Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blaming the rich: Don't be an a**hole

I think every one of us has our moments when we are tempted to equate the word "rich" with the word "asshole." Most people with mundane, working lives stress out over their financial situation every now and then, and should the names Bill Gates or Donald Trump cross their ears during the midst of their worries, they're bound to dismiss them with a frustrated, "Ah, what do those rich assholes know about living in the real world?" Face it, we all succumb to this sentiment.
A column in yesterday's Daily Telegraph brought this subject to my mind. In "It's A Bit Rich To Blame The Wealthy," Damian Reece writes: "A wealth-creating economy creates wealthy people—deal with it. But does it create that wealth fairly? Probably not, but not because we tax the wealthy too little but because we tax everyone else too much."
Exactly so. If we're not superstar entertainers or high-flying entrepreneurs, we feel the bite of the taxman. This bite bleeds profusely. Reece continues: "Vast swathes of the population are trapped in a tax and welfare system that deprives them of keeping their hard-earned cash in their pockets, for them to spend, and goes instead to a government whose spending habits are wasteful and inefficient."
It's not just this tax and welfare system depriving us of our hard-earned bread that is the problem. Consider the ever-growing undereducated underclass. Every year, the number of no-hopers, who cannot write or read beyond Basic Remedial levels and cannot do basic math, and who possess no skills other than being able to roll a mean joint, increases. These young people are turned away into a society that has no use for them, unemployable as they are. Reece writes: "Only last week, the Joseph Rowantree Foundation revealed that 147,000 pupils failed toget any GCSEs higher than a grade D last year, including 28,000—almost one in 20—who failed to gain a qualification of any kind. That's the kind of statistic I worry about, not the fact that a few rich people are getting even richer."
How is redistribution of wealth going to help those who cannot write or do basic math properly and who have very scant knowledge of history (or regard for it)? They will still lack self-esteem or a sense of self-worth. Redistribution of wealth only insures that those sitting on their asses all day long will be given more money to continue doing just that. How is that fair to someone like me who earned a Bachelor of Science degree and worked every year of his life during and since leaving school? Shouldn't we worry about providing society's young with a quality education? Education is the key to success, but it has to be a good education.
We also love to pretend that the wealthy don't contribute to society; indeed, we think the rich have rejected society. Not so. Reece explains why: "So poor are governments at solving society's problems that several of the world's richest people have taken matters into their own hands. People such as Bill and Melinda Gates in the US and Sir Tom Hunter here [in the U.K.] have set up enormous foundations that seek direct answers to basic problems in health and education. This level of philanthropy, however, requires us to accept that concepts such as private equity, wealth creation, low taxation and yes, even billionaire status, are positive for society."
You see, we cannot blame the rich. They are not the problem, and it's too easy—and a cop-out—to insist that they are the root cause of an unequal society.
Sure, it's always fun and—I suppose—justified to poke fun at those who simply inherited their millions, but entertainers and successful business people alike earned their money. They worked hard for it. Billy Joel once spoke of the frustration-with-the-wealthy sentiment when he was catching criticism for his song "The Downeaster Alexa." Joel told an interviewer that some critics were chastising him for pretending to know about the troubles of Long Island fishermen and pondering what Joel, as a millionaire, could possibly know about anyone's troubles. "But I worked for that money," Joel countered. "I didn't inherit it. I had to earn it."
Sure, I get very annoyed at people like Bob Gedolf who constantly holler that we're not doing enough for the world's poor, and I think, "Look, jerk-wad, you could feed an entire African nation with your money. So what do you want with mine? Shut the hell up already!" But this is beside the point.
As for the wealthy not living in the real world, it's certainly true that they don't. However, most of them once had to. They had their eyes on the prize and have justly been rewarded for attaining it. Or, they bought a scratch ticket and won the lottery. It's money that they legally won. Good for them.
After all, does anyone seriously think that if I were to strike it rich tomorrow, I wouldn't live in a gated community, away from all the riff-raff, and retire from society, enjoying the wealth that I either earned, invested or won, and live the rest of my days as a happy recluse?
You better believe I would, and I would not feel one bit guilty about it. So I do not blame the rich. I do call them assholes at times because, I admit, I'm jealous of their level of comfort. But I would never in a million years approve of stealing from them through this pernicious ideology known as socialism. That is our real enemy.


Pam said...

I wonder why it is that as far as media attention and pop culture goes, it is always the "Paris Hilton" rich that get all the attention? Is this because those creating the wave want that to be the average person's image of what it means to be rich, so that we easily convince ourselves in our own jealousy and daily frustration that wealthy people who contribute to society are hard to find? Or is it because most are so dumb/lazy whatever that that's what they'll read about, so we get inundated with it and forget the many, many flip sides to the coin? I know I'm guilty of associating "rich" with that kind of lifestyle as opposed to thinking of the person who worked their way to the top using talent and determination, gives back in some way, and still enjoys the hell out of their earned privelege.

kristen said...

Bravo. Well written. I hate it when the rich get blamed for all our problems. They do so much to actually help our economy....such as putting their money into it, having the capacity to hire and create jobs, and their investments actually create more money. That's basic economics, but I guess we can't get those who can't read or write (or certain politicians) to understand this. And I am completely anti any redistribution of wealth. Not only does this take away personal liberties, but it creates a welfare state....one step closer to socialism, which is NEVER a good idea.

What we need to do is fix our tax system. I'm not for taxing the rich more; this just stunts growth. It's actually the middle class that gets the brunt of the taxes, and there's something wrong with this picture. I don't care how poor you are, you can pay your share. I would love to see a flat tax; I think that would solve so many problems. And then we just need to cut back on programs, big time (welfare, free lunch, subsidized housing, etc). And of course get rid of all the pork barrel projects in Congress and their wasteful spending.....but we could go on about that.

Tusk said...

Yes, cutting back on welfare will help people get back to a decent job.
How Thatcherite of you, Kristen ;)