Sure, there are seven deadly sins. But most people like to have things narrowed to just two options.
And the “lifetime-away-so-let’s-have-24/7-coverage” 2020 election seems to have already settled on a binary choice between two poor options.
Those options are greed or envy.
They’re both terrible. Here’s why:
The greed option, espoused by President Trump, can be seen in his tweets about the stock market, jobs being created (through the private sector, not the government), and general consumer sentiment.
The envy option, espoused by about four senators in the Democratic party (with dozens more on the way), can be summed up by “Independent” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, with his chastisement of anyone not paying his “fair share.”
Time will tell how all this perennial electioneering for the presidency pays out.
Given how many Democrats are moving further and further leftward to try and stake out a unique position, I’m favoring the capitalist in this race. Part of Trump’s 2016 victory was a return to normalcy and getting away from seeing how far down the road to socialism the country could go. And on the seeming lawlessness embodied in Barack Obama’s “pen and phone” method of executive action to shape the government even without his party’s control of the legislative branch.
But don’t count the Democrats out! In 2016, Bernie Sanders did a great job making the case for a further leftward move after eight years of Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton could only move to the left of Sanders on guns, a position that helped ensure high turnout from the NRA in the general election.
In this cycle, Bernie Sanders, a man who has actually said, “People lining up for food is a good thing,” is in the middle of the Democratic pack. Normally, I’d write this level of radicalism off. However, the Democrats have a huge advantage this time around: They’ve become the party of big, bold ideas. They can dominate news cycles with new ones, more detailed proposals, and keep the GOP on the defensive thanks to Trump’s incumbency.
But in idea after idea, envy is a key feature. These ideas include a Green New Deal to 70 percent marginal tax rates (or higher), to purely universal health care beyond what even European countries commit. These ideas can become reality, given enough years of ridicule and wearing down the electorate first.
As I’ve said before, I love that there are big ideas out there. The status quo should always have to defend itself against new ideas. Some new ideas are room for improvements. I want to hear from elected Republicans who have plans to radically rethink the size and scope of government to provide a counterweight here. Maybe a way to phase in private Social Security accounts for those of us under 35 who would like their money back someday?
Most of the plans we’re hearing today aren’t about fixing our problems. They face serious practical applications.
That’s where the envy angle comes in. Taxing billionaires at 70 percent rates won’t create the kind of revenue that’s needed to pay for the programs being proposed. And there’s already a bipartisan consensus that the government can spend trillions of dollars it doesn’t own indefinitely—a problem that financial markets will eventually overcorrect as they try to correct.
Our American system relies on taxation across the board. The little guy paying some taxes is as important to the system as the billionaires. The billionaire can create jobs, but someone has to fill them (or create the robots to fill them).
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must have loved the common people, he made so many of them.” That bodes well for those practicing the politics of envy. Trump, however, does his best work defending capitalism, bashing socialism, and making that same common person feel like he’s listening to, and recognizing his needs.
So here’s an interesting thought exercise:
Say we had to only choose between greed or envy. Forget the names, forget the specific platforms. That’s the real choice shaping up for the 2020 election anyway.
Both seem to have a lot going for it. Both can be powerfully motivating, getting people pumped up, moving and acting.
Greed is felt out of a sense of self. Greed may not the good as Gordon Gekko states in the film Wall Street, but it is about improving one’s situation. That’s a noble goal to start with. But greed is when you take that self-interest to excess.
In a way, that’s just like how gluttony is the love of food taken to excess.
Envy is out of a sense of wanting what others have—or wanting to drag someone better off down to our level. Again, it’s done out of excess, or an otherwise negative motive.
America isn’t a nation about just greed or just envy. It’s about finding things that work. Capitalism broadly works at harnessing greed in a way that makes most people better off over time. It creates a world that encourages innovation, and it’s why American ingenuity and innovation continue to thrive.
Envy is trickier. While it could be harnessed in a way that ensures we do take care of those who aren’t well off, and provide them with the tools they need to succeed, it risks soaking the rich—or worse. Envy is a divisive, not a unifying, political tool.
I know, I know, sounds of moderation and coming together sound like a pipe dream. But hey, I’m an investor. There are ways to invest so that you profit no matter who is president or what their policies are. If we decide to throw prosperity by the wayside and embrace the road to socialism, there’s always gold. Nowadays, there’s also cryptocurrencies. And technology companies, since those tend to get hit with regulations after they’ve grown substantially.
When greed takes victory, there’s pretty much a rising tide that lifts all boats. Witness the market performance from election night 2016 through the first year of the Trump presidency.
While the extremes tend to drive the debate, events almost always take a more moderate course. But that isn’t a guarantee. Avoiding extremism is an endless, and yes, sometimes futile quest. But the alternatives are appalling. Invest accordingly, and ensure you’re prepared for extremes, just in case.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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