The Biggest Whopper

February 28, 2011

Republicans lie all the time and about almost everything but I'm beginning to think the biggest lie they tell, and certainly the one that does the most damage, is the ongoing drumbeat that America is the land of opportunity where everybody can get rich. It takes only fifteen seconds thought to see the falseness of that proposition but, evidently, there are hordes of people who have never managed to give fifteen seconds of thought to any topic of public health.

In any society only a small percentage of people can be rich. You can entice individuals with the notion that they might slip into that percentage but that does nothing to negate the truth that the great majority of people are never going to be rich because no system can work that way. Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs may make five or six thousand dollars an hour but if he had to pay somebody that much to clean his toilet, his riches wouldn't mean much. He is rich because he can take in six thousand an hour -- actually probably more -- and buy somebody to clean his toilet for seven dollars an hour. And why does that person clean Lloyd's toilet for that little? Because she has to in order to survive.

Lloyd's happy little world depends on someone's being desperate enough to swab out his toilet in order to make seven dollars an hour. The ratio between what he makes and what the people who serve his basic bodily needs make has to be about a thousand to one in order for him to be as rich as he thinks he deserves to be. In other words, his system of self-justification requires vast differences in income between himself and most other people. And in a system where money counts for virtually everything, Lloyd's wealth makes him worth a thousand times more, in every respect, than his average fellow citizen is worth. So much for one man, one vote.

A social system in which 85% of the people possess just 15% of the total net worth and where 43% of financial wealth is held by only 1% of the population -- which is where we are now -- is a system of oppression, not freedom. It's to the advantage of the wealthy class to say that everybody is free and will stay free as long as they, the rich, can pay taxes at a low rate. That's how they insure themselves a steady supply of toilet cleaners, which in their mercenary hearts they believe they have earned.

The corollary lie, which is necessary to support the lie that everybody can be rich, is the falsehood that people get money mostly by earning it. The truth is that Lloyd Blankfein and his cohorts get money because the system delivers it to them. Earning has almost nothing to do with it. Rich people don't get money by earning it; they get it by manipulating a system they have bought and put in place.

What rational thought process could convince anyone that Lloyd Blankfein "earns" more money than the average teacher in Wisconsin does.? What could the word "earn" possibly mean in that respect? But he gets at least two hundred times what the teacher gets (actually in 2006 he got more than 1125 times what the teacher got). Why is that? Because the system he pays lobbyists and politicians to keep in place rewards him far more than it does any simple schoolteacher. And then he complains he has to pay a somewhat higher tax rate than the teacher does.

I saw Rand Paul on the David Letterman Show a while back pontificating that the rich already pay more than their fair share of taxes. He spouted a lot of numbers and Letterman responded that he was pretty sure there was something wrong with them but he didn't know what it was. Letterman sensed the basic unfairness of Paul's argument but because of the propaganda the Republicans have spewed across the nation since 1981, the reasonably intelligent person like Letterman has been cut off from the rhetorical resources to explain to Paul that it's utterly batty to claim that anyone who is rewarded by a system with hundreds of times what he's worth can pay taxes that are too high. In 2006, if Blankfein had been taxed at 99% he would still have received more than a half-million dollars, that is more than ten times as much as the school teacher.

Nobody right now is asking Blankfein to pay 99%, or 90%, or even 60%. In fact, the Republicans will tell you it's out of mind to ask that Blankfein's rate increase by even three percent, which would keep it well below 40%. As recently as thirty years ago, Blankfein's rate would have been 70%, exactly double what it is now. And yet in 1980, the rich still had gigantic houses, and big yachts, and pricey vacation homes, and expensive Scotch, and all the other things they think of as their due.

It a matter of judgment to decide what degree of income inequality constitutes a system of unacceptable oppression. Most of us are willing to live with a system that delivers a million a year to financial hustlers, even if what they do offers no social service whatsoever. But at some point financial inequality, brought about by rewards for manipulators, does become vicious. And most of those who have paid attention to what's been happening in the United States over the past three decades will testify that we have long since passed that point.

The primary reason ordinary voters allow this viciousness to continue is that they have been beguiled by the fantasy that everybody can be rich. If the people of the United States could get the falseness of that proposition clear in their heads, we would almost immediately solve many of our economic problems.

Unfortunately, as we've see, clarifying the simplest truths for the general public lately has not been easy at all.

©John R. Turner

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