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Class Warfare Will Worsen the Pandemic

4 40 24

Medieval depictions of the bubonic plague often illustrated a “dance of death,” portraying peasants, noblemen, and clergy all equally afflicted by the plague. The current pandemic affects people of all classes too. It made front page news when actor Tom Hanks (net worth approximately $400 million) announced he and his wife had contracted COVID-19.

Public opinion about Hanks, a beloved entertainer, is almost universally sympathetic, but attitudes toward the rich as a whole haven’t changed during the pandemic. Wealthy people remain easy targets for social prejudice and mistrust.

The headlines say it all. In GQ last month: “How Are Rich People Getting Richer During the Coronavirus Pandemic?” The month before that in the Atlantic: “It Pays to Be Rich During a Pandemic.” A recent Axios report detailed a smorgasbord of similar stories, all about wealthier individuals fleeing to private islands or using private health care to protect themselves from COVID-19. Axios quoted a progressive scholar who lambasted “an undercurrent of unequal sacrifice.”

Although news is supposed to be unbiased, classism is hard to shake. Supposedly neutral articles about bonuses and salaries often featured sweeping generalizations, along with negative and highly emotive terms such as “greed,” “gambling,” “excess,” “filling their pockets,” and “obscene.”

On the other hand, although Oxfam’s reports on wealth inequality in recent years have been criticized rightly for questionable methodology, widespread coverage of the reports often took their findings at face value. That’s likely because Oxfam’s central claims and the organization’s general thrust against “the super-rich” are closely aligned with much of the media’s editorial viewpoints. Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century received similarly favorable coverage.

It’s not surprising that this media bias reinforces the public’s negative view toward the wealthy. But although researchers have extensively studied other stereotypes and prejudices, very little work has been done to understand prejudice based on social class, and even less has been done on “upward classism.” An international comparative survey measured what people in the United States, Germany, U.K, and France think of the rich. The survey asked questions that identified whether participants had a sense of “social envy.” It turned out that social envy is highest in France, followed by Germany. It is significantly........

© American Thinker