« Donald "Big Brother" Rumsfeld Speaks! | Main | Just and Unjust Worlds »

March 28, 2005

The Innumerate Right (Michael Barone Is an Embarrassment to the Press Corps Edition)

Why can't Michael Barone count? Wonkette deals with his overall argument at the level it deserves. But I want to point out that only a truly mighty degree of innumeracy could have led Michael Barone to even make this argument in the first place:

Michael Barone: The trustfunder left: a previously unidentified segment of the American electorate... a critical mass... a major force... the trustfunder left. Who are the trustfunders? People with enough money not to have to work for a living, or not to have to work very hard. People who can live more or less wherever they want....

These people... very liberal... have done nothing to earn their money... elite private or public high schools... colleges and universities... propagandized about the evils of capitalism and globalization.... Patriotism is equated with Hiterlism.... [T]hey are citizens of the world with contempt for those who feel chills up their spines when they hear 'The Star Spangled Banner.'...

Where can you find trustfunders?... Places with kicky restaurants... tolerant of alternative lifestyles... art galleries... organic food stores... Starbucks competitors. The... San Francisco Bay area.... Without the Bay area's 1.15 million-vote margin for Kerry, California would have come within 82,000 votes of voting for George W. Bush.... Blaine County, Idaho (Sun Valley).... Teton County, Wyo. (Jackson Hole).... Martha's Vineyard....

The good news for Democrats is that they have found a new source of votes and money. The bad news is that an important part of their core constituency has the characteristic that the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin ascribed to the press, 'power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.'

Let's do the math. People with "enough money not to have to work for a living, or not to have to work very hard." How much money is that for an upper middle class lifestyle (have to go to all those restaurants and art galleries: organic produce is expensive)? Figure $70,000 (pretax) per year in property income (and even at that you still have to work pretty hard). If you spend 4% of your capital each year, that's a wealth level of $1.7 million.

Emmanuel Saez tells me that there are roughly 600,000 people living in households with $1.7 million or more of wealth--and that's including the value of their house. Only a fraction have that much income-producing wealth. More than half of that fraction are over 60. More than half of the ones who are left are Republican. And at least half of the remainder have earned all their money--not inherited any of it.

So we are down to less than 75,000 "trustfunder lefties" in America. And they--those of them who live outside the major cities--are supposed to be responsible for the worries about sprawl and environmental degradation that make Sun Valley and Jackson Hole lean Democratic? For the Bay Area's 1.2 million vote edge for John Kerry? Michael Barone embarrasses himself.

Furthermore, one might have thought that Michael Barone might have noticed that over the past generation the San Francisco Bay has been the most powerful engine of capitalist economic development anywhere, anytime. The merchant prince of Silicon Valley today are only fabulously rich rather than unbelievably fabulously rich because the market system works, and competition in the market system pumps wealth out of producers and into the hands of users and consumers. Nevertheless, they and their workers have created, accumulated, and pumped out more wealth than any other region in any other era. The last time I went to a chi-chi restaurant in San Francisco (Nancy Oakes's Boulevard, 1 Mission Street: truly excellent) I betcha I had the biggest trust fund at the table (a 1/12 share of my late grandmother's couple of million) and I also betcha that my household net worth was comfortably less than 1% of the table average. You could go through the restuarants of San Francisco's waterfront some Friday night and not find a single "trustfunder" eating a creme brulee.

Only a true idiot could begin raving about those who have "enough money not to have to work for a living, or not to have to work very hard" without wondering how many such people there are. And only the truly quantitatively innumerate--like Michael Barone--could avoid immediately figuring out that there are very few such people: that they aren't "a critical mass... a major force... a new source of votes... [a] core constituency" at all.

I don't know why Michael Barone is totally innumerate. I do know why he doesn't find innumeracy an obstacle to his career in Washington: if he were numerate, after all, he'd have a harder time just making stuff up.

Posted by DeLong at March 28, 2005 07:14 PM