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Ask Auntie Pinko

May 19, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

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Dear Auntie Pinko,

Don't you think that rich Democrats are not any different than rich Republicans? Or does being a rich Democrat somehow change the mindset of a wealthy person to that of an altruistic proponent of charity and their fellow man, while a rich Republican is automatically changed to nothing more than a robber baron?

How is it possible that an across the board tax cut and lowering of the rates does not benefit all citizens? Could it be that anybody that really wants to return to the times of the Fifties doesn't want the economic Fifties but the social Fifties when kids could walk the streets in safety and didn't have to sleep in the tub to avoid being shot in their own house?

Milwaukee, WI

Dear Michael,

Auntie agrees with you that Democrats are as vulnerable as Republicans to the corrupting influence of wealth. I have known wealthy people of both political affiliations, and have found warmly altruistic, thoughtful individuals among them on both sides of the political aisle. I have also seen callous disregard for the moral obligations that accompany wealth among both Democrats and Republicans.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a man who grew up with wealth and privilege) put it, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." The same is true of wealth. The moral obligation that accompanies wealth is not how effectively the wealthy individual preserves that wealth and adds to it, but how effectively they use that wealth to relieve the misery and suffering of those without, whether they "deserve" it or not.

Jesus made no distinction; he comforted prostitutes and con artists as well as widows and orphans. A wealthy individual who fulfills this obligation is acting meritoriously, and political party has nothing to do with it. A wealthy individual who ignores the suffering all around them, or flees to the exclusive company of other wealthy people, so that they do not have to confront the pain and inequity of human imperfections, is abusing their wealth. No amount of tax deductions they may garner for token "charity" gifts to their alma mater, or "naming opportunities" at local institutions where their closest contact with poverty and pain are the pictures in the slideshow at the annual fundraising gala, can change that.

There is also no distinction between Democrats and Republicans in terms of how they are willing to acquire their wealth. A business person or entrepreneur who treats their workers with respect, compensates them adequately, offers them opportunities to share in the wealth they produce, and produces a quality product that does no harm, is marketed responsibly and honestly, and sold at a fair and reasonable price, is acquiring wealth conscientiously. Someone who makes their wealth by exploiting cheap labor, creating shoddy or harmful products, marketing them rapaciously, and grossly inflating their prices, is acquiring wealth destructively, regardless of their party affiliation.

It is possible to benefit all citizens by lowering tax rates, but simple "across the board" cuts in only one form of taxation rarely accomplish that goal. Generally, such actions result in benefits grossly skewed towards those paying the largest percentage or amounts of that particular tax, and can sometimes cause real harm to those who needed whatever services or infrastructure were funded by those tax revenues. "Across the board" tax cuts are a cheap and often harmful form of political pandering that usually result in an eventual worsening of the problems faced by all citizens who must deal with a decaying and inadequately funded public infrastructure and a vastly disparate distribution of wealth.

Public servants who really wish to address the problems and inequities in our tax structure would do better to undertake a thoughtful, long-term review of our entire national tax policy, with an eye to balancing the tax burden equally between assets and income, between earned and unearned wealth, and to making it appropriately progressive based on who benefits to the greatest extent (in terms of wealth accumulation) from the public infrastructure supported by the tax system. It would also be beneficial to examine our national priorities in terms of what our taxes should be funding. For example, we could increase the competitiveness of American businesses by creating and maintaining really effective transportation and communications infrastructures, and decreasing our dependence on power sources that require us to purchase fuels from foreign states.

More affordable housing, available and affordable health care, and an adequate retirement system for workers would decrease pressure on wages. Preserving the future of our children by assuring them of clean air to breathe and water to drink, healthy food to eat, and a quality education would create a highly productive, competitive workforce. Addressing issues of poverty, blight, and urban decay would reduce crime and make it more desirable for businesses to locate in population centers, preserving the environment and decreasing sprawl. By prioritizing these items, rather than trying to address the problems of business piecemeal with subsidies, corporate welfare, pork-laden military equipment contracts, and repealing or relaxing the enforcement of regulations, we could achieve real "across-the-board" benefits to all taxpayers.

Auntie Pinko is glad that your memories of the "social Fifties" are so peaceful and idyllic, Michael. But not everyone experienced them that way. Many people experienced the equivalent of "sleeping in the tub" to avoid the possibility of being lynched, hauled off to jail for violations of Jim Crow laws, removed from their job for "communist sympathies," or victimized by gang violence which was just as real then as now. Half of the population suffered from a system designed to exclude them from full economic and social participation in public life, and rendered them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Countless families in rural America and urban ghettos lived without plumbing, electricity, heat, adequate clothing, and nutritious food. Polio and other epidemics periodically devastated the nation's population of children.

If the economic, social, and cultural structure of the Fifties had produced an experience that matched yours for everyone, Auntie Pinko would be at the front of the line advocating a return to those times. Since it didn't, I'll continue advocating for a system that improves the futures of all Americans. But thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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