Posts Tagged ‘Politics


Quiet rooms

When you look at “not very much” in the context of a series of statements, it begins to appear that someone is not paying attention.  The comment came less than a week after the NBC interview that featured this gem:

    Matt Lauer: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

     Mitt Romney: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

So in the view of a man who calls $374,327.62 “not very much,”  it’s only appropriate to discuss income inequality in quiet rooms.  He is kidding, isn’t he? Was he on another planet during Occupy Wall Street and its aftermath? People have noticed that there are enormous differences of financial class in this country, and they are not especially happy about it.  Which is not to say that it’s accurate to characterize that sentiment as envy.

 Merriam Webster:
Envy (noun)
: painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage 1

The top Google result for the search “envy definition”:
A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.2

Even more interesting is the more complex (as would be expected) entry for envy in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Envy is a complex and puzzling emotion. It is, notoriously, one of the seven deadly sins. It is very commonly charged with being (either typically or universally) unreasonable, irrational, imprudent, vicious, or wrong to feel. With very few exceptions, the ample philosophical literature defending the rationality and evaluative importance of emotions explicitly excludes envy and a few other nasty emotions as irredeemable. Indeed, some authors who are prepared to defend even jealousy insist that envy is beyond the pale. Yet there is considerable controversy over what precisely envy is, and the cogency of various specific criticisms of envy depends on what view of that subject is adopted.3  (emphasis added)

People are increasingly worried, not just about the future and whether they can retire comfortably, but about how to pay the bills due this month,  and how they will manage to pay rent or make a mortgage payment when the cost of such luxuries as food, clothing and medical care rise, as they always do.  Yet there is a presidential candidate who thinks $374,327.62 is “not very much.”  Who thinks that people are resentful of this rather stark contrast?  I’ll submit that the 99% do not have time for resentment – rather time is dedicated to managing finances in a time of rising costs and flat income.

I find it offensive that he characterizes an acknowledgement of income disparity as envy.  And that the disparity is not to be part of public conversation but should only be talked about in “quiet rooms.”  I don’t envy the 1% their wealth, while many of them got it the old fashioned way – they inherited it – many more took advantage of loosely regulated capitalism and made their own fortunes.  Often to the great detriment of the 99% (see, e.g., collaterized mortgage obligations and credit default swaps among the largest banks.)  I would, however, like the 1% to acknowledge the distinction between those for whom $374,327.62 is “not very much” and those for whom that amount would both clear all debt and provide a sum with which to move forward without daily worries.  I’m pretty sure my view is rather common, and more prevalent than actual envy.


Not very much – really?

Income inequality is a hot topic lately.  If you’re running for President, the conventional wisdom is that it’s a good idea to stay on top of the trends. I’m not sure that worked so well for candidate Mitt Romney when he was talking about income:

My last 10 years, I’ve — my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past, whether ordinary income or earned annually. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.

What does “not very much” actually total? $374,327.62 1  Worth noting is that the “not very much” amount, as a stand alone annual income, is more than the annual household income 98% of the US population. 7

The US median family income was S49,445 2 in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau.  Thus “not very much” is 7.57 times the average median income in this country.

For American Indians, “not very much” is an even more striking contrast, since the household income is lower among that population group. What Romney earned in speaking fees alone over a year is over 10 times the average household income of $37,348.3  And that’s for the average – the median family income for American Indian and Alaska Natives is $33,627.26.6 Thus “not very much” is actually 11 times the median.

“Not very much” is 7.10 times the cost of a year at Harvard for undergraduate work ($52,652 for tuition, room, board and fees combined). 4 The fact that the cost a year at Harvard is greater than the median US family income is striking in itself, and the subject of a related, but different discussion.

In addition, “not very much” is 1.7 times the median new home price in the United states in 2010 5 Clearly, “not very much” is a relative concept.  I’ll admit that Romney’s idea “not very much” could affect my life in some appreciable ways, and I suspect that’s true for many of us.  My idea of “not very much” is an amount I’m willing to spend on a whim, or that I’m comfortable losing if I found myself in a competitive poker game.  And it’s way less than $374,327.62.  By a couple of orders of magnitude.  What’s “not very much” to you?