Commentary: Ruling Class Disturbance

by Christopher Roach


The last few months have been interesting. We have started to see some very public disagreements among the world’s ruling classes. The gathering of elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has long fascinated observers and become a lightning rod for criticism, becoming a bogeyman of the right, as well as the hardcore, anticapitalist left. It is a front-row seat to the thinking and priorities of the world’s most powerful people.

In Davos, the world’s media, academic, political, and financial elites spend a few days in luxurious surroundings, praising themselves and forming a consensus on solutions to what they deem to be the problems of the world. This includes everything from facilitating mass migration, tackling global warming by moving away from fossil fuel energy, and the need for economic redistribution to the poor and the third world, all through the corporatist idea of “stakeholder capitalism.”

For each of these agenda items, there is also a parallel domestic agenda informed by the same center-left, managerial ideology. This means support for Wall Street speculation, free trade, disinterest in the plight of Middle America and the manufacturing sector, a cosmopolitan view of immigration and multiculturalism, support for an interventionist foreign policy, and, most of all, fear and contempt for so-called populism, whether from the left or the right.

A Failing Campaign to Rebuild Trust

The elite have started to get a little nervous. The latest World Economic Forum conference addressed the critics, focusing on rebuilding trust. During the Obama and Trump years, the elite was fully united. There was little daylight between Harvard, Goldman Sachs, the State Department, Silicon Valley, and the New York Times editorial board, as well as their peers in the European Union and much of the Third World.

They all imagined a complex world made orderly by laws, regulations, and managers, working together to organize the lives of workers and consumers. Other than some hiccups, like the 2008 recession, from the elites’ perspective, the program was working.

The elites agreed on the preeminent value of technology, cosmopolitanism, consumerism, preventing global warming, and globalism. Economic inequality was largely an afterthought, replaced by a consensus concern that the elites do more to bring promising minorities into the elite.

By contrast, religion, family life, traditions, ethnic purity, cultural continuity, stability, and the preservation of middle-class wealth and employment were a complete anathema. These concerns of the tradition-oriented middle and working classes have been either ignored altogether or the object of hostility and ridicule.

For the same reasons, when Trump came along, he was also an object of hostility and ridicule. While Trump hailed from the ranks of the elite, his style was middle-class, as were his loyalties. His enemies saw him as a traitor to his class, and his supporters saw him as a champion of the voiceless.

For the elite, Obama was the archetype: cosmopolitan, minority, educated, and articulate. He was a progressive global citizen, but he was also willing to keep his hands off free trade, Wall Street, open borders, and an interventionist American foreign policy. His expansion of American intrigue overseas and the slow recovery from the 2008 Great Recession hardly dented his approval. Elites did well as the stock market soared, and Obama’s mouthing of the right words on social issues placated his ordinary supporters, even when other aspects of his presidency deviated from leftist orthodoxy.

An Olive Branch to “MAGA Americans”

The strength and near-unanimity of that consensus are what make recent comments by some highly placed individuals very interesting. Jamie Dimon is the CEO of Chase. He is a billionaire and one of the most wealthy and powerful men in the world.

At Davos, he recently intoned that Democrats should be more “respectful” of Trump voters. He also said that Trump was right about a lot of things, including NATO, immigration, trade reform, and China. Until now, the elite seemed to go along with Biden’s demonization of Trump and his supporters, his conflation of protesters with insurrectionists, and the Manichean description of the 2024 election as a referendum on democracy itself. Dimon is a powerful voice in opposition to that narrative.

Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman also criticized Biden’s record, focusing on the debt, the borders, and his overall management of the economy. Like Dimon, he is from the investor class. This faction among the elite is a bit less ideological, and it appears willing to make peace with Trump because he was generally good for the bottom line and helped the American economy become more stable, prosperous, and equitable. They also seem justifiably wary of the consequences for themselves and their social class if progressive elite management continues along its current trajectory.

It is hard to predict economic downturns, but the belt-tightening needed to control inflation will eventually slow things down, perhaps a great deal. Since the gleeful talk of a Great Reset several years ago, there seems to be a sense of dread among the elites that massive belt-tightening will be necessary. Much of their messaging has been aimed at preparing the masses for their grim future. Perhaps they know something we do not, but, even with the forewarning, such a turn will not be good for the continuation of the current elite class.

The elites have lost a lot of credibility worldwide. The response to COVID was a man-made disaster, as was the virus itself, and their loose money policies fueled current high levels of inflation. Similarly, hubristic attempts to maintain American dominance have led to the diminution of our military dominance, as a series of conflicts have unfolded and revealed real limitations of the power of the western world to influence events in Ukraine, Israel, and now South America. And, all over the world, populist parties keep winning or otherwise revealing widespread discontent with the current system, which functions in part by snuffing out any embers of resistance from an independent middle class.

Compromise for Survival

The rapprochement of economic elites with the Trump movement is reminiscent of the idea that FDR “saved capitalism” by cultivating a robust social safety net at the height of the Great Depression. Rather than continuing the uncompromising, top-down imposition of elite values, the olive branch to Trump and his supporters could actually relieve some pressure within the system. The New Deal’s precedent of success—when measured by the maintenance of social stability—must be informing some of the recent messaging.

There have been open predictions from economic elites that Trump will win the 2024 election. This serves to remind other factions within the elite that rigging another election in the manner of 2020 could cause a real and sustained revolt. Under the current polling and circumstances, any such result would be patently unbelievable, even more dramatically than 2020.

Of course, reform has dangers of its own. Perestroika, in the latter part of the Soviet Union’s existence, was supposed to shore up and improve the resilience of the communist regime. Instead, it unleashed centrifugal forces that led to a wholesale collapse of the Soviet Union and a replacement of the communist party nomenklatura with a counter-elite of aggrieved, nationalist reformers.

Alternately, if I may make another analogy to Russia, perhaps this is like Putin’s stabilization of the post-Soviet Russian state. Dimon, Schwarzman, and their fellow travelers may be signaling their openness to a deal between the business elites and the populist state, one which increases social justice, while not depriving the existing owners of their wealth and status.

Putin famously told the oligarchs that if they stayed out of politics, the state would not go digging into the murky and mostly fraudulent means by which the oligarchs assumed their wealth. Most of the oligarchs stuck to the deal, and the Putin-era Russian state is many times stronger and more stable than the chaotic Yeltsin regime of the 1990s. And the oligarchs are still filthy rich, but mostly irrelevant politically.

Analogies to the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet space are useful. The Soviet Union was a large empire that failed suddenly and dramatically, ushering in a decade of high crime, economic regression, and social instability. Avoiding such a fate for the American empire would be in almost everyone’s best interest.

The elites’ legacy policy of demonizing and grinding down the middle class is running into internal opposition. This is actually a healthy and encouraging sign. It means at least some of the elites are scared and sense that their privileges have exceeded their merits. And it means some of them are open to being just and sensible, if only out of enlightened self-interest.

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Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.
Photo “World Economic Forum Annual Meeting” by World Economic Forum. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.





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One Thought to “Commentary: Ruling Class Disturbance”

  1. Diana Barahona

    In other words, everything Karl Marx wrote 150 years ago has turned out to be correct. Now can we stop inventing new terms and go back to calling capitalists capitalists and workers workers?