Tuesday, June 07, 2011

By the 1%

Good piece by Joe Stiglitz about income inequality in last month's Vanity Fair . Hadn't highlighted it then, but would like to do so now.

Its last paragraph makes a point worth repeating:

Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.
Well put. One of the problems with America's (and the world's) growing inequality is that the elite forget that their fate is bound up in the fate of everybody else. To be altruistic isn't solely self-interest, as some economists seem to pretend, but you'd have to be pretending really hard not to realize that a certain level of community-consciousness is a smart move for even the wealthiest American.

Then again, considering their money appears to mostly go towards a mixture of lobbying and bubble-inflation, perhaps I'm giving them too much credit.

1 comment:

  1. I dunno, Stiglitz himself seems to have no trouble working along self interest profit groups:

    Course I'm one to talk since a Ford member runs funded Planned Parenthood.