ELITE WATCH: Tell us how much you’re paid!


One key Q-and-A with Chris Hayes: We’re still looking forward to reading Chris Hayes’ new book. We were struck by one Q-and-A in this interview with Hayes, which was reprinted by Salon.

We’re somewhat unclear on Hayes’ view of the meritocratic elite. In part, that’s why we look forward to reading his book. But we were struck by the following answer in the interview, which Salon reprinted from Jacobin.

Jake Blumgart conducted the interview:
QUESTION: I want to circle back to something you said about reporting for the book. In contrast to Lasch and Michels, you come from a journalistic background. You’ve engaged with actual people while writing this book. How did that affect your perspective and work?

HAYES: It’s a methodological toolkit I’ve been trained in. It’s a huge part of how I learn about the world. There’s a certain form of content synergy in so far as, you know, if the problem is social distance...I mean, look, I’m a member of the elite I’m writing about. That’s a weird and uncomfortable thing for me to say, but there is no definition of the elite, no plausible, coherent one, that I don’t belong to. I’m just as subject to the same forces, so it’s really important for me to actually talk to people. And I think reporting makes it more compelling storytelling. The book’s form is weird in a way; it’s both a reported work and a work of theory.
First, let’s return to an earlier question: Who taught Chris Hayes how to talk? Progressives will never conquer the world talking about methodological toolkits and forms of content synergy.

People, you just can’t talk like that! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/25/12.

Beyond that, we agree with Hayes’ assessment—he is part of the modern web of ruling elites. As all humans are (to varying degrees), he is subject to the same forces as others in those elites.

With that in mind, what’s our first reform? Tell us how much you’re paid! Also, tell us how much your spouse is paid. Tell us how much your colleagues are paid—at MSNBC, for example. (Their pay suggests the level of pay you may expect to receive—if you play by the company’s rules.)

We take it as obvious that the modern elite is organized around the idea that greed is extremely good. In writing Wall Street, Oliver Stone captured the central organizing principle of the modern age.

(Why do we live in fictitious times? In large part, we live in fictitious times because greed has become very good.)

Routinely, various branches of our elite work to protect one another. Again and again, the topics which get deep-sixed in the public debate are the ones which would shed light on the looting done by elites.

(To this day, have you seen anyone explain where all that extra money is going in American health care? Have you seen any major news org explain why we spend two to three times as much on health care, per person, as comparable nations? Why has that ginormously crucial topic been skipped? Plainly, this can’t be an oversight.)

Within the press corps, inflated salaries are presumably designed to purchase obedience. Next week, we’ll look at Rachel Maddow’s most recent attempt to play it very, very dumb about Cory Booker’s stirring defense of the great good work done by Bain Capital.

Frank Rich helped her out. Maddow and Rich still had no idea why Democratic Party elites leaped to Bain’s defense. Did their ignorance strike you as plausible?

At any rate, if you want to shed light on the modern elite, Tell us how much you’re paid! While you’re at it, include the incomes of your spouse and your colleagues.

Your press corps is sick with the stench of big cash. In part, those salaries are designed to produce obedience.

It looks to us like the system works. At any rate, salaries are simple. Content synergy is hard.


  1. I humbly submit that the reference to "engaging with (actual) people" as a "(methodological) toolkit" doesn't sound technically correct to my ear. I'm by no means a genius, but did well enough in school and enjoy abstract theoretical conversation and reasoning. I read the sentence 4 times and think I know what Hayes is ultimately trying to say, but I have to question if his motive is to provide clarity or to cloud.

    And what exactly is "content synergy" anyway in the context of Hayes' point?

  2. I humbly submit that the reference to "engaging with (actual) people" as a "(methodological) toolkit" doesn't sound technically correct to my ear. I'm by no means a genius, but did well enough in school and enjoy abstract theoretical conversation and reasoning. I read the sentence 4 times and think I know what Hayes is ultimately trying to say, but I have to question if his motive is to provide clarity or to cloud.

    And what exactly is "content synergy" anyway in the context of Hayes' point?

    1. By "content synergy", Hayes is remarking upon the irony of his now being a "meritocratic elite", as he also talks to and writes about media elites.

  3. I agree with Bob that today's elite is organized around greed. IMHO, that's why we're better off if government does as little as possible (although there are many functions that must be done by government.)

    Private companies admit that they're motivated by greed. They earn our business by producing good products and services at low prices. Otherwise we buy from a competitor.

    OTOH government pretends to be motivated by altruism. We give enormous power to the government and assume they they'll use all this power for our benefit. However, being motivated by greed, they use their power for their own benefit.

    An ugly example is California's high-speed rail line. This exorbitant project will be funded by the state and federal governments, neither of whom can afford it. The rail line will be in the rural Central Valley, where few will use it. Even if it's eventually expanded to go from SF to LA, it will need permanent government subsidies.

    Yet, Governor Brown will push the project forward, because it benefits the greedy construction unions. And, it benefits our greedy Governor and President because it helps them retain union support.

    1. "Private companies admit that they're motivated by greed. They earn our business by producing good products and services at low prices. Otherwise we buy from a competitor."

      Sorry, but this is very funny. This is what conservatives keep telling us. It helps us maintain our belief in the capitalist system. But when was the last time you were able to comparison shop for a medical procedure, just to mention one very expensive example? It's nearly impossible.

    2. I comparison shop for medical care all the time. In my case, cost isn't an issue, since Medicare caps what all the providers can charge. I comparison shop for quality, by getting referrals and, on occassion, by comparing the treatment provided by two specialists in the same field. Fortunately, I live near Stanford University, so there are lots of high-quality medical practitioners nearby.

      My wife needed a particular specialized therapy. She went to a therapist who doesn't take Medicare, even though others do take Medicare. She (and her doctor) considered the non-Medicare therapist superior. A friend of mine left his Medicare-covered GP and chose one who doesn't take Medicare. He considers the extra cost (which I think is over $1000/year) worth it for better care.

    3. So Dave, of course, now has "a friend" who found a GP who will work for $1,000 a year. Right.

    4. David in Cal, isn't it sweet to not only have access to government-paid healthcare (Medicare), but also have plenty of available assets on hand to pay for the extra-quality specialized care you are able to comparison shop for?


    5. "Private companies admit that they're motivated by greed."

      They do? I have never seen a private company run a commercial with that message. Whether it's BP or GE or McDonald's, the image they like to present is how much good they're doing for the environment or for the community. And they present these messages with plenty of feel-good images of approval, such as that of seals clapping their flippers.

  4. >>>>>>We’re somewhat unclear on Hayes’ view of the meritocratic elite.<<<<<

    Here's a hint from a Virtually Speaking interview with Jay Ackroyd:

    >>>>>[49:00] Chris Hayes: ...One of the things I want the book to do is initiate a debate about meritocracy and the social model and I like seeing people come to their own solutions. There's an interesting debate on that. You know, I think that making society more equal would solve a lot of this.

    I think that meritocracy and inequality kind of feed on each other and forthrightly asserting a more egalitarian vision which says it's not the case that there are going to be some small, scarce set of good jobs and fulfilling lives that are going to be on the other end of this ridiculous funneling process that you have to start competing for in this kind of Hunger Games fashion. But, instead, every job should be a good job, everyone who can and is willing to work can enjoy a modicum of comfort and affluence in one of the richest countries in the world and in one of the richest countries in the history of human civilization on the planet.

    That that's just a very different assertion of what the social [structure is-?] than the current one.

    Jay Ackroyd: That's the Scandinavian solution. Flat income distribution, the well distributed wealth, a lot of leisure time, a lot of commitment of society's resources to children. That's one model, is that what you're thinking of?

    C. H.: Yeah, although I think there are American incarnations of that, you know, the left always invokes Scandinavia and the right always says that Scandinavia is unique, it's homogeneous. And that's true, American society is not going to look like Scandinavia. But I do think we can be more equal than we are. In some ways I think Latin America is a better, is a more interesting model because Latin America is a place that was, has been historically extremely unequal...

    J. A.:Yes.

    C. H.: ... and that inequality has been exacerbated by a period of neo-liberal reform and structural adjustment imposed largely by the IMF and that gave rise to a whole host of center left leaders who ran explicitly on egalitarian agendas, got a mandate to pursue egalitarian agendas, passed those reforms and lo and behold have made the continent more equal.

    J. A.: Egalitarian and autarkical as well. They stopped their dependence on foreign, on the West, not the West, on the northern hemisphere for their livelihoods. I mean it's the alcohol powered cars that matter as much as anything in Brazil.

    C. H.: Yeah, I mean Brazil is, Brazil is in some sense a special case because what happened vis a vis the energy wealth. But, but the wealth could have gone a lot of different places. The fact that they were able to become a little more equal and grow at the same time was a miracle, that Lula paid off. And there's a debate about how much of that is this energy endowment from sugar ethanol.

    But that said, the things Lula did; make the tax code more progressive, just straight up transfer payments to people who are super poor as long as they bring their kids to school or for check-ups and to raise the minimum wage and pension payments.

    These are things that are on egalitarian agendas and they do work. If we raise the minimum wage in this country by a lot and if we increase Social Security payments which, of course, sounds crazy, if we increased the provisioning of public goods like, for instance, we re- funded, say, universities which have been cut and slashed and cut and slashed for a generation that, we would become more equal....<<<<<

    1. I think making our society more MORAL would have far fewer 'unintended consequences' than making it more 'equal'. (I'm aware some people will say that is the same thing.)

      In "making" it that way, I mean, I wish that we would exert more societal peer pressure on corporations and their stock holders.

      At some point conservatives (and I is one...) gave themselves entirely over to the notion that "greed is good" is the sense of arguing that greed is a natural motivator that can work for competition in supplying better goods and services.

      That's true, but it's not the sort of enduring "truth" that is written on stone tablets (or embroidered unto throw-pillows). It presupposes an ethical system and an ethical man or woman.

      It doesn't work without that, and we can see that as the result of the years we've spent cooking the system, the business person, as well as the books.

  5. What Hayes was spouting is intellectual bafflegab. Derived, of course, from the old saying: "If you can't dazzle'em with brilliance, baffle'em with bullshit". There are any number of courses in college where you will be taught all the appropriate buzzwords. "Methodological toolkit", "content synergy", "social distance". I think he has learned his lessons well, eh?

    Whether or not his statements make a lick of sense, he sure does sound "smarter" than the average schlub, doesn't he? And that's the intention, isn't it? We're supposed to defer to the opinions of "smart people", aren't we? They have ALL the answers. Unfortunately, we've been fooled over and over again by people who know how to "talk the talk", but when it comes time to "walk the walk", they prove to be utter failures.

    As a case in point, I direct your attention to Alan Greenspan. His statements on financial matters were so incomprehensible to ordinary folk, it was assumed he MUST know what he was doing. But our present financial situation shows that we fell victim to someone who elevated bafflegab to a high art but had nothing to back it up.

    The lesson, perhaps? Just because someone SOUNDS smart doesn't always mean they ARE smart.

    1. I see you have regurgitated Bob's post very well. He'd be so proud of you if he actually read his own combox.

  6. Getting to this kind of late, had to check out the Sunday talk shows. Man, Cisco Systems is really hitting it hard with that "We only care about Money" campaign, but I think they are aced out by that Exon "We are greedy, all we want is money, but at least we admit it! " campaign. I hear the Koch Brothers and Walton's kids are starting a "Pure Greed Helps Us Buy The Political Process" foundation, with lots of R and D they fully admit are only about one thing: making them money.
    David in Cal, you are an idiot.
    I'm all for class warfare, but I'm afraid Bob Somerby is very, very bad at it. With some justification, demanding what somebody earns is still considered bad manners. If independent Journos can find out, and print it, and call bullshit, well fine. But done in a clumsy fashion it's likely to be about as effective as Garfolio on Race.
    Isn't it obvious this is basically a right wing tactic anyway, basically used to discredited any rich person ( Moore, Buffet) who display half a brain or a pinch of decency or common sense?
    I think most people know, by now, that our TV blowhards of either stripe are not working for working class reporter wages. Beyond that, the concept of "elites" is basically a waste of time (and was well dismantled by Garry Willis many years ago.). To some people Bob Somerby is a hopeless elite because he went to Harvard. Warren Buffet is above me in terms of his mastery of American Economics, that doesn't mean there should be a system of taxation that unfairly favors him (or ownership over work in general), and we both understand that. It takes a dunce as formidable as Dave in Ca to miss it. If there were a trivia game held on the subject of British Black and White Horror Films of The Fifties and Sixties, I would most likely kick Buffet's ass and assert my elitism over him in that fashion. Obviously, this is whole "elitism" thing is basically meaningless.
    What Somesby is talking about is well paid shlockmesiters, covering for one another. Is Charlie Rose really Mo Dowd's friend? It's more likely they just have the same agent. In a sane society, we would assert our elitism over each other in sensible proportions. In our world, Adam Sandler is supposedly millions of times funnier and more talented than the average modestly funny and talented person. You would have to be a judge of reality on the order of David in Ca to believe this.

    1. This is mostly right, although it is interesting to wonder why it is bad manners to ask someone what they make. I think it's bad to ask the ordinary person, but if someone is paid some enormous sum, many times greater than most people than the perceived rudeness is really just a way of avoiding the question "Are you paid off?" Otherwise, though, I agree with what you're saying.


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