There's no free ride for the overclass -- it's a free flight

ALICE STEINBACH

March 28, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

The man calling in to the radio talk show was angry. He wa angry about almost everything, from the weather to the way the "liberal press" distorts the news.

But mostly the caller was angry about "the underclass" and the free ride he thinks they're getting from the taxpayer.

"This is a segment of society that doesn't work, that lives on handouts from the government and that won't assume any personal responsibility for their own lives," said the caller. He laid the blame for many of the country's problems at the doorstep of the underclass.

It's a popular theory, of course. The "lifestyle" of the so-called underclass -- and its consequences for the country -- has been the subject of countless articles in magazines and newspapers. Indeed, entire books have been devoted to analyzing how the underclass got to be the underclass.

Given this kind of media coverage, you'd think some enterprising writer would have realized by now that the underclass has been done. And that it's time to turn the spotlight on a group that may be society's most overlooked minority: the overclass.

Which, because I abhor a vacuum, I am prepared to do.

The first thing to note about the overclass is that while there are many differences between it and the underclass, there are also many similarities.

But let's do the differences first:

* Unlike the underclass, which is basically a nameless group, members of the overclass have names. Boesky, Milken, Trump, Keating and Helmsley spring to mind.

* As a rule, the overclass is in need of constant legal counsel and therefore must apportion a larger share of income toward legal fees than the underclass.

* Because the underclass has no need for nannies, butlers and the like, they need budget less for servants than the overclass.

But both classes, strangely enough, often wind up paying about the same -- which is to say, nothing -- in Social Security employee taxes.

* The overclass often lives in houses with names. Villa Favorita, for instance. Or Jasmine Hill. The underclass, on the other hand, may live in places with names like Mission House or Circle of Light Shelter.

Now for some of the similarities:

* Just as there are the "undeserving poor" in the underclass, so too will you find the "undeserving rich" in the overclass. Some good examples of the "undeserving rich" might include: corporate raiders, Wall Street speculators, S&L criminals.

* Both the underclass and the overclass enjoy betting the long shot. The underclass has the lottery; the overclass has junk bonds.

* Many members of both the underclass and the overclass develop their values in response to "street culture." The underclass has violence and drugs on the streets where they live; the overclass has Wall Street and insider trading.

* Both the underclass and the overclass tend to live on credit. The underclass, if they can get credit, may owe money to the neighborhood grocery store and the landlord. They are expected to pay it off.

The overclass, however, may buy a large corporation without investing anything other than "paper wealth." If the deal goes bad and they can't pay off, they can always exit through the escape hatch of bankruptcy.

Generally speaking, it would seem that the overclass has taken to heart some of the lessons society has tried to teach the underclass.

Self-help, for instance. As in: Why can't the undeserving poor help themselves more?

We have only to look to the S&L bandits who helped themselves to millions of dollars that didn't belong to them.

The concept of government entitlements is another area in which the overclass has excelled.

The overclass believe themselves to be entitled to million-dollar tax abatements. And they are willing to hold up cities and states for such tax advantages, threatening to move if such demands )) aren't met.

More and more, the overclass, like the underclass, produces less and less. The overclass now generates fewer jobs and less productivity than ever before in our country's history.

What's generated is paper wealth, junk bonds and an increasing number of jobs for bankruptcy lawyers.

Maybe it's time to pin a little note above society's desk, one that reads: It's the overclass, stupid!

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