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Opinion » Columnists

The Parasitic American Leisure Class

02.05.2012
 
Pages: 12345

By John Fleming

The Taboo, Media-Censored Scandal of the Idle Rich, Who Are Not Supposed to Exist in an Allegedly Classless Society

Dem Zuschauer ist keine Arbeit zu viel.-German proverb

 

The Parasitic American Leisure Class. 47005.jpeg

When American sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) published The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), of which one historian noted that the author "discussed the habits and thoughts of the rich as if they made up a primitive tribe he had discovered," he emphasized "conspicuous consumption," the vulgar display of wealth especially characteristic of the parvenu nouveaux riches and the American Gilded Age. Veblen's classic is not easy reading, but he like Marx and Engels viewed the leisure class as purely parasitic.

   The Theory appeared at a time when Americans were much more clear-headed about social class than they are today. Aided by the taboo on the discussion of class, and by the ceaseless propaganda broadcast by the corporate-censored media, which forbids plain English like "upper class," "idle rich," "class privilege," "profiteering," "class conflict," "working class," "proletariat," "elite," "the poor," and "exploitation" in favor of euphemisms like "underprivileged," "upper-end," "upper-strata," "upper-crust," "high-end," "exclusive," "lower socioeconomic strata" and so forth, and by the notorious unintellectual character of the American people-a nation of television viewers rather than readers-the public thus has become bewildered about such simple facts as that they live in a class society, that there is an American leisure class, that class warfare is an everyday, ubiquitous phenomenon, and that in a society where everyone is supposed to be rich (an ideology that gave rise to the incessant American smile-spontaneous, forced, duplicitous or otherwise), but most people are poor, the impecunious masses in the working class suffer from an extraordinary stigma of utter lack of success. As Publius Syrus wrote, desunt inopiae multa, avaritiae omnia.

   The American idle rich inherit a lightly-taxed, multi-million dollar trust fund fortune, never work a day in their life, and live off the labor of others in sudore vultus alieni. They do absolutely nothing to earn their keep, their daily bread, their room and board, and their precious stock and bond and real estate and capital goods mammon. Needless to say, unlike Americans of the middle and lower classes-whose labor they exploit-the idle rich do not mow the lawn, vacuum the carpet, do the dishes, cook, mop or sweep the floor, wash windows, take out the trash, make home repairs to plumbing or electrical works or appliances, paint the walls, rake leaves, trim shrubs, bushes or trees, do laundry, sew, knit, bake, tend to and take care of children, wash or repair automobiles, shop for groceries, nurse sick relatives, shovel snow, clear their house gutters of leaves, dust, unclog toilets, scrub bathroom floors and tile. The Spaniards have an unkind proverb, para trabajar hacen falta los burros-as if man, made for the contemplation of heaven and all noble objects, should be nothing but Frederick W. Taylor's beast of burden. So far from having a work ethic, the idle rich live by an elite ethic that contemns ordinary labor and those in lower classes who are forced to perform it, and this same class privilege ethic forbids them to do any common work.

   In short, the leisure class lives in luxury, consuming much but contributing zero to humanity. But not actually idle, the idle rich play polo, golf, tennis, attend a busy round of cotillions, balls and debutante and society parties, jet around the world, swim and hang out at expensive country clubs that make it a point to drive off and exclude from membership in their fashionable retreats commoners and riffraff, own multiple vacation homes, a private jet and a yacht, and employ a staff of servants-maids, chefs, cooks, gardeners, nannies, nurses, wet nurses, mechanics, tutors, housekeepers, chauffeurs, butlers, social secretaries and what have you-to do their work for them. Class privilege also includes exemption from risking life and limb in war. Usually male elites, if they serve in war at all, are commissioned as officers, with attendant privileges in the midst of wartime scarcity and rationing, and are stationed well-behind the front lines out of danger. Consider the outrageous laws passed during the American Civil War, which allowed the rich man, by paying $300 to the government, to escape military service, part of the first draft law in the North in 1863, thus leaving poor men to risk everything in the astonishing carnage of the War Between the States (1861-65).

   The Confederacy, the rebellious Southern states, for their part had earlier passed a similarly outrageous law allowing the rich to pay a man to fight in his stead in the murderous war. Then there are the many cowardly draft dodgers throughout American history, such as, just to name one of tens of thousands from Mr. Wilson's war, Joseph P. Kennedy, arch Wall Street swindler in the 20s and father of a U.S. president, who was guilty of dodging the World War l draft. Many Hollywood actors, such as Ronald Reagan, found a pretext to dodge the draft after Pearl Harbor-although some like Clark Gable had a sense of patriotic duty and enlisted in the military-and the Korean War also had its cowardly draft evaders.

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