The privileged like their privileges


The contented and well-off people around the world are not interested in the Green New Deal think that plan is so absurd because it will cost too much money. They are less concerned about the costs of climate change which they know are so far being born largely by the poor. Efforts to improve matters for them are not worth it. Besides, the affluent are doing very well and enjoy the status quo immensely. What’s not to like if you are rich?


John Kenneth Galbraith knew as well the general satisfaction the well-off have in regards to their privileges and the extent to which they are easily able to offer moral justifications for them. Denial of privileges to the less well of are similarly morally justified. Inevitably, the denial is ‘for their own good.’ As Galbraith pointed out,

The first and most general expression of the contented majority is it’s affirmation that those who compose it are receiving their just deserts.  What the individual member aspires to have and enjoy is the product of his or her personal virtue, intelligence, and effort… there is no equitable justification for any action that impairs it… The normal response to such action is indignation, or, as suggested, anger at anything infringing on what is so clearly deserved.”


The rich and powerful always command a ready and willing bevy of economic experts to espouse the solid justifications of their privileges. The poor and vulnerable of course do not have the benefit of such a cadre of expert support at their command. As a result, Galbraith pointed out, “ One of the most reliable, though not necessarily most distinguished, accomplishments of economics is its ability to accommodate its view of economic process, instruction therein and recommended public action to specific economic and political interest.”

For such reasons I am leery about accepting the view of economists that the wealthy deserve the massive subsidies they receive for their oil and gas interests. Those subsidies massively exceed subsidies to the poor to help them pay their energy bills.

It is understandable why as result political leaders are quick to give the wealthy what they want and look with greater scepticism at the claims of the needy. But it really should be the other way around. As Galbraith emphasized, “mainstream economics has for some centuries given grace and acceptability to convenient belief– to what the socially and economically favored most wish or need to have believed.”


One of the most notorious examples of course was the so-called theory of trickle-down economics that was quickly latched onto by the Neo-conservatives, and others, for the obvious reason that it closely matched their own views and interests. This theory is now widely discredited by independent economists, though the rich still love the theory and continue to use it to justify their privilege. For example, Trump and the Republicans used it repeatedly in 2018 to armour their claims that the Trump tax cuts that largely benefited the wealthy were for the benefit of all.   It did not matter that all the evidence was to the contrary. Trickle-down-economics was in turn supported by economic theories of Professor Arthur Laffer. One excellent example was the theory of the Laffer curve or supply side economics, which held that a reduction in taxes would actually result in increased government revenues.


This is what Galbraith had to say about that theory:

“It is not clear that anyone of sober mentality took Professor Laffer’s curve and conclusions seriously.  He must have credit, nonetheless, for showing that justifying contrivance, however transparent, could be of high practical service.”


The history of the treatment of the Laffer curve is reason to be careful in accepting economic theories that support the interests of the proponents. It can lead to some wild conclusions. Again, Galbraith had this tart remark about it, “Supply side economics convinced people amazingly, that the rich needed the spur of more money, the poor the spur of their own poverty.

I wish Galbraith were around to analyze the economic implications of the current Green New Deal. But like him, I think it is good to be skeptical of the desires of the well off in analyzing proposed changes in public policy. There are reasons why they usually get their way, as the less well often end up sucking socks.

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