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.