Rich, Poor, and the Nature of Politics


Basketball star Charles Barkley has hit the news now and then recently with some unexpectedly common-sensible statement or other, and he hits close to the mark when he says:

“All politics is rich people screwing poor people,” he said during the NCAA basketball tournament media day, according to The Guardian.

However, when he elaborates, he slips back into the received wisdom of people who, like him, have “always voted Democratic — always” and emphasizes that Republicans are especially good at “dividing and conquering.”  I think he’s got that exactly backwards, with Democrats’ being especially good at pushing divisive policies and ideas to the point that Republicans look to be dividing the wave by standing firm.

But be that as it may, Glenn Reynolds contributes two key points:

  • When people suggest, as Barkley does, that the poor ought to “band together,” politically, they’re very often rich people hoping to use poor people for their own political purposes.
  • The inevitable use of government to disadvantage the poor is a central reason conservatives argue for keeping as much of society outside of government-related politics as possible.

The second point merits detail.  For one thing, other institutions in society are less prone to total capture by an elite and, in any event, aren’t empowered to force people to do things or to confiscate money from them as government is.  For another thing, when the inherent power of society is divided up across a variety of institutions, even to the extent that they’re all captured by “the rich,” they’re directed by different rich people whose interests might conflict and create a friction that gives the middle class and poor leverage.

The basic principle underlying all this is so simple and obvious as to be axiomatic: Consolidating power helps the powerful.  The more people consent to be ruled by their leaders, and the smaller the group of leaders whom they consent to follow, the more likely the poor will be screwed.

  • Jason Diaz

    Given that being poor for aduts is usually a result of poor decisions (don’t finish High School, single mother before 21, etc.), do you expect these people to understand they are being used and suddenly begin making good decisions? There is a reason politicians that can’t convince the public to support their ideas with a rational argument appeal to those whose choices are often emotion–and short term–based.

    • Rhett Hardwick

      “Poor” is relative. Even those poor that you describe probably have a home, television, cell phone, 3 squares a day. Compare that to a sidewalk cafe in Rio where kids run up and grab food off your plate. We have produced the richest poor in the world.

      • Mike678

        And yet they want more and more of what you earn…and most Dem politicians are willing to give it to them to secure their vote.