Monday, October 27, 2008

I Ain't Rich...But I Plan To Be

The title of this blog is an ode to my fellow Americans.

We are a nation of potential millionaires.

We take our cues on fashion, homes, cars and values from people who have more money than we do, particulary if those people have combined their fortune with fame. Many of us don't want to just keep up with Mr. and Mrs Jones, we actually want to be their rich friends.

That is an interesting idea because it describes why John McCain's recent claim that Barack Obama is a socialist is working with some people who really should be in favor of some wealth distribution. (Although I'm convinced that part of the problem is that many Republicans substitute the word "Communist" whenver they here the word "Socialist.")

This article provides even more insight into Americans' thoughts on wealth and wealth disparties. What the article helped me understand is that the reason why people are so worried about economic policies like progressive taxing, which would actually make most of their lives better, is due to a weird mixture of fear and ambition.

Honestly, most black folks understand that one of the real reasons Republicans dislike liberal tax policies is because they think Democrats are going to take all their money and give it to the "blacks on welfare." As black people we understand this because we've had to listen to people discuss Affirmative Action and welfare from positions of mind-numbing ignorance most of our lives.

Very few Americans understand why Affirmative Action was created, and they don't know who really benefits from welfare in this country. Nor do people understand how much most people on welfare receive. If people had that information it would make it much more difficult for conservatives to use welfare and Affirmative action to rally their base.

But, and this is going to be hard for some black folks to swallow, this issue is not all about black people or race. The other reason so many white people fear Obama's plan to "spread the wealth", (and lets's be honest, it's mostly white people who are worried about this plan) is because many of them count being wealthy one day as one of their ambitions.

I'm not saying all white people are currently wealthy, that would be stupid. What I'm saying is that because so many white people believe so strongly in the idea of America as a meritocracy where anybody who works hard can succeed and succeed in grand fashion, they tend to be more optimistic about their chances of joining the ranks of the wealthy.

Sure, black people would like to be rich and we devote entire rap careers to singing about that goal. Some of the more business-minded among us even have detailed five and ten-year plans for becoming wealthy. But, for most black people our prospects for achieving great wealth aren't tangible enough that we are worrying about the tax policies the rich face.

But, white folks, with all their hope and rosy optimism, are different. They don't want anyone touching the money they plan on getting in the future. Got that?

They don't see progressive taxing as a way to insure everybody pays a fair share, they see it as an unfair burden on their future rich selves. After all, they believe that if they achieve more it's because they worked harder. And what's their incentive to work hard if they just have to pay higher taxes? It just doesn't seem right.

The only problem is that this view ignores a reality of life in America, which is that succes is not determined solely by how hard you work. If that was the case, billions of housewives would be "balling", and my best friend's grandmother, who worked as a janitor to raise her grandchildren, would own a private island.

Success is based on a lot of different factors and hard work is definitely one of them. But, unfortunately, another main factor is where you start off in life based on what your ancestors achieved.

Many people in past generations had their prospects for success limited artificially, and that means some people's present day "money trees" were germinated in injustice. It doesn't make successful people today bad people and it doesn't mean they haven't worked hard. It just means their success is complicated.

Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult concepts for Americans, particularly white Americans, to grasp. It runs counter to the mythology that they are fed along with their mother's milk. It directly challenges and maligns their own self image.

Most importantly, this worldview does not benefit them at all. That's why John McCain has been able to get so much traction out of a conversation between a millionaire politician who built a life from very little, and plumber who is planning to earn more than $250,000 in the near future. Americans may not like rich people all that much, but they do want to be like them one day.

Life's complicated like that.



OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Well I plan on being comfortable maybe even filthy rich and I don’t mind paying more taxes because well I know what its like to live on two packs of ramen, some blue ribbon sausage and a pitcher of kool – aide. *lol* So even in 35% tax bracket I still be better off from wince I came.

I think you find Americans who came from nothing are less worried about the socialism claim, I know I blogged about it a few weeks back. It amazes how people can scream socialism at an Obama tax plan and health care when we are nationalizing banks. I mean really. It hurts me that we spend more time looking at the hair and nails of welfare moms than we do of post bail out retreats, Exxon yachts, and 450 million dollar Lehman Brothers bonuses. However like you said it’s complicated and I guess we all want our legalized chance to rape and pillage America too.


Big Man said...

Good points OG.

Folks love to pick on the little guy when he effs up, despite the fact that is the eff ups of big corporations that have more impact on their lives.

If a crackheads sell his foodstamps, it affects me far less than when a bank CEO bankrupts his company.

Dave Zylstra said...

Such a true blog. I tells ya, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that Gilbert Arenas was talking about voting Republican in his blog, just because they did more for rich folks like him...

Ms.Coco said...

Asians and Middle Easterners benefit from affirmative action, they are using government funds to stock their stores and fruit stands and buy knockoff purses.

Raving Black Lunatic