Arnold Kling recently wrote one of the most disturbing posts I can ever remember reading. You should read the whole thing once or twice. I’ll excerpt (lots of) relevant bits in case you don’t:
Tyler pictures an economy evolving over the next twenty years to one with a slice of high earners (the 20 percent or so whose skills complement the ever-expanding power of computers) and then a large group that lives comfortably but without a financial cushion to protect against adverse shocks to health or other major risks.
This is a nice (modern) way of saying that 80 percent of the population will be poor.
(My anecdotal evidence (which is substantial, since I live about half a mile from some Section 8 housing) is that poor people consume a lot. Most of them drive nicer cars than me, have more channels on their TVs than I do, wear more expensive clothing/electronics/jewelry than I do, and enjoy a considerably larger amount of leisure time I do.)
A recurring topic of discussion around these parts of the interwebz is the idea that society is getting so advanced that lots of people have: 1) no need to actually work to maintain a high standard of living; and 2) don’t have the intellectual ability to do anything of value in such an economy anyway.
On one hand, this vision is incredibly optimistic – we’re so rich that large swaths of the population don’t need to work to maintain first world living standards.
On the other hand, this vision is darkly pessimistic – we really have no idea what to do with people that aren’t working. Humans don’t seem to be made for not working, even if they’re being provided for (passive voice intentional). The results from early experiments, e.g. modern Detroit, are chilling even to the most pessimistic. Moldbug has referred to this problem as the Dire Problem (among others).
The Detroit solution still has its defenders, but we can always count on apologists for mainstream theories to apologize for them, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. (Indeed, their best defenses don’t appear to be very serious).
(One reasonable idea would seem to be to stop importing more of the bottom 80%, but I guess the next paragraph explains why that won’t happen . . .)
Back to Kling:
Matt Yglesias wonders how, in a world that requires technical skill and social skills, those of us in the room [i.e. Court or Official Intellectuals] have survived. It seems that most work for think tanks, newspapers, and other non-profits. Tyler replies that our presence in the room is indicative of marketing skills. Each of us has proven adept at marketing, with wealthy donors as our consumers in most cases. Steve Teles points out that as society’s rich accumulate wealth beyond what they can consume, their philanthropic ideas will, for better or worse, allocate society’s resources. Afterward, it occurs to me that this suggests that there will emerge a toady class, meaning people whose work in one way or another flatters the wealthy.
I’m not sure any Neoreactionary (or Walter Lippmann) ever put it better. Nevertheless, if you make your living by manufacturing consent for the elite, aren’t you supposed to at least pretend that you’re doing something else? There’s something incredibly chilling about someone admitting that they make their living by shilling for the establishment.
What most concerns the discussants, including McArdle, William Galston, Jonathan Rauch, and Brink Lindsey, are the social implications of losing the middle class. (Hanson comments on this focus.) [ed: not that this stops them from importing more competition for them] Tyler insists that societies will not fracture, nor will redistributionist demagogues take power. Factors favoring stability include aging, surveillance technology, the skill of the rich at controlling the political environment, nativism, NIMBYism, and the basic comfort achieved by the lower class. He points out that Britain and Germany are farther along than the U.S. in the growth of the new lower class, and their societies appear to be stable–Merkel just won re-election by a wide margin.
Tyler says that in the long run mood-altering drugs may be a solution.
In other words . . . are you ready for it? . . . these Court Intellectuals are generally comfortable with destroying the middle class (or at least intend to justify it on behalf of their patrons) because: 1) those that get screwed will still live comfortably; 2) hey, that’s how these guys get paid; 3) they’re pretty sure the guys getting screwed will just keep taking it; and 4) if not, everyone can always be drugged.
It’s difficult to offend or disgust me, but these views might just have achieved that result. I always wondered what this felt like . . .
Update: See #5 here. It appears we can add: 5) even though Americans are getting screwed, they’re pretty sure it’s probably helping some other people somewhere else (even though it’s not at all clear why physically locating certain people in the US causes people in other parts of the world to increase their entrepreneurial zeal and love of democracy).