“The People Who Are the Engine of the Economy”

Range Rover

Photograph by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

Lots of rich-guy pathos on display outside the gates of a big GOP fundraiser in the Hamptons, but I thought this was the most telling remark about the state of things in 2012:

“It’s not helping the economy to pit the people who are the engine of the economy against the people who rely on that engine,” Michael Zambrelli said as the couple waited in their SUV for clearance into the Creeks shortly after the candidate’s motorcade flew by and entered the pine-tree lined estate.

I’m not much of a car guy, but the way I understand this metaphor to work is that if you want to give rich people credit for being “the engine of the economy” then if the economy is performing subpar it follows that something’s wrong with your engine. And yet I suspect Zambrelli wouldn’t take kindly to that diagnosis.

But what’s really galling is the absurd level of self-regard among the winners in the modern American meritocracy. It’s completely true that many wealthy individuals garnered their wealth by developing useful products or devising useful approaches to management. But take a guy like Anthony Scarmucci, one of Mitt Romney’s national finance co-chairs. His stock in trade is ripping off successful-but-not-mega-rich professionals with a “fund of funds” business model in which management fees eat away all your investment gains. Taking advantage of the existence of suckers is a perfectly legal way to make money. In a world where Gilbert Arenas is paid $20 million, why shouldn’t a clever investment manager be able to find ways to skim off people’s hard earned savings? But skill at making money is just that—skill at making money. It’s not evidence that you possess a unique economy-powering genius without which the rest of us would all be paupers.