"But it's MY money, I EARNED it"

The great myth propagated by the economic right is that American is a meritocracy: if you work hard you can be as successful as your skills and abilities will take you. Any objective analysis of this claim, however, shows just how false it is. We need look no further than the average wages of the middle class over the last 50 years. They remain stagnant. Are all of these people too lazy to improve their station in life? No, of course not. There IS an American aristocracy, and it has existed since the country’s founding.

That’s why I have such a problem with the argument that the wealthy shouldn’t be taxed more heavily than they are because it’s THEIR money, they EARNED it. Perhaps. But more likely they are the recipients of phenomenal good fortune, and undeniably they owe their wealth to a country that gave them the opportunity to have their success. But don’t take my word for it. This interview is particularly interesting because the opinions expressed come from one of those hyper-wealthy people that are supposedly clamoring for more tax cuts.


6 thoughts on “"But it's MY money, I EARNED it"

  1. When I was a loan officer I remember processing a loan for a certain customer. He had come from Vietnam to California in the early eighties with nothing, and by the mid 90s he owned several car washes in the Sacramento area.

    When I sold security systems I installed one for a man who came from Fiji and had worked three jobs in the Bay area for twenty years. He now owned several convenience stores and owned three homes free and clear.

    Both of these men explained that they didn’t work any harder here than they had in the home country, but that the US system rewarded them with support, infrastructure and systems of credit that allowed them to succeed. I remember being amazed at how they could achieve so much starting from nothing.

    Now I realize how misguided they are to believe in America as the land of opportunity. And you know – I’m glad. It makes us Canadians feel a lot better about our socialist system that taxes people into the ground to pay for universal entitlements.

  2. Snide though your comment may be, I think you actually make my point. These men owe their success to more than just their own hard work. Without the system in place to support their endeavors they never would have risen to their current levels of success. Even you, oh my starry eyed immigrant, can see that the middle class, long thought of as the hallmark of America’s strength, is having a tough time of things lately. On the other hand, CEO salaries have gone though the roof, and the Bush tax cuts have given them even more of their money back. A nation isn’t sustained on platitudes, conservative or otherwise, and the deficit spending currently used to prop up the US economy and government spending cannot continue forever. Which is really the point. You don’t have to add a single government program or entitlement to make some sort of tax increase a necessity at some point–the deficit isn’t just gonna go away because we sing the Star Spangled Banner at it.

    I should also point out that the US spends more money per capita on health care than Canada does, and yet 45 million Americans (10 million more people than live in ALL of Canada) have NO coverage at all. Americans spend more and get less… so much for market efficiencies.

  3. This feels like a bait and switch to me. Your original post said that there’s an American aristocracy that takes advantage of the middle class. Yet your reply to me argues its the system that allows immigrants to start with nothing and still achieve success. How is this system working for the upper class and immigrants, yet somehow taking advantage of the middle class?

  4. Sorry, let me be more precise. My first paragraph was intended to establish that America cannot be considered a true meritocracy because the middle class has seen no increase in their wages (once adjusted for inflation) for several decades. What I think we can agree on is that one’s chances of living an upper class lifestyle increase dramatically if one is born to wealthy parents. You get to go to the best schools, you know the best people, you have the ear of the influential, etc.

    Given the advantages of the upper class, then, can we really say that their wealth is THEIR money? The interviewee in the clip I linked argues that we cannot. For the most part, those famous top 1% are not the “by the bootstraps” folks of American mythology and your examples. Rather, they have been the lucky recipients of all that American has to offer (our current President being the prime example). Now, you may disagree with me on fiscal and economic policy and say that that money is better kept in a wealthy persons bank account (or of-shore tax shelter as the case may be) than government coffers, and I would have to concede that when too much of a nation’s wealth is controlled by the government it is not a good thing. But my point here is that there’s a non-rational, ideological argument made by the likes of Bill O’reilly who say the government “takes away a person’s hard earned money” when they levy taxes. And that a person has a MORAL right to all the wealth he or she can acquire. However, this argument belies the whole notion of a nation, a “common” people, and sets us up to live in a society of individualists reminiscent of Hobbs’ “natural man.” Which, lest you have forgotten it, Hobbs describes thusly:

    “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

    “To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

    “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

    So, to sum up, the moral indignation inherent in the phrase “it’s MY money, I EARNED it” is to me disingenuous because it attempts to occlude the very real, very essential fact that the accumulation of wealth has as much, if not more, to do with the nation in which one lives than our own individual effort (see your comment about not working harder, but being more successful above).

  5. Joey, I think there can be no doubt about the left’s desire for power, but is the right any less interested in obtaining and maintaining power? Also, the creation of wealth *can* be a good thing, but we know from our current US economic situation (and scripture) that it is not a value unto itself. It is only when wealth serves a greater good that it has value. When a nation’s wealth is siphoned off to those who are already wealthy, then the average person is justified in suspecting politicians who tout the policies that lead to our current economic imbalance.

    Also, to compare the US to China doesn’t really work. They are at vastly different stages of economic development, and I don’t know of any politician in the US who is advocating Maoism.

    Thanks for posting on my blog!

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