Sunday, September 25, 2005

Class Envy

I was talking to my college student son on the phone last night, who informed me he had just registered as a Democrat. While disappointed, I respect him for caring enough, at least, to take an interest. But I wondered briefly what brought him to the conclusion that the Democrat party is the one that would best represent him.

I say briefly because upon further discussion he outlined some of his reasons. It was then that I realized how much party rhetoric and yes, even the media to some extent, can influence us in regards to who we vote for to represent us.

One of the biggest phrases that I think influences many people is this:

"Tax cuts for the rich"

This phrase exploits the notion of class envy. Class envy is the phrase that refers to the curious resentment of people because of some perceived notion of snobbery stemming from the oft mistaken idea that they possess undeserved riches, far beyond the amount that they really need.


wikipedia defines it thusly:

"Class envy is a pejorative term sometimes used to describe criticisms of the rich and powerful by the poor and less powerful."

Yeah, that's what I said. Sort of.

I know a little about this subject as I myself have suffered from this malady. It is only from examining this concept from a non-biased point of view that I achieved clarity of thought on the subject.

For one thing, I had to get past the fallacy that the wealthy don't work for a living. Of course they do. In fact, I believe for the most part, they work a good bit harder than I. It's just a different kind of work. I describe it this way:

It takes hard work to get rich and it takes hard work to remain rich. I have often said that mental work is more tiring than physical work. There are exceptions.
(Paris Hilton comes to mind. And stirs in me.... nevermind. That's a subject for another post.)

Another, better example:

There is a man in West Virginia who won the biggest single lottery in history. He didn't work for his riches aside from working hard enough to earn the dollar that he paid for the lottery ticket.

Actually he illustrates my next point as well:

It takes some intelligence to achieve and to keep wealth. Of course, there are those who were born into wealth, but even they have to have brains enough to be able to hold onto their wealth, with a few exceptions. There are, after all, exceptions to every rule.

The above mentioned man is an idiot. The sheer size of his lottery winnings is the only reason why he is still rich. This guy has had large quantities of cash stolen from him at least twice because he left it sitting on the seat of his pick up truck in the parking lot of the local strip bar that he frequents. Also, he has been asked, with no deference to his wealth, to leave said strip bar on numerous occasions because he apparently is one of those people who become obnoxious after imbibing a large quantity of alcohol.

When I was awarded custody of my daughter, who was raised by her mother on welfare, in true poverty, She had a bitter attitude against "rich people" and often spoke sneeringly about the "preppies" that lived in her town. I supposed there is some snobbery in the children of people who have worked long and hard for wealth. After all, their kids didn't have to work for privileges that my daughter could only wish to have.

I had the same attitude growing up among peers, who were mostly children of high ranking executives in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. One was the son of a local real estate mogul. One was the daughter of the President of a large chemical corporation. One was the daughter of a Vice President of Boeing Aircraft. They didn't have to wonder if they had enough money to pay bills, or even to eat, week to week.

There were others.

If I could have looked past the fact that they were "rich" and I wasn't, I would have seen them for who they really were: Good decent people who had no comprehension of what true poverty is really like. They were, for all practical purposes, clueless.

It was when I realized they were naive, but not evil, that I was able to overcome class envy. After that, it was just a matter of reminding myself constantly, that the wealthy are no better or smarter than I.

OK. So now I am still poor. But I don't resent those that aren't. I don't idolize them either.

22 comments:

Dorable said...

Class envy is really just a manifestation of grass is greener syndrome. While the rich might not know what it is like to be poor (actually, first generation self made people just might), most of "regular folks" dont know what it is like to be rich either. Makes us all pretty clueless about one another. The more clueless we are about each other, the more we resent for clueless reasons. We waste a lot of time resenting and wondering about that mirage of greener grass that we dont take proper stock in what we do have. Tell your son that those who pay the most taxes, ie, the rich, deserve tax cuts. Afterall, without them and their tax payments, the federal govt would certainly not be able to hand out all this money to hurricane victims or really pay for anything at all. Tell him to read Atlas Shrugged if you think he can handle it.

Erudite Redneck said...

As long as there are socioeconomic classes, there will be class envy.

Here's a great discussion of class in the U.S.:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_in_the_United_States,_circa_2004

Oh, for anybody who wants to spew, this is no place to go. It's painfully rational

--ER

Mark said...

A pastor I once had said, "The Upper Crust is just a bunch of crumbs held togather by their own dough".

I have always told my kids, "We may be 'poor white Trash' but we don't have to act like it. We should always behave as if we have class, even if we don't."

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...
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The WordSmith from Nantucket said...
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The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Cutting taxes is not a policy for the rich, but a strategy that attempts to help everyone increase their wealth (dependant, upon what the individual does with that money). It is allowing people to keep more of their own money. The top 1% pay something like 35% of the tax burden; the top 10% of the wealthy pay 65%; the top 25% of wage earners pay 83%. How much do the bottom 50% pay? Barely 4%. These figures come from the IRS. If those in the lower income bracket don't receive a huge tax cut, it's because they don't pay a great percentage of the tax burden to begin with. The poor don't even pay taxes. They still benefit though, because they will be the biggest beneficiaries of the fastest growth following tax cuts. So the top 10% pay nearly 2/3rds of the income tax burden.

Some people think when the rich get richer, the poor just keep getting poorer, which is not true. People are being allowed to keep more of their own money, not the government's money, so that there is more wealth to be made to benefit all. People like Bill Gates do a lot more good than someone like Mother Teresa. If wealth were like a pie, it is not that he has a bigger share of the pie, leaving less for us to enjoy. What someone like a Bill Gates does is he creates a bigger pie for all to enjoy.

And the Democrat fat cats who complain that Bush's tax cuts only benefit the wealthy....well, they can voluntarily elect to give up that extra money they have been able to keep. In fact, in Massachusettes, there's a box that you can check off to pay the higher tax. I heard that Kerry opted not to check off that box.

Erudite Redneck said...

Re, "Oh, for anybody who wants to spew, this is no place to go. It's painfully rational" -- was to the Wikipedia article.

This here blog is tolerant of occasional spew. I have, to my shame, availed myself of the opportunity from time to time.

--ER

tugboatcapn said...

I have a lot of problems with the whole "Class Envy" issue.

For starters, the rich are not all trust fund babies, (like Ted Kennedy or Paris Hilton), nor are they serial gold-diggers, (like John F'n Kerry.)
The vast majority of people who are considered rich in this country are small business owners and they work their rumps off to get to where they are.
I read a statistic recently that said that the vehicle most often purchased in America by people with over a million dollars of net worth in 2004 was...
The Hummer? Nope.
Jaguar? Nuhn-uh.
Mercedes Benz? No sir.
It was the Ford F-150.

I have had a lot of different jobs in my life, and I have never worked for a poor man. And the better my boss-man did, the better I did, every time.

I WANT the rich to get richer. I want them to get filthy stinking, roll around in a swimming pool full of $100 bills rich. It doesn't take money out of my pocket, rather it puts more into my pocket.

The Rich spend money. A lot of money.
They buy all kinds of expensive things that people like me build, manufacture, package and transport.
This creates jobs.
They spend money to make more money.
This creates pools of capital that new businesses use to generate new product lines and innovative technologies that everyone can use.
This creates jobs.

Another problem that I have with "class envy" is that I don't believe that anyone has the right to look at someone else's pile, and decide how much of someone else's own money or stuff anyone else NEEDS.
If they figured out how to get it, and wanted it, I'm okay with them having it, whatever it is, whether they need it or not.

I am not rich. I may never BE rich, not even by my own trailer trash, redneck standards,but i do okay, because I work a lot of hours, and I am smart with my money. But the ammount of money that I would think makes one fabulously wealthy wouldn't even qualify as comfortable to some people.
I do not want the poorest members of our society setting policy to try to hurt the "Rich", because from where they are standing, The threshold for what qualifies as "Rich" is frighteningly low.
It would only take one good raise where I work to get me there myself, in some people's eyes.

If everyone does their best to look after their own little pile, and forgets about what other people have, then we are all more happy, more self confident, more productive, and more successful.

Mark said...

Tug, the statement you made, " But the ammount of money that I would think makes one fabulously wealthy wouldn't even qualify as comfortable to some people.", is so true.

I explain it this way: To me, $1,000.00 is a lot of money. To Bill Gates, it isn't worth his effort to bend over and pick it up from the floor.

But I bet he would.

tugboatcapn said...

Well, Bill Gates did not get rich by being stupid.
I heard that he still drives himself around in a several year old Ford Taurus.
He absolutely WOULD bend over to pick up $1000.00 off the floor.

I apologize for leaving such a long comment...
This is a subject that I really get worked up about.

Pamela Reece said...

Excellent post and very thought provoking. I admit that it's taken me quite some time to understand these perceptions as well. What I have also come to understand is that financial wealth isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Wealth in other areas of our lives is much more important.

RebelAngel said...

Hmmm..this has been an interesting post with lots of even more interesting comments. I would have to say your economic views of the world say a lot about your social view of the world. I'm not trying to pick on you, Tug, but, this statement I found particularly intriguing, "I do not want the poorest members of our society setting policy to try to hurt the "Rich", because from where they are standing, The threshold for what qualifies as "Rich" is frighteningly low."

The poorest members of our society setting policy to hurt the Rich. I know I'm repeating that, but I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around it. It sounds like you find the poorest members of our society a threat. I see them as the most vulnerable. And, I have trouble seeing them setting up policies that would hurt the Rich. The taxation you're talking about is not policies set up by the poor, it's not like their getting together in their tenement housing and forming policies to send to their senators to make into law. It's part of what the Democratic party itself does. It's one of their mission statements, if you will -- to defend the economic interests of the poor and disadvantaged. And, yes, someone needs to do this. Maybe they do this a little too well at times -- I confess I'm not thrilled about the amount of taxes we're paying, either. But my gripe is the waste and pork and corruption, not the Head Start programs, AFDC, Food Stamps, WIC programs or job training programs. We need better stewards of our taxes.

I find it much, much more likely the poorest members of our society will be ignored by the Rich, or even worse, exploited.

For example, wasn't it the Rich who repealed the Bacon-Davis Act on the gulf coast so the Rich could pay illegaly low wages to desperate workers, while the Rich gathered up the no-bid contracts from the Government? This is not a case where if the boss does better the worker will, too. And, somehow, I don't find it very fulfilling to know that my hard labor provides luxuries for the rich.

And speaking of welfare policies, the only one I really have a gripe about is corporate welfare. Did you know Walmart gets $37 million from Uncle Sam in the transportation bill? Actually, when you throw in all the tax breaks, free land, cash grants, etc., it totals to 1 billion in forms of public assistance. Corporate welfare is much more of a threat to your pocket book than any schemes the poorest members of society are dreaming up. For a great article on corporate welfare go here: anyhttp://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/1998/11/02/corp.welfare.html

And don't tell me by giving super rich companies like Walmart 1 billion dollars in public assistance, we're creating jobs. It's not. Read the article. I don't care if the rich get richer, I just think they should do it fairly and not at our expense.

Yes, we should look to our own piles and try our best to take care of ourselves. But we can't always assume the reason someone is poor, disabled, or disadvantaged is because of personal failing. They are not the threat.

Erudite Redneck said...

RebelAngel, you go girl!

--ER

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

It's part of what the Democratic party itself does. It's one of their mission statements, if you will -- to defend the economic interests of the poor and disadvantaged.

They certainly don't seem to do a good job of it. I think the policies set forth by Democrats just breeds more poverty. Socialism in Europe is a disaster. What makes us blind to the results? High unemployment, universal healthcare that is bankrupting their governments, etc, etc. Liberals mean well and talk a good talk, but I don't see the results.

Conservatives are not all greedy bastards out for just getting rich. And many of those evil corporations are able to be generous to charitable organizations, or in donating huge sums to such things as hurricane relief, because they have been able to grow wealth.

But my gripe is the waste and pork and corruption, not the Head Start programs, AFDC, Food Stamps, WIC programs or job training programs. We need better stewards of our taxes.

Which is why I think setting up less government bureaucracies and having smaller government (which neither party seems capable of achieving) is the way to go. So much money goes down the drain. Look at how much money has been poured into our educational system by President Bush? And the answer screamed by the Left is what? More money, more money, more money? Money is not the problem. How many trillions have been squandered in relief aid to Africa? In their case, corruption.

If you go by the poverty rate (not a great way to measure poverty, but it's what's used), poverty is down by a full point under President Bush than it was under Clinton after their first terms. 13.7% down to `12.7%.

Domestic spending under Bush increased at annual rates greater than during any Democratic administration in recent history (much to the consternation of fiscally conservative Republicans). At the same time Democrats are complaining that we are starving out social programs, they are also among the biggest critics of this President's spendings (and rightly so...we should be cutting programs). George Bush's poverty spendings are a gigantic increase from what was spent under Bill Clinton in poverty entitlements. I think it's about twice the amount.

I find it much, much more likely the poorest members of our society will be ignored by the Rich, or even worse, exploited.

We must always be vigilant on this; but corporations, like government, managed with a conscience, have the power to do good and contribute back to societies in ways we choose to ignore.

tugboatcapn said...

Okay.
Let's start with this one.

" It sounds like you find the poorest members of our society a threat. I see them as the most vulnerable. And, I have trouble seeing them setting up policies that would hurt the Rich. The taxation you're talking about is not policies set up by the poor, it's not like their getting together in their tenement housing and forming policies to send to their senators to make into law."

Maybe not. What they do is buy into the fallacy that the reason that they are poor is that someone else is rich, and so they go out to the poles, and vote for people who will set policies that will hurt the rich.

"It's one of their mission statements, if you will -- to defend the economic interests of the poor and disadvantaged."

This is a noble goal, however I believe that the best way to do this is not by giving money confiscated from people who are trying to succeed, and handing it out, with no strings attatched.
Handouts create dependency, every time.
The best way to help the poor is to help them to find a way to provide for themselves, set policies which create jobs, and encourage individuality, and self reliance.

And please do not sell these people short by telling me that all of them are incapable of self reliance.
I will never believe that.

"For example, wasn't it the Rich who repealed the Bacon-Davis Act on the gulf coast so the Rich could pay illegaly low wages to desperate workers, while the Rich gathered up the no-bid contracts from the Government? This is not a case where if the boss does better the worker will, too. And, somehow, I don't find it very fulfilling to know that my hard labor provides luxuries for the rich."
The Davis-Bacon act.
This is an especially sore spot for me. What the President did by repealing this act has been distorted and misrepresented so badly, that finding an actual informed opinion about it is harder than finding factual evidence that the President was AWOL from the Air Guard.
The Davis-Bacon act would have prevented these disadvantaged people from being hired at all, at any wage. It prevented contractors from hiring helpers, trainees, or unskilled (uncertified) workers, no matter what wage they would have paid. (I cannot stress this enough.) Unless they had a two years of trade school behind them already, as well as some construction experience in the specific field for which they were applying, they COULD NOT be hired for rebuilding projects funded with federal money, under
Davis-Bacon.
Repealing this piece of out-dated legislation was the absolute best thing the President could have done for the victims of this disaster who are willing to work, and learn a new trade.
And as you know, a trainee is not worth as much money initially as a trained and experienced tradesman to an employer.
Employers pay according to skill, and productivity. As these new workers become more valuable to the employer, they will be compensated accordingly. (Or these workers will take their skills to a new employer who WILL compensate them fairly. Fair Market, Supply and Demand, all that stuff...)

"Yes, we should look to our own piles and try our best to take care of ourselves. But we can't always assume the reason someone is poor, disabled, or disadvantaged is because of personal failing."

No, we cannot always assume that, but we also cannot assume that the reason they are poor is because the government has not transfered enough of someone else's wealth to them. The only way out of poverty is to provide for yourself.
I realize that some people absolutely cannot, and I am not opposed to public assistance for these people.

I am not opposed to public assistance for disadvantaged people because I think that it is hurting me personally, I am opposed to it because I believe that it is morally wrong for our elected officials to try to create dependency and to try to drive a wedge between rich and poor, for political advantage.

The poor may not be a threat, but the rich are not your enemy either.

Jaymeister said...

This is what I'm talking about! Finally some real debate over ideas! Notice how civil the discussion becomes when you stick to a discussion that shows everybody is looking out for the country's best interests?

However, I challenge something Wordsmith says:

If you go by the poverty rate (not a great way to measure poverty, but it's what's used), poverty is down by a full point under President Bush than it was under Clinton after their first terms. 13.7% down to `12.7%.

That is the kind of statement that is statistically true, but politically misleading. As has been pointed out by the chart here, the rate of poverty decreased each year under Clinton, and has increased each year under Bush. So Clinton got to 13.7% on the way down, and Bush got to 12.7% on the way up.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Thanks for pointing that out. I actually like Media Matters for America; although I sometimes dispute their conclusions, they are a good resource.

The reason why I added in the comment about not being a great way to measure poverty, is because of this article (cut and paste into new browser):

http://www.aei.org/publications/filter.all,pubID.23147/pub_detail.asp

RebelAngel said...

We're actually not so far apart, Tug, but it would be a little boring if I didn't try to stir a little something up. :) Let's start with this...

"Maybe not. What they do is buy into the fallacy that the reason that they are poor is that someone else is rich, and so they go ut to the poles, and vote for people who will set policies that will hurt the rich."

I just don't buy that when the poor are voting they're thinking, "Hey, this policy will stick it to the rich." I do think they're voting to put the party in power that will be the most advantageous to them. If you want to accuse them of that, then they're guilty. But you have to admit, too, the rich and powerful, or those who want to be rich and powerful, are going to create and vote for a party that favors their interests as well. And the interests of the rich and powerful have just as much to do with greed as the interests of the have-nots, they're just better at it. (She said, sinking down into a quagmire of cynicism.)

Suspending the Davis-Bacon Act, however, was a huge injustice and the more I read about it the more crazy it makes me. How does lowering people's wages help build the economy? I mean, the prevailing wage in New Orleans for construction work is only $9 an hour, or $18,000 a year. No one is going to become a millionaire on this kind of money and now they'll be getting even less. If you really do believe the way to break the cycle of poverty is through jobs, (which I do, by the way) then how can you say this is a good thing? In one breath you say it's okay for them to get paid illegally low wages and in the next you say they should be working and providing for themselves. No one wins this one except for the companies getting the bids.

And, actually, since the Gulf Coast is one of the lower, if not lowest, paying regions of the country, there really won't be even that much of a profit margin. The Republican Party has made repealing the Davis-Bacon part of its platform for years. 1993, Representative Cliff Stearns urged the repeal of the act. 1995, Republican Sue Wilkins Myrick tried in the budget battles. Weakening it was part of the Republican Party platform in 1996 and 2000. 1999, Representative Ron Paul attempted to repeal it. 2004, Representative Marilyn Musgrave tried again. 2006, President Bush saw a chance to weaken it and went for it and guess who loses? The poor person who might actually want to work. Oh, and the unions will take a hit on this, too. Why would the poor or the working class vote Republican?

Speaking of those companies who will be bidding for those public works jobs, do you believe for a moment, a company is going to hire unskilled trainees and workers when they can get skilled workers at the same low price? Would it make good business sense if they did? That's assuming skilled workers will even come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city. I certainly wouldn't be flocking down there to work if it paid less than anywhere else in the country. Even if the companies did take the time to train an unskilled worker, they have no incentive to pay them more once they become skilled and trained. If a company wins a no-bid contract, who, excatly, is the competition their workers can run to? If everyone on the coast is paying low wages, they'd have to move out of the region to make more money and how many people will actually do that or have the means to?

To make matters worse, Bush did not temporarily suspend the Davis-Bacon Act on the Gulf Coast, he INDEFINTELY suspended it. What he couldn't accomplish through legislative channels, he managed to do through a national emergency.

If you're having trouble finding information about the Davis-Bacon Act, try this site: http://www.solidarity.com/Davis-Bacon.htm

Now that I've said all that here are a few things I think we can both agree on. I think welfare, without job training and incentives to find good jobs, does create dependency on the government and that is not a good thing. I would also include money management classes, goal setting, health issues, how to get in college and/or learn a trade, and anything else that might lift them out of poverty and on their own feet. I'm not against that.

Oh, I don't think the rich are my enemy but I wouldn't turn my back on them, either, at least not in the voting booth.

Wordsmith...I'm not ignoring your comments, I think they're good ones and very valid, but I think I've kinda run on in this post. I'll address them at a later date and soon. You and Tug have been very reasonable and civil even when we disagree and I appreciate that.

Toad734 said...

You obviously don't live in the south or in New England or NY. Yes a lot of rich people work for their money as many poor people do. However there is a thing called wealth and if you have ever listened to Chris Rock you know that you can't get rid of wealth "Shaq is rich but the guy who writes his check is wealthy".

There are plenty of heirs, such as Paris Hilton, Bush, Kerry, Heinz, Rockefeller, etc that don't work and have more money that they know what to do with or could possibly ever spend.

So for some Mexican guy who works 3 jobs for 15,000 a year to be a little jealous of Paris Hilton is completely rational.

The wealthy I am talking about will always be wealthy no matter how retarded they are; again look at Paris Hilton.

As I said on truckers blog the people who are poor are not ex rich people who lost all their money at the casino or buying bling bling and most of the rich people you see didn't start out in the projects, learn how to make and manage money and become a billionaire. Sure it happens from time to time but typically wealth begats wealth and poverty begats poverty. To make a jump from true poverty to true wealth is near impossible as is making the jump from true wealth to true poverty.

Just because someone is rich doesn't mean they deserve it, and just because someone is poor doesn't mean they don't work as hard as those rich people.

Toad734 said...

RE: Tug

Paris Hilton got rich by being stupid, as do a lot of other people, like W.

Toad734 said...

A good excerpt from the link Rebelangel was talking about:

The Federal Government alone shells out $125 billion a year in corporate welfare, this in the midst of one of the more robust economic periods in the nation's history. Indeed, thus far in the 1990s, corporate profits have totaled $4.5 trillion--a sum equal to the cumulative paychecks of 50 million working Americans who earned less than $25,000 a year, for those eight years.

tugboatcapn said...

Has being stupid ever gotten you anywhere, Toad?