Tina Dupuy How not to talk about wealth inequality
Have you heard we live in an oligarchy? Perhaps you’ve been told America is a plutocracy? Is that because of widespread demagogy?
Welcome to the baffling world of liberal-speak.
Oligarchy, plutocracy and demagogy: The holy trinity of sesquipedalian polysyllable liberal loquaciousness.
This language liberals, in particular, have chosen to talk about elitism is, well, really snooty. When we talk about a tiny fraction of people having undue influence on our politics — we use words barely anyone understands.
Marinade in that irony. It’s like if we were broadcasting NASCAR only in Latin. Oligarchy? That sounds like a German cabbage dish. Demagoguery sounds like a flourish in square dancing. Plutocracy sounds like we should just be friends.
I write for a living and these words make my eyes glaze over. And they’re used all time, often by well-meaning liberal-types attempting to advocate for the have-less in this nation. Case in point: Paul Krugman. His columns “Oligarchs and Money,” “Oligarchy, American Style” and “Graduates Versus the Oligarchs” — do cover how economic policies favor a fraction of 1 percent of Americans but his go-to word is comprehended by even fewer.
This week, a Princeton study “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” was released with stunning empirical data. It concluded: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” The left-wing of the Internet broke out in a rash of “Study: The U.S. is an Oligarchy” headlines.
We’re not talking about a credit card user agreement — this is something the authors actually want people to understand. Then why are they using opaque language? It seems defeatist ... even for liberals.
How about “Business Interests Trump Average Citizens According to New Study” or “Ivy League School Study Concludes Wealthy Have Absolute Privilege.”
The words used to address populists concerns are inaccessible because no one ever uses them in normal conversation. Yes, policy-nerd-wonk-geeks, I said normal conversation. Like those you have with people working for a living who are affected by these circumstances.
If you put “plutocracy” into Google News search you’ll get a flood of liberal-leaning publications talking about the U.S. government. If no one can figure out what we’re saying, how can we expect to win the argument? Through demagogy? What does that even mean?!
In a LexisNexis search I find The New York Times has used my liberal-speak holy trinity 842 times in the last two years. The Washington Post: 581 times. In the last two years this country’s major daily publications New York Times, Washington Post, AP, USA Today and Wall Street Journal — have used the words oligarchy, plutocracy and demagogy nearly 2,000 times. Even if half of those were talking about Russia and a quarter were just referring to Paul Krugman columns — it’s still too much.
Liberals have a tendency to feel like since we have the facts on our side we don’t have to explain ourselves. Not true. You can be correct and still not be understood.
The U.S. ranks below Nigeria in wealth distribution. In 2011 the top 400 Americans “have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.” Four hundred people own half of everything there is to own. We’re not actually a wealthy nation. We’re a nation with a high school graduating class-size of wealthy people who own most everything.
And how can we talk about income inequality? By overusing 50-cent words? No. Stop the circumlocution.
Liberals, say what you mean.
Tina Dupuy is managing editor of Crooks and Liars. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.