Eat the Rich

The rich are rioting. “Wealthy NYC woman busted in BLM rampage.” “Inside the privileged lives of protesters busted for rioting in Manhattan.” “Lancaster protester held on $1 million bail is a sorority girl.”       

“What else is new?” you might ask. There has always been a segment of the upper-class elite infatuated with revolution. Tom Wolfe famously lampooned this 50 years ago in Radical Chic, chronicling Leonard Bernstein’s cocktail party for the Black Panthers at his Park Avenue duplex. Going back further, John Reed, in between trips to Moscow, cheered on the Bolsheviks from a lovely old home in tony Croton-on-Hudson. And the wealthy industrialist Friedrich Engels bankrolled his Communist collaborator Karl Marx.

But they were rebels against their class. Even in 1970, Bernstein and his artsy East Side set were probably still in the political minority among the well-to-do (perhaps even among the Manhattan well-to-do). Sure, their views were unpopular in the boardrooms of corporate America. What’s different now is that the Left’s 50-year “long march through the institutions” has swept triumphantly through those boardrooms—and through the affluent neighborhoods where their denizens live—leaving an overwhelmingly and stiflingly dominant ideology of Woke Capitalism in its wake. 

The result is, while still somewhat self-interestedly conservative on economic issues, the business community has become the single most powerful force for authoritarian cultural leftism. They support everything from bullying legislators to repealing religious freedom laws to firing dissenters from liberal orthodoxy. And the wealthy have become the most zealous adherents of this orthodoxy.

And it’s everywhere, not just in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. It’s Coke. It’s Pepsi. It’s Nabisco using Oreos to teach kids about transgenderism. It’s Procter & Gamble attacking masculinity. It’s Mastercard and Visa “financially blacklisting” conservatives and thus denying them the “very means of functioning in a capitalist society.” It’s Town & Country, a Hearst publication, raising money for Black Lives Matter and bail funds for “peaceful protesters.”

The movement of the corporate elite and the wealthy towards cultural leftism and away from the Republican Party has been going on for at least 30, if not 50, years—long before Donald Trump came down the escalator. 

As observers going back to the late Christopher Lasch have observed, corporate America and the upper classes have been the leaders of the cultural revolution in the Western world. The leftward gallop accelerated with Trump’s election, though. Hillary Clinton carried the nation’s most affluent counties, outperforming even Barack Obama among upper-income and upper-status voters. (Clinton boasted she won the “dynamic” voters responsible for two-thirds of the nation’s GDP.) 

This trend continued in 2018, with wealthy voters leading the blue wave. This year Joe Biden appears to have widened Clinton’s 2016 lead among highly educated whites. And Wall Street has contributed five times as much to Biden as to Trump.

Many pro-business conservatives rationalize that corporate executives don’t really believe any of the leftist theology they spout. But why is this a comfort? Such thinking is, to use a favorite word of the Left, denial. 

The image of the essentially conservative businessman rolling his eyes at political correctness but going along for whatever reason is comforting because it lulls conservatives into thinking that all is still right in their world. That image may have been accurate in, say, 1985, at the dawn of the “politically correct” age. But it hasn’t been for a long time. This isn’t only about money (though their global customer base in China and other places certainly has no objections to tearing down traditional America). It’s about culture and values. This is corporate and upper-status America’s religion now, inculcated in them from grade school, and, as a glance at any corporate website these days will show, they are bent on imposing it with missionary zeal.

Contrary to the pipe dreams of the libertarian-leaning GOP establishment and donors who counsel ever more social liberalism, and ever more doctrinaire fiscal conservatism in pursuit of the Holy Grail of the Greenwich vote, the rich are never going to vote Republican again in our lifetimes—no matter how many illegal aliens we let in or babies we abort. The Democrats will always outbid us on culture: “I’ll see you Drag Queen Story Hour and raise you ‘Abolish the police!’” And because their cultural views are quasi-religious, more tax breaks won’t matter.

As the affluent have moved dramatically to the Left and become the mainstay of the Democratic Party, millions of “Reagan Democrats”—repelled by increasing Democratic radicalism on a broad range of social issues such as crime—have over the last 50 years become the base of the Republican Party, transforming it from a permanent minority of the country club/Wall Street elite to a functional majority party of the working- and lower-middle classes. Nonetheless, the GOP continued reflexively to back “business-friendly” economic policies that harmed these voters—making it perhaps the only political party in history to support the interests of its enemies over those of its own backers.

Prodded by the populist movement represented by the Trump victory, the Right finally has begun to adjust to this new political reality and break with some of the smelly old pro-business and “free market” orthodoxies of the Cold War era. But it needs to go further, and explicitly ally with the economic left on issues like tax fairness and health care that impact our voters, just as business expressly allies with the cultural Left on issues that concern the elite.

For one thing, this would be good politics—essential politics, in fact. According to a Voter Study Group report, across-the-board economic and social conservatives are just 23 percent of the electorate. Consistent liberals are, scarily, 44 percent. Fiscally liberal and socially conservative populists—the heavily blue-collar Reagan Democrats—are 29 percent, while the much-touted socially liberal-fiscally conservative elites are less than 4 percent (“an army of generals without any troops behind them” as F. H. Buckley has called them). Have a look at the chart illustrating this report. That’s the lonely libertarians in the lower right quadrant: 

So conservatives have to make a choice. They can ally with the libertarian 4 percent who agree with them on the capital gains tax but not on men in the ladies’ room. That will only get them up to 27 percent of the electorate, however. Or they can ally with the populist 29 percent who agree with them on crime, immigration, religious freedom, etc., but not on economics. That will, for now, allow them to eke out a 52 percent majority. But they can’t have it both ways.

Beyond the politics, though, it’s the right thing to do in terms of policy—and in no way inconsistent with the traditional conservatism that focused on non-market institutions like religion and the family before the Right allied with corporate interests. A detailed economic agenda is beyond the scope of this piece, but here are a few issues where it’s time for right-of-center populists to come all the way out of the closet:

Healthcare: Leftists spout so much jargon in that breathless NPR-meets-Hallmark-card way of theirs that it’s tempting to dismiss it all out-of-hand. But one of these things is not like the others:

  • “Men can get pregnant.”
  • “Slavery is America’s foundational experience.”
  • “Healthcare is a human right.”
  • 2+2 can equal 5.”

Of course healthcare is a human right. Ronald Reagan settled that when he supported and signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, prohibiting hospital emergency rooms from turning away patients because of inability to pay. It’s a human right for the same reason that police protection is a human right—a principle with which presumably all conservatives other than a tiny libertarian fringe concur, even while the Left seems to be rejecting it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that conservatives need to accept socialized medicine, Medicare for All, or even necessarily a public option. But it does mean that until we have a viable replacement that leaves no one uncovered we need to drop our opposition to Obamacare right now before it costs Donald Trump the election.

Wealth Taxation: The wealth gap between upper-income families and the middle class and poor has grown sharply over the last 40 years, contemporaneously with the rise of globalism and the disappearance of blue-collar manufacturing jobs. And, as we have seen, this increasingly concentrated wealth is in the hands of the Woke Capitalist Left. Elizabeth Warren’s original wealth tax proposal would have imposed a 2 percent levy on net worth between $50 million and $1 billion and a 3 percent levy on net worth above $1 billion. (She later increased the latter to 4 percent and then 6 percent, but since we’re conservatives let’s take the more conservative plan.) This would still leave Jeff Bezos with about $198 billion. Get out the violins!

Why shouldn’t the Right support this modest effort to slightly reduce the burgeoning inequality between a wealthy liberal elite and average, more conservative, Americans? The nation has long relied on a far larger and more regressive wealth tax on the one form of wealth possessed by large numbers of ordinary middle-class Americans: the property tax. One of the uses to which a progressive national wealth tax could be put is revenue sharing to allow localities to provide property tax relief to these ordinary Americans. 

Capital Gains: As Tucker Carlson has observed,

Why do we tax capital at half the rate of labor? Why is it fair that some inherited-money loser living off the interest from an investment portfolio he didn’t create pays half the tax dollars that you do? Is he twice as necessary as you are? Does he contribute twice as much to America?

The Old Right response that investment income should be taxed at a lower rate than wage income because, allegedly, it was already subject to the corporate tax shows how fiscal conservatives, like social liberals, can use academic theory and jargon to arrive at conclusions that are clearly preposterous. 

It was an entirely different entity that paid the corporate tax. The “free market” economist eruditely explaining to me that, as a typical stock market investor, I somehow also paid the corporate tax of the company issuing my stock, even though it didn’t come out of my bank account, makes as much sense as the progressive sociologist eruditely explaining why I’m responsible for slavery even though my ancestors weren’t here when there were slaves.

The bottom line is that George Soros and Meryl Streep should pay the same rate on their portfolios that a West Virginia coal miner or a Staten Island sanitation worker pays on their respective wages. And I should pay the same rate on a transaction my investment guy does for me without me even knowing about it as on a brief or article I bust my butt to write.

Free marketeers and old-line economic conservatives may cry, as they always do, that this is “Socialism!” Of course, it’s not; in fact, it’s the outline of a populist program that may save us from AOC-style socialism. But, to paraphrase Patrick Henry, as the new Right declares its independence from the antiquated old regime, “If this be socialism, make the most of it.”

About Dennis Saffran

Dennis Saffran is a Queens, N.Y.-based appellate attorney and political and policy writer whose work has appeared in City Journal, The Federalist, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. Follow him on twitter @dennisjsaffran.

Photo: Getty Images

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18 responses to “Eat the Rich

  • I agree that we’re in the middle of a realignment of the Parties. Let the Democrats have our stuffy, trust-fund types (Here. I’ll get the door for you, Mr Romney).
    The Republicans are the Party of people who actually produce things for a living.

    • The motto of the Democrat Party from the 1800’s to the present has been “you work, I eat”. Basically, the exploitation of other people’s labour, regardless of the skin colour of the victim.

      • And the motto of contemporary conservatives is “We hate socialism until we need a government bailout”.

  • What a disingenuous pantload.
    Just as surely as the sun rises a wealth tax would become a middle class tax.
    No new taxes at all!
    Corporations get their money from consumers or from the government.
    Either of which is US!
    So yes we do pay the corporate taxes.

    • A wealth tax is an authoritarian trojan horse. It ENDS private business in America.
      The value of a business is projected future earnings. If you start a business today it may lose money but still be WORTH something. See tech companies for the extreme example.
      And when you can’t pay 2% or 3% per year of what that company is WORTH, they take it from you according to Elizabeth Warren. They steal 2% of the business and sell it to the public (at best, or keep it at worst).
      The result is that every single business inevitably becomes just like the woke corporations in this article, beholden to shareholders and twitter mobs.
      Furthermore, a wealth tax gives the government the authority to search everyone at anytime for any reason. How are you going to confirm that there are only guns in my safe and not $1 million in gold bars? I guess the government gets to open the safe…and catalogue the guns at the same time while it’s open no doubt.

      • You’re resorting to fatalistic scenarios to justify your flawed brand of capitalism. Big private businesses are destroying smaller private businesses. If the last ones are to survive, the Government needs to step in and pull the plug on monopolies. If you think you can start a company that will successfully compete with Amazon and Walmart under these circumstances, then you’re delusional.
        Big private businesses themselves are being used as an authoritarian trojan horse; the fact that they are privately owned enables them to cancel your lawful rights and the more they expand, the more your rights shrink. If you’re worried that you’ll be subject to unlawful searches, you don’t have to anymore; it’s already happening. Private tech companies are already sharing your information with third parties, so good luck with making a secret of whatever it is that you’re stashing in your safe in the era when private tech companies have gadgets that can estimate how many steps you take when you go shopping.

  • Yes, it’s time to rethink some of the assumptions of Republicans about taxation, not because lowering the capital gains tax was bad, but because it was lowered below the level of the income tax.
    Low capital gains taxes promote investment in infrastructure that generates solid long-term economic growth, but not necessarily more jobs or higher wages that benefit growth of the middle class. Low income taxes directly benefit working Americans, and those are the majority of the people this country was created to sustain and protect.
    We all want more investment and a vibrant economy, but a tax system that elevates the interests of the investment class above workers is of dubious benefit “to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.

  • I’m sorry, I must have missed it, but does author believe himself to be a conservative? Coulda fooled me! A conservative is a person who doesn’t advocate for stealing other peoples’ labor, property or money. Conservatives like figuring out solutions to their own problems, including healthcare access, and leave others to do the same. If the remedies presented in this piece are in any way a “conservative” approach to any problem, I give up on conservatives. If this is what they present as solutions, I’d rather just fight the good fight myself and go down fighting. At least I know what I believe and why I believe it.

    When did we EVER have that conversation/debate in this country about Obamacare? Social Security? Medicare? Any entitlement? I did NOT vote for that. Got it? And you had better believe I am mad as hell I got stuck with the bill for it all. God damn it, I am ANGRY. I didn’t get to keep my doctor. I didn’t get to keep my healthcare. I have no representation in Congress or anywhere else, so I really, sincerely hope the country collapses from the massive, insupportable debt and profligate spending-for-stuff-we-can’t-afford-despite-dire-warnings because at least the parasites who have infested the place will drop off and latch onto the next host they can find…in China.

    • Like the typical republican, you resort to overdramatic portrayals of everything that doesn’t fit your antiquated worldview.
      Here’s a hint: you pay the Government precisely because you’re incapable of figuring out solutions to all of your problems. It’s absurd to believe that average people have the wherewithal to cope on their own with absolutely every problem that they might run into in life. There’s nothing wrong with conservatives demanding assistance from the Government when they are in dire straits and there’s definitely nothing wrong with the Government helping its own people when they desperately need it.
      North America and many Western European countries are on the verge of economic collapse due to a combination of factors. Spending is only one of those factors. And it’s not the spending on public assistance programs that caused your Government to incur astronomical debts that will never be paid back. The main ingredients that have made the current disaster are the bailout packages and the never ending foreign wars and the undeservingly high wages of your elected officials and the broken legislation that enables the elites to find ways to avoid paying taxes, to name just a few. Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes over a period of one year; if he can do it, how many other rich people like him can do it too? So you can stop complaining that Obama gave away free mobile phones and free school lunches. That’s not why you’re up to your neck in debt.
      I consider myself to be fairly conservative, and the way I see it, it’s not theft for the Government to tax the rich the same way it taxes everyone else. It’s not theft for the Government to patch up the loopholes that the rich keep exploiting to get even richer. And it’s definitely not theft for the Government to step in and help an average Joe if he has been stricken with some terrible ailment and doesn’t have the necessary financial resources to address his ailment on his own.
      Basically, conservatives like yourself have compromised with liberals on everything except money, and if your brand of conservatism is just a greedy version of liberalism, I’ll gladly embrace socialism.

  • This is one of the single stupidest columns I’ve ever read. Another RINO pushing Democrat-lite policies. The surrender caucus is alive and well

  • Dennis Safran has an excellent point about the Republican party’s political compass: while the actual voters are evenly spread across the top of the chart, the Party mandarins have been pursuing a weird grab bag of policies across the center to lower right. The Party must heed Sutton’s Law and go where the voters are.

    That said, no, medical care is not a human right, unless you think doctors are your slaves. It may be politically expedient for Republicans to treat healthcare as a *civic* right, though, to guarantee some basic level of care for *citizens*. Saffran also seems to misunderstand what Obamacare was and is: a pillaging of middle class and lower middle class healthcare arrangements in order to grant additional healthcare to unemployed blacks and illegally employed Central Americans (i.e. transferring healthcare resources from productive Republicans to parasite Democrats). There is a reason it still rankles actual Republican voters, even if the Party has done a terrible job of explaining—or even understanding—why.

    Also, while a wealth tax might seem like the obvious, even natural, way to address wealth inequality, it has a fatal problem. In an era when wealth was basically synonymous with land, it was easy enough to know where the wealth was: if the answer wasn’t posted on the trees, fences and walls, then it was in the public land registry. Today, though, there is no way to find the wealth without effectively abrogating the Fourth Amendment. You want a national (which would in fact have to be global) wealth tax? Fine, but you have to be okay with a global panopticon totalitarian police state to administer it.

    Finally, while dweeb economists are technically correct about the double taxation of dividends, cap gains, etc., who cares? Taxation is not about getting an “A” on an econ exam; it is about getting money without wrecking the source. Rentier capitalists are light on votes, heavy on cash, and absent on social value. Saffran is correct that this is where taxing can be both profitable and popular. Of course today’s government deficits are so immense that no level of taxation will ever pay for them, but seeing the hedge fund twerps take a haircut will rally voters and have a salubrious effect everywhere.

  • Many of these comments miss the point of the article. Yes, obviously, the best policy for middle class wealth creation is the free-market as described by Hayek and von Mises. Unfortunately, we have a propagandized and uneducated citizenry that mistrusts “capitalism.” You can stick by your economic conservatism, but you will end up never winning an election, wandering around in your bedroom slippers muttering to yourself about Reagan. Take a page from the old-line Democrats and do whatever you need to do to get elected. Once in power, you can slowly pass legislation to incrementally move the country back to the free-market. After all, you need to vote for the bill before you can read what is in it.

  • I crossed the Aisle from Democrat in 2016, to vote for Trump as did many of my young peers. We have no interest in Muh Free Market capitalism that brought us these disgusting social engineers posing as businessmen. We need to get back to basics: American values, protectionism, patriotic investment. Not foreign investment, not un-guarded trade. Not….trade with literal communists…….This “free market” has given my generation the least social mobility possible as Libertarians hold hands with Progressives while 50 million people enter the nation from other countries in my lifetime alone.

    The GOP will change, Or else frankly, Ill just bow out completely and watch the GOP roll over and die just like its old irrelevant Cold War philosophy.

    • The free market is just an illusion, or rather a deception. Someone will sooner or later assume control of it, so it might as well be the Government. Back in 2016 I would have congratulated you for switching sides, but now I don’t know what to think. The GOP’s main voting bloc is, in general terms, a crowd of geriatric, obese drug users. They claim to be conservative yet they’re always sitting on the fence, only waving conservative flags and cheering for the conservative team without actually joining the game and when you’re not looking they sneakily jump to the other side. The only things that the GOP (and the rest of the Western conservatives) have to offer to their young constituents are obligations. Burdening you with obligations is the GOP’s idea of “help”. In short, conservatives never make contributions, they only make demands, they are of the Victorian era mindset that equates poverty with iniquity and wealth with virtue. I swear that sometimes I get the impression that conservatives almost worship money and manage it the same way priests manage Holy Communion; only a small number of people are worthy of it. The GOP will most certainly go belly up. Say what you will about liberals, you can’t deny the fact that Democrat Party cares about its voters and gives them what they want whereas the GOP doesn’t care about anyone. Perhaps it’s necessary for the GOP to fade away for a fresh and genuinely conservative movement to pick up the mantle. Stay strong.

  • Europe has mostly abandoned wealth taxes because they don’t work. Interest income is taxed the same as wages. We can support workers without punishing success.

    • You’re comparing apples to oranges. Universal health care and social programs are ubiquitous in Europe. Moreover, European legislations aren’t as exploitable; it’s much harder for the rich and wealthy to scam the system in Europe.
      Why should success be tax exempt?

      As a side note, the two biggest countries with neither free nor universal healthcare are the US and…China. So you have more in common with communists than you think.

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