“The Very Rich Don’t Think Very Highly of the Rest of Us”

Here’s how welfare state crusader Dean Baker starts his latest column:

The very rich don’t think very highly of the rest of us. This fact is driven home to us through fluke events, like the taping of Mitt Romney’s famous 47 percent comment, in which he trashed the people who rely on Social Security, Medicare, and other forms of government benefits.

What’s funny about this is that Baker’s first sentence commits the same fallacy as Romney’s 47 percent remarks: he’s making a collective judgment about radically different people.

Romney implied that the 47 percent who pay no federal income taxes are all dependents eager for more handouts and unwilling to vote for Republicans. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is a stupid view: the “47 percent” includes students just getting started in life, entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of building their businesses, and even responsible poor people struggling to make ends meet but who ask for nothing from the government.

Your income doesn’t determine your ideas or your moral character. But Baker apparently thinks it does. Throughout his column, he implies that “the very rich” are a monolith, which would come as news to Steve Forbes, Warren Buffett, George Soros, and the Koch Brothers.

There is a wider lesson here. Beware of terms such as “the rich,” “the poor,” “Wall Street bankers,” or “the one percent” which treat very different people the same — and definitely don’t use such terms to pass collective moral judgments.

To ask what “the very rich” think makes no more sense than to ask what writers think.