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Every time anyone discusses improving the deficit, paying for health-care costs, or any new government program, you can be sure that ‘raising taxes on the wealthy,’ will be somewhere in the proposal. The only real question becomes ‘who are the wealthy?’
It is increasingly evident that the wealthy are the producers. I’m no disciple of Ayn Rand, but her points resonate prophetically. More and more, the ‘wealthy’ become defined as those ‘more fortunate,’ which means those who actually, successfully, participated in the American dream…whatever that once meant.
The wealthy either studied and succeeded in careers after higher education or had the good sense to go out after high school, get jobs and rise up by their own efforts, competing and making wise decisions in the market. They care for their families. They pay their bills. They start businesses and create jobs; they fund America. And yet, they are usually described as ‘fortunate.’ Which comes from the Latin, fortuna, which means destiny, or luck.
Interesting, isn’t it? The ‘wealthy,’ are those with a good destiny. Now, in a rational, scientific world, the very thought of destiny would seem heresy. That there is some force directing some to be wealthy and some to struggle without success? Peculiar, because it certainly flies in the face of what so many believe is a random universe.
It’s almost as peculiar as calling them ‘lucky,’ which would also seem inadequate. I mean, if you’re lucky, you didn’t exactly do anything nefarious to get what you have.
And yet, definitions of ‘the wealthy,’ always seem to include the description, ‘more fortunate,’ so what was wrong with being lucky?
Well obviously, people don’t really say what they mean, or mean what they say. By fortunate, they mean successful. Let’s just call it what it is. If you are successful, you owe it to others to give of your success. And the subtext is this bit of Marxism: if you are successful, you probably did something bad to someone in order to obtain your wealth. You managed to edge ahead of the line in life; you reached the money tree first.
This is the ingrained view of the modern world. A world of stark dichotomy between wealthy and poor; capable and incapable. And in order to set it right (since setting things right and legislating morality are increasingly the duties of government), I have a suggestion that might bring some unity to the rich and poor, and which might clear up some of our confusing terminology.
Let’s just have the ‘fortunate’ make payments directly to the ‘less fortunate.’ I mean, we know what it is to send money to a child in need overseas. Let’s do something similar. Family A (fortunate) will no longer pay a certain amount of taxes to the government, but rather will make payments directly to Family B (unfortunate). If necessary, and if fortunate enough, Family A may make payments to Families C and D as well. Depends entirely on how fortunate Family A happens to be.
Now some interesting things would happen here. First of all, politicians would never hear of it. They would say it’s because people might feel bad about themselves, but they would actually dislike the plan because government would have to intentionally diminish its role as a purveyor of charity.
As it stands, our money is filtered through the labyrinth of government. Our (fortunate) tax dollars go to Washington, and there legislators can hand them out like cookies they baked themselves. They can then manipulate opinion and law by saying ‘vote for us, or for our policies, and we’ll give you more of our good things.’ Of course, the good things were never theirs to give. They just acted that way.
Second, the fortunate who complained about taxes would meet families in terrible need. They would see why others truly, and desperately, depended upon their assistance. They might become friends. There might be a kind of unity in the land that government can never accomplish. More successful families might help find jobs for the unsuccessful. They might give them things they no longer needed. Need looks different when seen up close, face to face.
Third, the unfortunate would see that it isn’t a Senator or Congressman or even a DSS worker that sends them money but a flesh and blood human being. A family, maybe different, maybe similar to their own. They would see that people from backgrounds similar to theirs were capable of stability, of holding jobs, of success and hope. They would see that families very different from their own actually helped pay their bills.
Fourth, the ‘unfortunate’ would be forced to feel a sense of gratitude. As it stands, no one needs feel grateful to taxpayers for government gifts, since those gifts are ‘rights,’ and they are taken from the wealthy to give to the poor. Government is Robin Hood and his Merry Band. Everyone is glad for Robin Hood; no one cares who he took his money from. They’re just Norman oppressors, after all.
Can you imagine if people who received benefits had to look at the ones who gave it to them? Had to reach across a table at some neutral location and take the check, made out in their name? It would be stunning. And for some who abuse the system, it would be frankly embarrassing.
Fifth, some of the fortunate would be shocked and dismayed at the relative comfort of some of the unfortunate, just as some of the unfortunate would be shocked at the way the fortunate work hard to pay for their own things.
All in all, it might level things a bit. And it would sure take government out of the picture in ways no one can even begin to imagine.
Until then, we’ll just keep using tags like ‘fortunate and unfortunate,’ ‘wealthy and poor,’ to describe a system far more complex than that. And a system in which the cloud of government makes everything intentionally unclear for it’s own purposes.
Interesting post. Your ideas are similar in many respects to the Communitarian movement suggested by Amitai Etzioni (and others) – supporting the social community rather than the government. Of course the challenge with this approach has always been how to implement it in a practical fashion.
I wanted to post you that very little note to finally give many thanks as before for all the nice things you’ve discussed in this article