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The billionaire next door


The transformation of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez into the right wing’s new favorite hate fetish has been fascinating to watch.  This morning the usual suspects were all over a public dialogue she had last night with Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which she expressed the view that it’s actually immoral for a social system to produce wealth disparities like those now commonplace in our own:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview on Monday that she believes a system that allows people to become billionaires is “immoral.”

The New York Democrat made the statement while responding to a question from writer Ta-Nehisi Coates at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Harlem.

“I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Ocasio Cortez was careful to note that she wasn’t criticizing billionaires as individual moral actors, but rather making structural claim about social morality:

She clarified that billionaires themselves are not morally questionable — but the economic system that allows them to grow so wealthy is the problem.

“I don’t think that necessarily means that all billionaires are immoral,” she added. “It’s not to say someone like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet are immoral people. I don’t believe that.”

This should be something that goes without saying, or rather should be said over and over again, by everybody even slightly left of your favorite reactionary centrist.  Yet too many center-left people continue to talk about how we should be striving for “equal opportunity” rather than social equality generally.

You could call that idea Silicon Valley liberalism, or Ivy League meritocracy, or diversity as marketing opportunity.  Lurking at the bottom of it is the notion that it’s OK for some people to be worth billions of dollars, while other people in the very same society struggle to acquire food and shelter on a daily basis, as long as the process that produces these results is “fair,” in regard to the correlation between peoples’ native abilities, and their risk of ending up either billionaires or homeless.  Because that’s what “equality of opportunity” actually ends up meaning, as a functional matter, in a society such as ours.

Capitalism is a great mechanism for generating wealth (as long as we ignore certain pesky externalities), but it’s a horrendous system for distributing wealth.  This has been obvious for centuries now, but it’s still a radical thing to say.

Which is why it’s a great that that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is out there saying it.

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