Where Conservative Brains Shut Down, On Purpose


Conservatives (including those who identify as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”) generally are quick to “defend” the super wealthy and, in doing so, to justify inequality.

It’s actually easy to do in the early stages of the conversation. Unless you favor communism in its purest form, you have to agree that inequality, in the abstract, is acceptable.

Justifying inequality, as conservatives do, is one thing, but the sledding gets rough for conservatives when they’re asked to speak to degrees of inequality or to constantly increasing inequality (that is, the concentration of income and wealth).

Try this in conversation:

Ask what level of wealth concentration, if any, would they consider unacceptable. For example, would they find it unacceptable if the Koch brothers controlled one-half of the nation’s total wealth?

They can’t go there, and they know it. So they bob and weave. They can’t say with a straight face that they would have no problem with the Forbes 400 owning 90% of the nation’s wealth.

Once they go there, they’ve admitted that a line needs to be drawn. And what side of the line are we on today when one family, the Waltons, control as much wealth as 150 million Americans? If the need to draw the line has not been established, they’ll defend the Waltons to the hilt, using the same abstract arguments they invoke to justify inequality. But they can’t make the argument “yes, too great a concentration of wealth is bad, but we haven’t reached that point yet.”

Once it’s established that too great a concentration of wealth is harmful, the need to increase taxes on the wealthy is easily established.

Consider this: If I start with a very modest amount of wealth and can grow that wealth at the rate of 5% per year, while the nation’s wealth overall grows at 3% per year, I eventually will hold 100% of the nation’s wealth, if I can live long enough.

The same applies to any group of Americans who collectively grow their wealth at a faster rate than the nation as a whole. That group could be the Forbes 400, or the top 1%, the top 3%, or the top 10%.

The process of this wealth concentration is virtually unnoticeable when the share of a person or group is small. Say my wealth is at a million dollars. At that stage, my wealth is growing by $50,000 per year, while national wealth is growing by several trillion dollars per year. That hardly seems like on my way to controlling all the nation’s wealth.

But the more the share of total wealth held by one group grows, the more stressful it becomes for those who are not members of the group.

For example, the top 3% of the population is now closing in on a 60% share of our total wealth. If the wealth of the top 3% were growing at a 5% per year rate while our national wealth is growing at a rate of 3% per year, we’ve just reached the point where 100% of our growth in wealth is flowing to the top 3%.

That sort of reality — our entire increase in wealth going to a sliver of the population — is something even conservatives won’t try to justify. So they let their brains shut down instead. The arguments will go off topic and every effort will be made to change the subject.

You’ll never hear “yeah, I see your point.” But when the bobbing and weaving starts, you’ll know you’ve made that point.