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America's "New Class"

Fifty three years ago a former Vice President of Communist Yugoslavia, Milovan Djilas, published a book that landed him in jail. It was called The New Class and it has changed the way we understand the people at the top of societies that employ propaganda and coercion to replace a reviled former set of rulers with a new set--one just as privileged, if not more so, and one more autocratic than the class it removed.

Later, in the Soviet Union, the term "Nomenklatura" was used for those party leaders, generals and top bureaucrats who were entitled to the best apartments and "dachas", access to foreign luxury goods, travel and resort vacations and top educational opportunities for one's children.

Today, in America, we, too, are seeing the rise of a new class of privilege based on politics and political connections that are separable from normal private sector commercial and entrepreneurial success. Washington, DC is full of "power couples" that team up in, say, a major NGO and a broadcast network, or a lobbyist who has a spouse holding down a presidential appointment in a federal department. This sort of thing happened in the past, but today it's an order of magnitude greater. Former officials, like the Clintons or Gores, achieve major wealth by championing causes, getting remarkable speech fees and who knows what else. (Noemie Emery describes the phenomenon in "Lifestyles of the Rich and Liberal" for The Weekly Standard.) The sheer ostentation of a John Kerry or John Edwards is new.

the new class.jpg

Moreover, whereas an earlier power elite (to use leftist C. Wright Mills' phrase from another '50s book) made money through military contracts and business connections, and a more or less constant pullulation of enterprise in the past created a genuine business elite, most the new elite are straightforward products of government deals and government influence.

One result is that the District of Columbia and its suburbs (inside the Beltway) are doing just fine in the current economy. Indeed, it's the one place (along with some high spending state capitals) where the Stimulus has really worked. It has stimulated an increase in government at the cost of the private sector and future generations of taxpayers. Most of the new class are Democrats, but there are a few Republicans also who have learned to work the system.

The trouble with for the left in using class warfare appeals, therefore, is that people may wake up to the reality of where the real class advantages are in our day.

No, I'm not comparing the Obama Era with communist Yugoslavia or the USSR. It's just that there is something unwholesome about a society where government decides who prospers and who does not, who is raised up and who is brought down. Among other things, it is economically unsustainable.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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