I’m sitting comfortably at home today, enjoying the Labor Day holiday, and wrestling with a post I want to write. Labor Day seems like a good day for it, because it’s about wage earners. But it’s giving me trouble.
Here’s what I want to say: I want to point out that most of the nation’s wealth is produced by wage earners—people who receive money in return for the productive work that they do in generating the goods and services that make up the nation’s wealth. But not everyone is a wage earner. There are other people who receive money, not as payment for goods/services produced, but because of their economic status.
Conservatives are famous for resenting the fact that the very poor are collecting welfare checks without working for them, but the fact is that the very rich do the same thing. It’s called “capital gains” instead of “welfare,” but no matter what you call it, it boils down to money you receive, not as wages for what you produce, but simply as a reward for being at either extreme on the financial spectrum. Investment, after all, is an alternative to acquiring money through earning wages.
That’s roughly what I want to say. I want to point out that liberals and conservatives (in the rank-and-file, at least) have shared concerns, in that wage earners are being asked to shoulder an unfair proportion of the burden of funding non-wage earners—an inequity that stems in large part from the fact that our laws are being written by people who are non-wage earners and who are stacking the deck in their own favor. That’s why taxes on wages are so much higher than the taxes on non-wages.
There’s an element of truth there that’s important and needs to be said. I’m just having trouble saying it.
The problem I’m having, of course, is that this is too simplistic. Investment is more than just using a lot of money to obtain control over even more money. Or at least it can be. To a certain extent, investors are performing a valuable, productive service by doing risk assessments, applying selective encouragement to enterprises that are likely to succeed, and absorbing the losses from the ones that fail. I don’t want to condemn all investments, because there is legitimate value there.
On the other hand, the fact that investments have legitimate value does not mean that non-wage earners never abuse their positions of power. And therein lies the rub, because with few exceptions the members of the legislature are not wage earners. How could they be? My family depends on my paycheck. I can’t quit my job just to run for Congress, and then take a chance that in 6 years or less I’ll be unemployed. My boss isn’t going to hold my position for that long. And what if I get re-elected? The financial constraints on a wage-earner make it very difficult for any of us to seriously consider running for office at the national level.
It all boils down to taxation without representation. Capital gains are taxed far less than wages because the people deciding the tax rates get most of their income from non-wages. The people who produce the wealth are not the people who control it, and the people who control it are making sure that more of it goes to non-wage earners than to wage earners. That’s not a Democrat vs. Republican issue, that’s a privileged vs unprivileged issue.
All this liberal vs. conservative sideshow is just a diversion to keep us from recognizing where the real division lies. It’s a strategy: keep the wage earners polarized and divided into liberal wage earners versus conservative wage earners, and keep them bickering with each other so that they never realize they have both a common interest and a common adversary. But turn off cable news for a while, and cool off from all the heated and irrational rhetoric, and just follow the money. When all is said and done, who ends up with the lion’s share? It’s not the wage earners, it’s not the poor, and it’s sure as hell not the multi-trillion-dollar-debt government, Democrat or Republican.
The top 20% of households in America control 93% of the wealth, leaving only 7% of the wealth for the other 80% of us. And of that 93%, almost 43% is controlled by the top 1%. They’re the ones deciding what we see on the news, and what laws the lobbyists will write, and how the flow of money will be directed. This isn’t a liberal vs. conservative issue, it’s unprivileged wage earners vs. privileged and powerful non-wage earners.
That’s what I want to say, but I want to say it clearly and accurately, without oversimplifying the issues or descending into cheap sloganeering. And it’s hard. Maybe some of you all have some suggestions?