Total Drek

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Something about shoes, and feet, and switching which goes with which.

Recently I ran across a lovely little political missive by Lee Walton. He was writing on the "Charleston Watch"* about Obama's tax plan. Or, more accurately, about his own perverse interpretation of this plan and his effort to educate others about it.

Walton wrote that one day, after noticing a homeless man holding a sign that read "Vote Obama, I need the money," he entered a restaurant for lunch only to discover that his waiter was wearing an "Obama '08" tie. In response, Walton decided to perform a little experiment:

When the check finally came I decided not to tip my waiter and explained to him that I was going to implement a practical application of Obama's Redistribution of Wealth concept as my own personal socialistic experiment. He stood there in stoic disbelief as I explained to him that I was going to redistribute his rightfully earned $10 tip to someone who I deemed more in need...a homeless fellow standing a few blocks north in front of the Harris Teeter parking lot. The waiter stammered a few "Why practice on me? I’m just a local college student!" retorts and then angrily stormed away from the table in a steaming huff of progressive self-righteous indignation.

Apparently, after experiencing firsthand the application of such socialistic governance from the perspective of the rightful wage earner, my young liberal-minded waiter was quickly convinced that income redistribution was much easier to support as a noble, magnanimous social policy than when his own hard-earned income was about to be redistributed, against his will, to another I deemed more needy.

Now, this "experiment" obviously does Obama's plan injustice. Obama isn't proposing stripping money away from college students and low income workers to give to the homeless for alcohol. He's proposing increasing the tax rate at the very high end while decreasing it for the majority of tax payers. Further, the money is intended to pay for a variety of programs that are very likely to have both direct and indirect benefits for a lot of people. Republican wisdom to the contrary, the market can't do everything and sometimes we're all a little better off with government intervention.

Mostly, though, what strikes me about this story is how it presents a false dichotomy. We are presented with a choice between keeping the legitimately-earned fruits of honest labor, or having those fruits taken from us and thrown willy-nilly at alcoholic homeless people. Honestly, I don't know why Walton didn't include a cackling feminazi** in the background just to place us even more firmly in conservative fantasy-land. Then again, he did remark at length about how difficult it is to be a hard-working, honest corporate owner. Seriously:

As I walked back to my office, I began thinking about the heavy burden of corporate ownership and the endless frustration from beating my head against the wall of increasing bureaucracy year-after-year. I also thought of the majority of this year’s hard-earned profits that I had planned to reinvest in a few new employees, annual raises to reward loyalty and hard work, Christmas bonuses for extraordinary effort, and year-end corporate donations to the SC Aquarium, Coastal Conservation League, and the Historic Charleston Foundation.

Indeed, an oppressed member of our society stands before us.

Snark aside, however, I wonder if, perhaps, we couldn't construct a perspective from an opposing extreme? Maybe a little something like this:

Recently as a result of some unexpectedly cold weather a pipe in my apartment broke. While a plumber labored to repair the damage I idly watched CNN, noting a discussion between a prominent Wall Street banker and Wolf Blitzer. The banker wore an American flag pin in his lapel and argued that McCain should be elected because only he could be trusted to inject money into the economy where it was needed- the banking system. I laughed to myself and admired the man for his misplaced, albeit blatant honesty.

That's when I noticed that my plumber was wearing a "McCain/Palin 08" button on his old, worn suspenders. An hour or so later when he finished his work I decided to only pay my plumber twenty dollars and explained that I was going to implement a practical application of McCain's redistribution of wealth concept as an experiment. He stood there in stoic disbelief as I explained to him that I was going to distribute the rest of his $130 payment to people who really work hard- the owners of the local bank and Exxon-Mobil. My plumber remained still for a moment and then shrugged, took his twenty dollars, and departed swollen with conservative self-righteousness.

I admit I was surprised, at first, that my nameless plumber accepted this turn of events so readily. That is, until I realized that in the last eight years our economic system has become so slanted in favor of the wealthy and powerful that I hadn't done anything to my plumber that he wasn't accustomed to already.

As I walked in to the office I began thinking about the heavy burden of arguing for progressive policies against the naively dangerous panacea of an expanded free market and unrestrained capitalism. I also thought about how much of my own wages were deducted in taxes to pay for social programs for those less fortunate than I.*** But what about the needs of CEOs? Where were the payroll taxes for their benefit? After considering my apparently incorrect political and economic beliefs and the needs of the hard-working, albeit financially struggling, corporate class, I decided in that moment that I should continue paying taxes at the same rate and, indeed, even accept a tax hike so that those more wealthy than I could finally enjoy some relief.

And in that brief instance, I too became a practicing McCain supporter.

Fair? Hell no. Accurate? No more, or less, so than Walton's initial experiment. Nevertheless, the underlying point is, I trust, clear. Redistribution of wealth can go either direction and before you decry efforts to make it run downward, maybe you'd just better make sure that right now you aren't paying it upwards.

* Which has the entirely unpretentious masthead "The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance."

** I use the term sardonically, of course.

*** I may be a grad student, but at least I have a safe working environment, adequate (sort of) health insurance, and a salary placing me minimally above the poverty line. That's better than a lot of people can say.

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Blogger Jay Livingston said...

On NPR, I just heard a McCain advisor use this same analogy, so they must think it's effective. Like much of the "he wants to spread the wealth" attack, it's based on the assumption that nobody should pay taxes. Or if the government does need some money, everybody should pay the same amount. If Bill Gates pays more than I do, it's redistribution even if we're paying the same rate. Is McCain arguing that everyone should pay the same amount of tax? or the same rate? No. So if he favors a graduated income tax, he too is a redistributionist.

Thursday, October 30, 2008 3:29:00 PM  
Blogger Rdan said...

May I cross post this one at AB?

Friday, October 31, 2008 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

At Angry Bear? Sure- just make sure and give proper attribution and you're good.

Friday, October 31, 2008 11:42:00 AM  

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