Wherein are considered some several questions on
distribution amongst the classes and the fairness thereof
There has been much discussion of late on the subject of “income inequality.” This space will not deal excessively with that amply covered topic, but with its cousin. When we speak of income inequality, we are essentially speaking of the distribution of wealth. What I am concerned with, however, is not the distribution of wealth, but the distribution of pain.
To my mind, the distribution of wealth is something fit to be worried over in good times. And these are not good times. Let us take it as self evident that, from an œconomic perspective, things are not likely to get markedly better for the average American in the next 6-12 months. As the recent congressional struggle over the Social Security payroll tax &c. have demonstrated, we can barely agree to maintain the status quo, itself barely sufficient, if it all.
If we remove the status quo as an option, the government would seem to have two avenues open to it with the goal of rectifying its œconomic condition. The first is a large Keynesian-type stimulus. Putting aside the question of efficacy vis-à-vis large government spending, we may discount this as a practical matter since any such proposal would fail to gain the requisite legislative support as the two houses are currently populated. The other avenue, really the only practicable avenue at this time, is to affect a balancing of the fœderal ledger. This may be done either by a decrease in expenditures, an encrease in revenues or some mixture of the two.
It is not the purpose of this piece to proscribe any particular expenditures, neither to identify in their particulars new avenues of revenue. Suffice it to say that the extraction of additional monies from individuals and businesses is bound to cause some measure of inconvenience to the entity forced to surrender it. Likewise that individuals and businesses are likely to be inconvenienced by a decrease in governmental expenditures by which they had heretofore been advantaged.
It is at this point that I ask, who is it that should be thus inconvenienced and to what extent? Should there be a relationship between the extent of œconomic injury suffered from one group to another, or ought they to be independent of one another?
The term “class warfare” has been used by some on the right to calumniate the proposals of some on the left. Without considering the merits, or lack thereof, of any proposals that have been so appellated, I would suggest that there are few in this land who would wish for a class war, though it is clear that there many on both sides who feel that one has been already foisted upon them.
For my part, I should like to see Americans from every œconomic stratum work together to ameliorate our distress, to the advantage of all. Our history has shown that we are a people capable of great sacrifice when circumstance so demands. Yet it is natural that people are most willing to sacrifice when that sacrifice is shared by all. People will more easily bear some burden or injury when they know that their fellow citizens will suffer similarly.
The lower and middle classes in this country do not have much to give, but I believe they will bear what they are able the more readily if they see that their œconomic betters will take up some burden on likewise. The White House introduced a twitter campaign calling for people to tweet what they could do with $40 dollars, the estimated savings per-paycheck derived from the so-called payroll tax holiday.
To my mind, this is the wrong approach. One might also ask, if necessity demanded, how would you cut $40 dollars from your weekly expenditures? There is no question that the loss of $40 dollars out of my paycheck would be noticeable. Indeed it could make the difference between being able to afford a night out with my friends or perhaps some creature comfort to which I have grown accustomed. Or perhaps a reëvaluation of what and how much I buy at the grocery store. Yet, at the same time, I recognize that as a nation, we are not on solid ground with respect to our finances. If the loss of this income would truly be to our national advantage, then would I willingly bear this hardship. If.
If, and this is the key, I knew that all Americans would bear some comparable hardship. The wealthy must also be made to give. This giving might take the form of an encrease in marginal tax rate, or an encrease on capital gains taxes, stock transaction fees, or something else entirely. It may perhaps need be little more than symbolic. Just enough that they would be conscious of also having made some sacrifice. It can not be the sole burden of the already weak to suffer thus.
Certainly it would not be to our advantage to extract revenues at the expense of potential job creation. And though it is by now a familiar topos of the right to identify wealthy Americans as “job creators,” neither can we be held hostage by the notion that any additional œconomic burden whatsoever would have this as its issue. Just as it can not fairly be said to be “class warfare” to ask for such sacrifice.
What is saddening – or frightening, depending on one’s perspective – is that our elected representatives seem unable to deal with these issues in a mature manner. More than 2/3 of the populus thinks the deficit ought to be righted by some mixture of additional revenues and spending cuts. Yet still do we find obstructionism and dogmatism in Washington. It is enough to make one wonder for whom Congress really works. But that is a question for another day. For now, it is enough to remember that we as a nation must weather this storm together. We would do well if each of us would not only accept some part of the burden, but indeed showed some pride in the bearing of it.