Saturday, May 22, 2010

Comment in Reply to David Brooks' Op-Ed "The Story of An Angry Voter"

David Brooks' latest Op-Ed column "The Story of an Angry Voter," describes 'Ben,' a hard-working person looking for a moderate who shares his views of the way society should be, rewards for those who work hard, and no rewards for those who don't. In a comment in reply to this column, Elizabeth Fuller of Peterborough, NH makes some great points that epitomize the problem with the Tea Party movement. She wrote, "You're making it sound as if it is government that is making things unfair for Ben and those like him. Was it government that outsourced jobs? Was it government that created the huge pay imbalances between CEOs and the people who work for them? Was it government that forced banks to charge 29% interest rates on credit card balances? Was it government that invented financial products that ruined the retirement funds and savings of so many people?

No, it was lack of government and a belief that things run more smoothly when unfettered by government regulation. It is not our political system that undermines the relationship between effort and reward; it is the way business is structured, and it is the way markets work. Markets, for demographic reasons alone, richly reward undisciplined talk show hosts and manufactured pop stars who may not be putting in half the effort of a truly dedicated teacher or an office cleaner who works two jobs to eke out a living for his or her family.

If Ben is smart, he may be finally realizing what many before him have learned -- that the market is amoral and unjust, and that hard work alone can't always overcome the unfairness thrust in one's way. He may be growing up enough to understand that right and wrong are infinitely complicated constructs that cannot be reduced to the idea that they are contained in the relationship between effort and reward. Does the good that those who work in obscurity and without financial gain among the world's poor have anything to do with the relationship between effort and reward? A thoughtful Ben may be finally understanding what people mean when they say virtue is its own reward.

If Ben gets angry only because he feels he's not getting all he deserves, if he doesn't make the leap to acknowledge that without government "interference" life can be very unfair for many of us, then his anger and extremism will probably get nothing done. But if in his own discomfort he finds the key to making society more just and workable for all, then his anger and "extremism" may be much more effective than centrist gentility."

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