Monday, December 7, 2009

Pitying the poor by Tom R.

It is often astounding what people find worth defending.

Not that facts ever move anyone away from their beliefs of choice, I've nevertheless looked into the wealth distribution percentages;

An interesting line was this one: In 2003, the 1% with the highest salaries paid more than 34% of the nation's federal income tax; the 10% with the highest salaries paid nearly 66% of the total income tax; the top 25% paid 84% of the income taxes; and the upper 50% accounted for nearly 97% of US income tax revenue, primarily because, as stated above, the bottom 40% had comparatively no wealth (less than 1%) to be taxed in the first place.[19] The US has a progressive tax structure which taxes less for smaller incomes; correlating income taxation to wealth is misleading.

One could argue, I suppose, for economic natural selection – where those who make it do so because they are more fit and those who don't are low lifes deserving of their fate (i.e., the 40% who pathetically share 1% of the wealth). And it's not too painful to think that way if we simply close our eyes.

They aren't making much noise. They are, in fact, pretty close to invisible for those of us who have comparative wealth and comfort. But, if you want to see them, just pay attention.

Here's a way. Go to a grocery store – not to shop but to observe. Notice the person behind the Salvation Army bell doing his or her part for that group. Put a dollar in the bucket and they'll thank you and bless you for it – as though that dollar is anything to you. Now, go inside. Look at the faces of many of the customers. Notice them picking up an object and returning it to the shelf. Notice the tension or resignation in many of the faces. Look in the carts. Now, go stand behind the registers and casually watch as people check out. Listen too. You might get little clues such as, "Just swipe it as though it's a credit card." Good going, detective. You've just identified someone new to his food stamp card.

But, you'll see what you want to see, won't you? Like the fellow who saw a food kitchen with people standing outside it near a sign that advertised a job. What, he wondered, were they doing standing around with jobs available? He made up a story in his mind that reinforced his desire to see them as worthless individuals – and maybe he was right. Or, maybe they already had jobs but still needed a handout. Or maybe they had applied for several jobs and got nowhere because of their crummy interview skills or appearance. Or maybe they weren't recipients but volunteers taking a break. Or maybe they WERE bums. I don't know. I'll let the hard ass judge them however he needs to if he's to maintain the world view he finds comforting.. Me? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and simply hope that they got fed if that's what they were there for. All I know is that I have no need to be in that line, so I have a helluva hard time playing hard ass with those who – for WHATEVER reason – do. Nobody chooses to fail. Many who fail do habitually make lousy choices. But, others have lousy karma. Either way, they don't wish it on themselves.

It's hopeless to write about this stuff. The audience falls into two camps – those who already agree and those who never will unless they personally fall hard. So it is that Dick Cheney, professional hard ass, is not so hard on gays as on so many others. Because his daughter is gay – and for no other reason – gay isn't something to bash for him. One wishes that he also had a son in the military. That might have changed recent history.

Most of us here are relatively wealthy. Not necessarily rich. But, I suspect that few if any of us are on food stamps or uninsured or under foreclosure. A few of us are probably quite wealthy (though, of course, not as wealthy as many others we know of). And most of us are pretty comfortable even if we aren't absolutely secure for the future.

Some of us, alas, respect wealth as though it is a measure. I've heard many praise Bill Gates even though his charitable endeavors don't come even close to affecting his ability to buy what he wants when he wants it for the rest of his life. No, he doesn't have to do it. Yes, it's great that he does (as opposed to, say, Donald Trump). But, I more admire the mother who called in to offer up $5 of her food stamps when she was listening to the stories of people in need during a money-for-food drive. That $5, had it been accepted. would have been not just a donation but a sacrifice. She didn't offer it because she had extra. She offered it because she was on the cusp of not getting by and, thereby, felt empathy for those who were NOT getting by. (This is no made up story. I was on the phone recording donations when she called in and happened to get my line. I refused the offer because she might well be risking the loss of the food stamps should it have come to light that she didn't use them as intended.) It depressed me to the point that I never volunteered again to work the phones.

I can neither understand nor readily stomach this defense of the rich -- as though taxing them is onerous to them. When I argued against torture during the Bush Administration, I argued alone. That wasn't worth joining in on for some of the same characters who now find it a moral imperative to protect the rights of the richest among us. (I argued against torture not because I give a damn about the twisted bastards that comprise the hate-filled extremists but because I don't trust any government to distinguish between true terrorists and mere suspects. And, in fact, we did torture and outsource yet more torture of some who proved innocent.) When I argue for the poor, I argue alone. But, the rich are finding defenders who haven't posted on anything else on this board. They get more sympathy in the topsy-turvy value system of some than the true victims of society.

With all due respect, there is little respect due to such misplaced concern. That concern, it seems obvious to me, needs to go to the 40% at the bottom of society who scrape by on no wealth at all.

It's just ugly.



Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tom's reply on Wealth Distribution


Your sympathy for the rich folks forced from the U.S. for the lowest taxes they've paid in decades is misplaced. They're doing just fine. Also, your equation of them with golden geese is pretty astounding. The fact is that they've been, as a group, more like pigs feeding at the trough than golden geese selflessly providing the little people with glowing gift eggs of gold.. Were their taxes raised to the levels they were paying when Reagan was president, the argument that they are being put upon unduly would remain a ridiculous one. Those who most benefited from Bush's tax cuts (even as he lead us blindly to war) would not even notice they taxes except as lower tallies in the bank balances by which some measure their competitive success.

Sorry. I don't give a damn about those keeping score by looking at their balances. It's those who are trying to raise, provide for, and shelter their families that I concentrate on. Scare tactics about what the richest will do if they aren't treated like royalty should be sources of anger -- not fear.

I suggest that more appropriate objects of sympathy might be: a) the largely forgotten poor and b) those falling out the bottom of the middle class as their jobs have disappeared; those struggling to hang on by lowering their living standards as they find new jobs paying a fraction of their old jobs, c) those being devastated by health care bills they cannot pay -- many because they have no insurance and plenty more because their insurance proved woefully inadequate.

As for "reckless spending," I assume you're talking primarily about the unnecessary Iraq War that Bush refused to put on budget and for which he refused to levy taxes. That spending, it's legacy, and the pottery barn rule of Colin Powell (that is, "If you break it, you bought it.") were the back breakers when coupled with an irresponsible tax cut benefiting the top so that it could trickle down (via your golden eggs I guess). The SECOND wave of bailout spending that came under the Obama presidency came (the first was under Bush) was delivered with a gun at the temple -- "Do it or see a depression" was the threat echoed by virtually every economist across the political spectrum. Virtually the unanimous opinion at the time was: a) it had to be done and b) it had to be done quickly.

Now, we have the Republican revisionists and many of those who are frustrated and shocked by the debt that we've run up looking for scapegoats.

In hindsight, the stimulus certainly wasn't done well. Accountability was weak. Concessions weren't demanded. Some who should not have benefited (or benefited so fully) gained. The emphases were often wrong. And so on and on. I agree with many of these items wholeheartedly.

BUT. But, when a fireman grabs and carries someone from a burning building, it's always possible that he won't have first checked to see whether the person could be moved without causing harm. Possibly, in hindsight, there was time to secure the person in a stretcher and evidence that the stairway rather than the ladder would have been possible -- thereby avoiding the paralysis that ensued.

Maybe. But in emergency situations triage is necessary. Action has to be taken quickly and will, inevitably, involve a far lower standard of care than normal times would excuse. The perceived (and I think real) urgency of the moment changes the game but certainly leaves the door open for Monday morning quarterbacking.

I agree. We'll all be paying (and are paying in many instances) a price for years of bi-partisan bad decisions by those in charge . . . and by the politicians that they own as well. But, I have a helluva lot more sympathy for the firefighters than I do for those that set the blaze and a helluva lot more tolerance for those forced to do triage than I would during normal times.

For Republicans, taxes are the greatest evil of government. They aren't. The greatest evil is to sabotage government -- which sometimes includes the evil of starving it by NOT taxing. The recklessness of a guns and butter mentality has a clear-cut motive -- political expediency that appeals to the ignorant knee-jerk antipathy for paying as you go. The difference between today's two parties is that, when in power, the Democrats tax and spend; the Republicans, when in power, reduce taxes and spend just as freely.

Going forward, I hope that the Congress somehow shows the courage to demand a new tax to pay for our new level of commitment in Afghanistan. THAT will finally make the necessary DIRECT connection between our war policies and their consequences not just to families on military bases but to arm-chair generals in their comfortable living rooms -- safely removed from the bullets and explosions -- who have no stake in the war beyond wanting to see their ideologies prevail.

Sorry, Tony. The fact remains. The system strongly favors the wealthy to the point where even the more thoughtful and fair-minded of their ranks feel that they SHOULD bear more of the burden. My guess is that they, not the Rush Limbaughs, comprise most of those who contribute to the golden eggs with which you credit them. Warren Buffet, Ted Turner, and many of those alleged Hollywood elite, among others, are patriotic and fair-minded enough to acknowledge that they are paying LESS than their fair share.




Hi Tony,

Were I writing on the other side of the issue, I'd "lose" the debate too. There just aren't sufficient language skills to make the case that a society's victims are its rich -- a very curious argument indeed!

Of course they should pay "their fair share" of taxes. Where the debate comes in is over what a fair share is. It's NOT an equal share. There is a difference between cutting out someone's bone and liposuction. A flat tax for all people, for example, has nothing "fair" to it. When 2% controls 90% of the country's wealth, that is one extreme. When the communists argue from each according to his ability to each according to his need is another extreme.

Guess what? We are now firmly lashed to the first extreme. It is as though 100 of us are sharing a lifeboat with 2 extremely muscular guys who are claiming 90% of the food and water and leaving the 10% for us to compete for -- arguing that they worked very hard on their bodies and that if we had done the same we, too, could be writing the rules. Some find their argument compelling!!!!

And seated next to me is Tony -- expressing his fears that we might unfairly take too much of their "fair share" from them. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAArrrrrrrrrrgggggggh.

Good grief, Tony. Stop worrying about the muscled duo or the dream you have of becoming one of them. It ain't going to happen. Again, they're doing fine. Stop worrying about them and start worrying about the 98%. Or even yourself since you're arguing against your own best interest (in the hope of getting one of those mythical golden eggs!)

Strawman: "You're arguing for wealth redistribution."

Me: "To a degree, yes. They already redistributed it -- from the middle class to themselves. Pushing the pendulum our way isn't killing capitalism. It's putting the breaks on government of, by, and for the privileged few.

There is a HUGE expanse between a communist kind of wealth redistribution and today's plutocracy. The two extremes are not on a line but on a bracelet that has a small gap between the two extreme ends. We need to move considerably left just to reach the center -- away from corporatism and its increasingly brutal financial Darwinism (capitalism run amuck).



How the wealth should be distributed

With the reckless spending and bailouts, we'll see more taxes and many
generations have to pay for them.

1. Will be higher.
2. Inflation, a kind of invisible taxes.

2010 could be the last year for low tax rates for long term capital taxes for a

Some rich folks may be forced to have their residence outside US to avoid taxes.
Some have done so already. We could be killing the geese that lay the golden

Beside inheritance, most rich folks get their wealth by working hard and taking
chances. They should pay their fair share of taxes, nothing more and nothing
less. Most donate part of the wealth to charities like Gates and Buffett
(helping the poor in Africa). I prefer we do so voluntarily instead of letting
the government mis-allocating our wealth like going to wars.