Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Does Extreme Income Inequality engender "Envy?"

Income inequality, real v perceived
Recently an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times caught my eye.

It was titled "The Downside of Inciting Envy," and was penned by one Arthur C Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.  His thesis is that this current recession and economic straits are engendering "envy" of those who are living at the top of the heap.

He takes a quote from a 2002 interview with the Irish singer Bono, to the effect that, in Ireland, the mythical "man on the street" would view someone in a mansion, and would fantasize about "getting" that person, while in the U.S. the attitude would be to aspire to that wealth, with the expectation of being able to achieve it.  On this quote, and some really spurious reasoning, Brooks spins a tale of how our perceptions of an inequality and disparity of opportunity have somehow been exploited to generate a feeling of envy to the poor, misunderstood wealthy, and that the envy is bad for our health.

Sir, it is not "bitterness" or "envy," but simple outrage.

The outrage stems from being forced to participate in a society that:
- insists in the belief that being monetarially impoverished is some moral failing;
- one where people will, if pressed, say that "yes, if someone can't pay for their own medical care, we as a society should let them sicken and die;"
- one where multi-billion dollar companies pay no taxes, and thus nothing towards maintaining the society, and accuse workers laid off when jobs are shifted overseas as "freeloaders" if they collect unemployment compensation;
- one where, since the demise of traditional pension plans, retirement funds are tied up in a gambling den called "the stock market" that the individual worker must navigate as a minnow in a sea of sharks;
- where, at state unemployment orientations, the emphasis is not on resume prep to sell skills or education, but in "networking," thus demonstrating that "it's not what you know but who you know"
- knowledge that your children and grandchildren will never be able to afford a top-tier college

- knowledge that the chance for opportunity and upwards mobility has been put out of reach for almost everybody in the poorer sectors of our economy and is rapidly becoming out of reach for the middle class
- knowledge that today Americans in  their 30s and 40s and 50 are worse off than their parents, and the prospect for their children will be even worse

Again I say, sir, that is what is driving the outrage, not envy.

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