The major difference between Hitler and the Communist genocidal murderers, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, was what groups they chose for extermination.Yes, this is a column about the Occupy Wall Street movement. And it's clear that Prager would rather resort to tired old anti-Communist tropes rather than seriously examine the complaints of the protesters. Here's Prager, not getting it:
For Hitler, first Jews and ultimately Slavs and other “non-Aryans” were declared the enemy and unworthy of life.
For the Communists, the rich — the bourgeoisie, land owners, and capitalists — were labeled the enemy and regarded as unworthy of life.
Hitler mass-murdered on the basis of race. The Communists on the basis of class.
Being on the left means that you divide the world between rich and poor much more than you divide it between good and evil. For the leftist, the existence of rich and poor — inequality — is what constitutes evil. More than tyranny, inequality disturbs the Left, including the non-Communist Left. ... Non-leftists who cherish the American value of liberty over the left-wing value of socioeconomic equality, and those who adhere to Judeo-Christian values, do not regard the existence of economic classes as inherently morally problematic. If the poor are treated equally before the law, are given the chance and the liberty to raise their socioeconomic status, and have their basic material needs met, the gap between rich and poor is not a major moral problem.I'll distill that last sentence down to three rules: If the poor get to play by the same rules as the rich, have an opportunity for economic mobility, and can feed and house themselves, there's no problem.
Here's the problem: At least two of those three conditions aren't met in America today. First: Do the poor get to play under the same rules as the rich? We already know that if a poor man and a rich man step into court charged with the same crime, the rich man is much more likely to walk away free. Beyond the arena of criminal law, though, I outsource my commentary to one of Andrew Sullivan's readers:
When the financial industry came to the brink of collapse because of the reckless behavior of these "too big to fail" corporations, we saw an amazing ability for our government to come together to bail them out. In return, they've repaid the favor by working night and day to lift the already watered-down provisions of the Dodd-Frank reforms so they can continue with their same insanity, and to basically act like spoiled, entitled brats towards those of us who saved their butts in the first place.Rich financial institutions get bailed out; regular Americans are left to flounder. One of the three legs on Prager's stool is looking mighty shaky.
Contrast this with any legislation in Congress that might actually help out rank-and-file Americans, and suddenly everything becomes gridlocked and impossible to achieve. From out here, it appears that when you have a lobby on your side, government works, and if you don't, well tough luck.
How about the second leg? Can Americans live the Horatio Alger dream and transform themselves from nothing into something by dint of hard work? Maybe. But it doesn't seem to happen as often as it used to. The Brookings Institution (PDF) analyzed the situation in 2008:
The view that America is “the land of opportunity” doesn’t entirely square with the facts. Individual success is at least partly determined by the kind of familyIn short: If you're born rich or poor, you're likely to remain rich or poor. Those born middle class have more mobility up or down—but remember, this is before it became clear what devastation was being wrought by the Great Recession. In any case, you have a better chance of rising up if you're born in a socialist hellhole like Canada than you are in the United States. The opportunities just aren't there like they used to be. The second leg of Prager's three-legged stool is also increasingly shaky.
into which one is born. For example, 42 percent of children born to parents
in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remain in the bottom,
while 39 percent born to parents in the top fifth remain at the top. This is
twice as high as would be expected by chance. On the other hand, this
“stickiness” at the top and the bottom is not found for children born into
middle-income families. They have roughly an equal shot at moving
up or moving down and of ending up in a different income quintile than their parents.
There is less relative mobility in the United States than in many other
rich countries. One well-regarded study finds, for example, that the
United States along with the United Kingdom have a relatively low rate
of relative mobility while Canada, Norway, Finland, and Denmark
have high rates of intergenerational mobility. France, Germany, and
Sweden fall somewhere in the middle.
In sum: inequalities of income and wealth have clearly increased, but the
opportunity to win the larger prizes being generated by today’s economy
has not risen in tandem and has, if anything, declined.
Finally: Do the poor have their basic material needs met? Prager might have his strongest case here: America's poor are more likely to have cars, TVs, microwaves and other items that might be considered luxuries ... if one compares them to the very poorest people on earth. On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (PDF) estimated in 2010 that 14.5 percent of all households were "food insecure" —meaning at some point in a year, there wasn't enough access to food "for an active,
healthy life for all household members." In 5.4 percent of households, some people had to do without meals because there wasn't enough money to buy food. But I acknowledge: Your mileage may vary whether you consider this an indictment of our entire society.
Still, it would seem by Prager's own estimation, we're facing a real problem of inequality in this country. The playing field isn't even and hard work (if you can find it) won't help you get ahead. Meanwhile, the rich can fail and still be fabulously successful—not because of nest eggs or smarts, but because the government had their backs.
I doubt that Prager would agree with this assessment. But in his leap to compare the OWS protesters to genocidal tyrants, he fails to consider that they might actually have something to protest against. He fails to contemplate that many of us who are sympathetic to the protesters don't hate the rich—we just don't want them consolidating their gains through government action unavailable to the rest of us. Some conservatives are sympathetic to that notion. Too bad Prager isn't.