The Gini Coefficient is a Harsh Mistress

You know that guy? That guy who tells a joke, an inappropriate half-joke, a racist, or sexist, or something of that sort? After telling the joke, they look around in a furtive fashion, trying to read the reaction of the listeners. If the listeners are sympathetic, then go further: “All kidding aside, you know, they really are like that, am I right?”

Or, if the listeners look uncomfortable, they’ll try to play it off as just a joke. They didn’t mean it. Jeez, can’t you take a joke?

Do you know that guy? There are a lot of “that guy” out there.

Tom Perkins is one of “that guy.” A few weeks back, he compared the treatment of the super-wealthy in the U.S. to how the Nazis treated the Jews.* Having made the mistake of making this statement in public rather than to an audience of his peers, he later sort-of-backtracked on the statement, saying that the specific choice of words was wrong but the basic idea was accurate.

More recently, he mooted a novel modification of the old “one man, one vote” system: People should get one vote for every dollar of taxes paid, and if you don’t pay taxes, you don’t vote.** He plays it off as a joke…sort of…unless you think it’d be a good idea, ya know? He’s kidding, but he isn’t really kidding.

There must be something in the air. Perkins’ fellow so-wealthy-he-doesn’t-need-to-bother-with-empathy one-percenter Sam Zell’s explanation for the inequality of wealth in the U.S. is so profoundly special it bears repeating:

The one percent work harder, the one percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.

Yes, that’s it. The super-wealthy are rich because they work harder than the guy who works three manual labor jobs at minimum wage. The one percent are noted for their contributions to the arts, to math, to science, and to athletics…you know, “all forms of our society.” It’s a statement that’s so patently absurd that it ought to be met with universal ridicule. He should be ashamed for saying something so stupid. His teachers and parents should apologize for being such miserable failures.

The sad thing is that you see a lot of this sort of self-serving nonsense from the super-wealthy. It’s all about trying to justify their position at the head of the table: They’ve earned their unimaginable riches through hard work, superior intellect, and just being “better.” In order for this to be true, the poor must be lazy, stupid, and inferior. It’s supremely important in this mythology that factors of luck and privilege are never, ever considered. If these godlike captains of industry were even a little bit fortunate, or had any advantage due to birth or other circumstances beyond their control, well, they’d might have to question their right to rule. We can’t have that, can we?

America’s aristocratic super-wealthy are so out of touch it beggars belief. They already have almost everything, but so long as poor people still have some wealth and some political clout, they’re going to see themselves as the victims. That’s a mistake. Mr. Perkins may not know what real persecution of the rich, but the Gini coefficient suggest he may find out sooner rather than later.

* It’s worth noting that this new holocaust he’s bemoaning is a return to Reagan-era income tax rates. Oh, curse that socialist swine Reagan!

** Actually, if you think about it, this isn’t too far off from the original system in the U.S. constitution. Only wealthy white men could vote, which would is what Perkins’ system would effectively produce. So, for all you constitutional originalists out there, you may have found a new champion!

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