Joe Firestone: Inequality – Envy or Honest Outrage?

Yves here. Even though I applaud Joe for his effort to take on the “class warfare as jealousy” meme, I think it needs to be attacked much more aggressively. Even in this example, the focus of the post, a remark by Catherine Rampell, depicts the rich as beautiful and everyone else as ugly. This reinforced the top wealthy’s messaging that they are inherently superior people (ringing the John Galt bell) and thus deserve to have more cash and prizes. In most cases, the rich got where they are by luck (being a member of an upper middle class or higher family, being in the right job field at the right time) and/or benefitting from and perhaps directly participating in questionable conduct (working in the predatory parts of finance, being a member of the top executive looting class). They seem to forget that many less well off people are disciplined, smart, and hardworking too, yet they have a lot less to show for it. So this is about fairness, and not difference in native endowments.

By Joe Firestone, Ph.D., Managing Director, CEO of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI), and Director of KMCI’s CKIM Certificate program. He taught political science as the graduate and undergraduate level and blogs regularly at Corrente, Firedoglake and Daily Kos as letsgetitdone. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives

Catherine Rampell offered a theory the other day, in a piece entitled: “Income inequality isn’t about the rich — it’s about the rest of us.” She says:

People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because they are getting uglier. . . .

And then later, she says:

Yes, anti-inequality rhetoric has grown in recent years. But it’s not the growing wealth of the wealthy that Americans are angry about, at least not in isolation. It’s the growing wealth of the wealthy set against the stagnation or deterioration of living standards for everyone else. Polls show that Americans pretty much always want income to be distributed more equitably than it currently is, but they’re more willing to tolerate inequality if they are still plugging ahead. That is, they care less about Lloyd Blankfein’s gigantic bonus if they got even a tiny raise this year.

She proceeds to review polling data to show that this is so, and then advises the 0.1% that if they want to be left alone then “they should probably support policies that “promote the upward mobility of other Americans. . . “ such as Pell Grants, higher minimum wages, and early chidhood education.

That’s not bad advice, of course, but I wonder what people will think of the 0.1 % when they understand more fully that their efforts to get ahead aren’t independent of the 0.1%’s efforts over the years to manipulate both the poitical and economic systems. And that further, the primary cause of the failure of poor people and the middle class to gain ground over the past 40 years is due to the deliberate efforts of the wealthy to structure both economics and politics in such a way that both nominal and real wealth would flow increasingly from the bottom to the top.

I suspect that the more people come to understand the increasing rigging of the game over a long period of time, the more likely it is that they will be bothered by increasing inequality all of the time, even when they themselves are living through a good year or two when they are making marginal gains. It is also more likely, that when they come to that understanding, the pitchforks and guillotines will come out, because people will blame the rich for the extremes of inequality and will replace any sense of fleeting envy they may have with a continuing sense of honest outrage at the Koch brothers, the Petersons, the Walmart family, and their compatriots, who have created the conditions that have made them periodically unemployed, ill-educated, financially insecure, subject to difficulties in getting medical care without going bankrupt, in staying in their homes, and to lack of opportunities and declining hopes for the future.

In short, I’m saying that:

People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because you are making yourself more beautiful AND are making them uglier.

So, even though the rich are periodically unpopular when the economy falls into bad times, it is nothing compared to what people are likely to direct at them, when they understand who is to blame for the plight of most of the population. That’s when the proverbial s__t will hit the fan.

My advice to the oligarchs is this. You aren’t involved in a low risk, predictable game, here. You’ve ruined people’s lives through your actions for many years now. Once the conditions for them are present, which will happen when people see your role in their plight clearly, mass movements can emerge at any time, and they can easily get out of control, as many seemingly unassailable oligarchs have found out in the past.

The wise thing to do is to give way to the inevitable thrust toward greater economic, social, and political democracy. Play the handmaiden to that transition, because then you may be able to keep most of your ill-gotten gains and have a place of honor besides.

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  1. Hugo Stiglitz

    I’ve been long amazed that the pitchforks and guillotines have yet to come out. It seems that even though most people have easier access to knowledge and “truth” if you will, bypassing the traditional filters and gatekeepers, people still self-select their own version of truth and congregate toward information and opinions that reinforce their beliefs. The perception managers have long been entrenched in the various news media, probably since WWII. But whether by design or accident, the “information” age has not produced a better informed public, at least not in the US, on the whole as far as I can see from this side of the Pacific.
    People still go to the mat defending the corporate whores in the red uniform who are just so very much better than the corporate whores in the blue uniform, yet nothing fundamentally changes. The proles continue to fight over table scraps while the oligarchy is screwing them in every conceivable way. I just don’t get it. Something has to give, but it never does.

    1. JTFaraday

      “People still go to the mat defending the corporate whores in the red uniform who are just so very much better than the corporate whores in the blue uniform”

      Indeed, in naming the names, the punditocracy and Versailles-on-the-Potomac policy entrepreneurs are all given to curiously selective lists.

      Consider, for example, that while odious after their own fashion(s), none of those cited in this post were directly responsible for the 2008 downturn, its direct damage, or the ill effects still suffered by the population at large in its wake:

      “honest outrage at the Koch brothers, the Petersons, the Walmart family, and their compatriots, who have created the conditions that have made them periodically unemployed, ill-educated, financially insecure, subject to difficulties in getting medical care without going bankrupt, in staying in their homes, and to lack of opportunities and declining hopes for the future.”

    2. Banger

      Actually, the managing of information by the USG started in earnest in 1917 with the birth of the Creel Committee which Goebbels admired. The situation has waxed and waned. Currently, we gov’t control of the press is waxing in foreign policy and in domestic affairs there is some diversity but within very strict limits set not so much by gov’t but by the corporate owners and their friends.

      The populace has become deeply skeptical and cynical of what they hear and read. I think Americans are, on balance, dispirited, stressed and a bit depressed. They, generally, are focused on entertainment and trying to live more convivial lives through a variety of interests and activity. Interest in politics and public affairs is just not there. Ignorance on these matters is increasing. The left in America is, more or less, drifting into obiivion and offers little vision other than complaining which doesn’t exactly attract a following. The issues are there–inequality is tolerated because, due to a lack of cultural cohesion, money has become the de facto moral currency–thus if you have it you must have earned it. And there’s always the Lottery to dream about.

      1. Hugo Stiglitz

        Goebbels could never have dreamed to have the technologies and system available to modern guardians of oligarchy. The Snowden revelations confirmed our worst suspicions, and there is plenty left to come. I wonder if any of the Snowden data confirms another suspicion, at least of my own, that the NSA and various alphabet soup national “security” agencies are funding their nefarious, destructive and thoroughly evil activities with ill-gotten gains from myriad financial frauds. With the spying capability at their fingertips, and considering they have been caught more than once running illicit drugs, guns, etc. around the world, is it really a stretch to think they have all sorts of financial rackets going? Or at the very least, there are individuals in the agencies doing this. What better way to get around funding issues and accountability, assuming there ever is any, than to create your own funding. Especially when you can bribe/threaten anyone who comes snooping around. It’s not like the banksters are going to rat them out, as long as they get their cut.

        I think we have a breakaway society and shadow government operating, more or less in broad daylight at this point. They can get away with anything, they know this. So why not? Plus, so much of the “work” they do is privatized, there is probably no way to rein it in. They will keep running the rackets, perhaps even withhold beneficial technologies for their exclusive use. Who/what will stop them? This is the Phil Dick dystopian reality. I doubt that mobs of angry peasants will even matter at this point.

    3. digi_owl

      From personal experience, not enough free time.

      After a full work day, the human brain is pretty much maxed out. All it wants is rest and refreshment, so it is easier to vege out in from of a passive screen than take on active information online or offline.

    4. Jim Shannon

      Envy or Outrage?
      Come on Joe – you know it’s neither one of those.
      The universal cause of inequality is always the TAX CODE!
      Tax ALL wealth above $10,000,000 @ 100% and inequality will cease to exist!
      The Corruption by government will also cease to exist as their will be no CentaMillionaire$ or Billionaire$ buying public opinion and politicians!

      1. Carla

        Why above $10,000,000? Because that’s what you have? Or what you might aspire to? For 90% of Americans, you can tax all wealth above $500,000 at 100% for the same price (I mean it won’t make any difference to them). For 80% of the US population, you can tax all wealth above $100,000 at 100% and it won’t matter to them.

        Just. Think. About. That.

        Oh, I know. Horrors! The JOB CREATORS wouldn’t create any new jobs. Yes, well, that’s quite a threat. They’re hoarding their cash and not creating new jobs NOW, as they have been doing throughout this Depression.

      2. jrs

        Why does it have to be either envy or some kind of righteous outrage and frankly isn’t that a right-wing framing? Why can’t it be knowing that a more egalitarian society would be a better society for almost everyone to live in?

  2. Charles LeSeau

    There is nothing “beautiful” about gluttony. The envy bit is one of the more idiotic lines from these liars. They get to play the envy card because power mongering has been glamorized for all of human history.

    I don’t envy the morbidly obese because they eat more food than I do, and similarly, I don’t envy these trashy wealth gluttons. They are morbidly “wealth obese,” and their lifestyles and claims to ownership of massive chunks of the planet plus their brainwashing and infiltration into the minds and lives of billions are not appreciated. Further, I’ve met enough of these clowns to know just how little some big unknown percentage of them work, in spite of their claims of greatness and importance and hard work.

    Imagine a world where people saw nothing glamorous about being rich, but looked at it the way we do some 500-pound food junkie. You’re not going to get it, but imagine it.

    1. diptherio

      Russel Brand puts it very well. He says (approx.), “when I was poor and would talk about this stuff, people would say ‘you’re just bitter you don’t have as much as they do.’ Now I’ve got something and when I talk about this stuff people call me a hypocrite. The real truth is they just don’t want you to talk about it.”

      To the .01%: people don’t hate you because you’re beautiful, they hate you because you are an evil c–t to everyone else. It isn’t your (metaphorical) beauty that people hate, it’s your despicable personality.

      1. McKillop

        Once again the propagandists who are paid to defend their patrons try to confuse the issue by lies and equivocation. What beauty is there in behaviour and appearance that comes at great cost to others? The Scots spoke of a ‘glamour’ and the creature appeared desirous before it destroyed those to whom it presented itself. Why would any human who cares for others -human or non-human- or strives to protect beauty have envy for those who are so selfish that they care no whit for the consequences of their actions provided that they get wealth and power?
        “Turd-blossom”, he of political infamy (and well named by his master) was named also a genius because he defeated his opponents by attacking their supposed virtues. It’s an old technique. People who strive for the betterment of our society, or to protect nature, are claimed to be no different than the absolutely selfish because both parties stand to gain ‘satisfaction’ through success. People who strive to attain a livelihood for themselves and others are ]maligned as being as ‘greedy’ as the liars and thieves who claim “beauty”.
        You once wrote of your part in digging a latrine in Nepal: it’s no ‘man-crush’ that makes me write that I admire you for doing that job.
        I’d have admiration for, say, any rich s.o.b. who used wealth to heal leprosy (C. $200.00 per person), or build schools. The waste of wealth is no cause for envy and no source of beauty. The impoverishment of others must never be admired.

    2. 10leggedshadow

      We need to start pushing the meme that the 1% are parasites. A parasite co-opts a host body and uses the body’s system for it’s own benefit. If left unchecked, it will kill the host. That is exactly what is happening now. I also agree about food stamps and welfare. If we didn’t have those people would be rioting in the streets. Down here on the bottom rungs of the middle class things are getting really bad. There has been no improvement and most people are treading water or sliding slowly under water. Even thrift stores are closing because of lack of customers.

      1. Ulysses

        Great comment!

        This is really important. We need to stop deferentially calling people “successful” when the more accurate term is “parasitical.” Every time I hear someone referred to as a “successful banker” I have to mentally correct it to: “parasitical rent-extractor swollen with ill-gotten gains like a vampire-squid!”

    3. vedwin

      The parallel between the morbidly obese and the obscenely wealthy is almost perfect. Bravo. Should you get credit for this or does it come from somewhere eslse?

  3. middle seaman

    Posing extreme inequality in terms of envy, beauty or inevitability misses the main needs of a modern society. For decades, following the defeat of European tyranny, we thought that the world moves towards more democratic societies. Respect, freedom of expression, ability to influence and decent life seemed just around the corner. Inequality demonstrated that we are marching backwards towards extreme money tyranny. Decent life was stolen from about 20 million un and underemployed Americans. The Kochs and Petersons usurp all available influence, OWS was put down by force nullifying freedom of expression and respect requires at least seven figures.

    We demand our democracy back; it’s in the constitution.

    1. Eureka Springs

      “It’s in the constitution”

      Where? The word “democracy” certainly isn’t in the constitution. And even if it were the police state and absolute abrogation of rule of law, particularly upon the top percentiles makes most everything that might in some small democracy/suggestive nugget irrelevant.

  4. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Just a thought.

    Recently I’ve been thinking that instead of publishing ages for figures in the news, we should start a new trend of publishing salaries.

    So a news item that formerly would read, “Lloyd Blankfein, 59, CEO of Goldman Sachs” would henceforth read, “Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs (2014 – Published: $2 million base salary + $14.7 million bonus; Estimated: $23 million), although this could be shortened to (2012-P: $2m base + $14.7m bonus; E: $23m).

    A bit wordy, but maybe it would help drive home just how unequal things the situation is getting and exactly why some of the needy greedies make the ludicrous declarations they do.

    Plus you could always say, “This precedent was started at NC!”

  5. QuarterBack

    The ‘envy’ argument , like other Big Lies, draws its power when people ignore its naked absurdity and confront it as if it is an academic argument, thereby granting it de facto legitimacy. The age proven best method to put this type of BS in its place is full frontal ridicule. Fight absurdity with absurdity. This is why I consider Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert to be among the great heroes of our time.

    Considering the absurd frame of mind that comes up with the premise that ‘inequality’ is a result of envy, reminds me of Steve Martin’s bit “I’m so mad at my mother”.


    1. Charles LeSeau

      I’m not sure humor isn’t just another opiate, and frankly, the same goes with endless years and years of internet commentary like we keep on doing.

      You might be right – I don’t claim to know better – but I always think of this quote when I see a “laugh them away” comment:

      “During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.”

      -Kurt Vonnegut, 2003

      1. diptherio

        Charles, I think that humor can be an opiate or it can be a shot of adrenaline, depends on whose using it and for what end. Colbert and Stewart often go for the opiate routine, every time they chum it up with Obama or O’Reilly or some other uber-conservative. Comics like Russel Brand, Louis CK, David Cross, Chris Rock and Bill Burr (and of course, the sainted Billy Hicks) go the other way. There is very little opium in a Hicks routine, or Brand’s or Louie’s. For them, humor is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down…and their medicine is often quite bitter.

        And while I respect Vonnegut greatly, I think he underestimates the results of Vietnam War resistance (he did have the occasional pessimistic turn of mind). Sure, the effects weren’t immediate, but the rain doesn’t wash away the mountain overnight either…if you drop that custard pie enough, eventually you’ll make a hole in the concrete.

        And if you haven’t seen it yet, Brand’s new hour-long special is pretty derned good:
        Russel Brand–Messiah Complex

  6. Pokey

    In some small way, I wish the plutocrats to succeed in their efforts to repeal the New Deal. Then we could return to the conditions that brought it into existence, most likely without the leadership of a gentle patrician. It will be “eat the rich” for sure then.

  7. Hugh

    The jealousy argument presupposes that I want what the rich have. I don’t. I want a decent life for myself and everyone else in this society. If we have the wherewithal for a decent life, how much more do any of us need?

    The jealousy argument is a standard class war ploy. It attacks the victims, and makes what is wrong about them. The rich would have us believe that they deserve their wealth because they are smarter and have worked hard for it. The simple fact of their wealth shows they have contributed to society sufficiently to have earned it. All these things are patently untrue. Sam Walton, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett did not create the wealth they have amassed. We did through our work. They are parasites and criminals. Their wealth results from the theft of the profits of our work. And if Sam Walton is a thief, how much more his heirs who have contributed nothing to society and whose wealth stems from nothing more than being born in a certain bed?

    The executives at Coca-Cola are plannning on giving themselves $13 billion over the next four years in an article I recently read. How can anyone say they are worth it? It is just another theft from their workers and their investors. But if they are not worth it, what about all those executives who run their companies into the ground, what about all those Wall Street financiers who produce nothing and skim everything?

    The jealousy argument should spur us to ask the questions how much is enough and how much is too much? And if any further wealth than what is necessary for a decent life is the reward for contributions to our society, then we should look hard at what those contributions are. Do they add or subtract from our society? And how much of them belong to a single person and how much to the work of others?

    1. QuarterBack

      Thank you for making the point:

      And if Sam Walton is a thief, how much more his heirs who have contributed nothing to society and whose wealth stems from nothing more than being born in a certain bed?

      All too often the talking points of the “haves” use a false premise that all wealth is self-made. The “if I did the hard work and took the risks others didn’t…”. The truth of the matter is the predominant factor towards being rich is being born rich, and being born poor predominantly means staying poor. Rags to riches stories are popular because they are such rare occurrences.

      I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the true self-made, new money business and technology innovator types, but once you get past their first generation, how is their inherited wealth and influence anything other than a false sense of entitlement?

      The successful campaigns to chop away at “death taxes” for the classes with wealth in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars leads to no other conclusion than to the death of democracy and replacement by dynasties.

  8. PaulArt

    The pitchforks have not come out because of SNAP otherwise known as Food Stamps. This is the secret that idiots like Paul Ryan do not understand. Religion is the opiate of the masses yes but that opiate does not quite work well on an empty stomach. If you keep sending those food stamps to the South, the poverty ridden Caucasian bunch there will eat your food, spit on Government, go to Church, praise the Lord and will keep voting Republican. You need to take away the food for the outrage to increase in exponential fashion. Nothing motivates more like hunger or seeing your children wither away in hunger. Talk to the political leadership in India, they know a thing or two about this. In a rather ironic fashion Paul Ryan is correct in stating that food stamps discourage work. What he does not know is, yes it discourages work but that work will be wielding of pitchforks, not the queues at the unemployment office. The very first phalanx that will launch suicide attacks will be the long term unemployed, you know, people who have not landed a job for a year or more and who employers no longer want to touch with a barge pole because they think these people are unemployable. Here is a personal anecdote: In 1995 at the height of the .com boom and internet boom I was working in Silicon Valley. We were unable to find compiler engineers for our booming company that was in the vanguard of the embedded systems software revolution. I was a young techie at that time and I remember there was this one old man who knew something about compilers and was hired. He would regularly fall asleep between words in meetings. He was kept on and tolerated because he knew something and even the little work he did was needed. This is what a booming economy does for poor performers. When we have stagnation like the last 2 decades, the margin of error becomes wafer thin. Even the slightest error or mistake gets you fired for the simple reason that we are not really in a battle to put out products to grab market share every 6 months. Nope. We are all sitting on our hands in GE, Honeywell, Intel and Cisco. We are going through the motions, pretending to make products while our CEOs carry out gargantuan stock buybacks and pocket the money.

    1. MikeNY

      Good comment.

      I also think that the growing pool of un- and under-employed young adults is building up pressure. We must be pumping ~1 million new workers out of school every year. How long before they all get tired of living in their parents’ basement and working for $10 an hour at Wal-Mart? How long can they live on what’s left of their parents’ savings? How many bodies does it take for an uprising? 10 million? 20 million? Is that so far away?

      When things a very quiet, I sometimes hear a faint clicking sound. I think it is Madame Defarge.

    2. Klassy

      Huh. I always thought the problem was the upper middle class with a 401K and a 300K mortgage identifying with the investor class and not seeing themselves as workers.

      1. juliania

        Ah, but they ARE taking away the Food Stamps. Putting impossible conditions like signing up for classes to teach you how to find a job – never mind you are living out in the country with your elderly mother on her shrinking SS benefit (shrinking because her costs are going up) and she has no car so transportation is an impossibility. Every little conditional requirement becomes a barrier, and they are very prompt to cut you off – aha, you didn’t go to the meeting!

        Why no pitchforks? Well, hey, the rich can afford pitchforks and they have used them to good effect. Especially against the homeless.

        There won’t be pitchforks, not because the poor are stupid, lazy, distracted by entertainments. Because they are inherently good and peaceful people. It’s the bloodthirsty ones who have gained the upper hand, and believe you me, those folks are the ugly ones, not the poor.

        I don’t want your trillions, mister.

  9. Carla

    I’m with Yves. This is about fairness. Also justice. And democracy.

    Good idea above to publish the latest annual income of each fat cat, every time those individuals are mentioned.

  10. Banger

    It’s should be pretty obvious by now who anyone who is able to reason that income inequality is destructive to society as a whole. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not we are going to agree that society as a whole is something that should concern us. The ethic of the oligarchs is that there is no such thing as society other that as something to mine and exploit for personal profit. The elite are lobbying and planning for what appears to be a neo-feudal future. We need to understand that this is the plan being made for us–we will be bond-servants to these oligarchs sooner or later because I see no effective counter-movement and few intellectuals outside of people like Chris Hedges, Paul Craig Roberts and Morris Berman are grasping this unfolding reality.

  11. Vatch

    I am struck by the great irony of the rich and their spokespeople complaining about the envy of people who have less wealth. The capitalist system is heavily dependent on envy for its functioning. If people only bought what they need, corporate sales would be much lower, and the wealth of the rich would not be so vast. Thanks largely to envy, people buy more expensive cars, wide screen TVs, designer clothes, the latest iPhone, etc.

    The 0.1% need to make up their minds. Do they like envy or not? They can’t have it both ways.

    1. susan the other

      Really good point. And do they like being hoodwinked all the time? Just thinking about all the glitzy car shows, new models, blahblahblah… And those claims that “zero emission” cars are coming. The rich need to believe. But the facts are always elusive, in their world denial is survival. There will never be zero emission cars because all those fancy new models will do is transfer tail pipe emissions to power plant emissions. It’ll probably accelerate climate change. The rich really need to quit the stupid rat race.

  12. craazyman

    you don’t need to be rich to be cool. I’ve realized a man can go stylin with threads bought at the Men’s Wearhouse, even though they have 10000 ties and they all look like crap. They have good stuff too. Each day they send an email now to me because I bought something there. Each day there’s a deal. Today they had a video embedded in the email of the Joseph Abboud factory in New Bedford, MA. It was pretty cool!

    Who needs to wear suits like Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England? I saw him once in a video Yves posted and I swear they looked like $5000 suits, but I’m not an expert so maybe he got them at a thrift store in London I don’t know. It’s hard to tell when it comes to money, just what is what.

    Being rich is over–rated. If anybody lusts after being rich, they should take a deep breath and think about what they’d do with themselves if they didn’t have to work. probably they would find a way to drink themselves to death or lay around until they fell into a coma.

    The problem isn’t getting rich. The problem is figuring out what to do with your time. Most jobs don’t suck because of the jobs themselves — although some do — but because of the abstract and murderous derision directed upon the employee by the circiumstances of their employment. Gettting rich is just a triage from the pain. But once you’re rich, it’s another kind of pain. It’s not envy that makes people think about income inequality. It’s the pain of the murderous abstract derision heaped upon them by their circumstances.

    If I ever get rich I won’t tell anybody and nobody will ever know. The only sign will be I’ll tell several of the people I worked with what I think of them. Then I’ll go for a walk in the sun and then lay around and smile. And I’ll never go back. Ever. I don’t care if I fall into a coma from laying around. I like dreaming anyway. Even the weird sh*t can be strangely beautiful.

  13. washunate

    I very much agree excessive concentration of wealth and power is the core issue of our time.

    For me, the interesting strategic question is not about the top .xxx1%. They desire control, not currency, and it’s kind of odd really to think that their desires are so fleeting that they can have some kind of come to Jesus moment. The only answer to the kleptocracy is to overthrow it; it can’t be reasoned with.

    Rather, what interests me is whether upper middle class educated professionals – the top 20% or so of wage earners who enable the day to day looting and oppression – can potentially be convinced to be the ‘handmaiden to transition’, or whether the institutions that support their outsized privileges in medicine, law, academia, media, etc., will have to rot away before change can happen.

    The Koch brothers and Walmart and whatever make nice, convenient, Blue-Team Approved Enemies, but it is public policy itself that is the problem. 21st century government isn’t some hapless actor here overwhelmed by the size of the private sector. It is the driving force.

  14. E.L. Beck

    But all of this fails to distinguish between envy as in “I’m going to sulk and pout and if a way is cleared for me to steal it, I will,” and envy as in “I’m going to emulate wealth in my own way, by buying everything in sight my credit lines allows me to buy.”

    Very little of the former type of envy exists, in my estimation, but the latter? How else does one explain the single-digit percentage increases, or outright stagnation, in household incomes from 1989 to 2004 (and much of it in decline since 2004), yet -triple-digit- percentage increases in household debt?

    Rational thinking should have informed households that when their incomes started to stagnate, spending should have ceased. This not only would have shut down the enormous profits corporations were making off of their Made-in-China products, but also the profits flowing to the banks when consumers bought this crap using credit cards with double-digit interest rates. Without this upward flow, the massive transfer of wealth could never have occurred.

    I’m no apologist for the one percent. I despise their arrogance and the brutality they have wrought on us. But at what point do we stop casting aspersions, recognize that we carry just as much responsibility for this inequality mess, then do something about it that will initiate real change?

    1. Jagger

      —How else does one explain the single-digit percentage increases, or outright stagnation, in household incomes from 1989 to 2004 (and much of it in decline since 2004), yet -triple-digit- percentage increases in household debt?—-Rational thinking should have informed households that when their incomes started to stagnate, spending should have ceased. —-

      Maybe Cost of Living?

      Over the last couple decades, the cost of essential items for survival such as food, gas, cars, housing, education, health care, heating, etc, has been spiraling upward rapidly. Only optional, non-essential items seem to have decreased in cost. Maybe the young haven’t really noticed, maybe, but anyone over 40 or 50 has certainly noticed.

  15. David C Mace

    I think this piece is bit “silly”
    helping take care of 1yr and 3yr old sisters (granddaugters) redoubles my conviction that fairness in the distribution of stuff/resources is a core human value
    to some extent that can be seen as matter of jealousy, but so what ??
    naturally, institutions intended social opium want to cast that as at least misguided, not to mention down right immoral

    1. jrs

      Jealously = working people want a good life too, they want some of what the rich have, not to live in terror of poverty, to able to meet their needs, free time!!! Why shouldn’t they want it?

  16. leapfrog

    People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because they are getting uglier. . . .

    I’d say, “People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because they are no longer fooled by your outward appearance. They can see that based on your actions you are a sociopath.”

  17. Nell

    ” Even though I applaud Joe for his effort to take on the “class warfare as jealousy” meme, I think it needs to be attacked much more aggressively.”
    On the topic of behavioural differences between the wealthy and the working class -David Graeber has a nice piece in the Guardian. It also links to a research article in Psychological Science (free) in which the researchers did various measure related to compassion and emotion sensitivity and found that the higher the economic status of participants the less emotionally sensitive they were.

    1. Banger

      The oligarch class are more insensitive and cruel and often tip poorly as many wait staff have told me over the years. However, the attributes that rich a-holes possess are qualities our society admires.

  18. John Mc

    I may be a bit more cynical here, but when I read articles like this one (with good intention and relevant substance), I cannot help but think that the gross inequities, consolidated corporate power, apparatus of financialization, and wealth accumulation is explained by a purposeful and planned war using social darwinism as a guide. This is where our analysis should begin (imo). The rest of this response aims to support this thesis.

    This short-term view, individualism, of who has what and why is ultimately much less important to me than a long term understanding of the levers of wealth inequality and elite planning for a permanent war for access to resources. Nearly 8 billion live on our planet as resources dwindle. Most profitable revenue streams seem to involve: drugs, oil, war-looting, “financial innovation” using game theory, weapons and technology, and surveillance.

    Feeding the profit monster is more important than feeding children.

    The incentives and ideology of the 1% are aligned to exploit these revenues for as long as it takes (while millions live in poverty, ill-health, fractured families, or die). And many elites are protected from seeing the consequences of their actions, at a safe distance; spinning their own narratives as winners. Again, an individual framework does very little as wealthy, and wealthy wannabees contrive their own version of events, ignoring a critical reality.

    I really enjoy Joe’s writings posted here and at new economic perspectives, but I tend to side with Yves on this one. This needs to be harder hitting. Oligarchs (as said in the Corporation, the dominant instrument for elite oligarch is a corporation — one that has traits of psychopathy) can opt out of culture at any time and ignore the consequences of their decisions.

    Instead, they are skilled at crafting narratives and actual events which divide us (often using social issues as a mask to bait/switch the hidden inherent financial rewards). If the tabacco industry is any gauge, corporations and their elite leaders will delay and distort events for decades in the pursuit of profit, until it becomes in their financial interest to switch sides. We are talking about cold, calculating pyschopaths who believe in a survival of the fittest narrative, and furthermore are adept at sharing these views expertly (Bernays) in mass media.

    Dr. Phyllis Camara Jones helps us understand in her brilliant essay – The Gardner’s Tale, how easy it is to internalize negative messages about oneself from the dominant culture. In her work as a physician and epidemiologist, her focus is on how racism works in society (mostly through health). Nevertheless, her work is seminal in helping us understand how we might differentiate Yves point about hitting harder from Joe’s well-intentioned article:

    1) Personally mediated (overt) – garden variety racism, class warfare, inequality
    2) Institutionally mediated (covert) – policy outcomes, neoliberalism, corporate psychopathy
    3) Internalization (cultural/social scripts) – internal messages from dominant culture to self

    Firestone is mostly starting from a position of personally mediated inequality. Beautiful and ugly, winning and losing or the binaries of having and having nothing. How one experiences wealth inequality is certainly relevant, but I wonder if Yves’ pre-amble introducing this article was touching upon the merits of attacking our anger from personally mediated “class jealously” standpoint. I tend to agree with her that this is a poor location from which to really discuss how the architects of class warfare are successfully working behind the scenes to divide and conquer us via any means necessary.

    Our own personal reactions to those who have wealth, in many cases, are irrelevant and do not cause the elites much worry at all. Besides an occasional nazi-germany victim reframing reference, there is little to mask how well they are winning the battlefronts of our current skirmishes (except TPP for now). Possible, we might avoid well-intentioned, navel-gazing around this topic as this will be one of the common responses from the upper-middle academic class. We need to attack what they fear.

    What they fear, as Tony Benn reminds us, are people, institutions and movements which make the institutionally mediated processes more visible and tie them to changing how we feel about ourselves —- healthy, well-educated people who can create change in the face of being ignored, being called unrealistic or dangerous, making it personal. This resistance is important and we must not fall prey to framing the problems as the elites have or even aligning with their language.

    What they fear in the end is an organized, committed, aware resistance. Sorry for the length.

    1. Ulysses

      “What they fear in the end is an organized, committed, aware resistance.” Bingo!! This is why we cannot let the temporary setbacks that our Occupation suffered prevent us from returning to the barricades in ever larger numbers!

    2. TimR

      That’s thought-provoking, thanks. I have a similar view, I think. The 1% are not all just individual greedy people; they are also Planners, aware of themselves as a class, who work at this 24/7, while the lower and middle classes devote only occasional interest to the Big Picture, amid the hustle & bustle of daily living.

    1. JTFaraday

      Yeah, echoing my thought about Versailles-on-the-Potomac policy entrepreneurs and the lame @ss punditocracy from this morning, even Krugman manages to mention the finance sector and the financial crisis– which means it isn’t outside the bounds of polite discourse to do so…

      “But even the saner-sounding voices evidently have a hard time wrapping their minds around the notion that anyone might find 21st-century finance capitalism a bit, well, unfair.”

  19. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I can be jealous of your ability to speak 5 languages, but I wouldn’t want to take that away from you.

    I can be jealous of your good health/youth (as many rich/old rich people are), but I wouldn’t wish you anything bad.

    I can be jealous of your happy family (and many rich people are), but I wouldn’t want to change that.

    It can’t be just jealousy, if we see inequality and we demand something be done about it.

    It is more than that…much more than that, so as to render jealousy irrelevant here.

    It’s about happiness, compassion, empathy, sharing, spirituality, etc.

    On the other hand, billionaires often envy other billionaires who are worshipped by other wannabe billionaires, and will stop at nothing to undermine each other.

  20. J Sterling

    They say other people being rich doesn’t make me poor, but that’s bullshit. Say my wife and I make $50,000 together, and houses where we live clear the market at a median price of $250,000. That’s five years of our income, but it’s chump change for the 0.1%.

    But because of how markets work, houses are that much because it’s chump change for the 0.1%. If they weren’t so rich, houses wouldn’t cost so much.

    And then what do they do with the houses? They don’t want to live in them. Instead they rent them out to me and my wife for more than we can afford to pay and save to buy at the same time, ensuring we never break out. How sick is that, being rich means the poor have to give you their money! So yeah, other people being rich does make me poorer.

    1. John Mc

      Evelyn Glenn’s work is relevant – the term is “Relationality”. One group’s wealth almost invariably is tied to another group’s poverty – see all of the High Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) financial yokes of debt. John Perkins is helpful here (Economic Hit Men serve as agents to not only reinforce control over world resources, but propel the revenues into a bloated financial system.

      Perkins explains it much better. I imagine an Octopus (with its tentacles) enveloping the globe, where the head is located over the United States and the tentacles are draped around emerging economies to extract their resources and beam them up to the mother ship. This supports the thesis that wealth is directly related poverty. Well done.

      However, the problem I have with J Sterling’s comment is when we individualize it. In a culture already held hostage to fracture and atomization (hypothecation/rehypothecation) of financial processes, we risk losing control of the narrative to the big data players who are not invested in this thesis at all. In fact, they are no more willing to claim systemic responsibility for economic inequality or poverty than they would accept a 5% tax increase. The social darwinian response is to blame individuals for making poor choices and to sell wealth victimization as if the Minsky’s rules were well known to all (Hedge, Speculate, Ponzi).

  21. Mel

    Superbowl advertising? I dunno. My take was that an advertising agency had made a killing targeting an ad at the GM Executive Suite, telling the GMES everything they wanted to hear about themselves. On National TV. At the Superbowl. What hoi polloi would think about it all was probably the last thing the agency cared about. Sale One was selling that ad.

  22. Lord Koos

    You can color me non-jealous for sure. Yes it would be nice to have some more money, but I have met few wealthy people that I would really like to trade lives with.

    As far as good looking — really? I’ve often been struck by the fact that many wealthy people who are not celebrities are no better looking than anyone else. Of course nowadays plastic surgery can do a lot — so then you have to ask which came first, the looks, or the wealth…

  23. allcoppedout

    The rich have become kings extracting taxes. No taxation without representation. Jealousy doesn’t enter into any of this as fault on the part of anyone feeling it. It’s more likely valid resentment and desire for revenge on being cheated.

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