© Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
More than 2,000 Occupy Wall Street protesters marched near New York’s Bryant Park in May 2012. The movement was formed partly as a reaction against the deepening level of income inequality in the United States.
Suddenly, or so it seems, inequality has surged into public consciousness - and neither the 1 percent nor its reliable defenders seem to know how to cope.
Some of the reactions are crazy - "it's Kristallnacht," "they're coming to kill us" - and the craziness is quite widespread.
Notice how many billionaires, plus of course The Wall Street Journal
, rallied around the venture capitalist Tom Perkins (who compared public criticism of the 1 percent to Nazi attacks on Jews in a letter to the editor of The Journal
But even the saner-sounding voices evidently have a hard time wrapping their minds around the notion that anyone might find 21st-century finance capitalism a bit, well, unfair.
A case in point: a recent New York Times
op-ed by Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute.
Mr. Brooks is deeply worried about changing popular attitudes toward wealth:
"According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who feel that 'most people who want to get ahead' can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000," he wrote on March 1. "As recently as 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. In just a few years, we have gone from seeing our economy as a real meritocracy to viewing it as something closer to a coin flip."
And what does he think is the reason for this sea-change in attitudes? Why, it must be about growing envy of the rich, which is a terrible thing.