An old friend, a former leftist who had a political awakening on September 11th, 2001 and thereafter came to believe Bush and Cheney had the right approach, sometimes chides me for being uncharitable to the super rich. She considers herself an independent now. She asked me recently if I knew how many really wonderful very rich people there are in the world. I have no idea of the number, and was at a loss for a reply. I admit I have a certain antipathy towards a class who, as a group, puts the acquisition of more than they can ever spend as their top priority.
She sent me an email today with a link to an article entitled Americans in Poverty Have TVs VCRs Cellphones and Airconditioning (click on it, if you like). The author, she wrote, backs up her thesis, American poverty is “a problem of fatherless homes, values, ennui, purposelessness, soul-work.” She also lamented the lack of people, poor or otherwise, who believe in something greater than themselves.
I tried to be mild, since I value our friendship. I’m not sure if I succeeded. I wrote:
If you will forgive me, I didn’t see anything very convincing in this little opinion piece which suggests America’s poor are doing just fine, thank you. I know the right wing view of poverty which the title of this piece advertises quite prominently — moral failure of lazy non-workers, bloated, spoiled entitled parasites, godless hedonists. People lacking the moral fiber and drive that folks like our former presidents Bush were both born with.
The other side of this view can be seen during a walk in any of the actual slums of the richest country on earth, slums that have been slums for generations, where the infant mortality rate is as bad in as the worst third world hell holes and the challenges of day to day survival are daunting. Many do have tvs, and cellphones, and $200 sneakers. Yes, I know, it seems unconscionable that people with such short life expectancies and so little to live for crave the luxuries that America advertises 24/7. Particularly shameful when you consider that a hard-working HS graduate on minimum wage ($7.25 federal and NY state) makes under $300 for a 40 hour week, before taxes. Seems an impossibly small amount of money to live on– only a greedy fool making that pittance would try to have a cell phone or TV.
The tax on the wealthiest goes back up, amid great gnashing of wealthy teeth, to pre-Bush tax cut levels by about 10% of the total rate while the payroll tax on everybody else goes up 48%. Fair is fair. Does one really have to be a Marxist to see that there is a class bias to our laws? Is it unfair to criticize greed when it’s perfectly legal and enshrined in our laws? Why should a CEO make only 40 times what his factory foreman makes (1970) when now he can make 400 times what that manager makes? He’d be a fool to settle for 1/10th of what he can get, right?
So I’m not going to go further into this subject, though I may have gone too far already. It’s something I guess we’ll never agree about. Are there good rich people? I’m certain there are many. Are there good poor people? I’m sure there are millions. Are there greedy, vicious sociopaths both rich and poor? Certainly, but in my book the poor, as a class, get the benefit of the doubt on that one. At least they don’t amass more wealth than they can spend in 10,000 lifetimes, and fight for every penny of it as their right as successful Americans, and buy legislators and pass laws that favor their advantages, while children go to bed hungry across town for lack of food and others die needlessly for lack of access to routine medical care, while the aged poor eat scraps and wear extra sweaters to save on heating bills they can’t afford.
Perhaps the percentage of good and evil people is the same in both groups, good people and moral scum probably occur in roughly the same proportion in the rich and in the poor — but since there are thousands of times the poor people, I think the world has many more good poor people than good rich people.
Of course, most of the working poor are too busy holding down two or three low-paying jobs to write opinion pieces in prestigious publications, or on their websites.