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Do Americans Hate the Rich? | The Nation

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Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie

 Politics, wonkery and everything in between.

Do Americans Hate the Rich?

Lately, whenever someone notes the chasm between the wealthy and everyone else, and argues for greater income redistribution to level the playing field, a member of the financial elite pipes up to complain about their maligned position in American life. The latest was Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., who complained to investors about the unpopularity of bankers

“Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it,” the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) CEO told an audience member who asked about hostility toward bankers. “Sometimes there’s a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.”

Ignoring, for now, the fact that Dimon’s company received a massive bailout from the federal government—which belies the notion that he’s somehow been successful of his own accord—it’s not hard to understand why people are angry at bankers. Indeed, Joshua Brown, who himself was a banker, does a great job of explaining the dynamic at hand:

No, Jamie, it is not that Americans hate successful people or the wealthy. In fact, it is just the opposite. We love the success stories in our midst and it is a distinctly American trait to believe that we can all follow in the footsteps of the elite, even though so few of us ever actually do.

So, no, we don’t hate the rich. What we hate are the predators.

What we hate are the people who we view as having found their success as a consequence of the damage their activities have done to our country. What we hate are those who take and give nothing back in the form of innovation, convenience, entertainment or scientific progress. We hate those who’ve exploited political relationships and stupidity to rake in even more of the nation’s wealth while simultaneously driving the potential for success further away from the grasp of everyone else.

It’s hard to look at the wealth worshiping of American culture and conclude that Americans hate the rich. Rather, Americans hate people who become rich through rent-seeking, and then use their power and influence to pull up the ladder for everyone else. Financial elites crashed the economy, but rather than suffer any adverse consequences for their reckless behavior, they’ve prospered. Worse, they’ve yet to show any contrition for their actions, even as millions of Americans—who had no part in the sideshow—languish in a wounded economy.

With that as the background, it’s no wonder that Americans want higher tax rates on the super-wealthy and other redistributive policies—it’s the only recourse they have for a situation that smacks of injustice.

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