2011/09/22

Because It's Right

A couple of days ago, in conversation with my husband during the news, he said these words. "We are going to have to start doing some things in this country, not because we can 'afford' it, but because it's right." We were talking about the bogus fear mongering over social security, and how fouled up our healthcare delivery and payment systems are, and all the rest of it. (You know, cheerful, dinner hour conversation, 'specially chosen to aid the digestion with calm and happy thoughts. ... e-hem!)

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?

Yes.

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 hear all this, you know, "Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever." No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there-good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea-God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
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.

10 comments:

JAT said...

Does your hubby concur w/ your "christian socialism"?

I would suggest to you that the Bible calls for a free market in which the state does not intervene. This is not a 'pure' laissez-faire economic system in an anarchic or antinomian sense since the laws and commands of the Bible do prohibit certain activities from taking place (consenting adults are not the highest authority).

Charity is not to be administered by the state. Rather, Scripture teaches that Charity is to be personal, though not purely 'voluntary', since the Bible does command it. However, the commandments regarding Charity are not to be enforced by the state. The Bible mandates no civil penalties for failing to obey the Charity it enjoins.

In a nutshell, the Bible stands against all forms of socialism and statism, the foundational bulwark against such being the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal"...

Stephanie said...

Does he "concur"? Damn straight, he concurs. He's the one who introduced me to a better way of thinking! lol!

We're together on this. We prefer our food organic, unprocessed, and sophisticated in simple ways, with wine. We prefer our health matters overseen holistically, with acupuncture and herbs and without drugs. We prefer our religion ancient, catholic, orthodox, and sacramental. And we prefer our politics progressive, sensible, and compassionate. None of those things implies any of the others ... that's just how we like 'em.

So, yes. He concurs.

JAT said...

As you know, one of the primary meanings of "Orthodox" when it comes to Christianity is not only an orientation and commitment to follow the Word of God (the Bible) but also that same Word rightly understood. Progressive politics, in terms of the lingua franca of our day, is anything but Orthodox. Your reply prompts the question: Have you compartmentalized the various aspects of your life? I would think that, as a priority, you would try to integrate them under the unifying authority of Holy Scripture.

Tip: Vitamin D3, Niacin and Vitamin C, all in high doses, make for a helpful, orthomolecular treatment of Schizophrenia...

Stephanie said...

Sorry. I don't see the Bible the same way you do.

marchi said...

I am with you steph in the post and the after thoughts. I hope you got some cozy sleep after putting you mind through its steps.

Peter said...

So, just how do you "see" the Bible? Also, do you personally subscribe to the 39 Articles?...

Stephanie said...

Yes to the Articles - practiced, believed, and revered in our AngloCatholic parish, where we catechize, do the offices (clergy daily in the church, unlocked doors so anyone can join them), and use incense and bells and vestments and such. (Does that answer the question? lol! It's like asking a political question. "It depends on what you're asking" is almost always a better answer than anything else.)

And as for the Bible, well ... let's just say that Mr. Tosti was "proving" his point by holy writ. This is a fool's battle, and I no longer enter in. Statistics and the Bible -- you can "prove" anything with them.

Stephanie said...

Mr. Tosti, I will not be posting your comment. Here's why:

1. Fruitless and endless discussions about religion, done in public like this, bear absolutely no good fruit and lots and lots of bad fruit.

2. I lost my interest in debating religion eons ago.

3. It is not my job to catechize you.

4. You do not want to be catechized.

If you wish to correspond privately on these matters, please contact my husband. He might take you up on it, but I doubt it. He never had much taste for the contest.

marchi said...

phew.
xo stephanie
sweet dreams I hope

Stephanie said...

XO, cousin.