"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

VDH on the Politics of Envy

Victor Davis Hanson describes the nature of "poverty" in America in today's article:

In the new climate of “fat cats,” “corporate jet owners,” “pay your fair share,” “you didn’t build that,” and “1 percent,” the more Americans have, the more they are envious of those who have more. One might have thought that the technological revolution, in combination with the welfare state, had redefined poverty altogether in ways that the fossilized entitlement bureaucracy could hardly grasp. Certainly, a Kia, an iPhone, and a big-screen TV do not disqualify one from the menu of American entitlements. That today’s earner or recipient of $35,000 in wages or entitlements has better appurtenances — in terms of computer power, phone, and car — than the $250,000 earner of 30 years ago means little. The point is not that the modern iPhone gives the poor man access to more knowledge than the entire RAND Corporation had 50 years ago, but that the contemporary RAND Corporation has more access than what an iPhone can provide, leaving its owner in relative terms still poor. That today’s Kia is better in many ways than yesterday’s Mercedes matters little — it is still not today’s Lexus. One of the great lessons in the age of Obama is that wealth and poverty will always remain relative. Happiness is now defined not as having the basics I need, but as ensuring that someone else does not have more. Obama has successfully appealed to the oldest and basest of human emotions — envy and jealousy, masked with the notion of enforced fairness — and for now they trump even the human desire to be free.

We've mentioned this before.   We are a strange country.   We often give poverty assistance to people who have cell phones, cars, flat screen TVs.   We give food stamps to people who are too often already fat.  Luxuries no king could aspire to even twenty years ago -- access to any movie ever made, any book ever written, any information anywhere on the globe -- are now accepted as birthrights, and yet we clamor for more, more, more.   The "rich" have more than we do, and therefore it is unfair.  

From a social justice perspective, do American liberals ever note that the amount of largesse they spill into the rich ghettoes of America (for they are rich, by comparison with the rest of the globe and the rest of human history) keeps us from providing greater aid to truly poor around the world?   Shouldn't the Catholic Church be leading a charge to dismantle a wasteful welfare state that simultaneously denies dignity to faux "poor" Americans while denying assistance to actual poor in Africa and Asia and South America?

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