Philosophy & the Top 1%

It’s amazing what professors on liberal college campuses can come up with, and more amazing as they devolve into “emeritus status,” making one wonder if the maturing process is not in their genes. Brian Cooney, emeritus professor of – yep – philosophy at Centre College, Danville, Ky., lately in the news because of the performance of the Vienna Philharmonic there, delivered himself recently of philosophical caterwauling in an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader regarding the fact that the country is now a plutocracy, defined as “government by the wealthy.”

Okay…many if not nearly all members of Congress, as well as the president are wealthy, especially when compared to the hoi polloi. These entities are responsible for the conduct of the government; however, that was not even a consideration in Cooney’s essay concerning economics, obviously an area of expertise by any qualified philosopher. His target was the rich people (just the top 1%), but he didn’t describe how they actually rule the nation, especially at a time when liberals such as himself have been in complete Congressional control since 2007 and in total control since January 2009, with regard to the government itself.

Cooney began with this question: “Do the rich deserve their wealth?” His point apparently was that they don’t because that means they have more than others…and that’s not fair. Actually, the simple issue of envy may be at the heart of his obvious angst but on the chance that a philosopher would rise above that circumstance one is faced with deciding how “deserving” can be defined. If whatever the wealthy possesses has been acquired honestly, does that matter? With Cooney? No!

Cooney wrote: “In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available from the Federal Reserve Board, the top 1 percent of U.S. households owned 33.8 percent of the nation's private wealth, while the bottom 90 percent owned only 28.5 percent.” The other nine percent (not mentioned by the professor) owned 37.7%. College philosophy professors do not live anywhere near the poverty level, especially if their spouses also work – the norm) meaning that Cooney was probably in or near the elite top 10% that owned 71.5% of the nation’s private wealth, but it’s doubtful that in his exalted financial position he feels that his taxes should be messed-with. Hypocrisy is one of the most defining of all liberal philosophical principles.

According to, the median income of a liberal arts professor in the U.S. is currently $79,780. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income of all workers last year was $38,168, or less than half of what the average professor received. Cooney’s point perhaps: Soak the rich rulers but leave me alone. If Cooney made the average when he was teaching, at least recently, he was taxed at 25% while the rich rulers paid 35% to Uncle Sam. Cooney’s tax rate was 40% less than the rich guy’s.

Here is vintage Cooney, from the article: “Any sensible person understands there must be enough income inequality to create incentives for the more talented and energetic members of society to do their utmost. Everyone benefits from such inequality.” Well…there went Cooney’s argument right down the drain. He railed against the perceived pernicious inequality and then said inequality is necessary…or else. Go figure. The fact is that he hasn’t a clue about economics.

More Cooney: “ … according to the Economic Policy Institute, the richest 10 percent received nearly two-thirds of total income growth from 1979-2007, while the bottom 20 percent received almost nothing.” Cooney didn’t mention the in-betweeners, 70%. Cooney was probably in or near that rich 10%, but his problem is with just the top one percent, so he very likely would not want the government to disturb his tax rate, even though 90% of citizens were worse off. Even if he were better off than just 70% or even 50%, wouldn’t that be too philosophically unjust to be tolerated?

More Cooney: “They [ruling class, whatever it is] are content to starve the public sector by depriving the government of revenue it needs to fund basic social programs.” The ruling class, whether Congress, the president, or rich people (Cooney insists upon the latter), makes the laws, but as far as is known, no plebiscite has ever been conducted among the rich people in order to effect the tax laws. One wonders how that could be done – maybe have every person with an income over x number of dollars register as a member of the ruling class and cast his/her vote in order not to starve the public sector…or, more likely, just starve it? Best not take a chance…that law of unintended consequensces thing!

In his last paragraph, Cooney asks: “Why should the members of a democratic society uphold the claims of the top 1 percent?” What claims? Why should the members of a democratic society uphold the claims (whatever they are – Cooney knows but didn’t say) of whatever percentage Cooney populates? What claims? He didn’t say. Most likely, there’s a deep philosophical angle to all of this, but it may escape the unenlightened altogether. Perhaps it’s fair to say that the government is responsible for upholding the laws of the land but that upholding everyone’s claims is just a bit vague, if not outrightly unphilosophical or maybe philosophical…who knows? Only the Shadow knows.