Whose Loot is It, Anyway?

As campaign season rolls on, we are being treated to the usual colorful fall display of Republicans showing off their economic policies.  Well, it’s actually not all that colorful; in fact, it’s downright monochromatic.  The G.O.P. doesn’t like to talk about economic policy very much, because they don’t really have one, but when pressed, they all give the exact same answer:  they’re going to cut taxes.  (Donald Trump purports to be an exception to this rule, but even if he were to win the presidency, he will absolutely not impose any tax policy that will result in people like himself paying more money to the federal government.)  The Democrats, too, have to push a tax-reform plan — not that taxes don’t need reforming, or that there’s a genuine difference between who would benefit from the two parties’ economic policies. It’s just that, leaving aside the fact that most Democratic candidates are, like their political rivals, multi-millionaires, and they learned long ago that you don’t win votes by saying you’re going to raise taxes.

The thing is, as has been pointed out many times, the whole point of running for President is that it puts you in charge of the federal government.  And if, as most Republicans do, you (mistakenly) conceive of government as a business, why would you propose measures that deliberately choke off your business’ revenue stream?   The government, after all, needs money to operate.  More than a few members of the political right argue that it shouldn’t — it’s no longer radical for Republicans to act as if the government they’re attempting to control is an abomination they want to strand in a burning barn — but anyone with a serious prospect of winning the White House has to at least pretend that they’re going to keep the services millions of people depend upon running smoothly during their tenure.  So what’s the rationale for this constant mania about cutting taxes?

When asked, the standard response, from al Republicans and most Democrats, is a seemingly straightforward one:  it’s your money, they say, and you should decide what to do with it, not some Washington bureaucrat.  Well, a wise man once said that money ain’t got no owners, only spenders, but rather than engage in some wide-ranging theoretical analysis of the nature of capitalism, let’s just take this statement at face value and see how consistently it is applied.  If we accept on its face the claim that everyone earns what their labor is worth, and that once money becomes yours, you should be the only arbiter of where it goes and what is done with it, where do we go from there?  It’s certainly true that no one likes being told what to do with their money, but in practice, there’s a very different reality between the rich and the poor when it comes to letting people control their money.

If there’s one thing the plutocratic class and its defenders love more than preventing “invasion of capital” — than, in other words, keeping the government from telling them what to do with their money — it’s shaming poor people for what they do with their money.  If you’re not a millionaire and you spend your money on anything but gruel and school supplies, there’s sure to be some fat white 1%er making you feel like shit for your life choices.  It’s even worse if you come within sniffing distance of public assistance; if you make so little money from your rich boss that you need food stamps, public housing, or Medicare, you better not ever buy a television, a bottle of beer, or a shirt with something written on it, or you’ll be the next poster boy for welfare fraud.  You’re also disqualified from owning a cell phone, a car, or a computer, even if you need them to get the kind of job that would lift you out of poverty and let you wean yourself from government aid in the first place.

If, on the other hand, you are a multimillionaire, no one can dare question what you choose to spend your money on.  No purchase, no matter how extravagant, worthless, or destructive of the environment can be met with criticism, lest you be accused of engaging in ‘class warfare’.  What’s more, the buying habits of the poor are met with scorn, because a million people buying fast food is a national scandal, while a single person throwing his money away on a yacht or a private jet is a ‘job creator’.  As no less august a capitalist personage than Adam Smith pointed out, the bosses “complain much of the bad effects of high wages”, but, conversely, “they say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains.”

No one is more effusive on the benefits of free spending and unrestrained income than a rich man, provided that income is their own.  When it belongs to the laboring classes, however, wealth suddenly becomes a corrupting influence on the level of Satan’s very ichor; no Marxist ever spoke with such vigor of the poisonous effects of money than a rich man speaking of a poor man’s cash.  Any CEO who gets a $10 million salary and eight-figure stock options is naturally assumed to be able to deal deftly with the responsibilities of such vast wealth; but let a janitor win the lottery and we see a rash of tut-tutting opinion pieces decrying the baleful future that is inevitable for a man cursed with such largesse.  And when it becomes clear to right-wing politicians, as it inevitably does, that someone has to pay for things like national defense, public services, and government contracts that pad the accounts of their rich backers, is always the poor and working-class they call upon to carry the weight of tax increases.

It makes a crude amount of sense to claim that everyone should get to get what they earn and keep what they get, but the real world requires us to understand society and economics at an adult’s level of sensibility.  And when it comes to cases, even this credo shows up the hypocrisy of the bosses; whenever they talk about “your money”, they always mean “my money”.

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