Universal Translator

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Friedman Files: Case File No. 2

(For an explanation of what the “Friedman Files” are, see here).

Last weekend I was talking with my sister, and she said something that gave me an interesting insight into how perhaps a certain segment of the American public thinks of things like the debate over raising taxes on the wealthy.

Now, for these purposes, that “certain segment” would be people like my sister and brother-in-law.  They are professionals and do very well for themselves – especially when considered against the median household income – but they are by no means anywhere close to being part of “the 1%.”  My sister is a very intelligent woman, but like a lot of people she is disinterested in politics, doesn’t understand how the economy works, and tends to listen to people who sound like they know what they are talking about.

My brother-in-law is also a very intelligent person but he, quite unfortunately, gets his information from founts like Rush Limbaugh.  So he tends to believe many things that are not actually true and this, ah, “colors” his understanding of things.

In any event, I was talking with my sister about the need to raise taxes on the wealthy, and we were discussing in particular the Democrats’ plan to pay for their latest proposed Jobs Bill by imposing a 0.5% surtax on income over $1 million.  And then the following dialogue took place:

SIS:     Yeah, that’s all well and good that a small extra tax is going to be placed on people making over a million dollars.  But you know how that sounds to people like me and [my husband]?  It makes us think that we’re going to have to pay these extra taxes, and we’re nowhere near making a million dollars a year.

ME:     Well, so why on earth would you think you guys are gonna be taxed?

SIS:     Because that’s how it always works.  Look, you can’t tell me that the rich don’t control the government.

ME:     Uhhmmmmm . . . nooooo, I’d never try to tell you that.  That’s kind of what we’ve been discussing:  how the rich took over the government and now use their power to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.

SIS:     Right.  So they control the government.  Which means they won’t allow the government to raise their taxes.  So when people start talking about how we need to raise taxes, they won’t be the ones who end up actually paying higher taxes – the government’ll “compromise” and it’ll end up being me and [my husband].

I had to admit, I had never thought of it that way before.  Not that I think my sister is correct, mind you, but I can make out her logic.

It is an impressively depressing example of how thoroughly the uber-wealthy have managed to take control of the United States.  Not only do they in fact control the levers of power, but they have convinced at least some of the people in America – people like my sister – that there is nothing that can be done about it. 

Want the rich to kick in a tiny surtax to pay for teachers, cops, firefighters?  Not possible.  Want to keep pushing the need to kick in money to pay for teachers, cops, firefighters anyway?  Well, then, you’re gonna be on the hook, buddy, so go ahead if you wanna . . . slit your own throat.

It’s a weird kind of Stockholm Syndrome in which the lives and well-being of ordinary people have been taken hostage and, while they may not love their captors, any spirit they may once have had for fighting back has been utterly crushed.

No wonder voter turnout is so low in this country.

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