Envy and the Consumerism of the Have—Nots

You can make a good argument that, by the late 20th century, the Seven Deadly Sins had become the Seven Lively Virtues.  In the 1960’s, the media lauded the anger of students who bombed police stations and set dormitories on fire.  Hollywood glorified lust the way it had once glorified chastity.  Government at every level subsidized sloth.  As for gluttony, for years the Guinness Book of World Records celebrated eating and drinking excesses, including such categories as “heaviest cat.”  An ex-president of the United States said on national television that “greed is good.”  Black pride came to be regarded as the quintessential virtue of that community (though white pride is still the deadliest of all sins).  But envy is the little engine that drives left-wing politics in America, the cash cow of the Democratic Party, Pavlov’s bell.

In the rush to denounce the consumerism of the middle class, we often forget the degree to which the folks who live in untidy neighborhoods and buy groceries off the discount table likewise share in our national obsession with getting and spending.  As a country, we’ve always forgiven the poor for wanting things that bankers and doctors take for granted—indeed, congratulated them for their raw envy.  At the same time we’ve condemned the rich for enjoying those very same things.  One of the unspoken assumptions underlying...

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