Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Whither Class Warfare?

There is a great article by the always interesting William Voegeli in the most recent issue of Commentary. I prefer mine on dead tree but you can read it here. Essentially, Voegeli examines the lack of ardor for soaking CEOs and hedge fund managers on the part of the middle class that so puzzles academics and journalists and other members of the chattering classes. To extend the conundrum, why do the great unwashed seem to be susceptible to attacks on the government which can benefit them so?

Voegeli suggests that it has something to do with who you know and who you consider to be peers. The average guy doesn't know a rich CEO or hedge fund manager (they are exceedingly thin on the ground)so doesn't much care what they make or how they live. He does know teachers and cops who seem very comparable to him but relatively better off.

On the other hand, columnists and professors all know the average student back at Princeton who did nothing but chase girls and drink beer. The buffoon now makes twenty times what they do. That must not stand.

Sure there's more to be said, but it's an interesting observation.


Anonymous said...

"for millions of working- and middle-class Americans, the others they refer to when establishing their expectations include few CEOs but many state, county, and municipal employees. These voters don’t have to regard the high-school biology teacher and assistant parks superintendent as villains to believe it’s unfair and unsustainable for public-sector workers to be the only non-rich Americans still enjoying defined-benefit pensions, comprehensive health insurance, early retirement, and near-absolute job security."

Envy by any other name is still envy. I am a public employee of over 30 years. When I started, I just needed a job and I wasn't targeting the public sector. But, I found something that I could do well and enjoyed and I believed I was making a positive difference. Throughout the years, I have accepted ridicule as part of my position description. From taxpayers, from the population I serve, from the elected representatives who employ me and from people in my private life. When my neighbor is earning 3 times more per year, he assumes I am stupid and lazy because I have not gone into the private sector to make more money. When business is slow and he is making less, I'm feeding at "the trough." My peers from college have all earned more money, own bigger homes, take better vacations and send their kids to better schools. They do not understand why anyone would do what I do unless I had political aspirations and acted on them. But, all it takes is one bad financial year for them and, then, I am "lucky." I always understood that part of the trade off for lower wages was a better benefit package although for many years, I would have been happier with more dollars in wages and benefits.

Someone had a bad experience at the DMV or heard about someone having a bad experience or saw a city or county road worker standing still with a shovel and the stereotype that was created and prevails that government employees are incompetent and lazy and that stereotype feeds the envy regarding wages and benefits. But, public employees also live in the real world. We have dealt with the private sector: banks, lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, retailers, doctors, clinics, manufacturers, journalists, etc. There is plenty of laziness and incompetence in the private sector. I have rarely seen in the private sector the attention to accuracy, detail, timeliness, courtesy, volume, and efficiency that I see every day in my public workplace. Too bad my neighbor doesn't envy my work ethic.

The political class and opinion journalists use envy as a tool to promote their agendas. It is a shame that so many see their only avenue for getting ahead is to try to pull others down. I have tried to teach my children to celebrate the success of other people and to work for their own, how ever they define it.

Class envy is contrary to the American dream and exceptionalism.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean "Whither" Class Warfare?

George Mitchell said...

"Throughout the years, I have accepted ridicule as part of my position description. From taxpayers, from the population I serve, from the elected representatives who employ me and from people in my private life."

Wow. What dedication. In the face of all these obstacles!