There’s plenty to resent about the rich, too
by Reg Henry
October 05, 2012 01:01 AM | 856 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Reg Henry
Reg Henry
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It is time to concede a major point in the political arguments of our time: When conservatives warn about a culture of dependency, they make a good point.

People who live off entitlements often become lazy, nonproductive and out of touch. It’s a fact. I have seen it myself.

As usual, of course, what I have seen is not what others see. Not being one to poke my nose into other people’s grocery carts to check if they are living high on the hog when paying for turkey dogs with food stamps, my concern is more with the wealthy few, not the poorer many.

Why? Because having enough food stamps to buy turkey dogs doesn’t strike me as a great incentive for the rest of us to leave work and get on the public dole. Clearly, the poor don’t live high on the hog, more like low on the piglet.

Unfortunately, conservatives have fallen into the intellectual trap of thinking that the character-rotting phenomenon of dependency only happens when poor people become hooked on government payouts.

In truth, the money doesn’t know whether it comes from the government or not. As far as the money is concerned, it could care less whether it is a welfare check that buys turkey dogs or a trust fund that keeps the recipient in Veuve Clicquot champagne.

Oblivious to its origins, abundant money from any source can wreck the lives of anyone who doesn’t have a real job in the American workplace, with its never-ending meetings, ponderous bureaucracy and petty humiliations. That’s what builds real character.

Some would argue that the mere fact of having other people pay for your lazy poor self via taxes is the true cancer of the soul. But many people are involved as enablers when someone rich ceases to be fully engaged and productive and embraces a life of money-fueled ease. Too much money is an equal opportunity mooch producer.

When a wealthy parent leaves a child a great deal of money in a will, the child has done nothing to deserve it and therefore is at risk of becoming a professional cake-eater with a low golf handicap.

The same is true of someone who has built a prosperous business and then retires from the sweaty fray to live off investments, which are usually handled by professional money managers, accountants and tax attorneys.

If you are no longer doing your own sweating, and depend on others sweating for you, the moral danger is the same as if you were on a government program. And in a sense you are, because conservative politicians have been devoted to satisfying your every whim for lo the past 10 years, so that any wealth redistribution that has gone on has only sent more wealth your way. And what have you done with your good fortune? Not made a whole lot of new jobs, that is for sure.

In the meantime, the poor person does his own taxes, chewing a pencil at the kitchen table in the glum knowledge that such entitlements as he will be entitled to — by dint of a lifetime of hard work — are threatened because the government revenue stream is being diverted to the big houses on the hill.

Perhaps it has been ever thus, the rich growing rich and the poor growing poorer, but it seems to me that in previous eras politicians weren’t quite so shameless and didn’t make their schemes quite so obvious.

However, I must acknowledge exceptions — some people inherit lots of money and go on to live perfectly productive lives. But be warned: The moral danger is blind to social rank.

For example, I know of a fellow who, despite winning the birth lottery, had the gumption and smarts to create a highly successful business. After a period of becoming wealthy in his own right, he then decided to rest on his bounteous laurels and run for president.

Trouble is, he can’t relate to anyone now. He is so desperate to be liked by ordinary people that he will say any old conservative thing just to show he is one of the boys.

It is a sad spectacle because it’s such a waste of obvious talent. Instead of investing money in a Swiss bank or the Cayman Islands, he could start another business right here in America, maybe producing special harnesses that could keep dogs safe on the roof of the family car.

The culture of dependency has claimed another victim, in his case a dependency on tax breaks. Give that man a turkey dog on a silver platter, so that he may learn that we are all in this together.

Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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