Class Warfare


My new gig as an unemployed person leaves me a whole lot less time to peruse the news (ha! I’m a poet!). I catch headlines on the fly and hear snippets in passing rather than listening to CSPAN and MSNBC all day the way I used to at my old job. This new fragmented awareness bothers me because it means I can’t as easily identify the prominent trends in the public discourse. If I don’t know what everyone is talking about, how can I lodge myself firmly in the middle of the discussion, invited or not?

Luckily for me, this week has been catch-phrase central and that catch-phrase is Class Warfare.

Let them eat cake! Get out the guillotine! Protect the millionaires! Fie on the proletariat!

Wait, what? Marie Antoinette is the one calling foul? This is a stupid class war.

The deal is the President wants to create jobs, cut the deficit and improve the odds of long-term prosperity and he wants to do it by sending very long documents to Congress. I don’t actually know what the document in question says because I have been watching The Wonder Pets too much and can only comprehend information if its sung to me in light-opera format by an animated guinea pig. But from what I can tell, Obama wants to impose a special tax on millionaires as well as closing some tax loopholes and letting the Bush tax cuts expire. That there part about the taxes on millionaires is making some people really angry. Most of them, as you might expect, are millionaires. Lots of them are going on tv and saying that taxing them more is class warfare and we should stop, stop the madness, stop it right now!

UPDATE: In response to a reader question about the effect of repealing the Bush tax cuts on working families, I did more research. In perusing Robert Reich’s genius blog, I see that the plan seems to include allowing only the cuts for the TOP brackets to expire. The threshold tossed out the last time we talked about which parts of the Bush tax buts to keep and which to sunset was $250,000 and it sounds like that is the number we’re going with now too. For more on taxing the rich, check out Reich’s post.

I don’t recall seeing any food stamp beneficiaries going on tv claiming class warfare when their benefits get cut.

There is this notion that permeates our culture that aggregating wealth is a virtue. That money is aspirational. That wealth is meaningful. So meaningful that achieving it can be done at the expense of others without guilt. It is acceptable to hoard money in America. It is even rewarded.

It is wrongheaded.

We all have needs that only money can satisfy. No one can live without money in America and trying to do so is devastating. It leads to homelessness, hunger, illness, and ultimately, untimely death. Money is critical to survival. To. A. Point.

I don’t know what the point of excess is. I can’t pinpoint a number and say “Yes. That is too much. You’re cut off.” But I know that point exists and that wealth hoarders hold too much power over the middle and lower classes. When Bill O’Relly threatens to quit his show and leave his staff unemployed if his taxes go too high, I remember the part of Tina Fey’s Bossypants where she abbreviates maternity leave because she can’t bear to leave her staff on hiatus and I start to feel a little fuck-you-y toward Papa Bear Bill and his ilk. And when I read articles about food banks struggling to meet need and contrast them to a Congressman who goes on tv and laments the fact that after he feeds his family, his business only nets him $400,000 per year, I say that something has to give.

If those who have aggregated tremendous, arguably excessive, wealth, can’t be relied upon to voluntarily contribute to the overall well-being of our nation’s financial future, then they need to be taxed.  If the gospel of personal gain above all else has led to deprivations for individuals and society by making wealth inaccessible to the many, then the few who hoard the wealth need to be taxed. If money is not circulating, then circulation must be compelled.

I do not care if taxes are levied on businesses large or small. I do not care if taxes are levied on the super-rich, the absurdly rich, the vulgarly rich, or the merely rich. I do not care if taxes are levied on me. I will sigh wisftully if I lose my deductions for mortgage interest but if it means that food assistance budgets swell or low-income housing programs are fortified or programs that help pay for heating assistance are increased, well, it’s ok. Because even without my mortgage-interested-generated refund, I have food, a roof, and heat.

My favorite quote, the one that rings in my mind at times like this is from FDR: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

We are at a moment where those who have much need to suck it up and have a little less. Those who have too little require it and the fiscal health of our nation requires it. Wealth aggregation may be an American virtue but so are charity and frugality. I’m in favor of using the tax code to promote both.

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8 comments for “Class Warfare

  1. September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

    You are unemployed too? A lot of that going on during this “recovery” BAH. I totally agree on everything you said here.

  2. September 21, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Oh but don’t you understand? The uber rich WORKED HARD for their money!! They don’t want to give it up to pay for those who are too lazy to work and want to live off government benefits.

    Never mind that I work my ASS OFF for my meager salary. And while it keeps me off of government assistance, the people that I work with PHYSICALLY CANNOT work and truly NEED government assistance or they will PERISH!

    Le sigh. If only I were rich enough to complain about being rich.

  3. September 21, 2011 at 11:15 am

    It’s a good thing I’m not in D.C. because I might have to hunt you down and make out with you for this post.

    I mean, All people on public assistance are just good-for-nothing drains on the economy who are using their public dollars to buy Bentleys and ribeyes, right? God, I hate that attitude so much.

    My aunt is mentally disabled and is on assistance. She’s expected to live–LIVE–housing, food, bills, clothing, shoes, everything, on $650 a month. There are people in this world who cannot fathom living on $650 a week, much less $650 a month.

    Every.Single.Time I hear someone who is making a lavish amount of money bash those who are on public assistance and say they should just “work for their money like everyone else,” especially when that person was born into privilege and has never HAD to work for anything in his or her life, I feel the urge to slap people.

  4. September 21, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Here! Here!

  5. amy
    September 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I love the fact that it was uber rich billionaire Warren Buffet who called for the end of coddling the fat cats that make money with out working because they spend the dividend and not the principle of their investments. The rest of us who pay 30+% of taxes to their lesser amount live paycheck to paycheck and have nothing in savings/ college/retirement because we have nothing left.
    Again a wonderful post and we need to get this to the “right” people to read you!!

  6. Celinia
    September 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Brava!

  7. SherryH
    September 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I wish I could remember the exact wording and where I read it, but the pithiest thing I’ve read lately was along the lines of: There WILL BE class war? There is already class war. The rich declared it on the rest of us years ago, and they’re winning big time.

    There need to be jobs for all who want to work. Even a minimum wage job should guarantee a decent standard of living. Those who cannot work should be provided for, and not in as miserly a way as possible. And those who are whining that if their taxes are increased they’ll no longer be able to employ both the gardener AND the nanny, or that they’ll have to give up a European vacation and they shouldn’t have to coddle those lazy so-and-sos on food stamps and unemployment need to stuff it.

    Er, sorry. I seem to have some strong feelings about the subject. Thanks for the very incisive post. Dead-on, as usual.

  8. September 24, 2011 at 7:03 am

    I’m totally down with this plan. I don’t make a lot of money, but I make enough to feed, clothe, and care for myself and my son. And there are people who can’t say that.

    So yeah, the people who make more than 500,000 a year? I have very. little. sympathy.

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