Don’t Make Greed and Inequality the Main Focus of Progressive Political Arguments

Don’t Make Greed and Inequality the Main Focus of Progressive Political Arguments

Greed and Inequality are two separate terms, but I lump them together because they create the same problem in political conversations. And, I might add, they are closely connected. As the progressive end of the political spectrum points out, inequality is the result of greed.

The problem doesn’t come from the use of these words per se. Indeed, greed and inequality are major players in today’s social and economic problems. They need to be discussed. But these terms should not be used as the main points of discussion. They should only be used within a discussion of policy.

We need to point out the results of bad policy. We need to point out how and why these results are bad for society and bad for the economy.

  1. How does greed lead to bad policy?
  2. What kinds of policies result in an increase in inequality?
  3. What kinds of inequality are bad for the economy?
  4. What kinds of inequality are bad for society?

The discussion should focus on the “how” and “what” words in such questions, not on the words “greed” and “inequality”. Greed and inequality should be part of this discussion, but they should not be the main focus.

Here is the problem. Progressives talk about greedy corporations and about greedy rich people. Progressives talk about inequality. This kind of talk plays into the strategy of the political right. When greed and inequality are the main topics – and worse, when they are the only points mentioned in a simplistic messages – the political right can, and does, respond with “class envy” charges. If we talk about greed, they say we are jealous. If we talk about inequality, they say we are jealous. This provides them with an opening to use words like “lazy”, “takers”, and “socialism”. And frankly, the political right’s strategy is to turn the left’s talking points into simplistic words and add layers of negative connotations to those words. Then, they repeat the words with the negative connotations – until the negatives are so ingrained in their listeners’ minds that they cannot accept an alternative viewpoint.

It doesn’t matter that the political right is wrong about this. Why should those who are on the left play into their hands? Those on the right end of the political spectrum are the masters of using simplistic talking points. It’s how they get people to vote against their own best interests.


Greed cannot be legislated away. It is always going to exist in society. It can be exposed, but I don’t think enough people can be shamed out of acting upon their greed that it will make much of a difference in the big-picture. The problem isn’t that people are greedy. The problem is that we have laws and economic policies which reward greedy people for doing nothing more than acting on their greed. And, I might add, these rewards for acting upon greed come at the expense of everybody else.

The focus should be on policy, not greed. Instead of talking about greedy corporations and greedy rich individuals causing specific problems, we should talk about the policies which give them incentives to act greedy. How the policies create bad results – not the greed which is rewarded as a result of bad policies – should be the focus of arguments.

The blame should be placed on bad policy, not on those who take advantage of bad policy. And when those who take advantage of bad policy are able to put themselves into position to write more greed-friendly legislation, then that is also a policy issue.



Inequality is a word which is very easy to twist the meaning of. When people complain about (economic) inequality, the meaning of the term used can be changed to imply that the complainers are engaging in class envy. And that they are socialists. And that they want to take everything away from the “makers” and give it to the lazy “takers” who refuse to work for anything.

We can talk about the difference between “equal opportunity” and “equal outcome”. Too often, such talk digresses into the standard argument for democracy over socialism. But democracy is a political system which does not require any particular type of economic system. Socialism is an economic system which does not require any particular type of political system.

What we really need to be discussing:

  1. Economic inequality is a direct result of specific economic policies
  2. There is no doubt that economic policies favoring the rich and corporations over the middle class and the poor have led to an increase in economic inequality
  3. Specific policies have led to a stagnation of wages while corporate profits have skyrocketed
  4. The economy works best with a large and diverse middle class
  5. The middle class has been shrinking because of misguided policies
  6. The trend of increased economic inequality cannot be sustained without a decrease in the standard of living for everyone, including those who benefit directly from the policies which increase inequality
  7. Growth in economic inequality cannot be sustained politically. Either we do something about the policies which create it, or eventually there will be a social uprising
  8. Growth in economic inequality is not consistent with the “American Dream”

We need to raise the quality of political dialogue and move away from trading jabs through simplistic language. We get nowhere when each side attaches different connotation to the same language, then repeats the same talking points over and over. Raising the level of discussion necessarily requires that we put more thought into forming and expressing our viewpoints.

Jerry Wyant