I’m sure that by now most of you have read Warren Buffet’s op-ed for the New York Times.
It’s important for people to hear it, again, and again, and again, but Buffet didn’t say anything that most people didn’t learn when they were children. From those to whom much is given, much is expected.
And a lot of rich people believe this and live by it. Even the Koch Brothers.
President Clinton’s Global Initiative depends on thousands of rich people, and corporations who as Mitt Romney reminds us are people too, living by it and living up to it.
The question is what do we mean by that much that is expected?
For many rich people (but of course not just the rich) what’s expected is charity and a high-level of community service. Funding the local public library or symphony orchestra, establishing scholarships, endowing a chair at a college or university, helping to build a new wing of the hospital, sitting on the board of the art museum, buying a painting and giving it to the museum, donating to relief agencies local and international.
Not all of these public goods are continuing just because rich people are supporting them. But many of them only exist because some rich people gave them to their communities as gifts. Our little public library here in Mayberry is such a gift and it continues to be a gift because the family that gave it to us also gave us a trust fund to pay most of the bills for generations to come. It’s debatable how efficient and equitable this dependence on the charitable feelings of people who as a class aren’t generally supposed to have them (a prejudice I often indulge in myself) is and it’s also open to argument just how much the rich are responsible for keeping things going---a rich donor is rewarded with quite a lot of flattery way out proportion to the amount they’ve actually donated---but the fact is they do give. They know much has been given to them and much is expected of them and so they give much in return.
Where things get contentious is on the matter of how much more is expected of them, particularly when that more comes in the form of taxes.
Ok, here’s where I always tie myself up in knots over terminology. There are a lot of people who call themselves conservative who are actually Right Wing Reactionaries. But there are also a lot of people who call themselves conservatives who are only relatively conservative and are actually quite Progressive. They believe that the point of a civilized society is to improve itself by making life better for all its members. What distinguishes conservative progressives from liberal progressives is how active a role they believe the government should play in this improvement. Conservatives believe that individuals ( under the leadership of local elites) should take the most responsibility for improving their own and their neighbors’ lots. Liberals believe that the best way for individuals to take this responsibility is as a group and in a democracy that group is called the government because it is the government.
Liberal and conservative progressives believe that public libraries, good schools, hospitals, and even art museums and symphony orchestras are as necessary to a functioning society as good roads and safe bridges and competent police and fire departments and reliable trash collection. But liberals tend to believe that the former should be funded and run just like the latter. While conservatives often accuse liberals of thinking there’s an endless supply of rich people with inexhaustible wealth who can be taxed out the wazoo whenever some new liberal pet project is in need of dough, on a practical level there just aren’t enough rich people to go around and those that are around don’t always direct their charity to where it is most needed.
Still, if the debate was just between liberal progressives and conservative progressives there’d be plenty of room for agreement and compromise and Warren Buffet’s op-ed would be carrying more of the day. The trouble is that there are, as there have always been, plenty of rich people who don’t have any charitable impulses at all, who in fact have just the opposite impulses. To them it’s not that they have been given much. They haven’t been given enough. They want more. And more. And MORE!
These greedy bastards we have had and will always have with us. What makes them a bigger problem is that they are allied with a class of three thousand dollar suit wearing parasites who may not think they haven’t been given enough but who think they have already given way more than should be expected of them.
These are the Randians and the self-styled libertarians who basically believe that they’ve given enough simply by having made themselves piles of money.
Their gift to society is their greed.
They are the skimmers and parasites who believe they are “wealth creators.”
They aren’t, of course. The Koch Brothers are wealth creators. The Koch Brothers are under a different delusion, that we live in a feudal society and they are Medieval land barons and the rest of us are their serfs and retainers. Never mind them for now. I’m talking about the retainers.
The country is lousy with people who are essentially corporate flunkeys who think they are John and Jane Galts. They haven’t invented anything. They haven’t built any industries or businesses. They don’t own anything. From junior vice-presidents on up to CEOs,they are all employees. And they make their money mainly by skimming. But they make a lot of it. They are wealthy. They have “created” wealth, for themselves, at least.
And they’ve convinced themselves that simply by acquiring all this loot and then spending it willy-nilly on whatever toys, gadgets, gizmos, luxuries, or whims they choose they are creating wealth for the whole nation. It’s more deluded than that. They’ve got themselves convinced that they have created the nation’s wealth, all of it.
All by themselves, just by showing up to collect their paychecks.
As it happens I agree with them, sort of. I believe that everyone who earns a paycheck is helping to create wealth. (Actually, so are a lot of people who aren’t earning paychecks, but that’s another subject.) I wouldn’t mind that they think they are creating wealth by working for the real John and Jane Galts (the very few of those who actually exist) if they understood that everybody else who worked with them for the Galts, including the secretaries, janitors, loading dock workers, truck drivers, and repairmen were creating the wealth too. But they don’t understand it or they pretend not to or they understand it fine, they just hate the idea.
So we have all these suit-wearing skimmers and parasites who believe they have given all they need to give by building a McMansion on an acre of land in an exclusive suburb but who also feel aggrieved because they don’t feel that they’ve been given much in return. They’ve turned the aphorism on its head: From whom much has been expected, much must be given. And what have they been given?
They don’t see that their McMansion, their suburb, their jobs that earn them the wealth they think they’ve created wouldn’t exist without good roads, safe bridges, airports---every frequent flyer coupon these business class travelers rack up should be stamped “Your tax dollars at work.”---competent police and fire departments, reliable trash collection, and good public schools turning out not just a well-educated work force but a well-educated citizenry everywhere! Not just in their neighborhoods but all across the country. Heck. All over the world, now.
Their governing philosophy is I’ve got mine and in getting mine I’ve given you yours and it’s more than you deserve, so you know what? I want you to give it back!