Plutus Envy

Yet again, socialists are out to prove beyond any doubt that their ideology is entirely rooted in, and fueled by, one overriding passion: envy.

There is no subject more revealing of the Marxist mind than “the rich.” The moment a Marxist (or socialist or progressive) is asked to explain why it is problematic that some people are enormously wealthy, while others are not, he or she immediately devolves into the most emotional and unreasoning effusions of petty materialist greed, along with this greed’s concomitant hatred for all people who possess the good which they, the Marxists, most cravenly desire, namely money. These theorists of equality and economic justice, when confronted with the existence in their midst of “millionaires and billionaires,” all quickly show themselves to be, in the end, nothing but rationalizing victims of what we may call “Plutus envy.”

Plutus envy is the vice that explains the ovations that Barack Obama receives for saying, regarding the property and achievements of the “one percent,” “You didn’t build that.” Why would that notion be such an attractive sentiment — not intellectually agreeable, but applause-worthily exciting — to people of the progressive persuasion? There can be no reason but this: The possibility that people are rich because they “built that” is personally offensive, hurtful, to the progressive, since it implies that those people accomplished something that he did not — perhaps even could not — accomplish. In short, the progressive experiences indignation at the suggestion that he might be less deserving of his greatest wish — money — than someone else. Therefore, his knee-jerk reaction, the purest product of unrestrained indignation, is to scream at the heavens that there is no such thing as desert.

If he cared just a little less about material wealth himself — that is, if he could achieve even the bare minimum of self-understanding and intellectual honesty — he would not be so inclined to feel injured by his material inferiority to others, and would therefore never be so weak as to reveal his propensity for immature materialism with such demeaning self-righteousness.

Among other things, the self-aware Marxist — the Marxist who recognized his indignation for what it is, and where it comes from — would be far less likely to reduce himself to the kind of childish, spittle-spewing tantrums that we may see today from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or her latest defender, Robert Reich.

First, the girl version of Plutus envy:

Let’s begin with the “money quote” (pun intended): “No one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars.”

Take it from where? That the money was taken implies that it was simply sitting somewhere, waiting to be “distributed.” Was there a billion dollars sitting somewhere? No, of course not. That wealth did not exist — until it did. And therein hides the essential fallacy of all progressive economic theory, namely the intractable but unstated premise that wealth is a static pot of goods that certain people, the rich, somehow abscond with in the dead of night, leaving the rest of us with nothing but crumbs.

In fact, there was no billion dollars, either in cash or in commodities, until someone — someone who “sat on a couch,” as AOC says with as much hateful envy as you are ever likely to hear from a famous rich person — brought it into potential existence with an idea that (he hoped) might have material value to others, and then actualized that potential as a sellable reality by investing his own previously accumulated wealth and his mental powers, at his own risk and on his own initiative, in an effort to reproduce in practice the profitable idea he first brought into potential existence in his own private, individual mind. (Whether in fact any given billionaire worked on his idea and its realization in association with one or more partners is of no consequence here; the principle remains the same.)

The notion that the “laborers” who were hired to carry out some or most of the physical work, or the subordinate intellectual work, that was needed to realize the idea in practice, are somehow the real producers — and therefore the rightful owners — of that billion dollars, is based on willfully overlooking the principles and processes outlined in the preceding paragraph. If we pretend that laborers, on their own initiative, through their own efforts, and by means of their own investment of intellectual and material wealth, have produced a factory and used it to build thousands of automobiles, for example, then we might be able to tell ourselves that a billionaire “sitting on a couch” is no better than a thief. The moment we step away from the absurdly backwards Marxist materialist perspective on industrial production, however, and recognize that ideas come first, ideas are the grounds of profit, and ideas are unrealizable in practice without first having arisen in the mind of some “couch-sitter” who then had to take many risks and invest much effort, much of his life, for the sake of bringing his idea (potential for wealth-production) into fruition (actual wealth-production) — the moment we take that man on the couch and the role of his mind into account, we immediately see that there was no billion dollars anywhere before he, above all others, produced it.

And that production, his production, engenders the smaller but not insignificant profits (wages) that also did not exist, but were made available to the many people who work within his productive efforts — profits that, like his own billion dollars, would not have existed at all without his original idea, his personal initiative, and his risk-taking investment in the process of realizing that idea in practice.

AOC’s diatribe is pure, unmitigated Plutus envy.

And then, in response to her mean cheerleader routine, we get the boy version of Plutus envy, from one of the American left’s usual suspects, the sniveling eat-the-rich nerd-who-would-be-commissar, Robert Reich, the same man who received a rousing ovation from a progressive university audience when he told them, in defense of Obamacare, that an honest politician would simply tell the elderly that “we” are just going to have to take away their healthcare:

All five of Reich’s “ways to become a billionaire” are real, of course. But to suggest that this list is exhaustive of all possible avenues to billionaire status is like saying the only way to become Bill Clinton’s labor secretary is to be a communist with stage four short-man syndrome — oh, wait, bad analogy.

Typical of a two-bit spitball-shooting sufferer of Plutus envy, Reich spews that list out into the universe without naming one single example of any of the five ways he cites, let alone noting and explaining away any of the possible counterexamples to his claim. Not to worry, since hundreds of his Twitter respondents, some of them even his ideological allies, were more than happy to satisfy this minimal requirement of intellectual honesty on the good professor’s behalf, supplying him with the names of hundreds of the super-rich who seem to have acquired their wealth by the alternative means I explained above — that is, by earning it — and defying this death cult dweeb to show where those examples (Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Michael Jordan, Jay Z, among others) would fit on Reich’s slanderous list.

And I say “slanderous” quite literally, since according to there are now 607 American billionaires, and Robert Reich has just said that each and every one of those who did not inherit his billion dollars acquired it by overt criminality or political graft.

Plutus envy is a serious moral vice, perhaps as serious as any vice the world has ever known, if vice may be judged by its practical effects. For it is under the spell of Plutus envy that men have devised all the variations of socialist revolutionary politics, beginning before Marx himself was active, but greatly flourishing and expanding in its influence and death toll since the rise of Marx’s permanently self-refuting, self-hatred-motivated economic theory and his accompanying political recommendations.

As I have explained, the unstated premise underlying the development of this peculiar vice is that material possession is central to the meaning of life, from which it follows that those with less wealth — the (relative) “have nots” — are less fulfilled, i.e., have less meaningful lives.

Every vice has its corresponding virtue, however. Thus, we may note the most obvious and immediate alternative to Plutus envy, which is to admire (rather than envy) those who have achieved one’s own highest aspirations, and thus to view those men’s lives as an inspiration for one’s own productive efforts, rather than as the source of a resentment-driven will to destruction, and as the motive of systematic plunder undertaken from behind a mask of “justice.” In other words, if material gain is to be regarded as of great value, then it is the response of an emotionally immature and insecure soul to seethe in resentment toward those who have achieved such gain through their own ingenuity and effort. A psychologically strong individual, regardless of his own economic status, would appreciate the most successful wealth-producers as emblematic of what the human spirit can do, just as we admire great athletes for stretching the outermost limits of the body’s powers, though knowing that we ourselves will never be so strong, run so fast, or leap so high.

Even this virtuous alternative, however, risks engendering a dangerous psychological trap. For having learned to admire, rather than resent, the producers for their material accomplishments, including their role as public benefactors, one will often tend to overvalue such accomplishments, to mistake practical success with human worth and even morality itself, and thus to slide into judging these champions of the free market, as such, as archetypes of outstanding character and intelligence. This trap has swallowed the rationality of millions of so-called conservatives or classical liberals over the past few generations, particularly in America. It is perhaps typified almost to the point of self-parody by the perennially popular novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, whose most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, literally proffers romanticized figures of the successful industrialist and businessman as the human ideal, especially in the character of John Galt, whose every utterance is a philosophical treatise on the nature of reality, the workings of reason, the morality of material self-interest, and the rights of man. (I often wonder how Rand’s persistent followers reconcile her depiction of the self-seeking-materialist-as-philosopher-king with political reality, in which one would be hard-pressed to name a single great businessman who was any sort of “deep thinker” about the meaning of life, unless it be by way of securing his hold on social preeminence through the promotion of tyrannical politico-economic hierarchies.)

In short, from respecting the man of practical accomplishment and appreciating the incidental social benefits of his efforts, one may devolve, due to the powerful inherent attractions of material gratification, into idolizing such a man and his goals, in defiance of the teachings of all of mankind’s indispensable sages.

This much, then, by way of outlining the normal, virtuous method of combatting or resisting the vice of Plutus envy, along with that method’s own intrinsic pitfalls.

But there is another, higher virtue, which would allay all temptations to Plutus envy far more comprehensively than even the healthy soul’s respect for the accomplishments of the wealthiest producers. This higher virtue entails recognizing the properly subsidiary and inessential role of material gain as such in a well-lived human life.

To envy the successful producers, as the Marxist progressives manifestly, definitively do, indicates not only a fatal psychological weakness — an essential smallness of soul — but also a deficiency in moral development that is most typical of man in an age of materialism. Specifically, it indicates an implied certainty that the good life, along with its subordinate properties — justice, freedom, etc. — is determined by, or co-extensive with, the possession of material wealth. From this unstated presupposition it follows, quite naturally, that a man, indeed almost every man, may be identified as a victim of injustice, or somehow oppressed, due to the mere fact of his possessing a smaller share of the world’s material goods than others.

Remove this presupposition, i.e., the belief that material possession is essential to the good life, and the sources of Plutus envy evaporate immediately. If great wealth is of no fundamental value in the pursuit of happiness, then I have no reason whatsoever to envy or resent those who have produced enormous wealth and are reaping its (dubious) benefits. For I do not want what they have.

To reach the liberating perspective of this higher virtue with regard to money, material production, and “the rich,” a man must take many steps along the very paths that tend to be most obscured and neglected in an age of growing general abundance. He must learn, not as platitude but as premise, that our material existence is not all we are. He must come to value understanding over action, and to sincerely and consistently desire the perhaps impossible wisdom of eternity over the easy gratifications of temporality. He must enjoy and cherish his mind’s endeavors so profoundly that to part with or dilute this world of thought for anything — pleasure, power, success — will always seem too high a price to pay for such secondary goods. He must develop the entrenched and intractable habit of erring on the side of self-neglect, with regard to practical considerations and basic needs, rather than succumbing to the practical man’s contrary weakness for reassuring himself that he can worry about the spiritual things “later.”

It is far too late for such considerations in the decayed and repellent hearts of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Robert Reich, and their millions of progressive allies and admirers. It is becoming increasingly difficult to believe that it is not altogether too late for such considerations today, if practical political revival is one’s aim. Even this disappointing thought, however, is no grounds for despondency in the soul of one who has at least begun his journey along the paths to higher virtue described above, and thus values understanding over action, soul over matter; that is, whose ultimate desire is not revolution but revelation.

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