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Forget bailouts, nationalized corporations, and high taxes – the clearest evidence of America’s emerging socialism lies in new research about wealth and guilt.

The richest Americans, defined by the study as those with at least $100,000 in discretionary income, are ashamed of their wealth.

Fifty-four percent of respondents admitted that they “feel guilty purchasing luxury goods in the current economic climate.” More surprising is the finding that only 29% of respondents want to be considered wealthy.

Since when did wealth become a reason for shame?

It’s certainly not for those of us who aren’t in Sic Willie’s “eleventy kabillion dollar” club.

And since when did people not want to be considered wealthy? Seriously, that’s like not wanting to be considered attractive.

It’s pathological, this normalization of the exceptional.

At work here is what I’ve termed a middling effect … which is incidentally the name of my forthcoming book, the theme of which I am at liberty to say only that it’s about middles and effects.

Anyway, it’s all manner of upside-down when wealth is cause for shame.

Because that necessarily means that poverty – or worse, mediocrity – is cause for pride. That’s downright unpatriotic … and spending is a patriotic act, as George W. Bush famously taught us.

But back to the topic of socialism, which is where I began.

That the rich are ashamed to be rich – and feel too guilty to enjoy their bounty – certainly points to twilit capitalism.

On the other hand, decreased spending among the wealthy means that – as goes the warning – the rich get richer. Among the wealthiest survey respondents, the savings rate increased by 20% this year, thanks to their decreased spending.

It’s an ironic twist that nobody could have predicted.

Could the dawn of socialism presage the rebirth of the aristocracy?

Of course not – be it income tax, corporate tax, property tax, payroll tax, capital gains tax or death tax, government’s going to find a way to get that money somehow.

We’ve got to “spread the wealth around,” remember?