political commentary

Greed is killing the American dream

F or several years, we've been hearing all about those greedy Wall Street stockbrokers, the greedy bankers, and the greedy corporate executives. We even had "spontaneous" demonstrations against them in a few American cities. Why? Greed is nothing new. If some people value money, and find a legal way to acquire it, so what? The real reason for the Occupation "movement" was that the fraction of the voting public they represent wanted a justification to be greedy themselves.

Snidely Whiplash
The new face of the American voter

In the echo chamber that is the American public dialogue, the popular syllogism goes like this: Greed is evil. American capitalism is based on greed. Therefore, American capitalism is evil. It is a classic ploy. Whip the voters into a frenzy of revenge against "the rich" and they will vote themselves free stuff that would be stolen from these so-called rich people. Any moral scruples are neutralized because it's the government, not the individual, doing the stealing; therefore it is legal, and therefore ethical. Besides, the rich are evil and deserve to have their wealth stolen. The obsession with greed has nothing to do with sympathy for the poor or any qualms about "income inequality." It's a way of building up a justification for doing something you know is morally wrong.

"Egalitarianism" is just another word for theft. Essentially it means, "We want to take your property and resources away from you and give them to somebody we like better." Equality has lost its original meaning of treating everyone the same. Nowadays whenever you hear anyone talking about equality, hold on to your wallet.

The strategy of appealing to greed worked. The voters put their guy in office, knowing that he will raise taxes, kill off the American independent "can-do" spirit, and raise unemployment through the roof. In the process, he will eliminate income inequality by making everyone poor. They didn't care, as long as they continued to get their government handouts.

The same logic applies to many other cases. The Left accuses the Right of being racists in order to justify racist policies (such as affirmative action and other preferences) of their own. After the 2000 elections Democrats accused Republicans of voter fraud, in order to justify creating groups like Acorn. But these are topics for another article.

A paper by psychiatrist K Winarick [1] reveals the psychology of greed:

"Experiences of deprivation give rise to envy and greedy sadistic fantasies that are projected, resulting in persecutory anxiety that is defended against by splitting and fantasies of omnipotent power over others, seen as part objects to be exploited and controlled."

(The term "splitting" is used here as defined by Melanie Klein, where a person sees others as "part-objects" that are sometimes good and sometimes evil.) Of course, Winarick was mainly trying to denigrate Bernie Madoff and the "greedy" Wall Street bankers, not ordinary people. But hidden in his psychobabble is actually a fairly accurate description of many of the Occupados.

The 2012 elections proved beyond any doubt, however, that these ordinary people are just as capable of greed as the most avaricious moustache-twirler. The ugly fact about democracy is that voters always vote solely on the basis of their personal economic self-interest. Greed, if you will. If America can become rich by creating money out of thin air, as Paul Krugman suggests, why does the government still need to collect taxes?

Take my University colleagues. They are all employed by the government, for all practical purposes, and almost all derive their grant money from the government. To them, voting for more taxation and bigger government makes sense because, more than anything, they fear fiscal restraint which could cut back on their grants. None of them seem to have thought particularly hard or have much insight about politics. They vote for whoever feeds them. Anything beyond that is ends-justifying ideology.

It is pointless arguing with ends-justifying ideology, because it is not based on logic. If you try to undermine their beliefs, they see it as an attack on their ego structure. When that happens, watch out: your car gets keyed, you get called dirty names, and you may even start to receive death threats.

Bosses know their economic self-interest lies in keeping unemployment high and wages low. So the vast majority of them voted for the guy they knew would ensure it.

A similar case could be made for why blacks, single women, and Hispanics voted the way they did. True, in some cases there were ugly elements of race and class resentment. But most of them voted they way they did because they believed, for different reasons, they would receive more financial benefits from one candidate than the other.

In this sense, ideology is always a smokescreen. Everyone votes for the benefits that will accrue to them personally. Even those libertarians who care about freedom are no different. For them, freedom is the most important thing. Therefore, they would vote for whichever candidate appears likely to produce more freedom. (Admittedly, pickings on this issue have been a bit slim in recent years.) But even freedom can often be boiled down to economics: freedom to make money, freedom to own property, and so forth.

But in another sense, the voters are only following the American dream: to get rich by the easiest way possible. The only difference is the means. No longer can they flock to California and pan for gold. The easiest path now is to get money from the government. Unfortunately, this path is not sustainable, and those who are now in power know it.

Keynesianistas like Paul Krugman tell everyone that America can just create money out of thin air. There's no need for the government to avoid debt, he says, because the dollar is the world's reserve currency. It's trivially easy to demolish this argument: if debt doesn't matter, why does the government still need taxes? Why not just have the government create a couple quadrillion dollars by borrowing it from the banks, hand them out, and make everyone filthy rich? Heck, why not cut out the middle man and have the government borrow it from itself, creating wealth out of thin air? The answer is obvious: the dogma promoted by Krugman and his followers has almost no connection to the way the economy really works.

Governments have always had the power to destroy the wealth of one group at the expense of another, by taxing one group more heavily. They also inhibit inheritance-based wealth through inheritance and death taxes. But the modern welfare state also gives the State the power to bribe large sections of the population. More and more frequently, American politicians use this power to buy votes by promising direct monetary payments to potential voters.

As a result, America today is slowly turning into a vile place where people think it's acceptable for the government to steal money from one person and give it to another. It's ironic that the current President, a person who should understand slavery, is the one orchestrating all this: as has been recognized for centuries, insofar as property is considered as the fruit of the victim's labor, stealing is just another form of slavery.

It's not that voters can no longer imagine abstractions like freedom or slavery; rather, like our TV programming, politics is a race to the bottom. Maybe it always was. But any candidate who wants to create real change—and shrink this federal monstrosity before it's too late—has to find an easy-to-understand reason why voting for him or her will put more money in the voters' grubby little hands.

1. K Winarick, Am J Psychoanal. 2010 Dec;70(4):317-27. Thoughts on greed and envy.

See also:

Political commentary
The idiocy of audacity

Political commentary
Watch out for the mutes

Book review
After America: Get Ready for Armageddon by Mark Steyn

Book review
Not With a Bang, But a Whimper by Theodore Dalrymple
Name and address
dec 02, 2012; updated dec 08, 2012