Multiple letters to our local editorial page have raised the alarm over liberals trying to redistribute income by taxing it away from the rich and giving it to the (undeserving?) poor. An Oklahoma acquaintance posted this cartoon on her Face Book page, all in fun she said, but it’s what she believes. There is a certain condescending self righteousness in these thoughts that makes it difficult to enter into conversation with them. The underlying attitude appears to be that the poor and unemployed are just lazy and don’t deserve any help. Help, by the way, seems to be understood only in terms of a handout with little thought given to the “help” they received and continue to receive that allows them to be not poor nor unemployed.
Federal tax and regulatory policies are powerful tools that establish the rules through which the economy is guided this way or that. Complex to the point that few can fully understand them, they have created an environment in which wealth has been systematically funneled into the hands of a relative few while limiting or eliminating the possibility of it going elsewhere. Societies where income disparities of grotesque dimensions are systemic are unhealthy societies that tend toward corruption and dissolution. Oligarchies simply do not have much staying power. They enrich some at the expense of whole nations. Societies where the possibility of acquiring wealth is equitably distributed throughout the population tend toward strong middle classes with upward mobility as a hope broadly shared and deeply believed.
It seems to me that many ultra conservatives are like the apocryphal frogs in a pot that do not realize that the rising heat will soon boil them to death. In defense of the American dream of a strong middle class and universal hope that the next generation can do even better, they seem oblivious to the reality of policies that have rigged the economy against them in the midst of public spending debates that are resolved in favor of conditions that will likely make it even harder for most to make it while protecting the position of those who have at the expense of those who have not.
It’s not about redistributing wealth by taking it from one and giving it to another, it’s about creating an environment in which the opportunity to build wealth is more widely distributed. It’s also about redistributing the definition of wealth to include physical and emotional well being, opportunity for jobs providing middle class wages and opportunity for career growth, education and skills needed for those jobs, and the physical infrastructure needed to support community life. It means less military spending, especially military spending protecting us against enemies of the last century. It means not mindless deregulation, but eliminating those that are unneeded while simplifying others and making their administration more efficient. It also means rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy with the expectation that a revitalized middle class will begin to pay higher taxes not through rate increases but through higher earnings.
Rugged libertarians would disagree. What they want is as little government as possible and let the chips fall where they may. The one thing I admire about a man like Ron Paul is that he is honest about that. Most others who rant and rave about dismantling government, and doing away with regulations, while opposing any tax increases whatsoever see that as affecting others, not themselves. They still want good roads, safe air travel, fine schools (for their kids), mortgage deductions, well populated prisons, and neighborhoods zoned to their liking. They just don’t want to pay for any of that.