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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Arthur Brooks Is Upset that Some Folks Don't Like the Government Redistributing Income Upward

Arthur Brooks Is Upset that Some Folks Don't Like the Government Redistributing Income Upward

Sunday, 02 March 2014 21:05

Brooks tells us that people who are unhappy about the enormous upward redistribution of the last three decades are guilty of the sin of envy. Let's try an alternative hypothesis, large segments of the public are angry because the wealthy are rigging the rules so that an ever larger share of the pie gets redistributed to their pockets.

There are a large number of well-documented ways in which they have engineered this heist. For example, they have too big to fail insurance that transfers tens of billions of dollars each year into the pockets of the CEOs and shareholders of the country's largest banks. They also managed to secure near tax-free status for the financial industry, which puts tens of billions more into the pockets of the big actors there. And they have constructed a tax code chock-full of shelters that allow pension fund managers like Mitt Romney to get incredibly rich by buying up new companies and teaching them the game.

They have created longer and stronger government-granted patent monopolies that redistribute hundreds of billions annually from the general public to pharmaceutical companies, tech companies, and patent lawyers. They have put in place a corporate governance structure under which CEOs essentially pay off corporate directors to look the other way as they pilfer their companies. And they have maintained protectionist barriers that allow doctors and other highly paid professionals to earn far more than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.

Many folks think these economic distortions that slow growth while making the rich richer at the expense of everyone else are bad policy. But Brooks wants us to think that efforts to eliminate these distortions are simply envy that must be held in check.

Comments (5)Add Comment
Green Brooks
written by Squeezed Turnip, March 02, 2014 9:44
Here's a good quote for Arthur Brooks:
The way we describe our world shows how we think of our world. -- Robert Fripp

Brooks is the one envious of these multibillionaires that don't have to pay taxes and get to write their own laws.

Teddy Roosevelt said in 1912:
… The present conditions of business cannot be accepted as satisfactory. There are too many who do not prosper enough, and of the few who prosper greatly there are certainly some whose prosperity does not mean well for the country. Rational Progressives, no matter how radical, are well aware that nothing the Government can do will make some men prosper, and we heartily approve the prosperity, no matter how great, of any man, if it comes as an incident to rendering service to the community; but we wish to shape conditions so that a greater number of the small men who are decent, industrious and energetic shall be able to succeed, and so that the big man who is dishonest shall not be allowed to succeed at all.

Our aim is to control business, not to strangle it--and, above all, not to continue a policy of make-believe strangle toward big concerns that do evil, and constant menace toward both big and little concerns that do well. Our aim is to promote prosperity, and then see to its proper division. We do not believe that any good comes to any one by a policy which means destruction of prosperity; for in such cases it is not possible to divide it because of the very obvious fact that there is nothing to divide. We wish to control big business so as to secure among other things good wages for the wage-workers and reasonable prices for the consumers. ...

If it was only about feelings
written by Jennifer, March 02, 2014 11:18
"But if the game looks rigged, envy and a desire for redistribution will follow."

But of course the game is rigged, it would seem odd if people were not angry.
written by Kat, March 03, 2014 7:12
But of course the game is rigged, it would seem odd if people were not angry.

It might seem coincidental that I was reading a story with this passage a few days prior to publication of this op ed. Of course, it is not coincidence because we are treated to such words on a daily basis.
Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition.... And this order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible. It's a case of general hypnotism. There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree—and all goes well.
Tautological Expert Explains If Victims of Economic Predators are Happy, So are the Predators
written by Last Mover, March 03, 2014 7:23
My own data analysis confirms a strong link between economic envy and unhappiness. In 2008, Gallup asked a large sample of Americans whether they were “angry that others have more than they deserve.” People who strongly disagreed with that statement — who were not envious, in other words — were almost five times more likely to say they were “very happy” about their lives than people who strongly agreed. Even after I controlled for income, education, age, family status, religion and politics, this pattern persisted.

Wow, is this supposed to be an insight? So the premise of the survey question is "angry that others have more than they deserve"? Like you know, crooks and burglars who take stuff from other people? Not to mention economic predators who do the same on the scale of billions and trillions?

And Americans who don't envy these people are happy? Because one day they too can become them? And the only way to become them is to acquire more than one deserves ... which by definition requires taking economic gains from the very ones who do deserve them?

America thanks you Arthur Brooks, for admitting up front that the problem is not about the freeloading economic predators who run the nation politically and economically.

No sireee. The problem is whether they are envied isn't it, which leads to unhappiness, which leads to resentment of economic predators compared to say, oh ... you know, people who actually earn a living by adding economic value.

Since you're on an honesty roll here Arthur Brooks, why not change the name of the American Enterprise Institute to the American Predator Institute, so everyone can be more clear about what they are so happy about?
written by watermelonpunch, March 03, 2014 7:25

Since when is it envy to want to be paid a fair wage for working hard while someone else benefits from that hard work?

What a buffoon someone has to be to suggest that struggling working people are envious. And not just recognizing they're getting the shitty end of the stick.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.