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You’ll oftentimes find Harvard’s Privileged Liberal studying in a coffee shop (Starbucks, no less) sipping on a pricey macchiato. As they flip through the pages of their assigned readings, a notification pops up on their iPhone: Social Justice Club meets in 10 minutes. They get up and walk towards the door, their designer boots clicking loudly on the floor. As they exit the coffee shop they pass by a homeless man, slumped over on his side as he shivers in the New England cold; they pay no attention, wearing their brand new Canada Goose jacket (retailing at about $600 a pop)—it provides only enough warmth for one. They arrive to their meeting just on time, and as they sit down and pop open their shiny Macbook Pro, they share Bernie Sanders’s latest speech on Facebook as he attacks the “billionaire class."
Harvard is undoubtedly a bastion for political activism. And while I admire this extreme contrast from the apolitical culture of my high school, it’s been uncanny noticing how student opinion at Harvard often takes a leftward, anti-market approach on economic issues. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise. President Nixon notably called Harvard the “Kremlin on the Charles”; between 2011 and 2014, 84 percent of campaign donations by Harvard faculty went to Democrats and all three of Harvard’s most recent classes (2017, 2018, 2019) overwhelmingly self-identified as “liberal.” Why is it, however, that the children of the nation’s elite seem to have such disdain for the very system that, whether or not they’d like to admit, grants them many of the luxuries they enjoy?
This phenomenon isn’t restricted solely to Harvard. In fact, some of the left’s contemporary heroes have also been some of the free market’s greatest beneficiaries. While the median income in America is about $53,000, Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton and her husband, earned $139 million from 2007 to 2014—all while proclaiming that “inequality is a drag on our economy.” These “champions” for working families, like their Harvard counterparts, are comparable to champagne socialists, to borrow the British term—individuals who preach the virtues of egalitarianism while splurging in their own extravagances.
Now, I’m not declaring that all Democrats live affluently, nor that all leftists at Harvard come from wealthy families or are devotees of Marx and Engels. Wealthy politicians reside on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat alike; having wealth certainly doesn’t disqualify you from speaking out on important economic issues facing the nation. Anything but. However, what I am saying is that much of the rhetoric and class warfare which the modern left utilizes seems to contradict the lifestyles its leaders lead, yet so harshly critique. And in that same light, as a student who comes from a family making less than the national median income, I find it particularly amusing when I see someone walking through the Yard in Burberry, or raving about their family’s summer in Milan, later hash-tagging #FeelTheBern on Facebook as they attack the free market and claim to know what America’s middle class really needs.
It is natural, as Harvard students, to believe that all problems are solvable if provided with the right approach; this leads us to think that with the right government program or regulation, America’s economic woes—income inequality, poverty, etc.—can be fixed. But America’s economic troubles cannot be solved like a math equation, nor can they fit into a bureaucratic one-size-fits-all hypothesis. Poverty in America, for example (one of many), has remained vastly persistent, even after $20 trillion spent by the government since President Johnson enacted his War on Poverty in 1964. In fact, as of 2014, four in 10 African American children and three in 10 Hispanic children live in poverty; and, as of mid-2011, it was estimated that 1.7 million American households were living on cash incomes of less than $2 per day.
For the sons and daughters of those who’ve benefitted most from the free market, it’s easy for them to talk about the evils of money—the evils of capitalism—because they’ve never had to face the reality of being part of the working class. A new tax to them means a couple less dollars to spend on the next vacation; another government regulation means a few workers their parents are forced to lay off. They are utterly removed from the consequences of an overbearing regulatory state, and the catastrophic effects it has on the poorest and most vulnerable of our society.
So the next time you find yourself speaking with an affluent liberal as they rail against capitalism, remind them of a phrase the left loves to use against their opponents: check your privilege. Maybe, just maybe, they will.
Ian T. Mullane '19, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Canaday Hall.
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