‘The pitchforks are coming’

Torches & Pitchforks

One of my friends just sent me this piece from Politico written by Nick Hanauer, a .01%er, “to my fellow zillionaires”:

But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Many of us think we’re special because “this is America.” We think we’re immune to the same forces that started the Arab Spring—or the French and Russian revolutions, for that matter. I know you fellow .01%ers tend to dismiss this kind of argument; I’ve had many of you tell me to my face I’m completely bonkers. And yes, I know there are many of you who are convinced that because you saw a poor kid with an iPhone that one time, inequality is a fiction.

Here’s what I say to you: You’re living in a dream world. What everyone wants to believe is that when things reach a tipping point and go from being merely crappy for the masses to dangerous and socially destabilizing, that we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time. Any student of history knows that’s not the way it happens. Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand. That’s the way it always happens. If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible—for everybody. But especially for us.
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The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.

7 Responses to ‘The pitchforks are coming’

  1. monkeyfister June 26, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    This fellow seems to be waiting for Congress or someone else to change policies.

    All they have to do is pay their employees a living wage, and that can be done immediately with one letter to their HR Department(s).

    Waiting for Godot to come and fix the problem is ridiculous– Doctor, heal thyself!

    But, it is good to see them running scared.

  2. Ten Bears June 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Maria Antoinette and her cohort had no idea what was coming.

  3. Ron June 26, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    Well it seems reality has penetrated the bone for some. In addition to sending a letter to HR, the .01% could send a directive to their legislative employees (both state and federal) to reverse their evil machinations.

  4. montag June 26, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    Where did you get that picture of Ann Coulter? She’s really let herself go lately.

  5. Imhotep June 26, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    “That we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time.” Too late Nick, the shift has already taken place. Do you see all of the barbarians at the gates in the Middle East that you are so fond of dropping bombs on, Nick? Well, they’re the most oppressed of the oppressed. But, don’t concern yourself with them Nick, because they’re not the one’s coming after you and yours. The people you folks need to worry about live right outside your gated communities. They’re in the restaurants you eat at. They line the roads that you drive on. They service your airplanes and boats. The 99% is everywhere and they are already pissed off. You should be afraid Nick. Very afraid.

  6. Alek Hidell June 26, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    This piece is silly. Pitchforks? Like there is any chance of an ‘uprising’ by anybody. I saw and smelled that occupy thing in Philly, and it was pretty funny when the Union construction workers wanted to get on the job with that plaza. The cops moved the protesters out just like that. Pathetic.

    In fact it’s funny how the goal posts got moved again. It’s not “poverty” anymore. Now it’s “inequality”. A weasel word. It can mean anything you want it to.

  7. secondharmonic June 27, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    His great quality is his tolerance for risk? Yeah well risk is great if you are an immature 15 year old male. And one that is insulated from the consequences of his risk taking, as I am sure he is.
    But thanks for the honesty in other respects.
    Pitchforks for you.
    In the end it wont even matter that you were one of ‘the good rich’.

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