From the Right



America's Dysfunctional Overclass

Michael Barone on

What does America's overclass think of the rest of us? The short answer is "not much." They think ordinary people's splurging on natural resources is destroying the planet and needs to be cut back forcefully. And that the government needs to stamp down on ordinary people enjoying luxuries that, in their view, should be reserved for the top elites.

These are the implications of the results of two surveys of elite people conducted by pollster Scott Rasmussen by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, an organization that supports low tax rates and low government spending. The surveys covered not large swaths of the population but were confined to the top 1% of society.

One survey, the Elite, included only respondents with postgraduate degrees, household incomes above $150,000 and residents in a ZIP code with more than 10,000 people per square mile. Another, Ivy League graduates, included adults who attended Ivy League or other selective private colleges such as Chicago, Duke, Northwestern or Stanford.

You probably won't be surprised that the large majority of this Elite feels economically well off. Nor, if you've kept up with recent changes in party identification, will you be much surprised that 73% of these elites identify as Democrats and only 14% as Republicans.

What is surprising is the extent to which this American overclass would deprive its fellow citizens of things they have taken for granted. Half of these groups, 47% of Elites and 55% of Ivies, say the United States provides people with "too much individual freedom."

More than three-quarters favor, "to fight climate change, the strict rationing of energy, gas, and meat," a proposition rejected by 63% of the public. Again, "to fight climate change," between half and two-thirds favor bans on gas stoves (a recent target despite demurrals of Biden bureaucrats and New York state Democrats), gasoline-powered cars (heavily disfavored by Biden Democrats and California rules) and SUVs, "private" air conditioning and "nonessential air travel."


The ascetic economist Thorstein Veblen, in his 1899 book "The Theory of the Leisure Class," argued that the rich engaged in "conspicuous consumption" activities such as golf, polo and art collecting, for which ordinary people had neither the time nor the money.

A century and a quarter later, America has rich people hoping to deprive ordinary people of "conspicuous consumption" activities they can afford and where they clutter up the airports, interstate highways and high-end malls.

For generations, Democrats have liked to portray themselves as the tribune of the little man, the defender of policies that enable ordinary people without special advantages, or with many disadvantages, to live comfortably, securely and in dignity. There may be some condescension in this posture, but also a considerable element of respect.

This survey shows that today, this 1% of the public, which includes virtually all elective and appointive Democrats in Washington and states like California, New York and New Jersey, tends to see the bulk of its fellow citizens as selfish and destructive, in need not just of discipline but deserving of harsh restrictions on their freedoms.


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