Last January, the Wall Street Journal published a spectacularly hyperbolic letter. Written by billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins, it likened today’s “rich” to Jewish Germans living in the shadow of the Nazis, defended novelist Danielle Steel (Perkins’ ex-wife) against allegations of snobbery, and warned of “a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent” that is bound to culminate in a “progressive” Kristallnacht. As this fretful piece made the rounds, it was ridiculed, partially recanted, awkwardly defended, and, as is par for the course, made worse in the retelling.
There’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS), even if you don’t know it by name. Replaced in 2011 by the National Terrorism Advisory System, it was that color-coded notification system developed in the wake of 9/11 that ostensibly functioned to alert the public of a probable terrorist threat to the United States. Green indicated a low risk of attack; blue, a general risk; yellow, an elevated risk; orange, a high risk; and red, a severe risk. In spite of the supposed “generality” of the blue level, the advisory had not once been lower than an “elevated” yellow in its nine years of existence. Instead, it vacillated between yellow and orange for the most part, though it did strike red in 2006.
As I argued previously, reproductive variance was the first inequality—all other forms that matter to us, like income inequality, do so because they have historically been related to reproductive variance. Those with more resources, for instance, had more babies that survived to reproduce; when possible, those babies also tended to inherit their parents’ resources, starting the cycle anew. These chronic effects on reproductive success have imposed selection pressures on the human mind to compete optimally for resources.
As far as hot button issues go, income inequality is certainly having a moment. A worldwide, popular movement was spurred on by it, several Nobel-prized economists have damned it in no uncertain terms, Barack Obama made it a pillar of his presidency (though, on this, he may have begun to waver), and The New York Times has devoted a regular series to it.
In the midst of the financial panic sparked by the fall of Lehman Brothers, Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve from mid-1987 to 2006, shocked the American public. Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on October 23, 2008, Greenspan had this extraordinary exchange with Representative Henry Waxman...