People with money almost universally embrace certain conservative beliefs. Among those is the belief they must defend their wealth and privilege from the poor or they will lose it. They believe this means that people with low income cannot be allowed to rise. This seems intuitively right to them. But it’s not.
This major flaw in conservative thinking can be summarized as a belief that wealth is a zero-sum affair. That is, an additional dollar that goes to the poor must be taken from the rich, because the amount of wealth is constant. It would be the reverse of the process that has brought the US to a record level of inequality and badly wounded democracy. The theory is important to conservatives because preservation of wealth and privilege is part and parcel of the conservative dogma. But if it’s wrong, one of the primary reasons for conservatism is invalid. I believe it’s not only incorrect, but morally wrong as well.
This major flaw in conservative thinking
is a belief that wealth is a zero-sum affair.
Of course there are many elements that shape the economy, the global market of recent decades being an important one. The global market has been one of the primary factors in the record inequality of the US. For many decades, profit in the US flowed only to the rich, while the jobs of millions of American workers went overseas to the global poor, who worked for a fraction of the minimal necessary wage in the US.
But the assertion stands. Wealth is not a zero-sum game.
Wait a minute! Not so fast! The other day you said that wealth is finite, and when it goes to the rich it’s taken from the poor. You can’t have both things. You can’t take from the rich to give to the poor. That’s no more democratic than its opposite.
But what I said was that there is a given sum of wealth at any given point in time. The national wealth is finite at any given point in time, but the economy changes over time, and it’s quite possible for the whole country and everyone in it to become richer or poorer. It’s happened a number of times. Improving the overall wealth of the nation has the added possibility that it might improve democracy, which some of us still think is important.
It’s quite possible
for the whole country and everyone in it
to become richer or poorer.
The wealth of the rich is not a zero-sum game they need to defend. The economy and democracy are better served when affluence comes to all, not just the rich. The global market is a case in point. Great wealth was created, but it went to corporate executives and to poor workers overseas, not to American workers. We got cheaper stuff, but the net effect was essentially zero.
I hold that when conservatives defend the status quo, where they have great wealth and others have inadequate income, the overall wealth of the country is harmed by their actions. Over time it becomes counter-productive. I hold that the tendency of the rich to promote their own wealth while trying to restrict the wealth of others is not only anti-democratic, but in the greater scheme of things diminishes the overall wealth of the nation, including the rich.
When the rich defend the status quo,
democracy and the overall
wealth of the country suffer.
We have good evidence for this: The post-WWII era was one in which huge numbers of veterans went to college, where unions were strong and blue-collar workers were well paid, and everyone could afford a home. We enjoyed the strongest and most equitable democracy we have ever had. But it’s gone now, and we are left with gross imbalance of wealth and ever rising inequality, a declining economy, and waning national importance on the world stage.
The tendency to defend privilege, a central belief of conservatism, while promoting inequality, diminishes the quality of our democracy. In the end it is self-defeating. This ever-worsening inequality and loss of democracy cannot end well.