Wineke: The endangered 1 percent

Wineke: The endangered 1 percent

The world’s richest people are starting to get a bit paranoid.

There have been news stories on Thomas Perkins, a venture capitalist millionaire, who sent a letter to The Wall Street Journal equating criticism of the rich with the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

He also noted that his $300,000 watch is worth six Rolexes.

Another billionaire, Sam Zell, defended him. Zell said the poor shouldn’t envy the rich, it should see them as role models. The very rich are very rich, he said, “because we work harder.”

Ken Langone, one of the founders of the Home Depot, told New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan that rich donors to the cardinal’s campaign to spend $180 million refurbishing St. Patrick Cathedral will start closing their checkbooks if the pope doesn’t stop saying mean things about the wealthy.

Liberal media have taken great delight in lampooning these worried wealthy, but I think they’re on to something. They should be worried. They should be worried because of other headlines we’ve seen in the past few weeks.

My favorite was the one that proclaimed that the 85 richest individuals in the world hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people combined.

In the United States, virtually all the increase in income since the 1980s has gone to the very rich. The middle class has stagnated and the poor have become poorer.

Economists say that if the federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1960 it would now be about $10.50 an hour, not $7.25.

Now, up to a point, none of that should worry the rich.

I mean, if my billionaire neighbor drives a Rolls Royce and I can only afford a Buick, I don’t really begrudge him his Rolls. If he can drive a Rolls Royce and I can afford only a used Camry, I’m still not unhappy. So long as I can live comfortably, I don’t get upset about someone else living well. And, if, over the years, my income stagnates in terms of buying power the fact that my wife brings in an income as well pretty much disguises that fact.

But, when a deep recession hits and I have to hitch a ride to the unemployment office and I see my neighbor buying a second Rolls Royce, then I start to get angry.

I think that’s what the billionaires are starting to worry about.

As another billionaire, Warren Buffet, once said, “There is a class war and my class is winning.”

That only works when those on the bottom can feed and house their families. When they can’t dangerous things start to happen.

The last time wealth was as concentrated as it is today was in 1928 and, in the 1930s, really bad things started to happen in Germany, Japan, Russia and – somewhat later – in China. Really bad things didn’t happen in the United States because Franklin Roosevelt took steps to rescue the poorest Americans from devastation.

Viewed in that light, many of President Barack Obama’s proposals are actually quite conservative. If enacted they will help the poor, but they will protect the rich.