Last week’s Newsweek magazine contained a truly amazing piece (“Rich America, Poor America,” Niall Ferguson, 1/23/12).  Billed as a “conservative historian’s solution” to the issue of growing inequality in our nation, this piece stands out not because of any true “solution” that is offered, but for the real peek at how the wealthy actually look at us and the world they live in.

The cause of inequality isn’t seen by most of us as a great mystery  – most might point to the capitalist class structure of our nation and the ongoing class struggle.  There, according to Ferguson, is where you’d be wrong! He approvingly quotes the book “Coming Apart,” by Charles Murray, declaring that the rising inequality has its source in the fact that the upper class has gotten rich because of the “financial returns on brainpower,” and they “produce a disproportionate  number of the smartest children.”

If that formulation just slapped you in the face with its open arrogance, Ferguson is just getting started.

Ferguson, in touting “Coming Apart,” speaks of America as “two emblematic communities.”  The first is “Belmont, where everyone has a degree” and the other “Fishtown, or Trashtown.”  Give you just one guess where it is that you, I, and all our neighbors, friends and families live?  Righto! Trashtown, where according to Ferguson/Murray, “industriousness has plummeted.” That is opposed to wonderful Belmont, his fictional ruling class community, where “industriousness has scarcely declined!” Not only this, but, of course, “crime is much worse in Fishtown,” due, again of course, to the fact that “religiosity has declined much more steeply in Fishtown/Trashtown.”

“Fishtown/Trashtown is a wretched dump”, says Ferguson, “the kind of blighted place where gangs of feral teens hang around on the street corner trying to figure out what part of the local infrastructure they hadn’t yet vandalized!”

According to Ferguson and Murray, in our American “Belmonts” these new “cognitive elites,” (I suppose as oppose to the non-cognitive ones), live in “SuperZips” and are “markedly more liberal than the national average.” Ferguson offers no more support for this absurd proposition than for any of his other equally ridiculous conclusions.

In Ferguson’s  America, we “need to steer clear of Europe” and should “scrap the institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society,” instead depending on the “traditional pillars of the American way of life: family, vocation, community and faith.”

His “solution,” of course, is none at all!  New Deal and Great Society are rich folks’ code for Social Security and Medicare – the most successful national programs in our nation’s history, which have pulled seniors out of poverty, never missed a payment and have provided much-needed health care to millions.  According to Ferguson, we should just take the leap and replace those pillars of  American retiree security and working class prosperity with “faith.” Just try to buy groceries with that one!

This article is outrageous not due to any “solution” offered. There is nothing new here. It is truly amazing because of the outright open ruling class arrogance presented. Rarely, if ever, do we get a peek at the true life-view, the real and open arrogance, through which the wealthy view the world, the actual contempt in which the rest of us, those who do the work, are truly held by these wealthy parasites. For this, Ferguson is owed a real debt of gratitude for letting us look, if even just for a minute, behind the curtain of hypocrisy that normally covers their true feelings.

Ferguson closes by urging his guy, Mitt Romney, to read “Coming Apart” (before his campaign comes apart). I was going to say that Romney wrote that book, but the truth is he paid someone to write it, then fired them!


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and labor activist in Ohio.