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Imagined lazy vs actually greedy
November 9, 2011 2:14 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean, "Why is it easier to believe that 150,000,000 Americans are being lazy rather than 400 Americans are being greedy?"

When I google it, all I get are re-tweets of the same question. I see the sign pictured at Occupy rallies. And while I think I grok the basic concept, I would appreciate some elaboration, please.
posted by Mike Mongo to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
er? Some people think OWS folks are lazy whiners who should get jobs, and OWS people (and supporters) are saying that's an odd thought: lot more OWS people than the people OWS is criticizing; surely they can't just all be lazy, eh? See?
posted by xmutex at 2:17 PM on November 9, 2011


I believe it means there are 400 billionaires, and 150,000,000 unemployed.
posted by timsteil at 2:18 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are not 150 million unemployed Americans.

The question is referring to the top 400 Americans having the same total wealth as the bottom 150 million Americans.
posted by Perplexity at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


It seems to be attacking the idea that the American Dream is simply right there for the grabbing, and you're lazy if you aren't rich because this is an egalitarian meritocratic wonderland. Probably a dig at Hermain Cain who called the OWS protestors lazy.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:23 PM on November 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think ties in, using irony, with the idea that being 'poor' is a moral failing rather than an economic one. Thus if everybody is not as rich as the richest, that is their own moral fault.
posted by Kerasia at 2:23 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are not that many who are lazy. There are not that many who are greedy. If I had over a million dollars, say, would that in and of itself mean I was greedy?
posted by Postroad at 2:25 PM on November 9, 2011


Because 400 Americans spend hundreds of millions on propaganda (Fox "News", right-wing politicos, bought and paid for talking heads, etc) to convince Americans of their point of view. People, by and large, are stupid and would rather believe a lie that makes their lives easier than a truth that means they will have to get out of their double-wide recliners and do something about it. The Soviet Communist Party did the same thing in the early to mid 20th century and were equally successful right up until the time that the toilet paper started to run out (no joke).
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Aha, here's Politifact dissecting the claim, linking to data sources, and so on.
posted by Perplexity at 2:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


@Postroad: If your wealth can be measured in % of total national wealth without having to resort to scientific notation, then I have no problem saying that you're probably pretty greedy, and I'm pro capitalist.
posted by speedgraphic at 2:33 PM on November 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


There are not that many who are lazy. There are not that many who are greedy. If I had over a million dollars, say, would that in and of itself mean I was greedy?

Having a million dollars wouldn't get you anywhere close. The poorest person on the Forbes 400 list is worth $1.05 billion.

All 400 put together are worth more than the bottom 50 percent of the U.S. population. In 2007, that bottom 50 percent was worth a little more than those 400 people, both because the bottom has gotten poorer and the 400 have gotten richer, if Michael Moore's arithmetic is accurate. In 2010 these 400 people were worth a combined $1.37 trillion.
posted by Adventurer at 2:48 PM on November 9, 2011


If your wealth can be measured in % of total national wealth without having to resort to scientific notation, then I have no problem saying that you're probably pretty greedy

I do have a problem with that. I don't think it necessarily follows.

All you have to do in order to become insanely wealthy is carefully manipulate a vast amount of money. In general, that won't be your own money.

Not a lot of people get the opportunity to manipulate vast amounts of money, because money in a free market works a little like mass in a vacuum; it gravitates toward itself. The people who do get that opportunity are often quite constrained in what they can do with the vast amount of money they're manipulating; spreading it around willy-nilly is often actually against the law (company boards have a legal responsibility to provide a return for their shareholders).

Manipulating vast amounts of money also causes a loss of perspective. It's really, really easy to start seeing what you or I would consider a fortune as if it were loose change.

Now, I'm not for a minute saying that nobody who has vast personal wealth is horribly greedy. I'm sure many are. What I am saying is that I doubt that the incidence of greed amongst the very wealthy is significantly higher than it is in the general population.

It's my considered opinion that if you were to swap the richest 1% for an equal number of people randomly selected from the population at large, and give those people enough training to let them do the same work as the rich they were replacing, then the wealth would end up no less concentrated.

But the thing is: concentration of wealth per se is not a problem. Widespread poverty is the problem, and fixing that requires attitudinal changes in many, many more people than the Forbes 400.

It has long seemed to me that in the US in particular, the idea of socialism-as-boogeyman prevents a lot of things happening that to my way of thinking ought to happen. "Wealth redistribution" is not a phrase to be uttered in polite capitalist company; I think that ought to change. The idea that wealth redistribution would somehow prevent wealth creation was pretty thoroughly debunked by Henry Ford, the capitalist's capitalist, and I think that people should bear that in mind.
posted by flabdablet at 3:53 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's a refutation of the persistent right-wing trope that equates poverty with iniquity. That trope goes something like this: If you live a virtuous, hard-working life, you will prosper. Therefore, those who are poor are so because they are lazy, and they deserve to be poor. Also, the poor are squandering their money instead of investing, so again they deserve to be poor.

At the same time, the statement points a finger at the super-rich. A lot of recent political discourse around debt and recession has to do with deciding who is going to pay for this mess. The Right wants the poor to pay for it (they'll never say this directly, but that's what their policies amount to), and the Left wants the rich to pay for it. The slogan you quote is pretty clearly a jab at the former from the latter.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:01 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


It is an attempt to turn the over-simplifying machine that the Right uses against them. It also seems like an attempt to shame people into agreeing with them about the imagined (*) greediness of the 1%- it is sort of saying "150,000,000 Americans can't be wrong."

I say imagined because greed is a mindset and nobody can know what someone else's mindset is.
posted by gjc at 6:58 AM on November 10, 2011


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