Friday, August 12, 2011

Conservative class warfare (12 July 2010)

It appears that NYT columnist Ross Douthat also has class war on his mind after reading that article about strategic defaults on jumbo mortgages mentioned in the previous post. He begins with the proposition that "The rich are different from you and me. They know how to game the system." Another way of putting that is that they know the system is set up for their benefit, so they need not concern themselves with its mores.

What to do about this? Douthat suggests we need "conservative class warfare" -- an oxymoron if ever there was one -- "which would force the million-dollar defaulters to pay their own way from here on out." Much of what he then proposes sounds pretty good to me, and it would be great of conservatives signed on to this sort of conservatism: eliminating the federal subsidy on mortgage-interest payments, which are tax deductible; eliminating corporate subsidies; "attacking Washington’s wasteful spending on the well-connected." (He also wants means-testing for Social Security, a supposed solution for a nonexistent problem with the system's solvency.) He urges conservatives "to recognize that the most pernicious sort of redistribution isn’t from the successful to the poor. It’s from savers to speculators, from outsiders to insiders, and from the industrious middle class to the reckless, unproductive rich."

Agreed. But being "well-connected" by definition means that Washington doesn't take away any of your favors. And the ethos of conservatism tends to regard well-connectedness as some sort of deserved state of exception worth preserving for the overall stability of society. If there must be corruption,the implication often seems to be, let's at least make sure only the right people can get away with being corrupt. And the right people are the ones who already have been getting away with it for longer than anyone can remember.

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