The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Disney Explains that the Reason Poor Working People Are Poor Is Executives

One of the most extraordinary threads I’ve read recently is Abigail Disney doing the math on how the Disney corporation could raise the income of its bottom tier workers.

The poor are poor because the rich are rich.

Disney was interviewed a while back, and these two questions and answers are germane to this conversation.

In what ways did your dad change, other than having a jet?Actually, having a jet is a really big deal. If I were queen of the world, I would pass a law against private jets, because they enable you to get around a certain reality. You don’t have to go through an airport terminal, you don’t have to interact, you don’t have to be patient, you don’t have to be uncomfortable. These are the things that remind us we’re human…

How did the jet change your dad? It wasn’t just the plane, but it’s not a small thing when you don’t have to be patient or be around other people. It creates this notion that you’re a little bit better than they are. And for the past 40 years, everything in American culture has been reinforcing that belief. We say, ‘Job creators, entrepreneurs, these are the people who make America great.’ So there are people walking around with substantial wealth who think that they have it because they’re better. It’s fundamental to remember that you’re just a member of the human race, like everybody else, and there’s nothing about your money that makes you better than anyone else. If you don’t know that and you have money, it’s the road to hell, no matter how much stuff you have around you…

See, here’s the thing, as I’ve pointed out in the past. Airport security is awful for one simple reason: No one who matters goes through it. They fly on private jets. On the rare occasion those people go first class, well, first class security is far less unpleasant than what the peons go through.

Any problem that does not affect elites, they do not act on, unless they can make money on it. (In which case, their solution is likely to make things worse.)

This is exacerbated by the fact that elites effectively live in bubbles: They don’t have ordinary people as friends. They don’t identify with the middle class or the poor, and if you don’t identify with someone, their pain doesn’t bother you. (This is why, in wartime, the enemy is demonized. It is also why slave owners mostly believed that blacks were were inferior, and subhuman.)

Iger is a bad, even evil man, for the same reason most high-level American executives are. He could easily make his employees lives better and give up nothing that matters (see Disney on what executives would sacrifice) but they don’t do it, because they don’t care about the pain of their “lessers.”

This is a matter of the structure of modern capitalist society, but it is also an affirmative choice by the executive class. In the 50s and 60s these sorts of executive excesses were both illegal and frowned on ethically. It was felt that earning so much more than regular people was actually immoral.

Later generations of executives didn’t see it that way. They felt that “greed was good,” that they “earned it” and that anyone who didn’t earn that much was a loser who was getting what they deserved. If they deserved more, the market would give it to them!

So they worked very hard to change corporate culture, buy government and change laws. For example, stock buy-backs, which are very good for executives with stock-option bonuses, used to be illegal. Then there’s the reduction in top marginal tax rates, the refusal to enforce antitrust laws and on and on.

It took a lot of work, by a couple generations of US executives and other rich people, to get here.

And now they’re rich, and  a lot of Americans are poor. And the reason other Americans are poor is that the rich are so rich. (Yeah, this isn’t the full argument, but the argument is easy enough: Buy the government and have it represent your class interests and everything else follows easily.)

And Bob Iger is evil, though I’m sure he thinks he’s a good person. But a lot of people are poor so he can be rich, and he and his executives could make their employees’ lives a lot better and give up nothing that matters to their own lives. When the situation is “I can help and I won’t even notice it” and you choose not to, well…

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  1. Ché Pasa

    Though it seems particularly bad now, I wonder if many of Our Betters ever had a social conscience at all.

    Economic inequality hasn’t been as stark in the recent past, true enough, but it’s been much worse in the not-so-recent past, and much more deadly to the Lower Orders.

    Poverty is not necessarily an absolute, though. The relative well-being of the not-well-off in the US is not what it was in say the late ’70s or early ’80s, but it is much better than in the 1910s or ’20s, let alone during the catastrophe for the masses in the ’30s.

    The High and Mighty seem to be counting on the underlying knowledge that things could be much worse than they are for the Little People, and our elites could easily make things worse without a qualm. We’ve seen many examples of what they are not only willing to do to enmiserate the millions, but are eager to do. Gleeful, really.

    And so it was not so long ago.

    From a historical perspective, the period of social and economic progress from 1949 to 1979 or so was an anomaly. And I would argue that it wouldn’t have happened without the pressure and contrast provided by the Soviet Union. When that social experiment shattered there was no longer a model of “something better” to strive toward. We’ve been going backwards ever since. Reverting to form.

    Abigail Disney is right, but she is a lone voice, and her voice isn’t heard or heeded among the rich and powerful. The pressure on them is to become even badder, more evil, not less.

  2. Willy

    Wealthy and powerful elites can buy state of the art propaganda. We’d think it’d be common sense by now, but so many seem to need to be told what’s best for them. Obviously the real purposes of propaganda are best kept hidden, with the repeated message being “Your superior leaders know what is best for you and you’ll like it”. It seems that eventually most people do figure it out but common cognizance happens well after much damage is done. It was said that in the old USSR Pravda readers got pretty good at ignoring all the prop and reading between the lines. Maybe alternative sources such as Radio Free Europe sped up the process, I dunno. We need more wealthy like Disney and maybe a T. Roosevelt type will break through all our current prop noise.

  3. Willy

    China. Unfortunately they’re much better at Sun Tzu than the Soviets were. Part of their strategy was to have Americans figure out too late that they’re being bested. Had they been more bombastic American elites may have been under more pressure to do something.

  4. edwin

    I was also interested in this article in forbs on abigail disney.

    As my wife says It’s a smart parasite that does not kill its host.

  5. someofparts

    Last week I noticed a story out of the UK saying that May wants to cut free school lunches. A week before that I saw a story explaining that many teachers in the country have students who sit there empty-handed when the other children have a morning snack because that free lunch is the only meal they will get that day.

    Mark Blyth said that he tells his hedge fund friends that the Hamptons are not terrain that can be defended in a military sense. He said he tells the hedge fund guys that “when they come for you – and they WILL come for you – there will be no place to hide”.

    Blyth is Scottish by birth, so I think he gives Americans too much credit. The Scots might come for the bankers, I could see it happen there, but not in this country. Americans will go to the homeless camps and the poor parts of town and slaughter those people for freedom and Jesus.

  6. Joseph Wolz

    You’re wrong about that someofparts, at least historically. That’s not what happened last time. What bugs me about our current life and times is that we have literally had all of these fights before. The minorities are different, but the economic problems are the same. We beat ‘em once, we will do it again.

  7. jonst

    Regarding the private jet discussions by Disney….I am less, much less, interested in being reminded I am “human”, than I am in subjecting the private jet flyers to the same bureaucratic crap the rest of us humans have to endure. That way, something to lessen the burden might actually be implemented.

  8. Ian Welsh

    Well yes, jonst, both parts matter, but the primary rule is elites must suffer what everyone else does.

  9. ponderer

    I imagine that over and over throughout history when the rich and their families were lined up against the walls, marched in front of the guillotines, or hid under their beds while the mob busted through their doors, they all had the same surprised look on their faces.

    I think its just a matter of making your enemy harder and smarter than you. When the regular folks have been desensitized and downtrodden enough that they are ready to commit atrocities as opposed to slow suicide, well I guess we’ll have to get going on a whole new crop of elite.

  10. As is typical of most corporation/wealth hit pieces, this one leaves out the role of elected legislators in all of this. For instance, “stock buy-backs … used to be illegal,” was not accomplished by “the rich,” it was accomplished by elected legislators who were bribed to change the law. Much complaint is made about how the rich enriched themselves, but little or nothing is said about how the rich enriched legislators, or how legislators responded by further enriching the already rich.

    Much of the tolerance by the working class for the wealthy upper class was due to the illusion of “social mobility,” in which the non-wealthy believed that being rich was a good thing even if they themselves were not, because they could someday become one of the rich themselves. The younger generations have given up on that illusion, having bought too many lottery tickets without winning on any of them, and they now envy and hate the rich.

    Meanwhile, they ignore the role of the legislators who promised to help the working class and instead took massive amounts of money to help the rich instead. They somehow do not see these “campaign contributions” as corrupting the legislators, while complaining endlessly that the money corrupts the elections, and the voters, presumably corrupted by the campaign contributions they decry, keep reelecting the legislators.

    There may be something logical in this whole furshlugginer mess, but I certainly can’t see it.

  11. bruce wilder

    Abigail Disney is unusually reflective and politically empathic for a rich person. For most wealthy people for various reasons, some of which she touches upon, the process of being really rich reinforces narcissism and anxieties in ways that are really bad for character. Even people who remain empathic and decent in their personal relations are often profoundly selfish and cruel politically when the issues are more abstract. And, that is all before you consider the processes of selection and promotion in the hierarchy that attract and reward the truly psychopathic.

    The political flip side is that ordinary people have incentives to pretend to themselves that the elites, who are in charge after all, are better and nicer than they are. Ordinary people are dependent and vulnerable. Acknowledging that dominant elites are predatory or incompetent can produce profound anxiety. Oddly, cynicism about authority can be a defense against such anxiety, but without much potential to improve political functioning. The readers of Pravda thought they could read between the lines, but I seriously doubt they were even half as good at it as they thought.

    Elites are dependent on their underlings, but neither group may really know it or feel it, and that is a symptom as well as a source of deep social and political dysfunction. A boss who knows the workers could go out on strike and cripple the organisation he leads, that he needs their cooperation, is a better boss. Workers who know they have the right and power to push back against the bosses are better workers.

    The global elite of billionaire oligarchs, fantasizing about self-driving taxis and living in a bubble where they think they can escape to Mars or they can turn up the a.c. to respond to global warming, are indications of profound political dysfunction. I am not sure the petite bourgeoisie of professionals who scorn the deplorables and embrace the empty rhetoric and personalities of “hope and change” as if they were objects of fashionable interior decor are much better.

  12. A

    Further to banning private jets, this would mean more first class which would mean more profits for the airline industry which would mean service would improve for the rest of us as a more profitable industry would not have to be so mean spirited.

  13. Che, Willy, Edwin, Someof, Joseph, Jonst, Ian, Ponderer, Bill, and Bruce, and “me”…..when this “cultural free-fall” becomes so anguishing that Lindsey Graham calls for Trump Impeachment, that’s about when we “non-elite identifying candy-asses” will take to the streets. As such, I won’t worry about getting in shape for Joseph’s imaginary war.

  14. Tom

    Yep Demonization sure works. The only reason this guy is going down is because some folks with a conscience had the evidence ready to leak to the media and thus forced the Navy to arrest him and charge him as well as his Platoon Commander.

    But seriously, shooting kids for kicks… The US Military is going genocidal.

  15. someofparts

    J Wolz – I hope you are right.

    As to beating them once and doing it again, I used to think that, but the longer I study history the more a different and less optimistic picture of our struggle emerges.

    I think the greatest uprising we attempted was the agrarian populist revolt just before the Civil War. Those people rightly homed in on the banks. They were building the momentum to take back control of our money from the private scum. Then the Civil War happened and that got put on hold.

    After the war the scum unveiled the nifty new tool of demagoguery. That’s where the phrase ‘waving the bloody shirt’ came from. The scum inflamed still raw animosities from the war and thereby dominated the elections. The effort by the populists to take back control of our own money never came back to life, and the banksters and their repulsive servants have had their boots on our collective necks ever since.

    While I am very very grateful for the New Deal, I think it was tinkering compared to what the original populists attempted. Since the neoliberals in bipartisan comity with the fiends and monsters of the extreme right are about to finish wiping out all of those gains, I suppose my point is moot.

    America has had her moments, including still having plenty of enlightened, decent people around. Even so, she was founded on slavery and genocide and now it looks like, optimistic interludes notwithstanding, those things define our true national character and our dismal future.

    The world will be a better place when our evil empire finally collapses. I just dread all the suffering and carnage that we will cause domestically and globally as that happens. Most of all I fear that our huge, gruesome demise will sidetrack everybody just long enough for our glide path to species extinction to become something we cannot reverse.

  16. bob mcmanus

    At one point Abigail says she could be a billionaire if she wanted, and I go whoa you seemed so sensible before. But then I realized she probably has a standing offer (s) for multiples of the face value of her Disney stock. Anyway, no guillotine for Disney if she helps the expropriators, though a close call.

    Wilder is intimidatingly good.

    Though it seems particularly bad now, I wonder if many of Our Betters ever had a social conscience at all.

    Look, I am not an apologist for the rich, wanting guillotines for [umm, a lot, not wanting to out my inner Dzreshinsky). But a comprehensive class analysis requires the recognition of Carnegie libraries, Rockefeller and Mellon and myriad foundations, funding for Debs, Lenin, tens of thousands of newspapers and weeklies, unions. Conservation. Art museums. Ramparts, underground papers, people with time funds and energy to organize, BLM. MeToo. NGOs are near the heart of 21st Century class formations, the neoliberal actual Left. (we are all neoliberals)

    Money is fungible. The wealthy do not have most of their money sitting under their ass (Trump is special, hardcore. He wants gold) Capital has to move, and as it moves, and accelerates in later stages of the cycle until the crash, it leaks and attaches necessarily to losers (who create surplus for winners) This includes the working class, until it wins something.

    I had more, but I’m stoned.

  17. bob mcmanus

    Historicize everything, always historicize.

    Look at when the Left was strong before, look at the material conditions. Look dialectically, sometimes you can see the material conditions before you recognize the actual active Left.

    I actually believe that Left is out there, but because I am old with biases, I can’t quite see it. (Like my smartphone number) It won’t recreate the world of my Great Society youth, but if it survives, it will do what it needs to.

  18. ponderer

    Americans are probably too nice to rebel. The people, not the country. Considering what other peoples have been through and how recent that history was we have as a country been relatively pampered. Hardly any wars on our soil means little understanding of the violence we spread abroad. If you look through history at where say a small town was fed up with the local mine and rebelled, striking, fighting the pinkertons, National Guard, etc. it’s sad how humane those people treated their oppressors and received no mercy in return. Similarly in the Civil War, one can’t help wonder if the scorched earth policy of the North would have changed the outcome if employed by the South. While we produce plenty of murderous psychopaths it hasn’t touched the common people nearly as much as say the cynicism of the urban Chinese. Most likely the rural divide where people have to work together to survive versus urban finacialized violence plays a part.

    Watching someone on TV about to die because their insurance won’t cover a life saving procedure, or even someone who can’t afford the cost of insulin. Why don’t those people find a executive to take with them? Does this sort of thing happen and the media not report it, like successful armed car robberies? Or do they decide to go quietly in a corner far out of the spotlight. The more I ponder, the more I think its awfully incongruous that our mass murderous raging lunatics stay far away from the elites and their environs. Especially the ones with what are essentially political aims, and whose targets have no power whatsoever. The only results that could occur from such is corporate profits. I can understand the ones organized by the FBI, CIA to target low value targets, but is that all their are?

  19. S Brennan

    This will probably get swept up in whatever software sieve is being used but, if not, this is a very well done video by a young rich man who attempted to stop the train from crossing the gutted trestle.

  20. someofparts

    ponderer- >”Why don’t those people find a executive to take with them?”

    You would think, wouldn’t you?

    I’m guessing that the first rule of any serious resistance would be to stay off the internet.

    I read that with Hezbollah, sometimes a man’s funeral is the first time his family learns that he was part of the organization.

  21. Hugh

    The top 10 percent pay something over half of all federal taxes and about two-thirds of federal income taxes alone. The top 1 percent pay about a quarter of all federal taxes and a third of all federal income taxes. This is true even after all the non-reporting of income, tax shelters, tax cuts that benefit the rich disproportionately, and shifting income to much more lightly taxed capital gains.

    Put simply, the rich pay so much of the taxes because to all intents and purposes they have all the money. I find that most people have no idea how bad income inequality, and wealth inequality even more, is. They may know it is bad, but it is actually far, far, at least a magnitude, worse.

  22. Willy

    I historicize when I gather the young-uns together and tell them tales of olden times. Affordable housing and medical! College paid for with summer jobs! Union protection! Price gouging was considered evil and lots of people worked at the same company for life!

    Then I slap my thigh, exclaim how screwed they are, and cackle uncontrollably. When they start getting that “lets kick his fuckin ass” look on their faces I straighten up and tell them to figure out for themselves what went wrong.

  23. Stirling S Newberry

    You too can live without hoi polloi – and their obsession with things such as white being a race. The same thing you complain about, you do to other people Which is why they vote Trump.

  24. ponderer


    Staying off the internet would be a flag itself. It’s like not having enough debt kills your credit score. Best to have a slightly authoritarian online persona, oh and tie the cell phone to the dog so it looks like you moved around the house when you were out casing targets.

    Seriously though, I can see where being terminally ill would make it difficult to execute such a plan. I just wonder if such things happen but are covered up. I expect more turmoil in our society considering the conditions most find themselves in. The “random” planned attacks we hear about in the media never target the elite while I would expect at least some to.

    If people who have nothing left, and no chance at survival aren’t at the front of the pitchfork mob I don’t think it likely for a mob to be forming any time soon. It may be a few generations before “eat the rich” gets here.

  25. nihil obstet

    Don’t popular revolutions usually start with bread riots? As Jefferson explained, “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Access to the means of a decent life are hard enough now that we may be able to swing a renewed New Deal, but genuine change may well require things to get worse.

  26. Willy

    I’ve known a few Iranians. I’ve asked them why Khomeini got into power. All of them say they tried (with the National Democratic Front), that they assumed they were in the majority, but the theocratic mullah lovers minority somehow took power anyways. I’d think the dynamics of such things must be fully understood before the “liberal-left” can succeed. And something tells me that in the west, the conservative-right understands these things better than the liberal-left does.

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