« Well, no | Main | You think there's any connection? »

All animals are equal. Some are more equal than others.

When is it okay to be rich? If you're willing to spend everyone else's money. That's the message of Paul Krugman's latest column. His argument is that a society where rich people can pass along money to their children is evil. Well, sort of. Because he can't resist turning it into a partisan argument, the column becomes completely incoherent. Conservatives are all incomptent boobs who benefit from nepotism, he suggests:

America, we all know, is the land of opportunity. Your success in life depends on your ability and drive, not on who your father was.

Just ask the Bush brothers. Talk to Elizabeth Cheney, who holds a specially created State Department job, or her husband, chief counsel of the Office of Management and Budget. Interview Eugene Scalia, the top lawyer at the Labor Department, and Janet Rehnquist, inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services. And don't forget to check in with William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and the conservative commentator John Podhoretz.

What's interesting is how little comment, let alone criticism, this roll call has occasioned. It might be just another case of kid-gloves treatment by the media, but I think it's a symptom of a broader phenomenon: inherited status is making a comeback.

Careful readers would note that this really has little to do with the rest of his column, which is about economic mobility. Note, though, that Andrew Cuomo, or Hillary Clinton, or Al Gore, or Nancy Pelosi, or Linda Daschle, or any one of a million Kennedys aren't listed. Why not? 'Cause they ain't Republican.

Why exactly should there be criticism? Is Krugman implying that these people aren't qualified for the jobs they hold? If so, he should say that explicitly. If not, what's his argument? That someone who's qualified on the merits should be disqualified if he's related to someone else famous?

But here's where the argument goes from muddled to absurd:

It wasn't always thus. The influential dynasties of the 20th century, like the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and, yes, the Sulzbergers, faced a public suspicious of inherited position; they overcame that suspicion by demonstrating a strong sense of noblesse oblige, justifying their existence by standing for high principles. Indeed, the Kennedy legend has a whiff of Bonnie Prince Charlie about it; the rightful heirs were also perceived as defenders of the downtrodden against the powerful.
See? If you spend other people's money, you're a good person. Noblesse oblige used to involve giving away your own money. Now "high principles" = "government spending." And does having sex with lots of women really qualify as a "high principle"?
But today's heirs feel no need to demonstrate concern for those less fortunate. On the contrary, they are often avid defenders of the powerful against the downtrodden. Mr. Scalia's principal personal claim to fame is his crusade against regulations that protect workers from ergonomic hazards, while Ms. Rehnquist has attracted controversy because of her efforts to weaken the punishment of health-care companies found to have committed fraud.
Hmm. I thought Scalia was crusading against costly heavy-handed government rules that cost workers their jobs.

You'd think, after the last couple of elections, Democrats would give up on the idea that they could play More Compassionate Than Thou just because they support big government. Krugman hasn't quite gotten that message.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 23, 2002 8:05 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Well, no.

The next post in this blog is You think there's any connection?.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.31