In order to clear my name in the minds of readers who might perceive my identification of an upper class as a damnation of wealth or the American Dream, I’d just like to say that that couldn’t be further from the truth. While I believe an isolated class of the United States’ wealthiest citizens does indeed exist, I also see the ascension to that class as the end goal for most, if not all, Americans. Though, goal might be too strong a word for the majority of people. It appears to me that most are content with earning a decent living, eating decent food, having a decent family, and getting a decent night’s rest, but secretly dream of living a lavish life of extreme wealth. However, there’s only a few Americans that are actually interested in putting in the necessary work to do so.
Is it rational for the average American to forgo the grueling amounts of work that’s necessary for obtaining wealth? If one looks at it from Marx’s point of view, the answer is no because the accumulation of wealth is the be all and end all of life satisfaction. If we look at it from your point that economics isn’t the main factor in producing life fulfillment, then the answer is yes. I, however, say that it’s somewhere in the middle. While I agree that most people are under the false impression that money can solve all their problems, I also agree that it can solve most of their problems – their worldly, tangible problems. While money may not be able to make someone fall in love with you or make your sadness go away, I’m sure it feels much better to cry yourself to sleep on a silk pillow rather than a potato sack.
So, I am in no way discouraging the desire for, or the accumulation of, wealth. I agree with your sentiment that the United States, and those who reside within it, are mostly driven by the desire to increase their economic standing. I don’t discourage that either, as this pursuit has made both America and Americans the wealthiest entities on Earth. However, I do want to show that wealth itself does have incredible effects on individuals, as well as the country. In fact, I consider the perpetuating cycle of ever-increasing wealth within the American upper-class to be the greatest separator of how the United States is supposed to work in theory from how the United States currently works in reality.
Especially in the world we live in now – the Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, social media world – the trappings of wealth themselves hold just as much as weight as the actual wealth does. This is why I disagree with your assessment that the wealthiest Americans, holed up within their billion-dollar compounds, are simply experiencing the same reality as their middle-class counterparts, but just from a stance of luxurious solitude. While having a bigger TV, faster car, hotter trophy wife, or bigger house may seem trivial – and it is – those things are worth a considerable amount of social capital that enable one to advance themselves ever-further beyond their current position of upper-class living.
But, before I continue down this string of thoughts, let me first clarify something. I have no problem, as I alluded to in my previous comments, with someone from the lower rungs of the economic ladder making a considerable about of money, and managing to use their wealth to their advantage. While I indeed think that the possession of such wealth comes with certain responsibilities, that’s a topic I’ll touch on at some other time. But anyway, I myself am attempting to accomplish such a feat. So, if I indeed the support the possibility of economic mobility for myself, I, of course, support it for everyone else as well.
However, the perpetuation of that hard-earned wealth is where things get messy, and where the origin of an American aristocracy can be found. While the United States doesn’t have a governmental system that allows for the passing on of aristocratic, or royal, titles, we do have one that allows for the passing on of titles that are associated with immense economic and political power. CEO positions in the hierarchies of many multi-billion corporations across the United States can be, and are being, granted to sons by their fathers. A tremendous amount of inherited wealth also comes along with those powerful positions, which is seen as very normal in the United States. However, I consider it to be dangerous and disruptive.
I know that last statement may sound quite dire, and catch people off guard, but let me explain what I mean. Over the course of the last century, the all-mighty American dollar has amassed a great stock of influence in our political system. Those who control the greatest stockpiles of wealth have the ability to push legislation, block legislation, shift the political conversation, monopolize the attention of our representatives, and so on. They possess an ability as individuals that I, as an individual, do not have. This is the ability to command the complete and undivided attention of high-ranking officials in the U.S government. And not only command their attention, but influence their decisions.
The point I’m trying to make in this instance is that, in the modern American political system, economic power equals political power. You can disagree with me or not – and I’m guessing you do – but at least keep this point in mind as you read and contemplate the remainder of my statements. But back to my point about inheritance of wealth and economically powerful positions. If we take it as a fact that economic power can be transformed into political power, then those who use large sums of inherited money to influence the political process are effectively apart of a new a class of aristocrats in the United States.
The Koch Brothers, Charles and David, have gained a lot of infamy in recent years, especially in liberal circles. These two men are perfect examples of the new aristocratic class that I’m discussing. If anyone’s confused as to why I say that, no need to fear, as I’m fully prepared to explain.
If we go back to their father, Fred Koch, I would agree that his story of success is not only inspiring, but a real world showing of the American dream. In short, Fred was proficient in Chemistry, and used that knowledge to successfully build one of the largest companies currently operating within the United States – Koch Industries. He was the child of an immigrant, intelligent, and capable of utilizing that intelligence to offer a service that turned out to be fiscally rewarding for him. I think that’s great. I’m glad Fred succeeded, and I think that success should allow him to use his money in whatever way he sees fit.
Then Fred died. Once Fred died, all of his money and his company passed on to his sons. His sons were born rich, they’re living the life of the rich, and they’ll die rich. They didn’t need to be proficient in chemistry, they didn’t need to build a company from the ground up, and they didn’t need to initially earn their positions through merit. The one thing I’ll give to Fred’s sons is at least they didn’t run his company into the ground. That should count for something. However, apart from not bankrupting their father’s business, the Koch Brothers pulled off an even greater feat that allowed them to accumulate their incredible wealth – they were born.
Through the incredible act of being born, the Koch Brothers not only have an extraordinary amount of influence over the lives of all their employees but also over the lives of many Americans. They did almost nothing – zero, no work at all – to be granted their economic and political power. They were not elected by the American people, or even consensually given the slightest bit of authority, but they nevertheless have an unbalanced amount of influence within our political process when compared to the average American. This seems a far cry from the idea that the upper class is simply living a more glamorous version of the middle-class lifestyle.
I’m sure to some readers, I probably sound like either a whiny Socialist or a Pinko Commie. However, I resist and resent those labels, as I think it’s possible to believe in Capitalism and still recognize that the United States has an important disfunction present within its political process. The political power that’s granted to those with extreme wealth is perpetuating a cycle of money begets power – especially political power – and power begets more money. And even when a participant in that cycle dies off, their children are left to continually reap the rewards of such a system. This is creating an economic aristocracy that is shifting our political process in the direction that best suits their needs and purposes.