Days ago yet another billionaire, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, made personal references to the super-wealthy and the Nazis, this time suggesting that those who express concerns about income inequality could learn a thing or two from Hitler himself. This episode follows Max Perkins, California venture capitalist, likening the experience of today’s super-wealthy to that of Jews persecuted during the horror of Kristallnacht, predecessor to the Holocaust. Napster cofounder Sean Parker ranted subsequently, comparing a critical blogger to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ attack dogs.
“Just beause you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they are not out to get you”, attributed to Joseph Heller, highlights an important psychological axiom. Conspiracy theories often gain traction because they contain elements of truth, even if greatly distorted, reflecting fundamental anxieties of those who espouse them.
Be it based on schadenfreude, envy, projection, or lust, or any variety of unpleasant psychological states, increasingly ugly attributions are made about the super-wealthy, some of whom, certainly those above, seem to provocatively invite them.
Income inequality is an enormous global issue, one whose complexity belies easy solution. Constructive responses must include civil dialogue with the wealthiest amongst us. Their inordinate political power may inspire further anger, but the reality is that their power is distributed across the political spectrum. The high stakes and highly emotional debate about income inequality require champions of resolution from all economic classes.
Back in 1984, Daniel Goleman, wrote for the New York Times, that “In Emotional Problems, The Rich Resemble the Poor”. That statement today would no doubt also elicit fury by some who champion economically disadvantaged, especially children, whose futures are thwarted by poverty. But Goleman elaborated certain truths relevant even today, in terms of developmental challenges facing the children of super wealthy families. The rich have their burdens, a fact that typically invites sarcasm, at best.
Empathy must transcend economic class. A root cause of income inequality is empathy inequality. It is easy to blame others, but we all have a responsibility to confront the beasts within ourselves.