Monday, August 06, 2007

Why do we demonize wealth?

In response to a blog post and a similar article in the Toledo Free Press about levy fatigue, a friend sent me an email that nicely joined together several factors impacting Toledo.

For background, she refers to several items in the news:

*The Blade published an article lamenting the loss of area executives.

*There was the announcement of low interest loans to encourage those who can't afford to purchase art to do so (see articles here and here).

*COSI is asking for another levy for operational funds - after their request last year failed.

She wrote:

"If we have truly lost the upper middle to upper levels of wealth in this area we are probably finished. These are the people who underwrite art and music and culture to which the less affluent get access usually at no cost. They are the ones who need a place to network to generate the deals that make a city/region work both literally and figuratively.

Without this layer of people we are reduced to asking poor people to go into debt to support art. We have to get excited about the numbers of people in poverty because there is money to hand out rather than jobs. We put the burden of keeping non-profits operational on the backs of low wage earners through levies rather than the fundraising efforts of people who do not have to worry about the price of gas.

I think the loss of labor jobs is regrettable but the previously unnoticed loss of management jobs is far worse because the ripples are farther reaching. When will Toledo/Lucas County get over its hypocritical view of wealth and the wealthy who really are the answer to many of our area's problems?"

And I think that she's raised a very valid point - that we discourage or penalize those who attain wealth. We tax them, we take from them to give to others, we call their companies 'evil corporations,' we criticize them when they spend their own money on themselves, we blame them for excessiveness - especially when it appears that they contribute to 'global warming' ... But you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd say they don't want more money than they have right now.

It used to be that the American Dream was to rely upon oneself to achieve whatever goal one set. We used to admire those who achieved wealth by working hard, creating something new or even playing the stock market well.

But today, class envy has become the norm. The normal response to someone who has wealth is to say they got it at someone else's expense. Many politicians and opinion-makers promote the idea of a limited pie - that if someone has wealth, it's because some else doesn't. They look for more ways to 'tax the wealthy' to provide benefits for the 'poor.' And they promise such programs in exchange for votes, relying upon income from those they claim shouldn't have wealth in the first place.

Locally, we subsidize the creation of market rate housing...but many who'd be able to afford such housing are not the ones buying memberships to country clubs, becoming patrons of the arts or sponsoring major initiatives of non-profits. Can you imagine the outcry if local leaders said they were going to subsidize the creation of luxury housing - perhaps in the planned Marina District - in order to attract those with enough disposable income to generously contribute to the economic revitalization of the downtown area?

We say we want a knowledge-based economy, but we demonize those who would lead such an economy. We say we want good jobs, but make it nearly impossible, cost-wise, for job-providers to locate here. And heaven forbid if such job-providers happen to be non-union... We say we want to encourage success, but then tax and criticize those who succeed.

We can't have it both ways - and I'm reminded of the "10 Cannots" by Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, 1916:

* You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
* You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
* You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
* You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
* You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
* You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds.
* You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
* You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
* You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative and independence.
* You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

Would Toledo be better if we had more "wealthy" people? Would our community and economy benefit by such a population? You decide.


-Sepp said...

Maggie, class envy has been pushed on the populace by politicians pandering for votes forever. I find it laughable to hear one political party demonizing "the rich" for not "caring" enough for "the poor" while hosting $1500 per plate fundraisers. I often wonder why the wealthy patrons that are bankrolling the party actually pay to hear how uncaring they are for the poor. I guess that they must be bashing the "other" rich people from the "other America".

The rich are the only class of people that it's still "PC" to openly bash in the public arena.

I have always envied the rich but, I've been too busy working hard to join their ranks to find the time to bash them.

Jill said...

Maggie - thanks for this post. I'm going to think about it and hopefully make a minute to write about it too and link back.

Maggie said...

look forward to it, Jill...

Neighborhood Concerns said...

"The normal response to someone who has wealth is to say they got it at someone else's expense."

Well, some may.

How about the little guy or gal that had an idea and the idea grew into a product and the idea then needed a plant to manufacture the product and so on.

What is being done to foster the small business owner as most large businesses were once small.

"It used to be that the American Dream was to rely upon oneself to achieve whatever goal one set."

Just as every little boy could be an astronaut, if they wanted to. Or every little girl could be a nurse, if they wanted to.

Maybe some of us desire to earn a decent living and wage and do not grab at the gold ring.

"We say we want good jobs, but make it nearly impossible, cost-wise, for job-providers to locate here. "

This is changing with the advent of alternative energy ideas being looked at local universities and the like.

The area relied on manufacturing jobs, mostly automotive, and the leadership failed to recognize the decline in the industries effected and therefor failed to look for alternatives.

It's all a cycle. What was once down will be up, again.

Maggie said...

NC - I agree that not everyone wants 'wealth' and that many define wealth in terms not associated with money...

I also agree that it's easier to grow an existing business than it is to attract new ones.

But when the messages such business owners get (think towing or ambulance companies) is that they are NOT valued, we (as in the general 'we') are not supporting our words with our actions.

But I, too, have hopes for a changing economic base as we look to alternative fuels, transportation logistics and the commercialization of university research...

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...

Very good post Maggie!

I find it regrettable that our very own government is the largest stumbling block to most of us attaining our much-deserved wealth status by keeping us from accumulating that wealth through various Socialist taxing methods designed to lavish our taxes on those who value it little and willingly squander it, because, not having worked for it themselves, value "our" money so little.

It is indeed rare that the so-called poor, value our tax dollars as if they had to work for it themselves, and spend "our" money wisely.

Taxes are the penalty for success, while welfare and other forms of disbursing the monies of the producers is the mother's milk that nourishes and keeps the unsuccessful (the poor), fiercely loyal to the money takers and givers, our politicians.

Neighborhood Concerns said...

Does wealth demonize us?

Foreclosures in metro Toledo area rise 51% in 1st half of 2007

The phone at the $200,000 home in suburban Toledo is picked up by an answering machine with a woman’s cheery voice: “We can’t come to the phone right now. Leave us a message and we’ll get back to you just as soon as we can. Have a great day!”

There is no hint that the place is scheduled to be auctioned at the Lucas County courthouse Aug. 29 in a sheriff’s sale.

But this family has plenty of company.

Foreclosure actions rocketed 51 percent in metro Toledo in the first six months of 2007 compared to the same period last year, according to newly released data.

A home or house to call home has been part and parcel of the American dream.

Bigger and bigger and more and more floor space with the allure of wealth and status or the appearance of that.

I have a relation that has a house with over 5,000 square feet and a full spiral stair case and other amenities such as in ground pool with a spa built with a cascading fall in both, 40 foot ceiling in the great room and drives a Mercedes and a Cadillac Escalade.

And here I sit comfortable in the inner city in Toledo in a house valued at almost 55K.

Do I desire the house and cars as my relation? No.

In the immortal words of Popeye, I am's what I am.

Maggie said...

NC - I understand your point, but 'wealth' cannot demonize us...only we can do that to ourselves.

And someone who purchases beyond their means is not, IMHO, wealthy...

Neighborhood Concerns said...

"'wealth' cannot demonize us...only we can do that to ourselves."

Quite and if we seek to acquire more wealth based on the need too are we then not perpetuating the cycle?

Living beyonds means is not always a a reflection of wealth as is it just not being able to grab the golden ring that is ever so slightly out of reach, instead of being happy with what they have.

The American Dream as I remember it as a kid was about more and more earn more and get more and so on.

And then I woke up and thought, well what am I doing and what am I doing it for?

And excised the demon.


And David Bynre reminded me, "My god what have I done!?"

Maggie said...

NC - you've made a decision that suits you...and I applaud that. But that doesn't mean that others who choose to pursue different goals are bad because they do so. To say that people who accumulate wealth are somehow 'bad' because they made a different choice is what I mean when I say that some 'demonize' wealth.

Besides - those so often doing the 'demonizing' are members of the political party that supposedly supports alternative lifestyles and freedom of choice...

-Sepp said...

NC, what you are describing is the accumulation of DEBT which is the opposite of wealth!

Maggie, you're right on the money ;-) when you indirectly name the democrats as the main perps who demonize wealth. The very same people who afterwards take a limo to the airport, hop in their private jets and return home to their gated mansions and manicured estates...most likely laughing that once again, nobody called their bluff.

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