Saturday, October 13, 2012

Class Warfare

Class warfare. I’m not sure I really understand what this means because I don’t consider myself part of “a class.” But I guess, if you had to classify me, you would say I fall into the “middle” class. My family lives in a nice neighborhood; we go to nice schools and we make our ends meet (although sometimes we have leaner months than others). I don’t understand class warfare. I’ve never encountered a situation in which I took something from someone who had less than me and I don’t recall ever feeling gypped because someone had more than I did. When I see this kind of clip, from Joe Biden, it makes me wonder why this kind of argument exists.


Why does the President want to take this money from the wealthy? What is the pay off? As I consider this question, I realize that the root of this particular issue is envy—the desire for something that someone else has—and selfishness. When taking the total sum of a person’s income and comparing it to another’s, the numbers seem unbalanced. Some people have so much more than others. There are plenty of reasons for this. For the record, I do believe that some groups and classes of people have less access to resources than others—and that is unfair. However, there are other measures of a person’s wealth that have nothing to do with income (and/or health care, welfare services, etc). A great deal of an individual’s quality of life has to do with their family situation, religious belief and personal disposition.

So, then my next question is: Why does the government concern itself with jealousy? The answer is that the constituency does. The electorate—at least a portion—sees what other people have and they want it. We have the legislative and executive body that we do because they were elected by people who would prefer that someone else help the needy, pay the debt and generally take care of what’s messed up. When you allow government to take care of things, then you don’t have to give of yourself or your finances. One counter argument could be that one person cannot fix all the things that are wrong. However, one person times one million people can make a big difference. There are plenty of individuals who do not have funding in sectors of education, welfare and business who have had to rely on ingenuity to progress rather than hand-outs.

The argument that the wealthy should bear the entire financial burden of a large government and its program is not practical or moral, nor is it logical (which is my contention here). It seems the main argument is: Rich people have a lot of money. Poor people do not have a lot of money. Therefore, the government should take money from rich people to pay for everything. There are various shades to this argument and I realize that the argument is more complex than this one syllogism. However, the logical fallacies need pointing out because they seem to be completely ignored by all who buy in to this argument.

The first problem with the logic is the idea that moving money around will make a difference in the lives of the people who benefit from the shift. Often people who lack physical resources also lack the ability to manage their resources, therefore rendering the shift meaningless because the resources that are shifted are not used wisely. Second, the position assumes that the government (and its officials) are the best judges of how much money is an “appropriate” amount. The acceptance of “the government” as a moral and just body capable of making these kinds of decisions mystifies me. There are plenty of historical cases in which those in power have decided that how much money was appropriate and, in all of the cases I am aware of, this was barely enough to live on (the most extreme case being Communist Russia or many current states in the Middle East).  This assumption negates the fallibility of human beings and undermines the very abuses that the Constitution was instituted to avoid. Third, the syllogism offers an either/or proposition. You either are a greedy rich person who should give up your wealth or you are a needy poor person who needs someone to give it to you (or as another underlying value, you are the government who has made poor decisions and the wealthy should bail you out). The principles in these scenarios villainize both sides and inadequately illustrate the value and impact of an individual in either group.

Another related fallacy is a hasty generalization. By applying the behavior of the few (rich people who are greedy, immoral despots) to an entire group (people who make more than $250,000 a year), the conclusion fails to account for the varied experience in the American spectrum. The unstated assumption here is that rich people are bad and therefore it is fair to take their money to pay for programs, debt and other national “emergencies.” During the first 2012 Presidential debate, the candidates discussed the deficit. Obama kept repeating that it was fine to take money from the people that could afford it. The problem with this idea is that if it’s ok to take money from one kind of person, then it's ok to take money from any kind of person. Once you make allowances in principle for one thing, all allowances are possible. When someone decides that I have “enough” money will they take it from me as well?


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