The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

1 March 2006

A class war and nobody came

While it's of course a tragedy that Bill Gates has so much more money than some guy who pumps gas on the north side of Trenton, New Jersey, few people have volunteered for a tour of duty in the supposedly-inevitable class war. Whither this complacency? I think it may have something do with this:

[T]he gulf between the top 10% (or top 1%) and ... those below just isn't that big — it's big in raw numbers but it's just not that big in terms of quality of life. I live in a $150,000 house (in the Midwest). Within 1 mile of my house are $2,000,000 houses, which I drive by every day, and $50,000 houses. I'm not sure what progressive cause I should be thinking as I drive by: "My God, how can I live in the presence of such a well groomed lawn?" or something? The knowledge that they can afford to fly more often than I can? They eat more steak? What? Ultimately, I think people aren't especially resentful of the superrich because there just aren't that many of them, and it just doesn't reallly matter whether they exist or not.

Then again, like wealth, the capacity for envy is not evenly distributed; some people feel it much more than others. And if you factor out envy, what's left for the class warriors? Discredited, or at least discreditable, Marxist musings; the dubious assumption that it's all a zero-sum game, that there are only so many dollars in the world, that handing Shaquille O'Neal twenty million of them in a year results in fewer cans of spinach at the food bank; the notion that when Jesus said "Feed my sheep," He was thinking that the proper way to do so was to render a great deal unto Caesar, that Caesar may have the capacity to operate the Department of Sheep-Feeding and support legions of minions therein.

Beyond that, there's that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" business. Some people, you may be sure, will believe to the end of their days that the pursuit is a fraud, that the race is rigged, and to prove it to you, they will point to the finish line and note that not everyone has yet arrived. The proper response: "Who put you in charge of the stopwatch?"

James Brown, the hardest-working man in show business, once sang "I don't want nobody to give me nothin' / Open up the door, I'll get it myself." So long as the door remains open, people will continue to get it themselves. A heck of a system, if you ask me.

Posted at 8:57 AM to Political Science Fiction

I have the biggest problem with the rich and powerful when they use their wealth and political influence to tilt the "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" business in their favor. For instance, why should a person pay a lower tax rate on money made with money than a laborer earning it on the job? Opportunity based on a level playing field is what the American dream should be about.

Posted by: MikeH at 12:04 PM on 1 March 2006

Right on!

And to MikeH.
First thing about reducing the tax rates on someone who is wealthy is to remember that they already pay a huge percentage of all the tax burden and already have a very high rate of taxation.

Secondly don't discount money made from money. Because what you are really saying is money made from investing, which is really money made from spreading it around so that companies can have capital to expand and increase productivity and provide more jobs and a future for this country. Not to say a laborer isn't just as important because he is, but the capital necessary to grow the economy is vital.

Posted by: greg at 12:10 PM on 1 March 2006

Yet we also run into difficulty when interest and investment income - "unearned" income - is taxed little or not at all, while "earned" income - a paycheck - is fully taxed. I always liked the idea that long-term investment income should be taxed less than short-term investment income, but I'm not sure why short-term investments should be taxed significantly less than ordinary income. Why should the guy who builds trailers for a living have to give up more of his income than the guy who sits online at E-Trade all day?

Chas: What about Luke 12:48? "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (NIV)

Posted by: Matt at 12:40 PM on 1 March 2006

That's a mandate from the Eternal Almighty, not the Internal Revenue.

(Speaking of which, I'm a flat-tax kind of guy, with a floor high enough to keep the folks on the very bottom from having to shell out.)

Posted by: CGHill at 1:25 PM on 1 March 2006