The American `nomenklatura'

September 07, 2006|By Thomas Sowell

One of the bitter ironies of the 20th century was that communism, which began as an egalitarian doctrine accusing capitalism of selfishness and callousness toward others, became in power a system whose selfishness and callousness made the sins of capitalism pale.

The ruling elites of the Soviet Union, called the nomenklatura, had their own separate and superior stores where ordinary citizens were not allowed to shop, their own separate and superior medical facilities and their own separate and superior living quarters, all off limits to the masses.

Everyone in communist societies addressed each other with the egalitarian term "comrade." But some comrades had the arbitrary power of life and death over other comrades.

Soviet communism is now history, but people who talk equality and practice elitism, who wrap their own selfishness in the mantle of idealism and who sacrifice others on the altar of their own vision without a moment's hesitation are not only still with us but have become the norm on the left.

They don't have nearly the power that the Soviet dictatorship had, but they use whatever power they do have in the same spirit.

The green ideology of today, like the red ideology of the past, takes it for granted that other people do not have the same rights as the new nomenklatura.

Where the new nomenklatura enjoy a particular lifestyle in a particular community, the power of government is used to preserve that lifestyle and freeze that community where it is, even if that means freezing out other people who may not have the same money or the same lifestyle preferences.

Monterey County, Calif., is a classic example, though by no means unique. A recent story in The Wall Street Journal quoted residents of that coastal community as saying how much they liked its lifestyle and ambience - as a justification for laws that make it nearly impossible for anyone with less money to live there.

First of all, laws forbid building anything on three-quarters of the land in that county. Residents who support such laws don't own that land, but they can politically keep others from living on it.

Land prices skyrocket when the supply of land is artificially and drastically reduced, which means that housing prices become astronomical. The consequences for those on the outside looking in were illustrated by the story of a farm worker in Monterey County whose family had been living in a room for years but who now could finally afford to buy a small house.

This farm worker was described as "thrilled" to the point of tears as he bought a 1,013-square-foot home for $490,000, even though it would take 70 percent of his income to make the mortgage payments. He planned to rent out one of the rooms to try to make ends meet.

His situation was not as unusual as it would be in most other places. The average share of income spent on house payments required for someone with the average income in Monterey County to buy the average home there is 60 percent.

But of course this does not apply to the residents who bought or inherited their homes in years past. Far from suffering economically from the laws they pass, they see the market values of their homes go up by leaps and bounds.

One of these residents describes herself as a liberal Democrat and an ardent environmentalist. Election results in this and other affluent counties in coastal California suggest that she is very much the norm among the new nomenklatura.

The green nomenklatura talk egalitarianism like the old, red nomenklatura and similarly ride roughshod over others while doing it. Their economic ethnic cleansing has driven tens of thousands of blacks out of some liberal Democratic counties. There were 79,000 blacks living in San Francisco in 1990; there are 46,000 today.

But the new nomenklatura go around feeling good about themselves while leaving havoc in their wake.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun. His e-mail is

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