Une nouvelle classe à part

PRINCETON – F. Scott Fitzgerald a eu cette célèbre formule selon laquelle les plus fortunés de ce monde seraient « différents de vous et moi. » Leur richesse financière les rendrait « cyniques là où nous nous montrons confiants, » et les amènerait à se considérer « meilleurs que nous. » Si ces quelques mots revêtent actuellement tout leur sens, c’est sans doute parce qu’à l’époque où ils furent écrits, en 1926, les inégalités observées aux États-Unis avaient atteint des sommets comparables à aujourd’hui.

Au cours de la majeure partie d’une période intermédiaire comprise entre l’après-guerre et les années 1980, les inégalités constatées au sein des pays développés sont restées modérées. L’écart entre les plus riches et le reste de la société apparaissait moins colossal – pas seulement en termes de revenus et de richesse, mais également en termes d’inclusion et d’existence sociale. Les riches détenaient certes une plus grande fortune, mais semblaient en quelque sorte appartenir à la même société que les plus défavorisés, reconnaissant les considérations géographiques et la citoyenneté comme autant de raisons de partager un destin commun.

Comme le souligne Mark Mizruchi de l’Université du Michigan dans un ouvrage récent, l’élite américaine du monde des affaires à l’époque de l’après-guerre démontrait « l’éthique d’une certaine responsabilité civique, ainsi qu’un individualisme éclairé. » Elle était disposée à coopérer avec les syndicats, et se montrait favorable à un solide rôle de l’État dans la régulation et la stabilisation des marchés. Ses membres admettaient la nécessité de l’impôt aux fins du financement de biens publics importants, tels que les autoroutes inter-États ou encore le versement de prestations aux personnes âgées et défavorisées.

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