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Envy Is the Illusion

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentary     January 24, 2012

By Perry Redd

 

 

Have you heard the latest buzzword?  It’s more akin to an allegation.  As we bear witness to the Republicans vying for the opportunity to face incumbent Barack Obama for the presidency, “The Politics of Envy” has become the allegation placed against anyone who might call a fact a fact or a truth a truth.

The fact is that there is a grand inequality of wealth in this country.  It is also fact that many with great wealth have executed great measures to prohibit others from the opportunity to gain a part of this nation’s wealth.  Another fact is that there has been concerted efforts to deceive non-wealthy Americans to think that ultra wealthy people have worked—just like anyone else—to achieve that wealth; and if anyone questions that premise they are accused of playing “the politics of envy.”

It is disingenuous of any rich person who would categorically posit that anyone that questions wealth gain is envious.  Most Americans admire people who have amassed great wealth (why, I’ll never know!).  The fact is that one generally questions wealth after the wealthy person states that he/she has “earned it.”  People want to see what that looks like.

Most working class people want to emulate the formula that worked.  Did they save their dimes and skip meals to amass that kind of wealth?  Did they put half of their paycheck in money market accounts and move in with their mother?  What exactly did rich people do to get rich?

When Republican primary candidate, Mitt Romney gave his acceptance speech after presumably winning the New Hampshire primary, Romney called President Barack Obama, “a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.” Romney was referring to the president’s comments about fairness and income inequality, the 1% versus 99% argument. Rather than show any compassion on the subject, the next day, Romney defended his “politics of envy” comment on The Today Show.

 “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms,” the former governor said, “But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.” By “quiet rooms” does Romney mean boardrooms and country clubs?  Romney must understand that people talk about greed of Wall Street and insane profits of corporations in the face of ridiculously high unemployment and record home foreclosures; and they’re talking about it loud and in public—say, the Occupy Wall Street movement?

I find it virtually absurd to even consider registering my vote for someone who cannot begin to see that a healthy economy is based on consumer spending.  When people within a society don’t possess money to spend on goods and services, then an economy becomes crippled.  When one person makes $42.6 million in the span of two years, I immediately think to myself the number of working class salaries that could be!  I think, “how many $30,000/yr salaries could that be?”  Actually, that’s 142,000 people that could be employed at a living wage!  That could really help heal the American economy.  Because I see the inequality of that picture, doesn’t make me envious;it may make me mad, but envy doesn’t even paint an accurate picture.

So why the phrase?  It’s because the person in the superior role must attack the victim to excuse his/her greed.  Anger at the fact that Romney pays a lesser tax rate than most rich people, is reasonable if nothing else. Over two years, Romney’s effective tax rate — the percentage of his income that he owed in federal income taxes — was just under 14%.

Nevertheless, and contrary to popular perception, Romney’s effective federal income tax rate is still above that of many Americans—80% of whom have an effective rate below 15%. That tax rate is higher when other federal taxes—such as the payroll tax—are included.

The reason Romney’s rate is so low—despite having one of the highest incomes in the country—is because his income was derived almost entirely from capital gains and dividends from his extensive portfolio of investments. And that form of investment income is typically taxed at just 15%, well below the 35% top tax rate for high earners. It’s not envy that questions this inequality, it’s anger.  Or at least, it should be.

The main people that will vote for Romney will be low to middle income earners; people who will be unsure of their employment or mortgage.  People who are paying a higher percentage of the incomes on gas, utilities and other necessities.  These people will choose to elect a person who cannot even begin to identify with struggling to make a monthly budget or sacrificing to send a child to college.  Why would someone vote for that?  Because, racist loyalty will cause one to vote against his/her own interest.

I beg you not to be that person.  Don’t vote against your interests.  A candidate might look attractive, but realize that money has no friends.  From his years as a venture capitalist, Romney has shown that money is more important than people.  I bet you he has more money than friends…to believe anything other is all but an illusion.

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