By Jeff Gates
Is America the target of class warfare? That claim, though widely made, misses the point. The problem is more serious and the long-term effects far more troubling. Though the facts are compelling, that conclusion is misleading.
In 2007, 1% of U.S. households claimed 24% of the national income. Those figures were compiled well before a debt-induced recession cost the jobs of millions of Americans. And well before the payment this year of a $144 billion bonus to Wall Street’s elite.
The topmost 1% now owns 34% of all private net worth; the bottom 90% owns 29%. Is that evidence of class warfare or is there something else at work?
The facts suggest that these record-breaking disparities were foreseeable by those sophisticated in trade and finance—but not until Americans could be persuaded to put their faith in a shared mindset now known as the “Washington” consensus.
With its U.S. origins traceable to academia, this mindset insists that we grant not deference but outright dominance to those values denominated in money. That worldview worked its way from intellectuals into legislation to become the law of the land.
Instead of the civil rights refrain, “Let my people go,” this widely shared belief insists on “Let my money go.” So we enacted laws to ensure that money can flow wherever money wants to go in pursuit of the highest returns – as measured in money.
Money, after all, is what really matters.
Over decades, the respect granted financial markets became akin to reverence. In the creation of that shared faith lies how we were induced to displace commonsense with a ‘generally accepted truth’ that unleashed the unbridled forces of finance.
The origins of this mindset recede into the mists of time. Yet its lineage traces to those who honed the skill sets used to excel in global trade and finance.
Fast-forward to modernity and this mindset was imbedded in the curriculum of business and law schools worldwide. Akin to an operating system running silently in the background, this narrow perspective now forms the unstated foundation on which entire economies are built.
Yet those metrics measurable by money fail to reflect either the costs imposed on communities or the values required for healthy and sustainable communities. This glaring mismatch is widely understood with an intuitive certainty that cannot be denied.
Induced to grant lawful dominance to money, people find themselves living unfulfilled lives in unhealthy communities and distressed environments. Educated to behave inconsistent with their inner knowing, people begin to mistrust themselves, societal impotence grows and self-governance recedes.
A simmering resentment colors all as disillusionment morphs into indifference in a disabling cycle that leaves this systemic flaw intact. Rather than challenge the mindset, people adapt and comply.
With compliance come the symptoms of class warfare. But the malady is far more fundamental and its source thoroughly internalized.
The roots of this mindset trace to a form of narcissism made to appear natural and even rational. Money pursuing more money is a pernicious form of self-adoration enabled by our faith in this flawed mindset.
Clinically, narcissism describes a devastatingly vulnerable person who compensates for an inadequacy with a desperate need for admiration and a grandiose self-image.
Within the consensus mindset, this grandiosity takes form as the legally enforced deference granted financial markets to ensure that money can seek more of itself—regardless of the non-monetary results.
By exaggerating the authority that money is allowed in our lives, a mistrust of our intuitive knowledge grows alongside a sense of civic impotence and widening disenchantment.
This mindset is not itself class warfare. Its symptoms are similar but the malady is more debilitating. Financial narcissism not only fractures societies, it also deeply imprints a sense of personal inadequacy and undermines the confidence required for self-governance.
The Seduction of Zion
By inducing America to embrace this mindset, proponents of this narrow worldview evoked a social environment granting dominance to those values calculable in money. No financial return is too much; nor can any return be paid too quickly.
By living with the effects of a shared mindset ill-adapted to people, place and pace, our lives become inconsistent with our intuition and authenticity is displaced with an ill-fitting faith.
Many of our best minds were educated to excel within this narrow range of values while ignoring its incapacitating effects as this perilous self-absorption expanded to global scale under the guise of the U.S.-discrediting Washington consensus.
The seduction is now complete. Major nations, including the U.S., find their principles displaced, their policies dismissed, their economies devastated and their environments depleted.
As the source of this narcissism is identified, this mindset can be replaced with a consensus that reflects the diversity of values required for sustainable communities and truly human societies.
A Vietnam veteran, is a widely acclaimed author, attorney, investment banker, educator and consultant to government, corporate and union leaders worldwide. He served for seven years as counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. He is widely published in the trade, popular and academic press. His latest book is Guilt by Association: How Deception and Self-Deceit Took America to War. His previous books include Democracy at Risk: Rescuing Main Street From Wall Street and The Ownership Solution: Toward a Shared Capitalism for the 21st Century. Topical commentaries appear on the Criminal State website. Jeff is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.