Income Inequality and Public Relations

Martin Wolf’s column in the Financial Times on “A Republican Tax Plan Built for Plutocrats” raised an interesting issue for me as a former Southerner.  Wolf wrote:

The pre-civil war South was extremely unequal, not just in the population as a whole, which included the slaves, but even among free whites. A standard measure of inequality jumped by 70 per cent among whites between 1774 and 1860. As the academics Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson note, “Any historian looking for the rise of a poor white underclass in the Old South will find it in this evidence.” The 1860 census also shows that the median wealth of the richest 1 per cent of Southerners was more than three times that of the richest 1 per cent of Northerners. Yet the South was also far less dynamic….

The South was a plutocracy. In the civil war, whose stated aim was defence of slavery, close to 300,000 Confederate soldiers died. A majority of these men had no slaves. Yet their racial and cultural fears justified the sacrifice. Ultimately, this mobilisation brought death or defeat upon them all. Nothing better reveals the political potency of tribalism.

Why wasn’t the antebellum South more upset by income inequality.  My great-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War as a colonel in the 21st Alabama regiment, moved to Mobile, Alabama, from Iowa just a few years before the war started.  He worked for a Mobile silversmith, James Conning, and had no slaves.  During the war, he was often so short of money that he asked to Mr. Conning to help out  his wife while he was away fighting.  (See From That Terrible Field by John Folmar.)  There were, no doubt, some in the South who resented the wealthy plantation owners, but as Gone with the Wind brings out, most Southerners looked at the aristocracy favorably, while the aristocracy exercised a sort of benevolent dictatorship that cared for the lower classes, even if they didn’t do much to improve their situation.  

The lesson for me then is that income inequality is less of a problem if there is a friendly relationship between the classes.  The aristocracy had a sense of “noblesse oblige.”  In the South, this relationship had been built up over generations, and was made easier to bear because income and class inequality was widespread and accepted in in Europe at that time.  The US was much more democratic than Europe, which lessened the perception of differences in America.  We had rebelled against the British royalty and their decrees: “No taxation without representation.”  We declared that “All men are created equal.”  There was a softening at both ends, with the aristocracy showing sympathy for the lower classes, and the lower classes feeling empowered by their power in the democracy.  

Alexis de Tocqueville was apparently not as impressed with the South as he was of the Northern United States.  He thought that slavery and the agrarian economy made the South less responsive to the democratic trends sweeping the North.  But this view ignores the fact that many of the leaders of Revolution and creation of the new country were Southerners, particularly from Virginia , the bastion of the plantation aristocracy, or plutocracy as Martin Wolf calls it.  Most of the early Presidents came from Virginia, starting with Washington, as did many other political leaders.  The fact that Southern secession was widely supported in the Southern states is evidence of the support by the lower classes of the slave-holding aristocracy.  

Today, one problem of the aristocracy of the 0.1 percent is that they are not widely liked by the lower classes particularly by the white middle class.  Many of the upper one percent are recent arrivals in the US — Jews, Indians, Asians — who have made no effort to ingratiate themselves with the broader population.  If anything, they have isolated themselves in Manhattan or Silicon Valley.  Mark Zuckerberg went on some sort of a tour of the US, which turned out to be mainly a joke.  Buzzfeed reports that the trip increased Zuckerberg’s Q Score, a popularity rating, from 14 percent to 16 percent, about the same as Ashton Kutcher, Rachael Ray, Charles Barkley, Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban.  Elon Musk’s Q Score is 24%.  Tom Hanks has a Q Score of 46%.  Billionaires are not particularly well liked.  

The billionaires’ contempt for everybody else explains the resentment against them, and thus the rising concern about inequality.  The public perception is that these people don’t deserve the wealth and privilege they hold, that they gained it dishonestly, even if they came up with some brilliant new invention.  I would guess that Steve Jobs is viewed much more favorably that Bill Gates, because Jobs was concerned about the beauty and functionality of the products he built, while Bill Gates pretty much only cared about the money.  He is trying to make amends by giving money away now, but he has lots of evil to atone for.  Today’s billionaires might take a lesson in public relations from the plantation owners of the old South.  

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Bad WSJ Op-Ed on Israel

Why did the Wall Street Journal publish the op-ed “Anti-Israel Activists Subvert a Scholarly Group”?  I have never heard of the group or the people involved.  Does this warrant national attention?  My reaction from reading the article is that everyone involved, the professors attacked in the article and the authors of the article are all racists.  A pox on both your houses!   Furthermore, I found the legal analysis unclear.  It sounds as if a court has refused to throw the case out, but has not yet decided the case on its merits.  If this is so, couldn’t the WSJ at least have waited for a final decision to comment on the case?  Why are you wasting my time on this?

Roy Moore

I think there is probably something to the accusations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. It’s not clear to me how much of a criminal act it was.  One of the Sunday talk shows made a big point of the fact that the victim was 14, which would make this a lesser offense than if she were younger.  It was probably not a felony, and the statute of limitations has probably run out, although I’m not sure.  In any case, it’s messy unless it’s an outright lie.  

Assuming it’s not a complete lie, one thing concerns me.  Did the Washington Post delay publishing this story until after the primary election?  If it had come out before the election, it would have improved the chances of Moore’s Republican opponent, Luther Strange.  If Strange had been elected, he almost certainly would have beaten his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.  Now, the story greatly benefits Jones.  It remains to be seen whether it will swing the election in Jones’ favor.  

If Moore is elected despite the story, I suspect that he will be seated in the Senate.  It does not look like he is a criminal, whatever his morals.  Other Senators may treat him as an outcast, but he will be there and will be able to vote.  Under those circumstances he may be even more obstreperous than he would have been before the story.  

Another effect of this story may be to keep many basically good people out of politics.  Almost everyone has some blot on their record, something they did in a weak moment and wish they had not done.  In the old days, some indiscretions were overlooked or hushed up, but that is almost impossible today.  The fact that so many basically good people eliminate themselves from politics is at least partly responsible for the horrible political scene we have now.  We get people who run who don’t care about moral failings, people consumed by a lust for power or publicity, or on the other hand, people who are completely colorless, who have never done anything interesting in their lives.  Neither type produces the best politicians or leaders.  

 

Letter re Depletion of Foreign Service

As a retired Foreign Service Officer, I want to call to your attention the rapid depletion of the ranks of the State Department Foreign Service under the Trump administration.  Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), recently wrote an open letter in the Foreign Service Journal calling attention to the problem.  By Washington standards, the Foreign Service is a small organization.  It is often said that there are fewer Foreign Service officers (about 6,000) than there are members of military bands.  It will be difficult for the Foreign Service to recover from a mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers.

I was pleased when President Trump named Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, and to a certain extent I sympathize with his desire to reduce the size of government, but I do not think the small Foreign Service is the place to start drastic cuts. Good senior officers are important to the nation, as well as to the Foreign Service because of the skill and experience they bring from their years of dealing with foreign countries.  When I was a junior officer I was fortunate to work with Ambassador Tom Pickering, who was one reason I decided to stay in the Foreign Service and make it a career.  In Denver we have a senior FSO who has brought us his talent and experience, Ambassador Christopher Hill, the head of the Korbel School at Denver University.

I admit that I retired from the Foreign Service under similar circumstances in the 1990s.  Under President Clinton, the US had promised multi-year funding for two projects I was working on, one in Poland and one involving North Korea.  When Newt Gingrich brought in the House Republican majority, they cut off funding for both projects, despite America’s earlier promises.  I was disappointed and ashamed of being called dishonest by foreign governments.  Thus, I sympathize with the current retirees, but I think the US government should do something to keep a cadre of experienced Foreign Service officers.  Otherwise, the US will suffer genuine losses in its future diplomatic dealings around the world.

I hope that you will do whatever you can to prevent further gutting of the Foreign Service.

Links to Ambassador Stephenson’s letter and to her appearance on the PBS NewsHour are below.

https://afsa-nfe2015.informz.net/informzdataservice/onlineversion/ind/bWFpbGluZ2luc3RhbmNlaWQ9NzEwMTE2MyZzdWJzY3JpYmVyaWQ9MTA4MzgxMjY1MA==

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/rapid-cuts-to-top-leadership-at-state-department-raises-concern-says-former-ambassador

 

John Oliver on the Confederacy

John Oliver’s in-depth issue this week was the Confederacy on “Last Week Tonight.”  Oliver condemned the Confederacy and everything connected to it because one of the things it fought for was the maintenance of slavery.  According to him, this justified getting rid of all public monuments to, and statues of, anything or anybody connected to the Confederacy.  

If slavery is what condemns a civilization, then clearly the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians must be condemned, and all artifacts, statues, buildings, and other monuments must be removed from public view.  That would mean that the Roman forum, the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Egyptian pyramids would have to be destroyed, along with the many other Roman ruins spread across Europe and North Africa. By the same reasoning, Oliver, the Democratic Party and other anti-Confederate hate groups must applaud the destruction by ISIS of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the destruction of the Bamiyan cliff buddhas by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Can you imagine the horror that would ensue if the mayor of Charlottesville were the mayor of Rome, destroying thousands of monuments?  

Of course the Confederates got their moral guidance on slavery from the books of Moses in the Bible.  Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon all had slaves and lived in a society where slavery was an ordinary fact of life.  Abraham had a son, Ishmael, by his family’s female slave Hagar.  Moses freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, but he wrote the Jewish law authorizing slavery and describing how Jews should treat their own slaves, particularly in Leviticus.  It describes different treatment for Jews enslaved to other Jews, and for non-Jewish slaves.  It seems likely that Solomon’s temple was built with slave labor.  If they were going to be consistent, Oliver and the Democrats should call for the destruction of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  And because Moses and King David had slaves, they should call for the destruction of Michelangelo’s statues of Moses and David.  

Of course any statues or monuments to any famous people of these countries would have to be destroyed — statues of Plato, Aristotle, all Roman emperors, and statues of all Egyptian Pharaohs.  History is unimportant.  Only morality as defined by Oliver is important.  People who lived in societies that condoned slavery were evil, and any image of them must be destroyed according to Oliver and the Democrats.  

They really do have much in common with ISIS and the Taliban, believing that a tangible representation of anything they think is morally repugnant must be destroyed.  They believe that their morals are supreme and unimpeachable and that no other ideas can be allowed to be expressed.  They are not chopping off heads yet, but that may be coming.  HBO is preaching the ideology of ISIS and the Taliban in the US while American troops are fighting against it in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It is sad to see such fundamentalist religious intolerance being preached in the US.