Thursday, February 17, 2011

I think it's time to start a countdown to my last class in the Modern Languages Building

                If you ever see me in the basement of the Modern Languages Building on Thayer St, chances are my mood is annoyed and probably borderline furious.  Spending a full two hours doing anything related to school isn’t easy for me, but when it comes to an Arabic class where I’m trapped for an hour and fifty minutes in a room without windows and my Blackberry displays a large capital X where the service bars should be (not that Sprint provides great coverage everywhere—anywhere—else), I’m going to have a problem.  On this particular day, add in a kid who wears a shirt that reads “I can see the ocean from my house…Let me run the Navy” and a discussion about why those making over $250,000 a year should be subject to a tax increase, and before you know it I’ve finished off an entire bag of white fudge-covered Flipz pretzels, am basically shotgunning my third coffee of the day, and am ignoring my homework to write this blog post.
                The conversation about taxes began because a member of the Michigan Political Union, a group that provides a biweekly forum for debate, mentioned that they will be discussing a resolution along the lines of “In order to form a more equal society, those making over $250,000 a year should pay more in taxes” at their next meeting.  Since I feel like venting but prefer writing to bring my point across (as opposed to t-shirts with obnoxious slogans), these are the two main arguments that were expressed in support of the resolution and the problems I had with them:
·         “Why should a child whose parents have a lot of money be able to live so much more comfortably than a child whose parents do not?  It’s not the poor child’s fault he’s poor.”  This viewpoint was expressed with the implication that children with rich parents are lazy and take a free ride through life; hotel heiress Paris Hilton was given as an example.  But the Paris Hiltons of the world are not representative whatsoever of those Americans making over $250,000 as a whole—the number of people with that kind of disposable income is incredibly small, a fraction of a percent.  And I have no idea where the idea that relatively wealthy parents necessarily raise their children to have the expectation that they will live off their parents’ wealth, do whatever they please, and not work, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Think about it: much more common than the Paris Hilton example is the couple that makes $350,000 a year or so and has a child or two.  This family will live comfortably, and there will likely be money left over after the children finish college and the parents have saved enough to retire.  But enough for the kids to live off for eight or nine decades?  There is no way.  In this more-likely scenario, the parents will pass on the values of hard work and careful decision-making they learned as they rose up the income ladder so that their children can earn money of their own and build an independently successful life—they’ll have to. 
As for the argument about the child born into a wealthy versus a poor family, what incentive is there to earn money and acquire property if one is not allowed to keep it?  And—more importantly, in my opinion—will raising taxes on those making over $250,000 necessarily put the children whose parents do not on a more equal footing?  In all of the debate today, there was no mention of why the government needs this tax revenue or what would be done with it, which made the next point all the more frustrating.
·         “It’s not like we’d be taking all their money.”  Just how much money you’re taking away isn’t the point of the debate, and there needs to be a reason for a tax increase other than that you think people with a certain income can get by with a little less.  Can they?  I don’t think anyone would argue that the answer is yes.  But looking down on this group and implying that their desire to keep the money they earned is somehow wrong is a mistake, because it is loaded with people who have worked hard and who now donate the most, invest the most in our economy, and contribute to society in meaningful ways—more meaningful than they would ever be able to if wealth were redistributed to the point where everyone had a mediocre salary and less motivation to work. 
·         It’s 2:45 a.m.  I’m finally done, but I thought of this column by Mitch Albom as I was writing.  It makes better/related arguments about this debate, and I probably should have just included it first.  And then not bothered with the rest of this.