Apparently, we stopped talking about this topic before I was done running on in my own head. I suspect this to be the case because when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep at 3:00 this morning, I was thinking of more and more to bring to the discussion. So ... I got out of bed, took a few notes so I wouldn't forget the main points in my head, reminded myself that black tea is a bad idea in the late evenings, and finally went back to bed. This is my answer to the question, should the tax advantages currently being extended to the wealthiest members of our society be stopped? Is it fair to charge the wealthy for being wealthy? Is it fair to make them more responsible for the expenses of our government, more burdened with the cares of others than their less prosperous neighbors?
That's my answer. If you don't really want to fiddle about with my reasons, you can pretty much stop there. That's my actual answer. But if you're interested, these are my reasons.
1. Yesterday, all across our land, the plain speech of Elizabeth Warren made headlines and facebook conversations and editorial columns. In case you missed it, here is what she said.
I agree with her. I think we do have an obligation as a social group, a civilization of humans, a nation and a people, to uphold that kind of social contract. Basically, her position is, "We're all in this together, and we ought to act like it."
2. Now, the chief thing I am hearing in opposition to her position of the unity of our people is this: But that's not fair! People who've earned their money have a right to keep it and do what they want to with it. You can't penalize people just because they have money! That's not fair!
This is what I call, The Argument of the Fourth Grade. This is the sense of "justice" and "fairness" that we are supposed to grow out of. It's adolescent and silly to pretend that all men being "created equal" means that all people are on their own to make their way as best they can, and if the starting gun goes off, and that kid didn't make it to the finish line first, then he's just the loser and that's all there is to it. Never mind that he has only one leg. Everyone gets to run, and so it's a completely fair race.
Fourth-graders are also outraged when they don't get to spend their allowance on whatever the hell they want and still expect other things to be purchased for them. Fourth-graders believe that all money that comes to them through their own lawn mowing, babysitting, trash removal, and garden weeding is discretionary income, and that they should be able to buy what they want and then someone else ought to make it possible to give them what they cannot buy on their own. That's how life works in fourth grade. We're supposed to grow out of that. We're supposed to learn how to be responsible for more than our own pleasures. (And don't say that the rich dude has to use his money to re-invest in his business. That money isn't subject to income taxes. It doesn't count in this matter.)
3. Then there's the argument about a "free market." We cannot restrict the money-makers in a free market, the argument goes, or they will become so discouraged in the making of money that they will stop and the whole thing will collapse.
The problem with this argument is glaringly obvious: there is no such thing as a completely "free" market economy in the civilized world. Further, being a "capitalist" society does not exonerate us from all other moral concerns, and unrestrained profit-making has the potential to turn into a humanitarian assault, as we have learned to our grief and peril on many occasions.
We have child labor laws (and we should); we have anti-slavery laws (and we should); we have laws about overtime and working conditions and sexual harassment. We have also had tariffs on foreign goods in order to protect our own workers and industries (we should). Yes, those laws are a pain in the arse sometimes, and sometimes they go too far and have to be corrected, but we don't really want a free-for-all. We do, in practice, recognize that there are less powerful people in the vast machinery of wealth and business who must have legal protections, lest they be used as machinery.
For a truly eye-opening, forehead-slapping, c'm'ere-and-listen-to-this, learning experience, find and view some video of author and Cambridge professor, Ha-Joon Chang, promoting his book. He's amazing. And he's right.
4. Old-fashioned "liberals," of the sort my parents warned me about ... the Kennedys, for instance, with all their brazen robber baron behavior and profligate use of hookers and the other perks of power, at least understood the concept of noblesse oblige. This concept is a better starting place than "every man for himself," "you make your bed, you lie in it," and "the self-made man." However, I would like to see us get past the power of patronage and the demeaning acceptance of a handout, and graduate all the way up to an understanding of Equitable Load Sharing. Here's why.
- Acceptance of reality helps everyone do what is possible. It is an opportunity to avoid everything from greed to envy because no one is asked to be other than he is. (A person who cannot afford health insurance is not asked to be healthy and report to work or else lose his job, this demand made of him as if he had adequate healthcare. Pretending poor people are rich doesn't make it so; pretending makes it mean.)
- Rather than a power relationship of haves and have-nots, benefactors and recipients, oppressor and oppressed, the paradigm becomes that of a functioning body, or, even better, a choir of voices. A good choir needs chorus, soloists, and all the parts being sung well. Asking the bass to sing tenor is a disservice both to the tenor part and to the sad, embarrassed bass straining for the high notes. In other words, to each as he is able, for the health and success of the whole.
- When the rich carry more of the financial burden of society (more in total load, and more in percentage of income), the poor are free to become better, healthier, more enthusiastic wage earners; without wage-earners, the empires of the rich will collapse. We ignore this basic principle to our peril.
5. The Bible has so many injunctions (and I do mean injunctions - God wasn't giving a helpful hint) for the care of the poor, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the powerless, the blind, the lame, those who have no voice of their own ... the gleaning in the fields not picked too clean, the offering of a cup of water to a child, the clothing of the poor because this is clothing Jesus ... well, all there is to say about this is that if anyone uses the Bible as a reason for a nation to become heartless (and "nobody can tell me how to use my money or who I should spend it on" is heartlessness in the guise of 'merican Ind'pendence), that person is using the Bible improperly. I'm not going to belabor this point.
6. The Peter Parker's Uncle Argument: "With great power comes great responsibility." He was right. It is true. If you have much, of you much shall be required.
We know this! We understand that the abuse of power is an evil. We say things like, "pick on somebody your own size," and we address the problem of bullying, and we have finally learned to make laws stopping bosses from passing out favors in the workplace based on favors in the hotel room. We Americans have a long tradition of giving astounding amounts of foreign aid - because we have it to give - and so we should. We understand this basic idea.
Warren Buffett has said this stuff. Elizabeth Warren has said this stuff. My husband and I have discussed this stuff. Now that I've written it out, now that I've said this stuff, maybe I'll be able to get back to sleep at three in the morning. Thank you and good night.