalism is the root cause of some of our most persistent and seemingly intractable problems. Race-guru Ibram X. Kendi puts the matter succinctly and with his characteristic antipathy to nuance: “Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist.” Climate journalist Paul Mason writes that “to save the planet, we have to end capitalism,” and unless we act swiftly, we face “global catastrophe.” The implications are clear. To end two of the greatest scourges of our day—racism and climate change—we must eradicate capitalism. The apparent alternative? Socialism.
At the same time, the much-beleaguered middle class struggles. Many young people find that the relative independence that membership in that class promises is simply beyond reach. Consider these changes: A report published by the Economic Policy Institute found that between 1945 and 1973 “the top 1 percent captured just 4.9 percent of all income growth over that period.” However, between 1973 and 2007 the trend dramatically reversed: “58.7 percent of all income growth [was] concentrated in the hands of the top 1 percent of families.”
According to the Pew Research Center, “the hollowing of the American middle-class has proceeded steadily for more than four decades.” In 1971, 61 percent—a clear majority—of Americans were in the middle-class. By 2015, 50 percent were middle-class, with growth occurring both at the upper and lower ends. Home-ownership, long considered a vital indicator of middle-class status, has become an increasingly elusive dream. Under-employment, student debt, inflation, and a general demoralization have led many to conclude that their standard of living, and happiness in general, will not approximate that of their parents.
Almost as if in response to the frustration, the World Economic Forum launched an ad campaign that included eight predictions for 2030. The first: “You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy.” This was part of a larger initiative they called the “Great Reset.” The coronavirus pandemic provided a focal point and a sense of urgency. The looming “existential threat” of climate change made sweeping action necessary in order to prevent a catastrophe that would dwarf the carnage inflicted by the coronavirus. The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 touched off protests in the U.S. and around the globe raising awareness of racial injustice that seemed to require profound systemic changes.
The common denominator: crisis. The common agent of change? Government power in partnership with many of the world’s largest multinational corporations. According to the WEF website, “The world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. Every country, from the United States to China, must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism.”
The Great Reset represents a sweeping vision for world-wide transformation that mirrors, on a larger scale, the ambitions of the Green New Deal here at home. The collaboration of national governments, international organizations, and transnational corporations suggests a consolidation of power unlike any other peace-time initiative in history. If every country “from the United States to China” joins forces with the world’s most powerful corporations, the ability to effect change will be almost irresistible.
Consider, in this context, some of the “partner” corporations listed at the WEF website: Amazon, Apple, Barclays, Boing, China Construction Bank, Deutsche Bank, Discovery, European Investment Bank, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, IBM, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Kaiser Permanente, LinkedIn, Mastercard, Microsoft, Nasdaq, Netflix, The New York Times, PayPal, Pfizer, Tyson Foods, UPS, Visa, Walmart, Western Union, and dozens more. What is described here is a global plutocracy: rule by the wealthy.
The Great Reset makes explicit a dynamic that has been developing for some time. This new plutocracy is expanding its reach and concentrating its power. In the process, the lines between public and private money and power—between big business and big government—become increasingly blurred.
Yet wealth is not sufficient for gaining access to the current plutocratic class. What is also necessary is a particular outlook, a plutocratic psychology, if you will. This illusory meritocracy is rooted in the false belief that wealth, or proximity to wealth, is an indication of special moral virtue. Not surprisingly, this belief manifests itself in a disposition of self-righteousness whereby those infected by it come to see themselves as superior to their fellow-citizens who are, alas, not wealthy or connected. They come to see themselves as above the law, for law is necessary for controlling the common citizen, but it is certainly not something that should limit those possessing the moral superiority that wealth would seem to denote. Thus, the plutocracy is characterized by both insolence and self-righteousness, and it is not conveniently confined to either the left or right.
A plutocratic class, if it is to survive in a democratic age, must placate insecure, propertyless citizens with state-sponsored benefits that provide the illusion of security. This welfare state will, in time, generate explicit calls for socialist policies and programs. Plutocratic Socialism, then, is a system built on a symbiotic relationship between two seemingly opposed classes: plutocrats and socialists.
We are now witnessing this in America. Of course, the call for socialism today is energized by a woke agenda that takes matters far beyond the confines of economic theory. This woke socialism blames capitalism not only for economic injustices but for racism, climate change, and a host of other nefarious wrongs. This sets the stage for a radical economic, social, and political transformation. The language of revolution—even civil war—is in the air, and the pent-up energy is palpable.
It is important to appreciate the fundamental tension inherent in the union of plutocracy and woke socialism. Woke socialism is rooted in the claim that the world is sharply divided between two classes construed in various ways as the oppressors and the oppressed, the victimizers and the victims, the powerful and the weak. Plutocrats clearly hold the power and those deemed oppressed or marginalized—people of color, women, the poor, those identifying as LGBT, etc.—do not.
It is at this point that things get dicey. Plutocrats must appear to make common cause with the oppressed lest they forfeit the perception of moral authority. To do so they must convince themselves that their special virtue and status provide them with the unique opportunity to do important work on behalf of the oppressed thereby legitimating their own relentless hold on wealth, status, and power.
How else can one explain the self-righteous arrogance of the plutocratic class? How else can one explain the full-on embrace of the Woke agenda by corporate leaders, the military, colleges and universities, the media and so on? How else can one understand the Davos set—comprised of political officials, corporate leaders, and prominent media figures—flying private jets to their annual confab in Switzerland to issue vehement condemnations of behavior that contributes to the “climate crisis.” Their sense of self-importance far exceeds their carbon footprints, which are, alas, far larger than average. They are not socialists, and they never intend to forfeit their wealth, power, and status in the name of equality (or even equity).
This, in a curious fashion, brings us back to Marx. Plutocratic Socialism represents a strange alliance that would have stunned and dismayed the old fellow. It is as if the bourgeoisie and the proletariat decided to strike a secret pact and work together rather than allow their rancorous animosity to ignite a full-blown revolution. The leadership of both classes have much to gain by this seemingly bizarre arrangement. Plutocrats gain moral legitimacy, and socialist leaders gain wealth, status, and power.
This hidden dynamic is one reason why socialist revolutions never come to a successful termination but instead remain stuck in a “transitional” phase where the plutocrats—and those fortunate individuals drawn into their orbit—secure the wealth, status, and power while the revolutionary energy of the masses is allowed to fester perpetually. The persistent frustration is kept from exploding by a steady trickle of goods and services that takes the edge off the despair while fostering a habit of dependence. The recent student-loan forgiveness initiative is a perfect example of this dynamic.
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Although he was deadly wrong in so many ways, Marx did understand that democracy provided an opportunity for revolutionary change. He argued that the first step in the communist revolution was to “win the battle of democracy.” This battle will be won when a majority becomes convinced that the free market is unjust, that property owners have likely benefited from this unjust system, and that socialist policies are necessary and desirable.
Plutocratic Socialism represents the real-life conclusion to the Marxist fantasy. The plutocratic class—working in tandem with socialist agitators in the streets, the educational institutions, and the media—is striving relentlessly toward this end, one where citizens are increasingly dependent and the power of their plutocratic masters is further entrenched. All that stands in the way of this revolutionary agenda are middle class citizens who disdain both the servility of socialism and the insolent power of the plutocracy.
The American Founders understood that political freedom and broadly distributed private property stand or fall together. Anyone concerned about the future of freedom, and about the future of our republic, must work tirelessly to bolster and expand the middle class, middle class property, and the middle class virtues that property ownership helps to cultivate. The strength—indeed, the very survival—of our republic is fundamentally tied to the strength of our middle class.