VICTORIAN REDUX

For the past few years I've noticed with great interest that the modern aristocracy's attitudes are reminiscent of – and in some cases identical to – those that prevailed among the landed aristocracy in Britain prior to the agricultural depression of the 1870s. I'm sure that's neither the only nor the best historical comparison; it just happens to be a period about which I've consumed a fair amount of information. So the links stand out.

During that age of Darwinism and formalized class distinctions, the theories about the poor that prevailed among the privileged ranged from patronizing but kind of coming from a place of good intentions to legitimately contemptuous. Malthusian social and economic theories were, shall we say, quite popular among that class of privileged people who identified the main problems with overcrowded London as 1) too many people, and 2) too many people with character flaws that kept them poor (drunkenness, licentiousness, etc.)

And more than a few people still think that way: too many people, and too many people who lack the Character and Good Breeding to avoid poverty and the loving embrace of Charity. Here's a quote from Chuck Grassley (R-IA) after the tax bill vote:

I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.

And here's Thomas Malthus from An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798):

The laboring poor, to use a vulgar expression, seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants employ their whole whole attention, and they seldom think of the future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale house.

Can you spot the differences? Me neither.

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59 Responses to “VICTORIAN REDUX”

  1. Death Panel Truck Says:

    “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything." — Orrin Hatch, claiming there is no money to fund CHIP.

    They all think that way. Every fucking one of them.

  2. cgordon Says:

    It isn't enough that rich people have loads of money (that they don't even know what to do with). Poor people must be punished.

  3. Mo Says:

    What strikes me is the opposite side of that coin – the servant class employed by the aristocracy. Many of these people aligned themselves with their aristocratic employers, thinking themselves a step above rural laborers and townsfolk. And said laborers and townsfolk continued to doff their hats and defer to "Yer Lordship" and "Yer Ladyship."

    It took WWI to put an irreparable crack in that social hierarchy.

    What do have to do nowadays to scare the jammies off our corporate financier pirates in the .1%? Resorting to war and revolution and hangings from lampposts seems so 20th century. Plus, loss aversion. You know, loss of life, loss of property, destruction of livelihood… violence has its downsides.

    [goes back to re-reading the latest edition of The Reactionary Mind, trying to connect it with Sapolsky's Behave to discover what the action lever might be … and who could best push it]

  4. Mo Says:

    Brad DeLong delivers a kick in the shins to liberal economic trade theory as yet another rationalization of the convenient sentiment that rich people are the best people:

    …the market economy is a collective human device for satisfying the wants of the well-off. And the well-off are those who control scarce resources useful in producing things for which the rich have a serious Jones."

    By now, note that we are far away from the idea that “comparative advantage” justifies the claim that free trade is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. There are a large number of holes in that argument:

    >Optimal tariffs.
    >The fact of un- and underemployment.
    >Externalities as sources of economic growth, in any of the “extent of the market”, “economies of scale”, “variety”, “learning-by-doing”, “communities of engineering practice”, “focus of inventive activity”, or any of its other flavors.
    >Internal misdistribution means that the greatest profit is at best orthogonal to the “greatest good of the greatest number” that policy should seek.

    Given these holes, the true arguments for free trade have always been a level or two deeper than “comparative advantage”: that optimal tariff equilibrium is unstable; that other policy tools than trade restrictions resolve unemployment in ways that are not beggar-thy-neighbor; that countries lack the administrative competence to successfully execute manufacturing export-based industrial policies; that trade restrictions are uniquely vulnerable to rent seeking by the rich; and so forth.

    The only hole for which nothing can be done is the internal misdistribution hole. Hence the late 19th C. “social Darwinist” redefinition of the social welfare function as not the greatest good of the greatest number but as the evolutionary advance of the “fittest“—that is, richest—humans.

  5. PrairieBear Says:

    One difference is that Malthus didn't get elected and re-elected repeatedly to the US senate with a minimum of 60 percent of the vote. I dearly love Iowa, but damn it can be embarrassing to be from here.

  6. Aaron Says:

    Another relevant historical note

  7. mothra Says:

    I find it odd that Grassley referenced "women." So are all poor women lesbians with a ken for prostitutes? These Republicans is so weird.

  8. mago Says:

    It's all Game of Thrones all the time. The little people, screw em. Let them eat their shitty food, drink their crappy booze and fornicate like dogs. Easier to keep em down on the farm that way.

  9. mm Says:

    Ran into this the other day. The rich fall up:

    The New York Times, Sunday May 25, 1924, Page 182

    LUXURIOUS HOME FOR THOSE
    POOR WHO WERE ONCE RICH

    Unique Institution Founded by the Late Andrew Freedman Opens Today–Building on Grand Concourse Rivals Any First-Class Hotel in Its Appointments.

    The home will be "operated solely for the care and maintenance of gentle folk of advanced age who were once wealthy and now live in penury, but who have preserved their taste for the comforts and refined surroundings to which they were formerly accustomed. As far as possible these persons will have an opportunity to enjoy the same mode of life which they led in their days of affluence. Old couples will not be separated, and if one dies the institution will provide for the survivor"

    https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/05/25/101599649.html?pageNumber=182

    And on the same page:

    SUCCESS IN BUSINESS
    PROVES INTELLIGENCE

    No Dullards in Large Group of Commercial Leaders Tested by Psychologist–Character and Social Effectiveness Also Likely to Be Found, He Says

  10. MS Says:

    It's a derivative of the just world hypothesis. The world is inherently fair, therefore rich people are rich because they deserve it and poor people are poor because they deserve it. Rich people are therefore more moral, wise, hard-working, and good than poor people.

    (Note that liberals believe this just as much as conservatives.)

    This is firmly baked into the human psyche, but happens to be the exact opposite of the truth. We have lots of evidence that wealth decreases empathy, so rich people on the whole are considerably less moral than poor people. Too bad we believe otherwise.

  11. Shirley0401 Says:

    Grassley is a truly awful human being. He was on All Things Considered last week, claiming the tax bill that would affect every American currently alive didn't require debate because "we've been debating taxes for 6 or 7 years" or something like that. He, like the rest of his party, seems not remotely interested in even *pretending* to make good faith arguments anymore. What makes them dangerous is they have so little fear of losing their vocal base – or solid red states – or gerrymandered House districts – that they've dispensed with even the pretense they are.

  12. Katydid Says:

    What's the average income now, around $50k/year? It's not even mathematically possible to accrue $5.9 Mill (like Grassley did) on a $50k/year salary even if the income earner didn't have to pay for pesky things like food and shelter.

    As for Orrin Hatch–eff him, the big scam artist/panderer to Mormon Pyramind Marketing and Fake Vitamins. CHIP is health care for CHILDREN (that's what the C is for). Instead of penalizing 2-year-olds for being "lazy and shiftless", why doesn't he crack down on all those polygamous marriages in his state that are living off social welfare?!?

  13. Katydid Says:

    A few years ago I read a book whose author and title escape me. The book was autobiographical, telling the story of the author who was a cook in a restaurant, and her struggle to live and raise her family. People living hand-to-mouth can't plan ahead because there's no money to plan with–as the author illustrates with examples from her own life. Being poor is expensive; you can't stock up at the supermarket sales because you don't have the money to stock up with. Buying in bulk is out of the question because you only have enough for the smallest size of something.

  14. Ten Bears Says:

    It's the Cavalier bit of our history, Mo, the landless younger sons (and daughters) who were actively establishing baronial estates in southern coastal (now) states before the crew of the Mayflower tossed a bunch of righteously religous crack-pot Puritans off the boat. That's the root of it; of the inherent sense of entitlement in the both the aristocracy and those they brought with them; an inherent sense of entitlement that has survived unspoken through native genocides and the establishment of the slave trade, the war of treason in defense of slavery, the robber barons of re and post reconstruction to the twentieth centuries political and financial dynasties: the Cocks and the Carlyles, the Bush and Carnegie, Rodhams and Rockefellers. Yet like Colombus and Vinland, this bit of our history, this root of all american evil, is tucked away in musty old tomes while the righteously religious crack-pottery of (((The Puritans))) is impressed upon the national psych.

    Fascinating Sapolsky's name has come up in a couple of places in not dissimilar context in the past couple of days. I'll get back to you on that.

    I fear you continue to misunderstand me: as a practical matter …

    "It is said violence is the last resort of the incompetent." This has been written about by priests, politicians and scifi authors and is readily available to those paying attention. No contention.

    "No. Violence is merely the last resort." History has demonstrated that the least prepared for violence are the first to suffer it.

    "Incompetence lay in the inability to engage in violence when it beomes necessary." As a practical matter, history has demonstrated that the least prepared for violence are the first to suffer it.

    That's not an advocacy for violence. It's a recognition that it's probably a good idea to be prepared for it. It's gonna' get uglier before it gets purty.

    I'm looking for that trigger too, let me know if you find it.

  15. Safety Man! Says:

    @ Mo

    I think a good lever would be to tax capital gains higher than basic income, that would surely cause a fair amount of strokes. This also goes back to my post about punitive measures should Democrats ever retake the government. Would it be bad for business? Absolutely! Would it anguish the rich? Like nothing else. Also, double the fucking estate tax.

  16. PrairieBear Says:

    @ MS: I was wondering if it was Calvinism. I've suspected so but I honestly don't have enough background in the subject to be completely confident in that. Maybe the just world hypothesis is the secular version of Calvinism.

  17. Katydid Says:

    @Prairie Bear; I think the "prosperity gospel" nonsense also plays a part of it–if you're poor, obviously god hates you and you should just die. If you're born to a millionaire, then god loves you and you're superior to the poors.

  18. Mo Says:

    Katydid –

    Linda Tirado – Hand To Mouth

    Also, Kharles Karelis: The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-off Can't Help the Poor.

  19. Mo Says:

    That's Charles Karelis. Fuck editing.

  20. geoff Says:

    @MS, PrairieBear, Katydid, YES.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Spirit_of_Capitalism

    Also, I TOTES COULD HAVE SAVED $5 MILLION I IT WEREN'T FOR MY WEAKNESS FOR BOOZE AND WOMEN, CHUCK ; )

  21. geoff Says:

    "(…IF it weren't…", dammit.)

  22. drew Says:

    Ah, yes, just like Aesop's story where the worker ant blows all of its money on movies (?) while the grasshopper basks in wealth because of being born to not work. Anyone who says otherwise is only trying to spread fake fable.

  23. c u n d gulag Says:

    RICH AMERICANS POV TOWARDS THE POOR & MIDDLE CLASSES:
    'Let THEM eat cake, then!'

    All while, THEY'LL keep having their cake, and eating it, Too!

    I say, invest in guillotines.
    I hear it's tough to digest your cake when your head's in a basket, and your stomach is still on the platform with the rest of your body.

  24. Ten Bears Says:

    Marie Antoinette had no idea what was coming.

  25. democommie Says:

    @MS:

    Yeah, "Just World" until everything crashes and then we'll see some serious wealth redistribution. Every king was either a aemoral, murdering, thieving, whoring, lying, cheating, stealing scumbag or the offspring of such a one.

  26. Mo Says:

    Nuclear winter clouds the skies over rich and poor alike.

  27. Noskilz Says:

    It's an interesting observation.

  28. Jack the Cold Warrior Says:

    Katydid-

    I think the book you are talking about is by Barbara Ehrenreich:. Nickel and Dimed: On (NOT) Getting by in America. Kindle edition on Amazon for $10. Ironic?

    It got great reviews in the progressive media….

    Now, back to the fetal position,..

  29. Katydid Says:

    @Jack, not talking about Nickel and Dimed, but that is also an excellent book. I was just talking about it to a friend–back 15-or-so years ago when Ehrenreich wrote the book, she could travel just about anyplace in the USA and get a crappy, minimum-wage job. In the interim, that type of job has grown scarce, or requires internet connection to apply. Ehrenreich's also written 2 more books that are quite good, the last one about her quest to get a job in corporate America, as a college graduate with experience under her belt. That was written during the Bush years, but it's still valid today.

  30. Katydid Says:

    @Mo; YES, "Hand to Mouth" by Linda Tirado. My local newspaper had a review of the book a couple of years back, it sounded interesting, my public library had it, so I read it. The author's name escaped me but the details stayed.

    I got out of college into Ronnie Raygun's recession and lived very poor for awhile. I'd mercifully forgotten some of the indignities and suffering that went on until I re-read that book…and I never had to try to raise children in abject poverty, so I had it relatively good. Living in your broken-down car is one thing…trying to live in that car with your two kids is quite another.

  31. US in the EU Says:

    I got to go with democommie on this one

    @MS: "(Note that liberals believe this just as much as conservatives.)"

    ???

    Here in Italy, there is the saying (and strongly held belief) that any great wealth is the result of a great crime. Now, that doesn't mean there are no rich Italians but they are held in deep suspicion.

    And I am an American liberal (if i have to round myself toward something recognizable to the American ideological distribution – I prefer radical social democrat), and I certainly don't think that the rich deserve any unearned accolades (smarter, more industrious, etc…). Since Piketty, the Panama and Paradise Papers, I think we can comfortably arrive at the opposite conclusions. It ain't brains but influence.

    Most rich people adapt their minds to the core value of a profit-driven society: selfishness. They can try to hide it or run with it, but that underpins most of what we see.

  32. Major Kong Says:

    "I can just pay half the working class to kill the other half"

    Jay Gould

  33. democommie Says:

    Mr. Gould never lived to see what happens when his mercenaries have killed the other half and then, in their turn, are laid off.

    All of the contingency planning in the world that depends on the loyalty of a cadre of mercenaries is, eventually, doomed to failure.

    In the more fucking good news department, the SC(r)otUS just okayed Trumpligulamygdala's travel ban.

  34. Dave Dell Says:

    Major Kong –

    With robots and automation Gould could get 15% of the working class to kill the other 85%. Probably no need though…

    Why'd we lay you off? We just bought AI robots to maintain the AI robots that manage the AI robots that do the work.

  35. democommie Says:

    @ Dave Dell:

    Yes, of course, but just one disgruntled programmer that uses the facial ID software to cobble up an instruction that runs something like:

    "Kill anything that has a smug look on its face.".

  36. Mo Says:

    Off shore bank accounts siphoned into BitCoin and then "redistributed."

    Robbin' the hoods.

    Just sayin'…

  37. jcdenton Says:

    @Mo

    Violence is the last recourse where the rest have been exhausted. It's also far more attainable than trying to hack an offshore account (most people can be taught to fire a rifle and heave a molotov cocktail, most people cannot be taught to exploit random errors in an amazingly complex codebase).

    I believe 2018 will be the inflection point. If the Dems can make significant gains and then use that power to reverse course (instead of just servicing capital at a slower rate), society may yet avoid any serious upheavals. If 2018 is a bust (due to gerrymandering, voter suppression or corporate Dem betrayals), we should just string up the Kochs.

  38. West of the Cascades Says:

    @ Safety Man!

    I'm borrowing this from elsewhere, but I look forward eagerly to the six-month period after the Democrats pass a bill in July 2021 reimposing the estate tax with a $2 million exemption for estates that come into being on or after January 1, 2022.

  39. Matt Says:

    I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.

    Says a guy who just got done spending 1.5 trillion dollars we don't have so his donors can keep fisting him with wads of taxpayer cash.

  40. ajobil Says:

    Today's job and economic situation is truly scary. I'm glad that i'm mostly retired. I started out on my working career with a good college degree and never had much trouble switching jobs, but it seems as though it would be much harder today.
    In my 20s i spent a whole summer working in a glass factory when i couldn't find professional work, but at least it paid well. I don't know how anyone lives on the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

  41. Brian M Says:

    "We have lots of evidence that wealth decreases empathy, so rich people on the whole are considerably less moral than poor people. Too bad we believe otherwise."

    except for those suffering from mental illness that leads to violent ideation, the just plain nicest people are the homeless.

  42. Brian M Says:

    I am amazed at believers in the Just World Theory. Any dispassionate look at reality would prove that :The Universe is cold and does not care".

  43. jcastarz Says:

    Can't get more than 0.5% in a bank savings account? – well, if that's not a reason to go out and get drunk, I don't know what is. And was not the annual cap on 401K contributions reduced recently? – or as part of the new tax plan? (The crap's flowing off Capitol Hill so fast these days I can't keep track of it.)

    Give people a ladder up – and with rungs to climb, no less. And only then – if they choose not to use it – would you perhaps have justification to look down on them.

    (PS: It has not escaped my thinking that perhaps the sheep are being herded to Wall Street for slaughter…)

  44. Brian M Says:

    jcastarz:

    I am not sure I even would go this far. For one thing, our economy is utterly dependent, even post robot apocalypse, on cheap labor and low level jobs. What is wrong with being the best gas station attendant with no desire to own and manage a chain of 35 7-11s? does that mean one should be considered subhuman and forced to live a miserable life?

    Even if one is aimless and "lazy", does that mean one deserves misery?

    Especially as "high end" jobs so often involve schmoozing and conniving and politicking and all kinds of nasty social animal jostling for power that some people don't really want to do or have any skills to do.

    A good chef probably brings more joy to his customers and community than any hedge fund manager or white shoe lawyer.

    Of course, providing ladders is a good thing for the ambitious and driven and "smart" children of the chef. And eliminating these rungs is cruel and wrong.

  45. democommie Says:

    "Any dispassionate look at reality would prove that :The Universe is cold and does not care"."

    Is why, "JEEZUZ".

    If you can con them into accepting that fucking lie, you're off the hook.

  46. Mike R Says:

    Demo, it worked in the past. Suffer on earth but get your reward when one goes to glory. Suffering is good for the soul, just no suffering for the natural aristocracy.

  47. Brian M Says:

    ah, by "JEEZUS" we mean the wandering cult-guru who thought the world was ending SOON and loved describing the eternal torture facing everyone who didn't drink the koolaid?

  48. jcastarz Says:

    @Brian M. : No, no one deserves scorn or misery, which is why I said "perhaps" in my judgement statement. I take your point that if someone is content at the bottom of things, their decision stay there should be accepted without scorn. I myself dodged the higher-end crap jobs in my career, and faced a lot of grief from management for doing so. But I still aimed to be retired and comfortably well-enough-off one day. Do not most people want work to be optional at some point in their later years? And if so, how does a modest worker even get there anymore? At the same time the upper crust is spitting on the worker-bees for not better providing for their futures, they've made it harder to do so – and that was the point I was making… "Save" – yeah, right… like where?!!!

  49. democommie Says:

    @ Brian M & Mike R:

    Keepin' their cadre well fed and keepin' teh roobz in the eternal darkness of ignorance worked back in the day. Now they're only keeping their cadre in the eternal darkness and they're not willing to feed even them.

    It might not work quite as well now that we got intertoobirz, CGI and lotta other gizmmos.

  50. Brian M Says:

    jc: No worries. Was not implying you really believe that.

    I am more responding to a common, underlying "philosophy"-even among liberals-that the working poor "deserve" to be miserable. There is even a little bit of that when we (mea culpa) chortle about the dumb trumpalos "deserving" what they get. It's cathartic, but also dangerous.

    Agree completely with your core points above.

  51. democommie Says:

    @Brian M:

    I agree that poor people don't deserve to be miserable. The Trumpliguturds, imo, deserve to die by the same sword that they've been hurting others with. Ignorance is fixable; indignorance, less so. Happily fucking other people, for any reason? I'm okay with you sampling some of your own remedy.

  52. Brian M Says:

    So…my brother deserves to be miserable? Half my coworkers.

    Group Anger is cathartic, Demo. I laugh out loud at the skewering of the "White working Class Whisperers" on this site and others (my favorite is probably Heywood J's Hammer of the Blogs.

    The problem is, group hatred just calcifies the boundaries.

    I don't know what the answer is. How does one even reply to a college-educated professional who tells you breathlessly that North Korea is a nuclear threat now because "Hillary" sold the Communist Chinese nuclear secrets in exchange for campaign cash?

    I don't know.

  53. Jrod Says:

    "So…my brother deserves to be miserable? Half my coworkers."

    Did they vote for Trump? Do they continue to support him even at this late stage where it's clear he intends to rob them? Then yes, they absolutely deserve to be miserable. They are very literally getting what they asked for.

    Are you suggesting that these idiots don't deserve to suffer the consequences of their stupid actions?

  54. Brian M Says:

    I am not really saying that. I am just a little bit bothered by the gleefulness of the discussion.

    Sure, I cannot justify my brother, who is whip smart yet has always been prone to loon libertoonian conspiracy theories.

    More importantly, we ALL suffer the consequences of Idiocracy. So, I am not even sure this "deserve to suffer" theme is very useful.

  55. Jrod Says:

    Yup. We're all going to suffer for their mistakes. Knowing that at least they will suffer for it too is a cold, cold comfort, but I'll take what I can get.

    I'd like to be optimistic that they'll learn from their terrible ruinous mistake, but I know better. Whatever terrible shitstorms Trump brings down on us all can be easily blamed on Hillary or Black Lives Matter and a multi-billion dollar propaganda operation will always be there to help them out with this delusion. But none of that will stop the pain they inflicted on themselves. Good.

  56. Brian M Says:

    The propaganda is so much more sophisticated now. Inescapable as well.

  57. Two Below Says:

    Somebody tell Grassley that not everyone who spends money on entertainment is a wastrel and not everyone lives in fucking
    Iowa so we have things to spend our money other than his favorite three.

  58. democommie Says:

    "so…my brother deserves to be miserable? Half my coworkers?"

    Short answer, "Yes".

    Longer answer, "FUCK, Yes."

    I don't hate genuine conservatism (although it's hard to find these days) but I would be perfectly happy to see some 60M idiots suffering WORSE than those they so gleefully hate on.

    Group hatred IS cathartic. More than that, it makes people know that they can unite for good or evil. So far evil is winning.

  59. democommie Says:

    "The propaganda is so much more sophisticated now. Inescapable as well."

    Propaganda works especially well on people who only need justification for their hatred. Fuck the idiots who voted for Trumpligylamygdala.

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