Last night’s Law and Order episode dealt with a complicated story involving a Madoff-like figure. The episode ended with the daughter of the Madoff-like guy asking the police for protection out of a fear that she would be attacked by the victim of the Madoff-like scam. It certainly seems like the idea of retribution against the rich is in the air. Here’s the Times on what’s going on in Europe:
Tempers are flaring across Europe as the economic pain deepens and more people lose their jobs.
Just ask Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of the ailing Royal Bank of Scotland, whose house and car were vandalized early Wednesday. Or Luc Rousselet, the manager of a 3M factory in France, who was barricaded in an office for a second day by workers demanding better severance packages for 110 employees who are being laid off.
what interests me about this meta-story is the way it shows the implicit social contract under deep strain and some people operating totally outside of it without realizing it at all.
There are real and wholly legitimate — just not always openly articulated — social bargains that explain why it is that the overwhelming number of people are content with the fact that some people make $45,000 a year and other people make $45,000,000 a year. It’s not just a given. And when parts of that bargain get upset, things can change very fast.
Personally, I don’t favor harassing, let alone attacking, the wealthy bankers and other assorted riff-raff who may have caused this financial crisis. But I do wonder what role fear of uprising plays in a society like ours. So I’m going to pose a question that some of you may know the answer to: during the Great Depression, did some wealthy interests see the New Deal as a way to keep the angry poor from rising up? Are there examples elsewhere in the world where fear of a populist uprising affected wealthy interests’ attitudes towards social programs?
Update. Chuck writes:
That is what the “social contract” is about, fear that the have nots will simply take or break.
Do others agree with this? Would this be considered a radical sentiment or is perfectly reasonable? Confucius wrote that
The prince is like the boat, the people, like the water. Water can support the boat, but can also overturn it.
Is this more or less the same thing? Should the very wealthy in our society be considered the princes, and the rest of the population the water?