Friday, May 25, 2012

Pleased but Furious

Reporting from North Idaho, you might think that North Idaho is the heartland of Tea Party wingnut conservatives, and in a sense it is, but it is both interesting and pleasant to report that in our recent primaries not a single one of the several Tea Party candidates won against the incumbents. Not only did they not win, they lost by extremely large margins in most every case. I do not know how to explain this, and although I would not generally believe that North Idaho might be a trend setter, in this case I sincerely hope it might be. When I asked my best friend and most astute follower of local politics, he replied, “It’s a small community, everyone knows everyone else, to know them is to (not) love them,” so hooray for small victories. This is not to suggest even an elementary turn towards liberalism as all of the incumbents were Republicans, but hey, you have to start somewhere. You have to understand that Democrats, for all intents and purposes, do not have votes here in Idaho. You can vote, of course, but it is a foregone conclusion that your vote will be meaningless. We do not boast of being the reddest of all the red states for nothing.

As far as being furious goes, after no more than 30 seconds of thought, I have concluded that I am not envious of rich people, I am absolutely furious about them. Had I wished to be wealthy I would certainly not have chosen the profession I did. I believed, naively perhaps, there were things more important and worthwhile than becoming rich. But now when I think about it more carefully, I think of those millions of us that over the years who majored in things like English or Russian literature, philosophy, history, geography, sociology, psychology, French or other languages, art, music, linguistics, archaeology, paleontology, astronomy, or even Old Church Slavonic. None of us embarked on these studies with an eye to becoming wealthy, and none of us did, although we managed to pursue these interests and more or less make a decent living, marry, have a home and children and so on. I think it is perfectly fair to say I do not envy wealth, although under present circumstances I would like to have perhaps somewhat more of the “general pie” than I have. For someone to claim that some have far more than they could possibly ever need is not envy, and those who think it is betray an appalling ignorance of what life is all about for most of humanity, “money can’t buy me love,” nor can it buy you talent , passion, curiosity, dedication, truth or satisfaction.

But what makes me furious is not that some people are more wealthy than I or my friends are, it is that many of those who are wealthy are not merely wealthy, they are wealthy beyond all imagination and seem to be obsessed with becoming more and more wealthy as long as possible. They are so wealthy one can only imagine them as hogs at the trough, the more money you throw in the trough the more they want. In my opinion it is patently absurd that any individual person should have, or even want, a billion or more dollars. The only way they could have accumulated that much wealth is by the exploitation of either the labor of others or the environment, in effect, the available resources that in most cases are either not inexhaustible or harmful to others. I believe if people work hard, or are more talented or creative than others, they should be rewarded and, if they wish, should enjoy more material comforts than others, but there ought to be some kind of reasonable limits on their comforts. I don’t see why anyone should own six or seven different homes, the most expensive luxury yacht ever built, a million dollar baseball or postage stamp, a two hundred million dollar painting, dozens of vintage automobiles, five thousand dollar shower curtains, hundred thousand dollar watches, and other such things that represent nothing but ostentation carried to ridiculous lengths. The wealth available to communities should be shared more equitably among all even though some may realistically have and deserve more than others.

There should be limits on inherited wealth, rather severe limits in my opinion. And there should also be heavy taxes levied at those making money above and beyond the “reasonable.” I don’t believe it would be all that difficult to establish what such limits might be. Remember, for example, that under the Eisenhower administration the rich were taxed at 90% and still lived very comfortably. I do not completely understand how our political/economic system morphed from one that used to work at least passably well into one that now features unregulated greed as perfectly respectable, but I do know such a system as we now have cannot last forever. The order of the day is change or perish.

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.

W. Somerset Maugham

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