Greed, Wealth, Anger and Envy

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.” ~George Carlin

The “Occupy Wallstreet” movement is no longer dominating headlines but I still find people debating the “haves” and the “have-nots” and what to do about them. Like most in the Occupy Wallstreet movement, I’m a political independent. I consider myself moderate: a centrist with beliefs spanning both liberal and conservative ideals. I saw a list of 18 demands allegedly made by Occupy Wall Street but their official website denies there are any demands. I agreed with the 18 demands but I disagree with many of the things I read on the official website.

There has always been and will always be “haves” and “have-nots”. People are born equal . . . in their humanity — but not in their genetic endowments or social status or familial advantages. While I laud the desire to enrich the poor, what I REALLY admire is those who actually work and sacrifice to enrich the poor. If more people would walk the talk, the world would be a much better place.

Liberals are often willing to foot a larger tax bill in order to provide programs to assist the poor. This is admirable. But better than higher taxes would be (heavily) increased charitable contributions. Government programs are bureaucratic, wasteful and, effectively, mandatory whether or not you agree with the program(s). Charities also target needs you may or may not agree with but at least contributing to them is voluntary: entirely up to you. In effect, society would “vote”, with their charitable dollars, on which causes have higher priorities.

Which leads us back to walking the talk. Charities can’t do enough because people, overall, aren’t willing to sacrifice enough. Most of us talk a good game but aren’t really willing to do without the nicer things in life . . . like a new car every couple of years or bigger homes or the latest gadgets.

If you want to solve society’s ills, there’s nothing stopping you. If you want government to handle it for you, then just keep in mind: you get what you pay for (if you’re lucky). A total solution would be very expensive and might well lead to ever-greater reliance on government dole.

Personally, I believe government should provide a safety net for those in dire need and should also legislate against all forms of unfair employer practices. Minimum wage, full time, should be enough to live on. Everything, within reason, should be done to ensure the poor have the opportunities they need to rise above their circumstances. The operative word in the prior sentence is “opportunities”. Government should provide a helping hand — not a handout. Poor individuals who have the gumption and wherewithal to benefit from government programs (vocational education and employment assistance, student loans, job programs, low-cost housing, unemployment insurance, etc.) should have those programs available to them.

But what about the half of the population on the low side of the I.Q. bell curve? A significant number of them simply don’t have the wherewithal to enjoy material success. Many are lucky to keep their heads above water. What quality of life should we ensure them? What material considerations (if any) are essential to ensure? This is where things get messy. After providing temporary safety nets (food, shelter, health care) and employment opportunities . . . what else should we do? How much should we sacrifice for the less fortunate?

If we all sacrificed whatever is necessary to ensure the happiness of everybody . . . would the underclass diminish or would it grow? Would we all be richer or would we all be poorer? Would our expectations be realized or would the expectations of the “have-nots” increase as the expectations of the “haves” decrease? Would we prosper?

I suppose arguments could be made for just about any position on this topic. But I assert that human nature is what it is and it’s pointless to pretend it’s something it’s not. We’re lazy. We need incentives to get off our asses. The profit motive works but we need to guard against excessive greed. And it goes without saying that we need to care for those who really need care.

It’s not perfect but who says it can be . . . or should be? I think such a cumbayá utopia would bore us to death.

If only we could all have been trust-fund babies. I certainly wouldn’t complain. But we’re not. Neither should we covet or blame people for their inheritance. I was raised in a poor family. We actually got through our toughest time thanks to a grant from the Red Cross. My father became more successful later in life and has never forgotten the Red Cross. He gave, generously, to them until his death a few years ago. Anyway, he taught us personal responsibility. It’s essential. It’s part of adulthood. He never resented the “haves” for what they have. Their circumstances were irrelevant to his.

And that’s the way, I believe, it should be. But please note that this is a separate issue from caring for the poor. Sure, there are people who get rich off the backs of the huddled masses but that doesn’t mean every well-to-do person is a callous user of faceless victims. Most well-to-do people earned their wealth through hard work, sacrifice and savvy moves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with their wealth. Many (most?) are Democrats, so having wealth does not mean one must be a Republican.

Occupy Wallstreet represents a very vocal rise in resentment against corporate greed — due mostly to the global financial meltdown such greed precipitated. Many of the movement’s followers go further than this and blame or verbally attack wealthy people. I don’t like prejudice or discrimination of any kind. Being wealthy is not a negative or a sin. That kind of loose talk is due to insecurity and envy. Insecurity about one’s own future and envy that hides its covetousness behind cries of “spread the wealth”. I have no problem with punishing those who enjoy ill-gotten gains but I don’t fault anybody for simply being wealthy.

Wealth is not the problem. Excessive greed is. In a capitalist system, the profit motive drives commerce. And commerce makes the world go ’round. There is no other system yet devised that is better able to meet the needs of a burgeoning world population. Money is King.

It’s an essentially flawed system because human beings are essentially flawed. And it can’t be fixed until people care more about others than for themselves. In other words: it can’t be fixed. But thanks to truly caring, liberal-minded, people, we’ll continue to try anyway.

Maybe someday . . .

© Copyright 2012


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