OWS: Greed vs Envy?

I was sent an article from the Atlanta Business Chronicle discussing the nature of the Occupy Wall Street protests under the rather interesting headline “Greed vs Envy”. It’s a fantastic instance where the headline tells you all you need to know about the ensuing article, in which the author does absolutely nothing to elaborate on this point.

That said, I went into the article with an open mind, even willing to accept that Paul J Voss was going to spend its three page span attacking the protesters in a way that the Tea Party never seemed to get from similar sources, but unfortunately I was left wanting. In its entirety, only the following paragraph actually tackled the issue:

Stripped of the empty rhetoric (“we are the 99%”), it seems that envy stands as the common animating principle around which the various factions cluster. The protesters are angry that others have something (perhaps a job, health insurance, a home, money in the bank, or no student loans,) that they do not have and that they feel they have a right to. In this way, jealousy masquerades as justice: Others have more than I do and it’s not fair.

This is the way right-wingers frame the debate in order to mask what’s going on. It’s not a matter of jealousy, it’s a matter of inequality, and this is not a minor point. Economic disparity between rich and poor is expanding year after year, with the top earners seeing their incomes nearly quadruple and their tax rates fall by 40%. The wealthiest use their vast resources to buy politicians to bend and twist policy to help them amass more money without needing to do more work. Crony capitalism sees banks get bailouts and CEOs get multi-million dollar severance packages while laying off thousands of workers.

Adjusted for inflation, median income in the United States rose by 11%, and for the top 5% it rose by 42%. As MIT Labor Economist Paul Osterman notes:

“Over that period of time, it’s not that the American economy has necessarily performed badly,” Osterman said. “As a country we’re richer over that period, but there’s been this real shift in where the income has gone, and it’s to the top.”

The rest of Voss’s screed quotes Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Dante, and Pope Gregory I in talking about how terrible envy is, but offers nothing resembling an argument as per what this means in terms of the protests, or even how Voss came to decide that envy is the prime motivator beyond his own declaration (which is ironic given his own statement that “simple assertion, even if repeated over and over, hardly amounts to a rational argument” vis a vis the OWS protestor’s statements). Instead, he opens up by crying “envy!” and then spends the rest of his article yapping about how envy is a worse “disorder” than greed.

This is why it’s difficult to get footing for Occupy Wall Street. Because they’re attempting to take on the wealthy, who happen to be the ones that own the media and the politicians, the odds of getting particularly favorable coverage beyond blogs are slim to none.



2 responses to “OWS: Greed vs Envy?

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