Sunday, March 22, 2009

The politics of envy and greed

Dictionary.com defines greed as a noun meaning "An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth."

It's hard to characterize others as 'greedy' though, because determining what one needs or deserves is always subjective. While 'need' might be a bit easier, determining what one 'deserves' is much harder.

So, who gets to be the ultimate judge of whether or not a person is greedy? Why, each of us, of course. And our judgment is the only thing that matters, isn't it?

Isn't that why a bunch of people were touring the homes of AIG executives yesterday? To emphasize that since the executives have more than the protesters, those executives must - by personal definition - be greedy?

It is very likely that the AIG executives 'possess more than what one needs.' But how do any of the protesters know about the executives' 'desire to acquire' much less whether or not such desire is 'excessive'?

And if an employer believes you are of such a value to a company as to command a high salary - or if your customers value your offerings so much that you are able to sell things and earn high commissions, how can others determine whether or not such possessions are 'deserved?' Especially if such others have no idea about your job or the market in which you work?

***
Sidebar: Don't get me wrong - I'm not defending the use of taxpayer dollars to pay out large bonuses, but then, I opposed the use of taxpayer dollars in the first place and we wouldn't even be having this discussion if the government hadn't spent our money unwisely - kind of what politicians are accusing AIG of doing. (pot meet kettle) Additionally, Congress approved the bailout (porkulus) bill without reading it and knowing that they were specifically voting in favor of a provision that would allow such payouts - so shame on them for their grandstanding now and for not knowing what they were voting on in the first place.
***

An article in the Mercury News tells us just what the protesters thought:

""We think $165 million could be used in a more appropriate way to keep people in their homes, create more jobs and health care," said Emeline Bravo-Blackport, a gardener.

She marveled at AIG executive James Haas' colonial house, which has stunning views of a golf course and the Long Island Sound. The Fairfield house is "another part of the world" from her life in nearby Bridgeport, which flirted with bankruptcy in the 1990s and still struggles with foreclosures and unemployment."

"Lord, I wonder what it's like to live in a house that size," she said."

Well, I wonder that too, but that doesn't mean I begrudge the owners their accomplishments and acquisitions. Besides - if your main source of income is as a gardener, it's pretty likely you'll not attain such a home, unless you turn your skills into a thriving business generating lots of earnings.

"Another protester, Claire Jeffery, of Bloomfield, said she's on the verge of foreclosure. She works as a housekeeper; her husband, a truck driver, can't find work.

"I love my home," she said. "I really want people to help us.""

hmmm...a housekeeper? If I were her, I'd be leaving my business card and a flyer offering my services. Maybe with the bonuses the executives got, they could hire a housekeeper and then I'd have more income and be benefiting by working to earn some of that money.

And the comment about 'loving my home' made me think that I love my home as well - but that doesn't mean I expect others to help me maintain it.

And then there was this:

"Mary Huguley, of Hartford, said AIG executives should share their wealth with people like her sister, who is facing foreclosure.

"You ought to share it, and God will bless you for doing it," she said."

I wonder, Mary, how much the executives who live in the homes you viewed have given to charity and other non-profit programs and services within your community? Do they support the arts? Do they give to churches? Do they attend fundraisers for organizations that help people in various ways? How do you know whether and how much they 'share the wealth'?

This little tour was hosted by the Connecticut Working Families Party, not that you'll find that mentioned in the article. This is an organization that believes in a living wage for everyone - not 'earned' but mandated by government - and is pushing for higher minimum wages; government-mandated paid sick days; and shifting more of the tax burden to the very wealthy and corporations (the ones who actually provide the jobs in America).

They - and others - are practicing the politics of envy, attempting - and succeeding - in generating a "feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another."

It's used all the time in an attempt to divide people, especially in voting situations, along class lines. The message is that you should have what others have - not by working hard as they did, but through the force of government. If others have something you don't, they should share it - not through their own generosity, but through the force of government taking it and then dispensing it.

The sad part is that so many people are buying into this philosophy and politicians are willingly catering to it - and promoting it - in an attempt to earn voters/supporters for their next election.

I have to wonder about the ultimate goal of such promoters. Do they think that no one should have anything and that the 'collective' should equally divide all assets, earnings, items? Do they want the elimination of private property? And who gets to decide who gets what in such an environment?

That's where we're going - despite the fact that we've seen how disastrous such an approach is.

Envy is part of our human nature, though most religious faiths teach us it is something to be avoided - not embraced and used for political purposes. I was raised with the idea that if I wanted something, I needed to work to attain it - not expect that government was going to ensure I had it at the expense of others. If I wanted a lifestyle that allowed me the luxury of a home in Connecticut with views of a golf course and the Long Island Sound, then I needed to attain the skills, education and experience that would allow to me to get a job that paid enough to support such a home (or marry into money, but that really didn't seem like a viable option).

I was also taught that the people who did have such things had done exactly that, for the most part, and that they sacrificed many things along the way to get to that point. I needed to remember that the grass is not always greener and that some of those sacrifices I might not be willing to make - like giving up time with family, friends or hobbies to work 70-80 hours per week in order to get to such a level.

But the message people today seem to be embracing is one of greed and envy: 'I want what you have, but I don't want to do what you've done to get it, so let's have the government take from you and give to me.'

Fairness is often used as an excuse: 'It's not fair that you have more than you need while I suffer without.'

But it's a warped sense of fairness in that the other side of the equation is conveniently forgotten or purposefully denied to exist: 'It's not fair that I worked hard and sacrificed to get to this point and you want to take from me and give to others who don't want to make the same sacrifices or work as hard or for as long as I have to be able to attain the same things.'

This trend of believing that everyone somehow deserves the fruits of others' labors is what scares me the most - primarily because the non-producing or under-producing members of society are a growing segment and may actually be the majority who can rule through the tyranny of the voting booth.

"History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people.

The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy.

An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy...

These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened
." ~ Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations

8 comments:

2Bn11FA said...

Maggie,
I think we need to look at the two words involved here, Deserve and Earn.

Deserve is what society provides to those that can't do for themselves. Homeless deserve a warm place to sleep and a hot meal.

Earn is what the individual provides for himself through work, intelligence and more work!

Since FDR the Deserve side of the equation has been blown out of proportion and the Earn side has been downplayed and nearly forgotten.

Also, I think I read where the AIG bonuses weren't really bonuses but delayed compensation, so that makes the "anger" even worse.

Maggie Thurber said...

2Bn - I understand the point you're trying to make, but must disagree with you on the definition of deserve.

Deserve means 'merit' or 'qualified for' and is based upon actions or situations.

While we would all agree that a homeless person should have a warm place to sleep and hot meal, what action on their part has 'merited' them for such? How do they 'deserve' this, versus our (usually religious) teachings to care for such individuals?

I think redefining 'deserve' is also part of the problem. If I 'deserve' all these things, who then is responsible for providing them to me? Government? Taxpayers? or me?

just some thoughts...

as for the bonuses, they were retention bonuses offered as part of the hiring of the individuals as compensation for staying with the company and such bonuses were specifically allowed under the porkulus bill promoted by almost all the individuals who are now angry over the payment they knew was coming.

2Bn11FA said...

My bad on the bonuses!

From what I can see in dictionaries Deserve and Earn are very similar. But Deserve has been modified by the Leftists to be more of charitable in nature.

That is my perception of it. The homeless may have been off the mark. But as used in today's society "deserve" is used when someone doesn't have the same as someone else.

In my mind there is a very distinct difference between "deserve" and "earn".

People feel they deserve a big screen TV because their neighbor worked a little harder and earned one for themselves.

Deserve has become a synonym for entitlement. I am not saying this the way I think it, but I hope my point gets across.

Maggie Thurber said...

2Bn said:

In my mind there is a very distinct difference between "deserve" and "earn".

People feel they deserve a big screen TV because their neighbor worked a little harder and earned one for themselves.

Deserve has become a synonym for entitlement.


On this we are in agreement!

Mad Jack said...

Part of this happens because people have no opportunity to compare the fairness or abundance of opportunity in the United States to an oppressive dictatorship or monarchy. Although the US is getting closer all the time to oppression.

'Deserve' is a very dangerous word, and is closer to a value judgment regarding an earned reward. For instance, I won the foot race, so I deserve the first place trophy can be countered by the argument that since I'm a professional marathon runner and the rest of the competitors are sedentary amateurs, while I won I do not deserve the trophy - a three pound solid gold paperweight in the shape of a dollar sign.

'Earn' generally refers to wages, as in 'I really earned my pay today!' It refers to the expected reward for labor.

The sense of entitlement bothers me as well. I never really had a sense of entitlement and I don't understand those that do. The US Constitution is supposed to protect us from the kind of abuse that this situation brings about, but the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hasn't been doing a very good job over the years - take the blatant party line split on the Bush v. Gore in 2000. Many of the decisions are split like this, and they shouldn't be.

2Bn11FA said...

I would have no argument with anything you said Mad Jack.

Mad Jack said...

Thanks 2Bn11FA. I consider that high praise, coming from you.

From Maggie: I have to wonder about the ultimate goal of such promoters. Do they think that no one should have anything and that the 'collective' should equally divide all assets, earnings, items? Do they want the elimination of private property? And who gets to decide who gets what in such an environment?

The goals of the Connecticut Working Families Party (CWFP) are likely not limited to redistribution of wealth according to the CWFP's sense of equitable wealth. I would guess that the top priority of the CWFP is to survive and expand its influence and control. Mind you, no one may have articulated as much or even be cognizant of survival as a goal. If you accept this premise, then the goal of the CWFP can never be fully attained, which suddenly becomes important. The CWFP will never succeed or attain its goal, and so will never be willfully disbanded.

This is one of you better efforts, Maggie. I haven't got the time to comment as much as I'd like on The Politics Of Envy and Greed and so my writing is a little disjointed. Anyway, thanks for the post.

Maggie Thurber said...

thank you, Mad Jack...

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