Friday, November 27, 2020

Oligarchy, Conservatism, & the Fading Sense of Community

Our community is not as strong, I fear, as it once was because our society is becoming less made up of communities. Two interesting columns in my paper this morning caught my eye -- the first was a piece on the economy from progressive writer Fared Manjoo who observes: Even in the Pandemic, the Billionaires are Winning. The sad irony of the contemporary economy is that amidst massive economic and public health losses due to the Covid-19 health crisis, the stock market continues to surge, and investors reap incredible financial gains. The Walmart trio has increased their own personal wealth  by a staggering $47 billion just since March when for most people the world fell apart. The CEO of Zoom has gone from a net worth of $1 billion to nearly $20 billion. And Jeff Bezos, the world's wealthiest man, has increased his fortune to $182 billion. Now, purely based on market forces and valuations, these people have not so radically improved the world, the economy, their product, the lives of millions, the benefits of their workers, or most notably, their communities. 

And that's just rather unseemly to me.

The other column catching my attention aligns with the increasing disappointment and utter bafflement at the workings of the GOP by those of us who might describe ourselves as conservative but not Republican. David Brooks, a never Trumper and a true Burkean conservative, opines about The Rotting of the Republican Mind. Brooks' criticisms, like those of people such as David French and Jay Nordinger, are focused on the moral and ethical capitulation of the contemporary GOP, a condition that writer and commentator of the tech revolution Kurt Anderson would hearken back to the 1980s, but that I would more link to the mid 90s and the rise of Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. Basically, the values of Burke and Kirk about the importance of stability in society based on moral principals and a shared sense of community have been abandoned for a political platform that is more around an agenda of "holding on to what's mine."

Granted, in a free, or more accurately, mixed-market capitalist system, the opportunity for the investor class to amass such wealth is certainly within their rights, so to speak. That doesn't, however, mean that they should with little regard to the system as a whole. I still hearken back to the Kempian idea of enterprise zones that would in theory help all boats rise. The current financial structure doesn't support that, and it exposes the flaw in Kemp's supply-side faith. He actually believed the suppliers would invest in the idea of broadening the prosperity and increasing the size of the pie. But that has not happened, and our communities have become increasingly stratified as wealth and power become increasingly concentrated in a oligarchic plutocracy.

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia. If you try to point out factual errors, you only entrench false belief. The only solution is to reduce the distrust and anxiety that is the seedbed of this thinking. That can only be done first by contact, reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it. And second, it can be done by policy, by making life more secure for those without a college degree.

Rebuilding trust is, obviously, the work of a generation.

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