Posts Tagged envy

Occupy Yourselves: Targeting the Evil, Greedy 100%

The attitudes and actions of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have inspired many others to join the streets in outrage, leaving those of us at home to wonder what the point of it all may be.

And let me assure you: there is indeed a point.

I’ve been struck by the moral arrogance that permeates the crowds — a sort of pretentious, self-absorbed judgmentalism, self-anointed to invade the souls of the rich and expose their moral failings. Such supposed vice, we are told, must be stopped, and it is these brave oracles of materialism and greed who shall stand in its way.

There are, of course, a few problems with this. One is that “ending corporate greed” requires privy knowledge of who is greedy and who is not. We can certainly trust the discernment of the guy smoking pot in the sleeping bag next to the sewer drain, but even if he gets it right, how might we convince Mr. Fat-Cat Richiebottoms to alter his moral outlook?

“Just take his money away,” they’ll say.

Yet if I threw Billy Goodheart’s “Everyone is greedy but me!” sign in the garbage, my hunch is that his ability to produce quality picketing art would only improve. There he’d be, the very next day, with the same attitudes, the same platitudes, and the same distasteful propensity to blame the Man.

Reality alert: You cannot change the world by blaming others, and you cannot change moral behavior by yelling.

With particular precision, David Brooks sums up the issue nicely:

If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent. This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.

And problems do abound. Yes, there are structural issues with the status quo. Yes, corporatism is out of control (which is not the same as “capitalism,” mind you). Yes, banks and businesses were/are reckless. Yes, people were/are greedy. You woke up on the right planet.

The question is, “What can we do about it?”

In a free society, one thing we can control is our own lives. If we don’t want to be beholden to greedy misers or enslaved to high-interest credit cards, we can say “no.” If we don’t want to be tied to 10 years of student-loan debt that we can’t afford, we can go to a trade school or demonstrate some basic upfront frugality. If we’re looking for our dream job and can’t find it, we can continue to increase our skills and standing, no matter how frustrating the process may be.

If, however, we are trying to “be the change we want to see in the world” by sleeping in a gutter for weeks on end, we should be prepared to receive our prize.

What we need is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to Read the rest of this entry »

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Envy and Economics: Grieving the Good of Others

Victor ClaarLast Monday I had the great pleasure of participating in an event at the American Enterprise Institute titled “Grieving the Good of Others: Envy and Economics.” The event was organized by AEI’s Project on Values and Capitalism.

The primary speaker was Victor Claar, associate professor of economics at Henderson State University and co-author of the book Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy, and Life Choices (my review is forthcoming).

Claar offered many insights on envy, discussing its implications both as a personal sin and an economic motivator. Although he briefly touched on the envious impulse behind Marxism (a common tack), the majority of his talk focused on how unequal outcomes in capitalism can lead to envy.

The question? What, if anything, are we to do about that? Can we actually limit envy by forcefully suppressing “opportunities” for it to manifest? What are the secondary impacts of such a scheme?

After Claar’s talk, I was allowed a few minutes to respond along with AEI’s Emily Batman. In my response, I pulled the scope back a bit and talked about the overall limits economic policymaking has on shaping individual morality. To make my point, I talked about authentic morality vs. artificial morality, drawing a few economic parallels along the way (e.g. authentic prices vs. artificial ones).

Following our responses was a Q&A session, which led to its own assortment of insights.

I encourage you to check out the event for yourself, which is posted online in Read the rest of this entry »

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