This is a tough economy. It’s therefore totally appropriate that discussions of how to make the economy better should be the chief issue in the present election season. But along with legitimate expressions of how this might best be done a nasty undercurrent has crept into the debate. A kind of income and wealth-based neo-racism.

People’s intrinsic, their inherent worth, in this way of thinking, isn’t judged by their color or ethnicity. It’s based on how much they earn and how much they’ve accumulated. There are Alpha People at the top, superior folk. And there are lesser Betas, whose function is to serve or merely to wait for crumbs to be dropped from above.

One sees even more gradations in this way of dividing Americans. Gradations not based on skin tones or ancestry, but gradations akin to bond ratings.

You have Triple-A Alphas, ultra-productive worthies in the billionaire class, Double-A and A-Alphas in the millionaire and CEO grouping, along with various levels of Betas ranging from the tolerable (at least in election years) who work at marginally worthwhile vocations, and the lowest grade Betas fit only to feed on Social Security, veteran benefits, and food stamps.

When I worked as a Bloomberg News senior editor I had occasion to speak with and sometimes meet with multi-millionaires and billionaires. Did I down deep in the very depths of my secret soul ache to be like them, to become one of their number, to live the lives they were living?

No. Why would I feel that way? Why would anyone?

I was making a decent living and had a lot of other things in my life of far greater interest to me than making a huge fortune. Things I even considered more important to the common good (like raising a family and writing entertaining books). Most other Americans have their own set of such personal priorities, always have, always will.

As for the millionaires and billionaires I personally encountered at Bloomberg. Some were exceptional people with admirable qualities. Some were predatory jerks. The same broad range of diversity found in every other group I’ve ever encountered. The only thing that really set these people apart was that they had a lot of money.

Money as the be all, the end all of life? The man who dies richest wins? Stupid, vulgar, ungenerative ideas, even in a purely economic context.

Republicans seem to have fallen into the slough of wealth worship. It’s ugly, unseemly. America deserves better.

MICHAEL SILVERSTEIN, Wall Street Columnist
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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • Jim Satterfield

    It’s the First Church of Free Market, Unrepentant. Free Market makes no mistakes. Those who fail it, fail because of their own weaknesses. Praise the Market.

  • clarkma5

    Misguided and narrow-minded wealth worship is what it really is. To me, the mindset of someone who goes into hock trying to win the lottery is a lot like what the Republicans (at least an extreme and vocal minority of them) are proposing for this country: we’re going to bet everything on the chance that a handful of us will be billionaires, and we should all root the people who end up making it from the sidelines because we envy them.

    Well, I don’t envy someone whose only goal in life is amassing a great fortune. There’s so much more to existing than that. I had a similar reaction to the recent comments by Gina Rinehart, Australian Mining Magnate, when she implied that the working poor of Australia should “spend less time drinking and more time working”:

    “We talk about success and we talk about millionaires as if they’re one and the same. What is your definition for success? Because, simply put, reading this I can say that Gina Rinehart is not successful at being empathetic, informed, connected to her fellow
    man, or generous. She is not successful at respecting the efforts of the vast majority of her countrymen and she is not successful at seeing the value in other people. She may be financially flush but would seem to be spiritually bankrupt and socially vile.” – Quote from my brief essay on Gina Rinehart, found here:

  • zephyr

    Excellent post Michael. I couldn’t have said it better. People seem to rarely talk about this worship of money and the status it reflexively confers – regardless of any other factors. And when people do talk about it they are typically accused of being envious, a response that is disappointing in it’s blindness. Ah well, we are a shallow society in many ways..

  • The_Ohioan

    Are there no wealth-worshipping Democrats? Isn’t this a malady that afflicts people regardless of their political affiliation? Are there no Democratic millionaires or billionaires (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If there are, are they just better at hiding these terrible propensities? Just askin’.

  • zephyr

    Ohioan, I think we’re all aware it’s a general malady, one that crosses demographics. That said, republican political culture seems to treat it almost as a requirement for personhood. Therein lies the difference.