I was going to include this in Sunday Reading, but I thought I’d save it for today. Paul Campos wrote a nice piece in Salon about the crybabies of the 1%.
More than half a century ago, “West Side Story” satirized the idea that what was then known as juvenile delinquency was a product of poverty and the psychological maladjustments it produced, and that therefore “this boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care.”
Since then, America has been busy transforming itself into an unabashed plutocracy: while median household income has barely budged since the mid-1960s, the annual income of the top 1 percent has increased by an average of approximately 200 percent in real terms.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the belief that economic deprivation leads to psychological hardship, which in turn inspires youthful crimes, has not merely been discarded but, in some cases, actually inverted.
Consider the case of a Texas teenager who killed four people and severely injured two others while drunk-driving in his father’s pickup truck. Prosecutors wanted to send him to prison for 20 years, but a judge decided to give him no jail time at all after an expert witness for the defense testified that the defendant was suffering from “affluenza.”
This affliction, the psychologist testified, was a product of the defendant having spent his life in the lap of luxury. Having his parents’ cash between himself and reality had left the killer of four of his neighbors unable to make the connection between his decisions – such as his decision to drive a two-ton truck down a residential street at 70 miles per hour while drunk out of his mind – and the potential consequences of those decisions.
In short, the defense team argued, their client was depraved because he wasn’t deprived.
Take it from someone who grew up among those who believed — and had it affirmed — that the rich really were different. A good lawyer and tax accountant kept the riff-raff from troubling their beautiful minds, and if their little darlings got into trouble, there was always a nice little rehab center or prep school that could whisk them off and not even interrupt the spring break on St. Barts.
Now that the rest of us are beginning to notice, the poor dears are worried that they will become yet again the victims of the torches and pitchforks of the hoi-polloi. Investor Tom Perkins, sounding a lot like Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, put a name on the whining, and the storm of rebuke he received was richly deserved. But it also made the perspective clear.
Perkins’ remarks (which have been echoed by various other 1 percenters) point to the real affluenza, rather than the fake syndrome conjured up by an expert witness to help get a rich kid off the hook for four homicides. The real affluenza is the failure of the rich to appreciate that their special privileges – such as the privilege of operating under what is, from a practical perspective, a substantially different justice system than everyone else – must come at a price.
That price is paid in the form of the growing contempt of their fellow citizens, a contempt that grows in proportion to the ever-increasing gap in America between the children of privilege and everyone else.
There are too many Tom Buchanans in this world.