There is a deeply disturbing message coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement - one of the few consistent messages thus far. It is the same message President Obama and his political allies have hammered home for much of his administration. Simply put, it boils down to this: We must punish success; we must organize envy.
Envy used to be condemned as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It was something to be avoided and discouraged. Consider that at least two of the 10 Commandments explicitly discourage envy in one form or another. Now envy is held up as a virtue not only by the occupiers but by members of the left’s political class in a bold but transparent move to gain greater power over those with the means to challenge their authority.
Our response to them should be equally simple: Envy isn’t an American value.
In this nation, we are aspirational. We don’t just hope for a better life and seek to take it from others by force; we work for it. When we work for it, we hope and expect to gain the fruits of our labor. The messages preached by the occupiers and the president are more representative of the kind of European values our forbearers fled by the millions to come to the United States in hopes of forging a better lives for themselves and their families, a hope based on individual freedom rather than government-directed redistribution. Don’t take my word for it. Consider the words of rock star Bono, who said, “In America, the guy looks up at a mansion on a hill and says, ‘One day, if I work really hard, I’m going to live in that mansion on the hill.’ In Dublin, they look at the mansion on the hill and they say, ‘One day, I’m going to get that bastard.’ “
That’s the message the occupiers and those on the left are trying to sell to Americans - that it’s OK to take from the 1 percent because they are successful. We outnumber them, so that makes it acceptable.
Count me among those who don’t begrudge the rich what they own. Merely because someone is rich doesn’t make me poor. It is not consistent with the freedoms that we value and the rights that are enshrined in our Constitution that we should seek to use government power to punish success and limit the accumulation of wealth. I despise McMansions, for example. I think they are ugly and a waste of resources, and I would never live in one. But if some rich fool wants to build one as a boast and live in it on his own land, that is his business. He should have the freedom to do that and keep what he has earned. I’ll remain content in my humble brick rambler. If a person is not harming another, he should be left alone to do or to accumulate as he wishes. Remember that old expression: “It’s a free country.”
If you don’t like McMansions, don’t buy one. If you don’t like a corporation that outsources its work overseas to rake in big profits, don’t do business with that company. Better yet, start your own business that doesn’t do that. What you shouldn’t be calling for is punishing the successful who have broken no law but are merely working to make the world a better place as they see it.
America’s greatest value is that we aspire - we want better for ourselves and others. But that “better” we seek must be earned through private negotiation, not through government force. Occupy Wall Streeters need to be reminded that organized envy has no place here in our land.
John E. Kramer is vice president of communications for the Institute for Justice.