Saturday, October 8, 2011

The One Percent

There's a war brewing out there and it isn't taking place in the Middle East...

Lately I've seen nothing but repeated jabs at the so-called "one percent" of Americans who hold a majority of the wealth but not paying their "fair share" of taxes.  Carried one step further are the Wall Street protests that are taking place.  I understand why this is happening.  With a 9+% unemployment rate and countless people forced to cut back spending due to the depressed economy it doesn't surprise me that people are fed-up with the income disparity.  On the other hand, what is being spouted by those protesting makes almost no sense, and is only serving to fuel a class war that is not going to end well for both parties.

I have repeatedly said in this forum and I will say it here again that the solution to the economic problems is for people to get back to work (ie. we need jobs for them with a living wage).  I also think it is time for people to start accepting responsibility for their own personal economic condition and stop behavior that is expensive and unsustainable.  What do I mean by that?  Well, when I see a homeless person on a street corner with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth asking for money for food, they are not making their case for poverty.  If you are making the decision to forgo food or health care for cigarettes, then you're not getting my sympathy - homeless or not.  If you're already having trouble making ends meet and you decide to have kids, then you don't have my sympathy.  If you've decided to have more than 2 kids, even if you do have the means to support them at home, then you don't have my sympathy when you complain about the lack of funding for schools.  While I'm not in the "one percent" that people speak of, I think it is safe to say that if I'm not garnering your sympathy, then it is likely you're not garnering others' sympathy either.  Why should someone who has worked hard to get ahead be penalized for doing so, provided they did so ethically?  They don't have any obligation - moral or otherwise - to support your unsustainable lifestyle.  To ask government to steal money from these people in the name of helping those who have fallen on hard times because of their own lack of forethought is not really fair, just as it isn't fair that the banks and many of the Wall Street financial institutions effectively stole money from the American people to support their unsustainable business/lifestyle.  Seriously, I have a problem with both sides of this equation.

What pisses me off is that what is generally done by the 99% side is that they pick the worst, most unfair, most heart-wrenching case to present as evidence for what is happening to everyone.  I am not denying that these cases exist, but to say that this represents even a sizable minority of the population is just plain bogus.  I don't think there's anyone out there who wouldn't want to help out someone who genuinely fell on hard times - including those 1% that everyone seems to feel are ripping them off.  The problem I see is that there is a vocal group of people who are trying to assert that a majority of the 99% are in the same category as the worst, most unfair, most heart-wrenching case, and they're clearly not.

I was thinking about this whole thing and came up with an interesting idea:  Let's get the government out of the "wealth redistribution" business entirely.  That's right, no more federal subsidies for social programs, education, etc.  Establish a relatively small program that is only there to sustain someone who is truly in need - the heart-wrenching cases we all see - and only to the extent that they are able to afford food, reasonable shelter, and health care to treat their life-threatening condition.  Likewise, eliminate every loophole that would allow for individuals and corporations to avoid paying their taxes.  Now, for everyone else in need, the government would only serve as a conduit by which people or educational institutions who are in need of assistance could contact the 1% of the population.  A simple, standard, form is filled-out with the basics of the reason for the need, how much money is necessary to correct the situation, and the length of time that money will be needed.  A written statement of need would be attached to the form, indicating the details of the circumstances and reasons for the need (in the case of education institutions, a balance sheet would be helpful, for individuals a budget).  At that point, these forms would be made available to anyone who wished to contribute to the cause, especially the 1%.  Any money that was given to these programs would be entirely tax-exempt to the giver, as bona fide charitable contributions should be.  The recipient would only need to pay those income taxes as they would be normally eligible to pay (which, at a poverty level or if an educational institution, should be little to none).  The government's responsibility would be to assure that the monies are directed to the correct places, and to investigate fraud in the process (anyone misrepresenting material facts on their forms would be subject to a felony prosecution, be required to pay back whatever they received, and could never participate in the program again).

This accomplishes the following:
  1. It takes away the entitlement mentality that people have and calls public assistance what it really is:  charity
  2. It creates a conduit for those truly in need to state their case to those who have the ability to provide assistance
  3. It provides an incentive for those who have funds for assistance to help those in need.  Instead of the wealthy being taxed and giving it to the government to do with it what they want (and inefficiently as well), the money goes directly to those who need it, and wealthy individuals can obtain tax breaks through acts of kindness rather than through crafty accountants and tax loopholes.
  4. The public as a whole becomes more aware of shortcomings in various areas, and can spend more time and money addressing those shortcomings directly rather than to almost randomly throw money at a problem and hope it gets fixed.
  5. A sense of community is created, even among people who are potentially hundreds of miles away.
  6. People who consistently maintain risky or unsustainable lifestyles will not receive funding to reinforce their bad choices
One final thing that should be part of this program is that the individuals or organizations receiving assistance must be required to write a thank-you note to those who have helped them.  It cannot be a form letter and cannot be written by an outside agency.  It must be written by the recipient(s).  In the case of a school, for example, have a class project writing a note thanking the people who have helped their school.  Individuals or familes could write their sponsor indicating how the contribution has helped resolve an issue in their life.  The idea here is that the recipient(s) recognize that they are being helped by someone else, and that they have the opportunity to express their gratitude for the assistance.  It isn't a sterile, faceless government program that blindly gives money out to people who think they need it.

I imagine if a school or person was being directly helped by a gazillionaire and all of a sudden a group of people started accusing that person of being greedy, there would be someone around to say, "Well, they're not so bad -- they're helping me!"

I know this isn't perfect.  Heck, I don't think it would ever happen.  It's far easier to bitch and complain that the rich people caused all these problems instead of accepting some of the responsibility for it.  I'm with you all who say that the banks who got federal assistance so they could stay afloat (then gave their CEOs a bonus) should never have been given any assistance (in fact, they should pay it all back immediately).  I have always thought (and still think) that businesses (in particular, larger corporations) that outsource jobs should have a stiff penalty for doing so, since they take good jobs from people here in the United States.  I also think that tax loopholes that allow businesses and corporations to shelter their money from taxes by placing their headquarters in another country should be kicked right the hell out of this country.  I think that "blue collar" workers and teachers should be paid a better salary for what they do.  But...  As much as the wealthy are at fault, it is up to all of us to accept responsibility for our own personal finances and our lives.  I know (and you do too) that you are not entitled to have the same lifestyle as someone who makes a million dollars a year.  They have more than you, and most of them probably worked long, difficult, and potentially risky jobs to get there.  If you want to live like a rich person, then come up with an idea for a business, set aside plans for a family while you build the business, and work the long hours that come with running a business.  For those who just want to support a family (or even themselves), it's up to you to take a job when it's available.  So you're not in your dream job?  A lot of people aren't, but they show-up for work and do the best job they can every day.  You should too.

We're not going to get out of these bad economic times by griping to the people on Wall Street.  Sure, feel free to protest.  Actually, I would really enjoy hearing some people providing real solutions that doesn't turn the United States into a communist country.  So far, I haven't heard anything being said that isn't simply a Robin Hood mentality.  If that's the best you have, then I'd say that you didn't really pay much attention during the publicly-funded education that we all paid for.

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