Secrets of the Capitalist Class (in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam)

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE:  psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously

I recently came across the  3/12 issue of Kinh Tế tập đoàn (Economy Group), a bilingual magazine that features articles about a variety of business- and economy-related topics, including laws on regulating operation of state-owned enterprises and financial mechanisms and policies for state-owned economy groups and corporations. 

My favorite article was a reprint of part I of Secrets of the Capitalist Class by Joshua Kennon, an American who seems to have made a lot of money teaching other people how they can make lots of money.   Reading about the “secrets of the capitalist class” in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is precious.  The irony is so thick you can cut it with a knife, as the expression goes.  Here’s an excerpt: 

As you learned in Class in the United States and Household Income in the United States, the capitalist class represents the top 0.9% of income. Sometimes called the super-rich, members of the capitalist class often have incomes of at least $350,000 to $500,000 per year, which would require several million dollars in assets to generate. Since we know that more than 90% of wealth in the United States is not inherited, how did the men and women who make up the capitalist class get to where they are? What can we learn from them?

It’s interesting to juxtapose that statement with this one by Gar Alperovitz, the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and a former Fellow of Kings College, Cambridge University; Harvard’s Institute of Politics; the Institute for Policy Studies; and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution: 

HISTORICALLY, MOST ECONOMIC systems revolve around who owns the wealth. As an economist and historian, this is the question I bring to any discussion about our current economic crisis and any future “new economy” we might imagine.
While income distribution is important, wealth distribution is much more unevenly allocated in American society, and it gets very little attention. Let’s quickly look at the numbers.
The richest 400 people in the U.S. own more wealth than the bottom 60 percent of the population. That’s more wealth (stocks, bonds, and businesses, but also houses and cars) than the bottom 150 million Americans. And the top 1 percent owns almost 50 percent of the society’s productive investment assets (corporate stocks, bonds, and privately held businesses, excluding cars and houses).
When you ask who owns the productive assets of the society, then you’re asking who owns American capitalism. The answer is: The top 1 percent owns just under half of it.
With this kind of wealth distribution, what we have is literally a medieval structure. I don’t mean that figuratively. It is a feudalistic structure of extreme power and wealth. And it is anathema to democracy to have that kind of concentration. This distribution of wealth—and the the fact that the top 1 percent has, over the last 30 years, increased its share of income from about 9 percent to about 20 percent—tells you something about the political/economic power harnessed to achieve that end.

Oh, let me take a moment to explode the myth that “more than 90% of the wealth in the US is not inherited,” a key feature of the so-called American Dream.  In the 2011 Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, “half of the top 10…have inherited all or some of their wealth, making America’s billboard chart of opportunity look increasingly like the lucky sperm club.” 

Hopefully (I’m an optimist by nature…), the Socialist Republic of Vietnam will NOT follow in the footsteps of the United States of America in this respect.  That’s the essence of comparative studies, a key dimension of international education, and a point I’ve made repeatedly over the years in my discussions with Vietnamese, Americans and others:  foreign countries as negative and positive role models, as sources of inspiration and as cautionary tales. 

 Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.  (Steve Jobs, 1955-2011)

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