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Causes of Class Envy

February 17, 2014

The class warThe man pounded on the trunk of this woman’s car repeatedly. He was yelling something incoherent but his angry volume made my wife and I turn around to see what was happening. We were on vacation last week and went into a department store to pick up some essentials we had forgotten at home. We were walking back to our rental car when we heard the commotion.

From what I could determine from his tirade, the woman had come close to hitting his little daughter as they were crossing the road. I could understand why he was angry. But what he said next went way beyond anger and got Kathy and I thinking and talking about it the rest of the evening.

As the woman got out of the car to address this angry man–not a good idea by the way–he started to go crazy. He pointed at her and let her know getting out of the car was a dumb idea. That just made her angry and she stared at him, almost daring him to say something. That’s when he made a statement which came from somewhere beyond anger.

“Get back in your b***** Lexus, you rich b*****. Get back in your rich Lexus car and leave us poor slobs alone. Drive away in your rich Lexus and live your privileged life and leave the rest of us alone.”

He went on in this venue for a minute. Finally, the woman drove away and the man started to address the small crowd of onlookers, regaling them with this woman’s rich smugness and her obvious wealth, which apparently he believed led her to almost run over a little girl in the parking lot of Target.

On the way back to our hotel, Kathy and I mentioned how unusual that scene was. Where did his vitriol against the “privileged” class come from? The answer to that may shock you.

Numerous recent studies (such as this one and this) have determined that the gap between rich and poor is expanding every year and has been since the early 1990s. You don’t have to have a degree in Economics to understand this. You can feel it every time you go to the grocery store and realize you have less buying power than the month before. You feel it every time you look at the cost of educating your children in a university setting and realize they will be paying up to 20 times as much (in real dollars) than you did in college. You see it every time you enter certain parts of town and wonder “how does anyone afford a house like that”. The gap is real.

When the “99%” movement tried to occupy many different locales two years ago, people involved didn’t know what they were protesting or what they demanded, but they felt the problem nonetheless. This is called “Class Envy” and is becoming more real every day. What we witnessed in the Target parking lot is felt, even if not expressed, all over our country. Let me count the reasons we have come to this place.

1. Wealth is now produced, not earned: President Obama, in a December 2013 speech talked extensively about income inequality. In real dollars–figuring inflation and devalued dollar–90% of all Americans are making less money than in 1980. But 10% are making more. And lest you think you know who these people making more money are, you probably don’t. Doctors are making less, so are dentists, therapists, teachers, nurses, small business owners, entertainers, musicians, writers etc. Professionals are making much less in real dollars than they did in 1980. So who is making more money? Investors. And we’re not talking about the guy with a 401(k) either. We’re talking about stock market gurus, investment brokers, commodities traders, mortgage executives, real estate investors, oil executives etc. It used to be that the harder you worked, the more money you made. That is no longer true. You have to make money by investing in some kind of derivative. Even the physician who puts in 80 hours a week has trouble paying off student loans. Wealth is no longer earned, it is produced by learning the secrets of taking the money of other people and placing it on “the winning horses”. Therefore, there is less incentive in the general public to work.

2. The largest stake of money ever passed from one generation to another is now happening. The generation before the baby boomers amassed more capital through saving and buying property than any other generation. That transfer of wealth is happening now. The reason this adds to class envy is that it is only happening for about 25% of our citizens. The other 75% are inheriting nothing. And in the past 10 years, many of these same children are now having to spend money to care for their parents. So even though more wealth is being transferred between generations than ever before, it is concentrated on a few.

3. Class Envy Makes Great Television. Admit it; most of you watched the protests and had an opinion on them. When our nation heard that 1% of the population had increases of 275% in wealth over the past ten years compared to 18% growth for all the rest of Americans, this made for entertaining sound bites. Many people would rather watch Jerry Springer guests spouting off how the rich are exploiting them than look at the reality of each person’s situation.

4. Class Envy is endemic to almost every civilization. In other words, we inherited this from our ancestors. It is only in the 19th and 20th centuries that successive generations were better off financially than their parents. That made us expect it would always be that way. We are angry that it has ceased to be that way. Less than two centuries ago, Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo showed us how the rich and poor really lived. Even in the 1960s, the “Projects” built in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago created instant ghettos from which subsequent generations never emerged. The only thing that insulated the Average American from seeing poverty was the emergence of the suburbs. But now the suburbs are full of foreclosures and television makes it hard to escape the realities of class differences. The point it, class disparity has always been with us. We just found a way to ignore it for awhile. Guess what–it’s back.

5. Advertising is designed to make us envious. The Lexus “December to Remember” campaign is shameless. They know that very few people could afford to go out and buy a car for Christmas. They are flaunting the ability of a few to do it. But they also know that the idea of buying that luxury car will eat away at many who can’t afford it. I constantly see people driving way more car than they can afford. Advertising makes a living out of fomenting envy.

6. Political parties love to stir up the class-envy crowds. You can get any group to listen to you if you can make yourself look like the “party of the people.” Just blame the other guys as being “elitist” and you’re halfway there. Denounce the wealthy and the majority will jump on board with you. Right or wrong, it’s a proven political strategy and both major parties have used it consistently over the years. What is ironic is it is usually the party that appeals most to the poor who have the largest donors among the wealthy. It is easy to be cynical about the process.

7. There actually is a class struggle and it has always been there. We just don’t like to admit it. Though Communism is a colossal failure, Marx and Engels were identifying some real problems with their society. Very few people are paid what their labor is worth. And the ones making the most money often do not work anywhere near as hard as the rest. Even Jesus said “you will always have the poor with you.” He was not endorsing that state, simply observing a fact. Life is not fair.

In the next article, I will delineate some biblical and practical ideas that can help any person stay out of the emotional state of class envy.

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