David “thereisnospoon” Atkins:
Why is pension envy OK but “class warefare” isn’t?
It’s called pension envy: the resentment that non-union employees often feel toward workers with good union pensions and benefits. As the results of the Wisconsin recall and ballot initiatives in San Jose and San Diego show, pension envy is not a phenomenon limited to the right. As a small business owner without unemployment benefits or even much in the way of retirement savings to fall back on should things go south, I myself feel it from time to time. Digby wrote an excellent and lengthy piece earlier today about pension envy and the way the Right has managed to marginalize the union movement in the United States while keeping Americans fighting one another for scraps.
But the puzzling phenomenon in all of this is the fact that pension envy is supposedly widespread, justified and politically acceptable, but resentment of the ludicrously wealthy who have stolen the nation’s wealth from its workers is not. Someone who is upset over teachers’ vacation and retirement pay should be a hundred times as angry at the ludicrous salaries of Wall Street executives skimming off the corporate profits that should be going to better private sector wages. There are a few probable explanations for it beyond simply the hostile conservative rhetoric that plays well with their base.
The first is that they’re not mutually exclusive occurrences. The partisan divide may suggest that people would be either upset by pension envy or by radical income inequality, but not both. But polling on income inequality and the results of recent elections involving public union pensions suggests that there is a lot of both simultaneously. The difference is that few politicians dare to put initiatives on the ballot or pass laws that seriously impact the incomes of the top 1%, and that corporate cash is able to overwhelm union money in most cases where the two are comparably tested. It’s also important to remember that unions themselves are not monolithic: many union members are Republicans, and there is a significant divide between public sector and private sector labor. Those factors combined to cause 38% of union households to vote against the recall. There is even some pension envy within the labor movement itself.
David Atkins talking about 1%ers is like Jeff Foxworthy talking about rednecks – he are one. His “small business” is a spin-off from the family business, a prosperous market research firm located on the Miracle Mile just outside Beverly Hills. This explains why Spoony doesn’t get it.
The problem isn’t pension envy. People like and respect public employees. But they resent having to pay higher taxes to support salaries and benefits they feel are excessive. The issue in Wisconsin wasn’t punishing or destroying the public employee unions, it was setting reasonable limits on their compensation.
Hating the rich was never popular in this country. Getting rich is the American dream. That’s why socialism never caught on here. People don’t see getting rich as stealing “the nation’s wealth from its workers.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t think some executives make too much money. They think professional athletes are overpaid too, but they still go to the games. People don’t resent lottery winners, they want to be like them.
Don’t blame me, I don’t make the rules. You can waste a lot of time telling people what they should care about. Or you can ask them what they do care about. Spoony’s goal isn’t trying to understand people. It’s trying to figure out how to manipulate them.