One Degree of Separation

Jimmy Fallon’s late night game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon connects the actor to any other actor in six degrees or less. It is a very humorous skit and one that shows the ridiculousness of connecting people with little commonality.

Bill O’Reilly, in his Op-Ed, Hating the Rich, http://www.creators.com/opinion/bill-oreilly/hating-the-rich.html takes the degree of separation to a no-so-funny level. From two pundits telling him the problem is with “income inequality” to his misleading Gallup numbers citing that 46% of Democrats answered no to the question “Do you think the U.S. benefits from having a class of rich people or not?” O’Reilly states that “more Americans believe the wealthy are bad to the bone.” Actually 63% of pollsters answered yes. The resulting 34% felt the opposite. Of those who answered no, 46% identified themselves as Democrats. In my feeble math estimation, this amounts to 46% of 34%. Google this question and you won’t find the actual Gallup numbers, but what you will find is the number 46% proliferated on page after page along with O’Reilly’s name.

O’Reilly’s Op-Ed title alone infers that people with less means who happen to be liberal hate anyone who makes more money. It might be an effective headline, a cause celebre for conservatives who want their masses to believe that liberals hate rich people, but it is simply not true. I could closer get to Kevin Bacon in six degrees than this!

Like O’Reilly, my father never spoke of wealth.  Since we lived in the family’s home place, a two-bedroom house bursting at the seams with six people, I had no conception of roomy and elegant surroundings.  When my father took me on house calls around the county, visiting folks down country dirt roads and over creeks, I only knew that he loved to talk to people, especially farmers, who lived in anything from neat and tidy brick homes to shacks.

My parents never disparaged anyone, rich or poor, black or white.  We never heard terms like fat, skinny, or ugly, much less the degrading terms people had for those of other races and ethnicities.  We were never taught to compare.

Yet, my father was a Democrat from a long line of Democrats.  I follow in his footsteps and believe that hard work, education, and strong moral fiber will help a person succeed better than any path.

O’Reilly also waxes nostalgic in his column, yet his glowing images center around his own father’s since of capitalism.  During this period in O’Reilly’s life, the reality of wealth disparity was vastly different.  The economics of the time mostly allowed for women to stay home and raise children.  People could look to buying a home, an automobile or two, and take the children on vacation with the income Daddy brought home.  In our town, private, Catholic education was free.  College was affordable.

In 2012, across the country, most households require two incomes for survival.  Catholic schools, finally forced to institute tuitions, now must raise them to survive.  College has become unaffordable to middle-class Americans as states scramble to offset budget deficits and pass the costs onto the students via rate hikes.  Braces on teeth, at around $4,000 plus a person, have become luxuries many can’t afford.  After all, even dental care itself is out of reach for much of the population.

Nowadays, life is expensive for everybody.  Yet, some can afford it more than others.

The richest 10% in America control 2/3 of the nation’s wealth.  As the recession raged through the country, those in the top tier saw their wages rise, while the bottom 1/3 witnessed a freefall.  Why?  Well, for venture capitalists like Mitt Romney, the system is structured so that he can come out unscathed no matter what happens.  He joins with other venture capitalists, buys a “failing” company and pours money into it to bring it back to market salability.  If the company succeeds, fine.  If it doesn’t fine.  He sells all assets (including employee pensions), lays off all employees, and still comes out ahead financially.  His income?  Well, it’s considered investment (interest) income.  He pays 15% in taxes on his multi-million windfall.

Romney and other venture capitalists get richer while employees lose their jobs, pensions, and health insurance.  Does this sound in the least equitable?

But let’s not just pick on Romney.  As of 2009, the average pay for CEOs was 185 times bigger than for employees.  Okay, so they command more salary and benefits for creating companies & jobs to begin with.  No one disputes this fact.  But 185 times?  Let’s say your salary is $75,000 before taxes.  That’s $13,875,000 for the boss.  Is he/she really worth that much when you are the one designing the new software for the iphone?

Now how is this acceptable?  Surely stockholders could vote against such “income inequality.”  The answer lies in the fact that CEOs are members of Boards of Directors, which vote themselves the extreme income packages.  Stockholders can express opinions but cannot control.  Last year, lawmakers gave shareholders the right to vote their (dis)approval of CEO’s pay.  This vote, however, is non-binding and must depend on the shame factor to change anything.

Then there are taxes.

In 1945 top tax rates peaked at 66.4%.  By 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson’s tax cuts slashed rates to 55.3%.  The Ronald Reagan tax cuts saw rates drop further to 47.7%.  Before George W. Bush was in office, tax rates had fallen to 36.4%.  After his controversial cuts that included the richest Americans, rates dropped to 32.4%.  See http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph

The problem with Bush’s tax cuts was that they were unfunded.  Couple this with two unfunded wars and unfunded prescription drug rate cuts for seniors, and the country slid into the deepest recession since the Great Depression.  (Unbridled trading on Wall Street also contributed, but this is a subject for another column.)

The point is this:  Asking the richest Americans (those making over $1,000,000) to return to a tax rate of 36.4% means they see an increase of 4%.  Remember, the cuts themselves were unfunded to begin with.

Those who wish to cry foul by saying trickle down economics works (give the rich more breaks, and they will employ people and pass the wealth down) have not studied economics.  It doesn’t work.  After all, as I have said in a previous essay, how many more manicurists and stylists would that allow Snookie or Paris Hilton to employ?

And, by the way, I don’t hate anybody.

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