In 1991-92, I wrote a book-part reminiscence, part analysis, part polemic-which died aborning, thanks to the infinite talent for discouragement of its editor, a well-known rich man’s lickspittle and S.O.B. about publishing, then pretending to be a friend and supporter.
The principal subject of the book was “the overclass,” a term so little used at the time that I might have claimed coinage. Later employed by Michael Lind, the apostate neo-conservative, the phrase has regrettably never caught on. Too bad, because I think it is useful.
Too bad, too, that the book never saw the light of publication, because it anticipated many of the issues which vex us today. But we Americans aren’t much for foresight; time being money, there’s little or no profit in prophets. Nor much joy in the unremunerated right to say, “You read it here first,” a feeling which recurred this past Sunday on reading Walter Russell Mead in The New York Times Magazine of May 31 on the failure of “the Asian model” (see this column of Dec. 15, 1997).
Here is how I defined the Overclass, or the American Nomenklatura: “The American social and cultural subgroup which enjoys the highest-level advantage, access, affluence, expectations and influence available in America today; the polar opposite in all respects of the universally recognized ‘underclass’; the top of the heap as against the bottom of the barrel.” Also: “If the underclass is walled in by poverty, exclusion, ignorance and resentment, the overclass is walled off by affluence, access, inside information and contempt … The overclass consists, generally, of people with the wealth and influence to live exactly as they choose; to do pretty well as they please, with their own property or anyone else’s, including resources which in the last analysis are, properly considered, public property or ‘common wealth.’”
The latter, I explained, most particularly included the means to exploit the Federal taxing power, directly or indirectly, for personal, private gain-including the negotiation of juicy exclusions of the sort that my admired friend and master Martin Mayer characterizes as “socializing the risks, and privatizing the profits.”
In the book, I cited various instances of the latter that I thought flagrant and outrageous. Of course, my standards were those of an earlier, more innocent time; in my early adulthood, when President Dwight Eisenhower, on leaving office, warned against “the military-industrial complex,” none of us thought he meant the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
And nothing I wrote about six years ago compares to the examples laid before its readership in the May 28 and May 29 issues by The Wall Street Journal , seemingly (and ironically) the only large-market medium today that grasps the elemental principle that the best, perhaps ultimately the only way, to insure the long-term survival of market capitalism is to promote the elimination of its grossest abuses by exposing them.
The May 28 article dealt at length and in detail with the roster of contributors to Senator Trent Lott, majority leader and Republican of Mississippi. It would appear that there is no special-interest group going that hasn’t greased the oleaginous, perpetually outreaching palm of Senator Lott. Included, I’m sorry to say, are two men I know whose accomplishments are certainly worthy of admiration by today’s standards. These are the hedge fund operators Julian Robertson of Tiger Group and Stanley Druckenmiller, George Soros’ principal A.D.R. ( aide de richesse ).
Julian’s and Stanley’s interest in the Senator appears to have been a necessary condition for passage of a bit of recent legislation whose title takes the present age’s taste for fraudulent political euphemism to new heights, to wit: the “National Securities Markets Improvement Act.” This legislation will permit hedge funds to take in more than the presently allowed 99 overseas investors, thus increasing the volume of money that can blow in and out of American stocks tax-free while domestic investors must worry whether to sell and pay a still punitive capital-gains tax, or hold and risk calamity. Given his principal aide’s pole position in the Senator Lott bribery-I’m sorry: “campaign contribution”-sweepstakes, I shall henceforth take anything George Soros has to say about the need to regulate international financial flows with a whole lot of salt.
I am perfectly aware that the Alan Greenspan-Robert Rubin-Bill Clinton bull market has pretty much come down to a massive supply-demand equation, elemental conceptions of prudence and value having long since been shelved, which therefore requires constant infusions of new cash to sustain the buying pressure from below. To give away the country may thus be accounted a peculiar new form of patriotism. Still, simple equity suggests that what we really need are fewer exemptions and breaks for wealthy investors, and a fairer break for the less plugged-in. The only way to do that is to disconnect the plugs.
On May 29, The Journal was back on the case with an exposé of the “S.O.” (Supporting Organization), a tax gimmick that is the closest those who bake goodies in Congress have come to a cake that replenishes even as it is consumed. The story was illustrated with a portrait of that walking distillate of everything this reporter finds contemptible about unregulated market capitalism, East Hampton resident Carl Icahn. As the late Averill Harriman once said to a particularly awful social climber claiming tenuous third-degree acquaintance, “This tells me all I need to know.”
My unpublished book pushed the notion that with advantage comes responsibility, that few fortunes are achieved in this country without a push from the by-no-means-always-invisible hand of Uncle Sam, and that, therefore-in the model of John D. Rockefeller-what one takes, one can give back to the nation that provided the subsidy. It also recalled a time when noblesse oblige wasn’t a term of derision.
The view propounded was frankly elitist, although I preferred the word “patrician.” It advocated a society that was top-led rather than bottom-driven. Leadership, in other words, that is the opposite of the peckerwood cheating and thievery which lies at the heart of the Arkansas-ification of American governance and values that has taken place since I put aside the manuscript in 1992. I would argue that to have gone in 160-plus years from frontiersmen standing in their muddy boots on the White House chairs at Andrew Jackson’s first inaugural to the current President being fellated by a Baywatch wannabe on the Oval Office carpet is to have made precious little social or political progress.
I, for one, am sick of it, and I would like to propose a little scheme. The word out here is that the Big Creep will be arriving in East Hampton on Aug. 1 to stay at the home of a venture-capitalist Democrat fat cat on Huntting Lane. That’s “Huntting,” with two t’s.
Mr. Clinton will doubtless be invited to golf at local clubs, which will, in at least two cases, be the first instance of these institutions making a fuss over a known golf cheat, and therefore sanctioning a betrayal of everything they say they stand for, golfingly. There’s little to be done about that. But how about organized picketing of Mr. Clinton’s vacation domicile? I mean, how much worse can it get out here in August?
Answer: with Creep in the neighborhood, a lot! Why not write it down before you forget: Huntting Lane-with two t’s.