Losing My Temper…

Prometheus, by Gustave Moreau, tortured on Mou...

Prometheus. A Myth Americans Should Believe.

Really.  I called my best friend — a conservative friend — a petty nitwit last night, and not in the usual quiet indirect way.

A myth exists out there that tells a story of how success is punished in the United States.  This myth grows stronger as success becomes more unbalanced.  The myth depends on the belief that the successful are demonized and everyone is successful when the opposite is more true.

The United States celebrates success — we know that — but it is simple-minded parochialism to think that we alone are best and special at success in America.  Ironically, the party that claims a natural affinity with successful principles is the party that is fostering this mythical attack on success here.  It is yet another example of the power of rhetoric and how it can turn facts upside down.

Supposedly wealth in this country is earned through individual talent and effort.  People have more because they deserve more.  And until you reach the level of leisurely wealth, you have to pay your dues, literally.  Pay more taxes, especially as a percentage of your income, for the right to work for Wal-Mart. 

Building a Better America. Michael I. Norton, Harvard Business School. Dan Ariely, Duke University.

The wealthy, I am reminded, pay huge tax bills.  A billionaire pays more than a school teacher.  That might be true in most cases, depending on the billionaire’s ethic, I suppose; but that is not the point.  Until you can show me someone who came from no economic means whatsoever who has made a fortune big enough to support his leisure, I’m not buying it.

Show me a kid from the deserts of Sudan who now lives like a king managing the money of working class Americans, for example.  (And still lives like a king when he loses it.)  Then I’ll start to believe. 

As wealth trickles upward — actually flows upward, forget the trickle — opportunities for the mythical self-made success go with it.  Even the child of the most fortunate means owes his fortune to the common efforts of a well-functioning and well-funded social sphere.   Education, health, security…that’s just the start, the basics for a good labor force and a dynamic domestic economy.  This along with the growing household demands of consumers after World War II made fortunes for American business. 

Today wealth is being consolidated and outsourced.  The numbers are staggering.  Even the traditional rich are not rich anymore in comparison.  So why tax oligarchies who enjoy the benefits of the new economic order?  Because they benefit from that order.  Their profits and wealth depend on a docile and obedient working and professional class.  They need sheep willing to pay more for less.  But pointing this out is supposedly an attack on success.  Really?

I might sound a bit flippant and it is hard to make my case when many people can afford the world’s most affluent lifestyle, but look around the corner at what is to come.  People like John Boehner literally cry about the future.  Michele Bachmann claims we are losing our freedom and headed toward tyranny.  (She’s more or less correct, by the way, but not for the reasons she gives.  Bachmann — and people like her — is the problem, not the solution.)

If you’re worried about the future, worried about your grandchildren — a favorite conservative trope — then be worried about what is being done to the economy in this country, be worried about what is being done to social services and public goods.  Conservatives have become freeloaders — free riders in economic terms — they want the functioning social order and infrastructure, but don’t want to pay for it.  They expect public employees to give up their rights, for example.  They want all workers to give up their rights, in fact.  Why?  Because we are heading more and more toward an era when corporations matter more in government than people.

When I was a kid we were scandalized by the supposed $100 hammer and $200 toilet seat that was said to be on the Pentagon’s books.  Now we have privatized much of our military and we think little of $45 for a six-pack of Coke charged by Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton.  (And that Coke adds up…What’s $1.4 billion among old friends?)  The difference?  One is “free” enterprise, the other is government waste.

This twisted thinking is ruining this country.  But now that corporations have been afforded the rights of people in speech and politics, don’t expect things to change, especially if we keep electing people who are nothing more than pawns for those enjoying the greatest transfer in wealth and opportunity in our history. 

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