Is it a law of evolution that the fatter the wallet, the thinner the skin? The wallet of Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, is so fat he he must sit on it funny, yet there he was the other day, crabbing to CNBC about Pope Francis' missive to the effect that the rich are indifferent to the poor.
Remember, this is all about a $180-million project to renovate the big cathedral on Fifth Avenue, which suggests that the priorities of the New York diocese may not leave so much room for "misunderstanding" the pope's message.
That message, in part, was that "while the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.... A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules."
Cooperman launched the revolt just after Thanksgiving that year with an open letter upbraiding President Obama for the "divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric." It was the period when Obama was giving speeches observing that "millionaires and billionaires" were shouldering their lowest tax burden in decades and needed to pay their fair share of the cost of running the country. To Cooperman the President's words threatened to cleave "a widening gulf...between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them." (He meant himself and his fellows.)
Cooperman was joined by Ken Langone for a second letter, this one published as a full-page newspaper advertisement and complaining similarly about "new lows in polarizing rhetoric...aimed at successful people in the business sector." Obama's words, the ad charged, "are really just political tricks to distract from the President's own policy failures."
Under the circumstances, these complaints seemed hopelessly peevish and petty. After all, as Chrystia Freeland, a veteran financial journalist (and now a liberal member of the Canadian parliament) observed in the New Yorker, "Obama has served the rich quite well."
Things have only gotten better for them since then. In his latest update of the figures, Saez reports that the top 1% share of income gains in the recovery is up to 95%, and the portion of all income in the U.S. collected by the top 10% has exceeded 50% for the first time. Or at least since 1917, which is as far back as Saez's records go. The stock market has just notched its best year since 1997, a gain of 32.39% for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
Yet the chief beneficiaries of these trends continue to grouse about being disrespected. Freeland conjectured that they feel that despite their hard work and long hours spent getting to the top of the economic pyramid, they're disdained as though they're no better than "a leisured, hereditary gentry."
Cardinal Dolan told CNBC that he'll strive to mollify his reluctant donor by assuring him that the pope didn't mean to be nasty. "The pope loves poor people, he also loves rich people--he loves people, all right?" If these honeyed words get that donor and others to unbelt for St. Patrick's, fine. But do they really need honeyed words so much? After all, they already have almost all the money.