There's no point in telling people they shouldn't feel class envy, shouldn't hate the rich. It won't work.
Conservative commentators like to say that an economy isn't a zero-sum game; they say Bill Gates gets his money by being productive, not by stealing from you. This is true in a narrow numerical sense, but it misses the point.
In the old face-to-face capitalist system, the rich were still within the bounds of society, within the feedback loop. The doctor or banker responded naturally to his customers and vice versa. If you disliked or distrusted a banker, he lost money; if the banker had good reason to distrust you, no loans for you. The manufacturer paid attention to the well-being of his employees, because his products wouldn't sell if his employees had no disposable income; and the workers responded with diligence and loyalty.
We've broken the loop in several ways: by interposing insurance companies between the doctor and patients; by interposing "financial instruments" between saving and borrowing; by allowing the manufacturer to buy, build and hire overseas.
These disconnections are actual losses, actual thefts.
You can't always quantify them, you can't punch them into a calculator, but they are real losses of quality,
thefts of the basic necessities of life. And the people intuitively know they've been robbed, but our modern focus on quantity
has weakened our ability to report a theft of quality
When you can't trust a doctor or hospital, you've lost the most important part of medicine.** When a bank doesn't need to attract local
savings in order to provide local
mortgages, you've lost two things: a secure way to invest your cash, and a natural brake on irresponsible lending. When jobs move to India or Mexico, they are permanently lost, stolen, unrecoverable. The human capital of finely-honed skills and talents, painfully-gained knowledge and culture, is destroyed, discarded, tossed on the rubbish heap.
Yes, in today's situation, normal people have perfectly logical
reasons to hate the rich. Granted, some of the rich are still productive in the old sense, and many of the rich are unwilling participants in these destructive trends. But it's mighty hard to separate the few good apples from the rotten barrel.
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**The role of trust in medicine has always been intuitively obvious, but some recent studies have pinned it down systematically. Even when you know you're getting a placebo,
you feel better and recover faster than when you receive nothing. Our brains apparently have an instinctive slot for "healer", and our health is better when we know that the healer is feeding or applying a concrete item to our body. In pre-scientific cultures, the item might be a potion or a prayer cloth; in post-scientific, the item might be a pill or injection. As long as we trust the healer to select the right item, we heal.
Labels: the broken circle