Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dear Brother...

My counterpart encouraged me to continue the streak and make some comments for the fourth straight day. In that spirit I turn to a debate between my brother-in-law and me. It started as a squabble about Sarah Palin and turned into a debate about the fundamental questions of government. (Basically, I like to be mean to him and I suspect he appreciates that I care enough to be mean to him.)

One of the questions I posed was, "Do you think that wealth should be redistributed?" The response: people should keep what they earn, but it's unfair that the super wealthy and the businesses make all the money, while the working class does all of the work. I'd say that he hit well the sentiment of most people I know. Of course, it wouldn't do me any good to agree with him and I don't.

I returned his email with the following response:

"Let me point out the inconsistency of saying we should all earn what we make and that's it, but then go on about the rich having it too easy. Does that make Bill Gates a bad man? Does that make Warren Buffett a bad man? Should we force them to take the money they made and give it to those that didn't make any money? Because I went to school and worked my way up in the company, should I have to pay more in taxes because I've worked to be more successful than those that work for me? The achievement of wealth is not a sin. The issue...the problem, if you will, is that poor people don't understand how money works. Businesses don't make money...shareholders make money (most of CEO compensation is stock). Owners make money. For instance, I own 10 shares of General Electric. The more money GE makes the more my quarterly dividend is. I get my 10 share percentage of the profits of GE. If everyone in America owned 10 shares of Chevron then we'd all be a bit richer and I can guarantee that we wouldn't be considering windfall taxes for oil companies. The position is always that the government owes us something. If not the government, then the rich owes us something. We scream to the treetops that it isn't fair that people have so much money, but what isn't fair is when those that do work hard and do earn money have to give it away to those that don't.

Wealth requires investment. It requires the investment of time. It requires the investment of effort. It requires the investment of money. And it requires patience. I won't be rich because I bought 10 shares of GE. I'll be rich because every three months GE sends me a check for $3.50 and I put that money in a savings account. When I have enough money in that savings account to buy more stock I'm interested in, I buy some. It pains me to watch the value of the stock roller coaster around, but as long as the companies make money, I get my dividend, I reinvest and I increase the cash flow of my own personal economy. I'll be rich because I own a bit of the wealth that everyone else thinks is unfair. Being envious of the rich is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is taking away your neighbor's lottery winnings and keeping a part of it for yourself because you weren't willing to buy your own lottery ticket."

I suppose the thing I should have added is that wealth is redistributed at every level of the income ladder. My brother-in-law and sister are working like crazy to make a living and they are paying taxes. Down the street, one of their neighbors isn't, but is reaping the rewards of their taxes in the form of welfare and food stamps. In this case, someone with a job, even a job at minimum wage would be the rich one compared to the guy that has no job at all. The wealth is shuffled down the ladder. It hurts the super rich less, but that makes it no less fair.

It's not the inequality of wealth and income that matters. It's the inequality of education and the dead weight of ignorance that matters most.

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