Hearing about the umpteenth Republican usage of the phrase "the politics of envy", and having twitter open, I decided to unload my basic thoughts on the matter.
Only trouble, of course, is that twitter has that 140 character limit. Under normal circumstances, I would have blogged this, but the challenge of making my points in concise sequence appealed to me somehow.
So, I went ahead and tweeted like a little songbird. I think you might be interested in what I had to say, because in the process of organizing my thoughts, I think I came up with a good answer to what liberals really like or dislike about the top few percent.
The first tweet went like this:
Politics of envy. Hmm. In my life, what I've seen people trying to do is imitate those who get the big bucks. Rock Stars, sports stars.I mean, it's true, isn't it? We might say "boy I wish I had that money", but we don't typically blame people for seeking jobs that are high paying. Hell, we're more apt to fault somebody for taking or sticking with a crappy, low-paying job.
People try to be doctors, lawyers, MBAs. Envy has motivated imitation, not malice towards moneymakers.Maybe not the most logically consistent usage of words, but you get the point.
Malice only enters into things when people come to believe that they were hurt by the person succeeding in order to create that success.Or, in other words, simply gaining stuff doesn't earn you resentment. It's how you gained it that can get people resenting you.
So let me ask the question: haven't the Republicans been playing off of this malice for years, only focusing it downwards, classwise?It might seem counterintuitive, but the thought is basically there, and it's the basis of things like the Welfare Queen and Food-Stamp President: Somebody has gotten something at my expense, and in a way that hurts my interests. Only instead of focusing on those who have the most, whose behavior does the most damage, they focus this resentment downwards.
Nonetheless, whatever the Republicans tell you, it is class envy, only the most superbly twisted form of it. Rather than resent those who have kicked, bitten and gouged their way to the top, you're made to feel envious of those who are reduced to being on public assistance, with all the stigmas attached to it, with all the despair and fearfulness that comes with that. The Lucky Duckies, indeed. It sounds nuts when you talk about it at full length, but leave enough unsaid, and its been one of the more effective ways of eliciting the resentment of whites versus blacks and hispanics, natives versus immigrants, the middle class and rich against the poor.
The Republicans engage in class warfare every time they use welfare and other assistance programs as wedges, every time they complain about the taxes that the average person doesn't have to pay, thanks to their own policies.
The question you should ask yourselves is what is the fair and productive point of equilibrium between everybody's interests.I formulate things in this way in order to defuse the class warfare attack, while at the same time introducing the question of where the rich, the poor, and the middle class can come to a place where the policies benefit everybody, or at least allow everybody a certain measure of mutual gain. We're not wanting to eat the rich here, we're trying to stand up for our rights, stand up for our interests.
Much has been conceded to those on top, who earn the most and wield the most power. Too much of the prosperity was conceded upwards, though.As a nation, we allowed the rich and the corporations to get a lot of breaks and get back a lot more of their power. In return, they were supposed to share the wealth, creating more jobs, making the ones already there better paying.
Not exactly how it turned out, right? People weren't conceding their own interests here, so much as they were making a compromise believing the other side would reciprocate. They didn't.
The Top one percent must realize that the middle class must gain prosperity as well, to give them incentive to let them have their profit.They're going to earn money off of what we do on their behalf, from what we pay them to do stuff and make stuff on our behalf. This is basic Adam Smith stuff. We don't go to the grocery story to help their kids, but to feed ours, and the folks working at the grocery store work to feed themselves and their family, not merely to provide a nice economic situation for us.
If we, as actors in the economy and as taxpayers don't have to worry about their interests impinging on ours, then of course we will care a lot less how much they make. If we do have to worry, if our taxes would go up (as under many Republican plans), our retirements get burned up, and our wages and jobs get destroyed in order to make their day a little brighter, then we really have no incentive to let things stand as they are.
Getting back to that term, equilibrium, we can say that such a situation represents no point of equilibrium, no point we would feel like resting at, and trying to keep us there will only create an dynamic instability.
Nobody likes to be the sucker in a deal, too many Americans have gotten the short side of the deal. Their patience is at an end.The Republicans and the people they're working for would like to believe that with enough political bludgeoning, people will learn to be satisfied with, even grateful about, what they now have.
No, most people aren't that deep in the alternate universe of the conservative movement. Even some of the Tea Partiers talk in terms that would be familiar to their OWS counterparts. The Tea Partiers, though, have been, once again, led down that garden path of resenting the lucky-duckies, rather than turning their anger against those who have knocked the system out of kilter.
Impatience with Wall Street is high on both sides. Not everybody, even on the Democratic Party side, is savvy to that lack of the benefit of the doubt.
The top few percent can deal with this, or they can store up more tension to be released against them later. Their choice.They can't win for losing, would be the central point there. See, even if they beat people down, they've only earned themselves more resentment, simmering under the surface, and burned even more of the limited patience people have with them.
Sooner or later, there has to be a reckoning. People are not going to ignore their interests forever, and the longer it takes, the less people may be willing to discuss compromise and mutual gain.
All that represents for me the case we liberals have for asking more of the rich, more of the powerful, not out of malice, or the wish to gain unearned benefits, but from the desire to set a point where everybody else isn't have to lose for these people to be the winners they want to be. We want to gain value for what we give up, whether it's our time as employees, or our money as consumers. Too much of what Wall Street and business has done over the past few decades is withhold more of value from us, while expecting more value from us at the same time.
There has to be a reckoning. There has to be a balancing of our mutual interests.