Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Time for the super-rich to do their part

Sunday, in The New York Times, the super-rich chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet, had an op-ed piece entitled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich."  The point of his piece was that the super-rich in this country have gotten that way because of coddling by the government and favorable tax policies that have allowed them to keep more of their income than the ordinary people who work for a living. He believes this is unfair and that the super-rich should contribute to the country's coffers in proportion to the advantages they hold because of our government policies.

The op-ed received a lot of notice and comment.  It was reported on in other news outlets around the country including our local Houston Chronicle and the comments there were about what one would expect from the Chronicle's regular commenters.   They were along the lines of, "If he wants to pay more taxes, why doesn't he just write a check? Why does he have to impose his views on other innocent rich people?"

One would think that those who were commenting were among the super-rich, but I seriously doubt that they were.  Instead, I think they are mostly just typical right-wingers who have bought hook, line, and sinker the teahadist philosophy of "All Taxes Bad!"  They are not really thinking through what they are saying and they did not actually read Mr. Buffett's op-ed.

Mr. Buffett believes that we should have shared sacrifice in the country.  As he points out, it is the poor and the middle-class who are fighting and dying in our wars.  There are no children of the super-rich in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else on the front lines representing this country's interests around the world.  No, they, like their parents, represent only their own selfish interest.  NOTHING IS ASKED OF THEM!  NOT EVEN TAXES!

This was not always the case in this country.  I grew up in a country where the rich were taxed relatively heavily and yet they still managed to make out very well.  The rest of us had lower tax rates and the progressive income tax certainly contributed to the expansion and the prospering of the middle-class.  Moreover, at the same time that tax policies benefited the middle-class, the social safety net on which they depended in times of hardship or need was being strengthened.  The '50s, '60s, and even the '70s of the last century were good times to be a member of the middle-class in America.  Then it all started to go wrong.

Since the '80s, with only brief interruptions of sanity, tax policy in this country has been tilted more and more toward the super-rich, who are constantly fawned over by the Republicans and hailed as being the "job-creators."  What a joke!  They have been piling up money hand over fist for the last eleven years with no brakes on their rush to accumulate more and where are the jobs they have created?  Why does the unemployment rate hover around 9% if these rich people are such wonderful "job creators"?

Buffett is right.  The super-rich and everybody else should pay their fair share.  I would even go further and say that the shared sacrifice should be extended to public service. We should have a universal "draft" when children turn 18.  At that point, they should be required to go into service for their country, either military or civilian service (their choice), for two years.  There should be no exemptions except for extreme mental or physical disabilities.  Everyone can do something.  Everybody can contribute.

It's not going to happen, of course.  This one-time democracy, now a plutocracy, will continue its headlong rush into irrelevance and complete inequality.  The super-rich will never again be required to do their part.  And only those with a social conscience, like Warren Buffett, will notice.  

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