“The Decade of Envy”

“Were the 1980s really the Decade of Greed? There were stories of some people making lots of money, but did that make them or all of us a lot more greedy? Is resenting the success of others a reaction that people of goodwill should have? As Des would say, isn’t prosperity – even if it’s other people’s – a good, not a bad thing? Certainly during the eighties there were cases of behavior that looked “grasping” to an antisocial degree, but was this so widespread – was it in all our hearts – that the whole decade deserved that obloquy?

Perhaps the notable feature of the decade was not that some people made money but that so many others were so bent out of shape by that. If some yuppie got a bonus, what was that to us? Rather than the Decade of Greed, wasn’t it really the Decade of Envy? Or the Decade of Envy, Jealousy, and other resentments there was no reason for those afflicted to sound so proud about?

Subjectively, far from being a Decade of Greed, the early 1980s were years of hard work and maximum productivity, better in my opinion than any period that has come since. For me and a lot of other people, the eighties were the young-adult Wonder Years, when autonomy came to the fore and we could finally do the things we were in uncomfortable preparation for all the years before that.”

– Whit Stillman, The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards

4 thoughts on ““The Decade of Envy””

  1. As a mother of eight my mom was well-acquainted with the envious little heart at the core of sibling rivalry. She had a great mash-up of moral moxie derived from her Presbyterian upbringing and Catholic conversion. She would fearlessly improvise the words of her Savior’s admonition, “what is that to thee? Follow thou me,” to mean, “why do you care what your brother has? Do you have enough? Then shut up.”

    The irony is that she was one of the most envious souls I ever knew. It must have grieved her to see it in her children; which is why we got busted for it with such alacrity and fierceness.

  2. I have read the same investment letter since 1977. If I had done everything he recommended, I would be in a lot better shape financially. I remember his letter in 1982 that said the bull market was here and to get fully invested. He provided a long list of stocks we should consider. I wish I had put every penny I could spare into those stocks but I was suspicious of stock brokers and the discount brokers were just getting started. In 1978 he had recommended gold and I made a 100% profit on that. In September 1987, he sent out an emergency letter advising his subscribers to get out of the market. A month later, the Dow dropped 25% in one day. Later, he recommended buying but with less enthusiasm as Congress drifted into leftist territory.

    Last month another letter recommended that his subscribers get out of all stocks.

    The 1980s, after 1982, were the time to make a solid financial base for anyone who had a little money. Some of the stocks he recommended went up 500% and more. The 1990s were a bubble; the 1980s were not.

    The “Decade of Greed” was the attempt by the political left to minimize Reagan’s accomplishments. As he said, “I can tell its working when they stop calling it Reaganomics.”

  3. The novel is sort of uneven, but it is still so utterly Whit Stillman, you know? All that funny dialogue – formal, sharp and original! The novel is very nostalgic and – I am guessing here from what I’ve read about Stillman – comes out of his own early experiences.

    I think all three of Whit Stillman’s iconic 90s movies – and the novelization of the last film – are about that early period in life and it’s what I like about them. I also like that he is an iconoclast and isn’t knee-jerk left-of-center. Most artists are left-of-center, and that’s fine, but it makes for some awfully didactic and boring art. It’s utterly boring artistically.

    – Madhu

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