Torch and pitchfork time: Madoff, Octuplet mom, and the price of greed

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The other day, I wrote a piece about Nadya Suleman, California's famed "Octuplet Mom." When it went up, it was quickly hit with angry comments about greed and artificially-inseminated multiple births. Reading the responses, I got an inkling of some of the fury that these sorts of stories evoke in readers.

A few minutes later, a colleague sent me a Huffington Post article about Suleman. Apparently, the mega-mom has been receiving nasty letters and death threats. This rage seems to center around the fact that Medicaid is paying her hospital bill, food stamps are feeding her children, and welfare will probably be footing the bill for much of her brood's upkeep. The general feeling seems to be that Suleman is greedy, grabbing more than her fair share of kids, and using more than her fair share of society's resources to raise them.

As a father of one child, I can understand where some of this anger comes from. I love being a parent, and would like to have more kids; unfortunately, my wife and I afford it right now. Under these circumstances, watching Suleman create a huge brood without any apparent means of support fills me with a mixture of jealousy and anger. After all, if I can't afford to have more kids, it seems a little unfair that I should have to pick up the tab for hers.
Taking a slightly longer view, however, I have to wonder if the anger over Suleman might possibly have something in common with our huge societal rage at Wall Street. Like Suleman, Bernie Madoff has received death threats. Ditto Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, whose acquisition of Washington Mutual apparently infuriated someone. While there is no word on whether or not Richard Fuld has joined the death threat club, his now-famous poke in the snoot inspired downright glee among some commentators.

To a certain extent, it seems like the ability to generate rage among the filthy masses has become the new gold standard of power and glory. Under these circumstances, we have to feel a little pity for John Thain. Despite his best efforts, the public's response to his excesses has seemed amazingly restrained. Still, I guess he can always fall back on his famed wooden commode.

In the future, it seems likely that the period from 1980 until now will probably be characterized as the "Greed is Good" era. Instead of being one possible measure of success, the acquisition of material goods and personal wealth have seemed to become the sole standard for one's personal value, the ultimate symbol of intelligence, ambition, and hard work. However, as we learn that many wealthy people gained their fortunes through deception and raw greed, there seems to be a growing swell of anger about injustice. In their mad scramble for the biggest piece of the pie, it seems like the Nadya Sulemans and Bernie Madoffs may have done what Marx and Lenin could not: tipped our societal balance toward a heavier governmental hand in the distribution of goods and wealth.
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