I was busy at the time (it was the night before Christmas, so I was probably overcome by Seasonal Altruistic Disorder), but Glenn linked a post from Bill Quick which discussed the dominant political paradigm in this country:

…the operating theory of political success has essentially been one of bribery. The idea is that one side or the other with take control of the levers of government, and then use those levers to extract riches from unfavored groups, then hand those riches over to favored groups in order to buy their votes. This has become entirely the case for both Republicans and Democrats.

Utterly true. And because the system works as a tool for keeping power, the two sides find it to their mutual interest to keep it in place — by any means necessary. This does not mean that there are not genuine philosophical differences between them, but it does mean that they agree on the basic idea that government is there to take money from one group of people and give it to another. This guarantees that the recipients of largesse can be relied upon to fight for their own perceived interests, and that they will see those who want to stop their cash flow as mortal political enemies.

Naturally, the more Peter is robbed to pay Paul, the more pissed off Peter will get. As Bill Quick puts it,

if you take from one group to give to another, you eventually anger the group being robbed on behalf of other groups.

But should we assume that the recipient of the robbery proceeds is happy with his ill-gotten gain?

I am reminded of Mark Twain’s negative comparison between men and dogs:

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

In a long post in which I quoted the above, I amplified on the theme:

The bottom line is that it’s not only a lot easier to share free money, it’s a lot easier to become morally indignant with those who don’t. But those who didn’t earn their fair share are much more likely to be “generous” with what they didn’t earn, and less tolerant of the reluctance of those who earned their money to share it.

Carried to an extreme, this leads the freeloading classes to paradoxically accuse those on whose hard work they depend — their benefactors — of being greedy. Of being “freeloaders” for not wanting to pay “their fair share.”

Which makes about as much sense as parasites accusing their host of parasitism.

I even wondered whether there might be a poorly understood explanation rooted in biology:

I’m thinking that there may be a direct relationship between resentment and greed. Think about it this way: if the more productive classes are resented for having more, and if they are also resented even if they pay more, it begs the question of whether the resentment of them stems from a poorly understood aspect of human nature which touches on the Twain distinction between man and dog. Suppose for the sake of argument that there is some natural, biologically based resentment of the “helping” classes by the classes who are “helped.” (Hence the quotes.) The result is that the productive are in a no-win situation; they are resented for having earned more, and also resented for helping the non-productive classes. OK, it being a given that humans dislike being resented, if they’re going to be resented either way, what’s in it for them by being helpers? Other than not wanting to go to prison, I don’t know.

But I strongly suspect that the more the productive classes are resented for being “greedy,” the greedier they’ll actually become.

Right. And the more likely to reflexively support the Republicans, the so-called party of “greed.”

Except it doesn’t end with the productive classes merely supporting the “party of greed,” and that’s because of the guilt factor. People who have more when others have less often feel guilty about it. (There are plenty of scolds — political and religious — to remind them that they should.)

Or is it fear?

A post Glenn linked earlier in the month discussed philanthropy as resulting from the fear of malicious envy:

In situations where people were given awards they did nothing to earn the sense of getting an unjustified advantage caused people to act more altruistic. They probably wanted to dampen down the feeling of malicious envy in others.

And,

The researchers previously found envy comes in a benign form that caused those who experience benign envy to want to improve themselves. Basically success inspires attempts to become more successful. But malicious envy causes people to want to bring down others.

In previous research, Niels van de Ven of Tilburg University and his colleagues Marcel Zeelenberg and Rik Pieters had figured out that envy actually comes in two flavors: benign envy and malicious envy. They studied people who showed these two kinds of envy and found that people with benign envy were motivated to improve themselves, to do better so they could be more like the person they envied. On the other hand, people with malicious envy wanted to bring the more successful person down.

Note that a person who focuses on feeling malicious envy misses the opportunity to motivate themselves to become more successful. Benign envy is more adaptive in most cases.

You can see from this why political class warriors who want to raise taxes or regulate an industry try to argue that their targets do not deserve their success. They want to bring out that feeling of malicious envy.

Historically, I think the Democrats have been the better practitioners of the political art of tapping into that malicious envy, but there are signs that they may be slipping. While they have traditionally attempted to portray their enemies as “the rich,” as fat cat corporate bosses in big limousines, such images don’t play well today, because the fat cat limo culture is now associated at least as much with the Hollywood left — to say nothing of the Trial Lawyer left — as it is with Enron, and maybe more. And they know they can’t spin the Tea Party as a rich people’s movement, because the overwhelming majority of Tea Partiers are angry working class and middle class taxpayers who are hard pressed to pay their bills and have had it with being taxed nearly to death. So all they can do is call them “racists.” And we can see how well that has worked, can’t we? Gone are the days of the rich Republican monopoly man with his dollar cigar and high silk hat. 

However, the Democrats still know how to leverage that fear of malicious envy. It is precisely what draws a certain type of rich person to contribute money to the Democratic Party and left wing causes. There are three major categories of guilty money they know how to tap: inherited money, Hollywood money, and trial lawyer money.

As to those who have inherited money, there was a time when they instinctively gravitated to the Republican Party. I have written several posts about the “Trustfunder Left,” and it baffles me why there is such animosity in conservative circles to inherited money — especially because conservatives are typically in favor of allowing people to dispose of their money as they see fit and are against inheritance taxes. But for whatever reason, in general Republicans with wealth tend to have earned it themselves (self made), and then agitate for the right to leave it all to their kids who then feel compelled to join the Democrats for reasons which elude their grasp, and may be biological. Such a plan is not rational. 

While Hollywood money and trial lawyer money both fall into the category of self made wealth, there is a difference between hitting the jackpot as a performer or lawyer and starting a small business and gradually building it up through years of toil and sweat. Every actor who gets his big break has many friends who are just as talented and just as attractive (and maybe more talented and attractive) who did not. There is usually luck involved, and in many cases nepotism or other special favoritism. This translates into guilt. Ditto trial lawyers. With a few phone calls, they can obtain huge settlements of which they take a third for themselves, and while they go to great lengths to spin themselves as champions of the little guy, they are anything but little. Again, guilt!

By offering a way to alleviate this guilt, the Democrats have become the only way for them to avoid being seen as “the rich.” That many Republicans display open contempt for people with money not earned by “traditional hard work” only aids the Democrats. Fortunately, there are still some members of these guilty wealthy classes who are able to see past the fear equation and think for themselves. And find themselves hated for it. 

Of course, with any luck they’ll be accused of “self hatred” by the people who hate them while claiming to love everyone. 

And if that sort of malice-based love equation fails, there’s always love of the environment.

(And hatred of those who hate the planet….)