Unequal Opportunities

The number of words that have poured forth after Romney’s gaffe about the 47% of Americans who don’t pay taxes (the “Obama supporters”) makes me somewhat reluctant to add my two cents worth. This is especially so since I have already addressed this issue. But that has never stopped me before, so I will push ahead!

Any number of commentators have mentioned that the 47% of Americans who supposedly don’t pay taxes do, in fact, do so — including payroll, sales, excise, and property taxes; the benefits they receive, such as social security and medicare are from money they paid in when times were better. The people who don’t pay taxes, relatively speaking, are the wealthy folks like Mitt Romney who have a smaller percentage of their income taxed than do the folks like you and me. But that being said there was the other part of Romney’s speech that was equally troubling. I speak about the conviction of Mitt Romney and the wealthy in general that they made it on their own — you know, born on third base convinced they hit a triple. That of course is hogwash. No one makes it on his own and studies have shown that those who make it big time in this country are the ones who had a foot up at the start — the rich just get richer. This is no longer a country of equal opportunity, though the Romney camp would insist that the poor are simply lazy and could make it if they just got off their collective butts and borrowed $20,000 from their parents to open their own business. [He actually said that and please note his assumption that the average young person out there can simply ask Mom and Dad for $20,000! This tells us a great deal about the world Mitt Romney lives in.]

One of the people to shed the most light on this subject is Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who wrote the following paragraph as part of a lengthy rebuttal of Romney’s speech to well-healed Republicans:

…, many of those receiving benefits are our young — providing them education and health (even if they or their parents don’t pay taxes) are investments in our future. America is the country with the least equality of opportunity of any of the advanced countries for which there is data. A child’s life prospects are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in these other countries. While the American Dream may have become a myth, it doesn’t have to be that way. Children shouldn’t have to depend on the wealth of their parents to get the education or health care they need to live up to their potential.

This is an important point in my mind. I have remarked before about the death of the Horatio Alger myth but wasn’t aware of the studies Stiglitz refers to. We need to think about the fact that this country was conceived as a community of persons brought together by common interests and hopes. We need to take care of one another when we are down and out — not turn our backs on each other. The founders deeply believed in the notion of “public virtue” which takes us outside of ourselves and leads to selfless acts of kindness — all of which strengthen the community as a whole.

But by 1816 Thomas Jefferson, for one, was already beginning to worry about the lack of public virtue in the form of narrow self-interest exhibited by the increasing numbers of corporations hell-bent on making as much money as possible. He hoped “that we shall take warning and crush at its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of the country.” To which Mitt Romney replies: “Corporations are people too.” In any event, those who run our largest corporations are the immensely rich who do not care in the least about community and would insist they made it to the top of the pyramid on their own.

However, if someone makes it big he assuredly owes it to those — in addition to his parents —  who made it possible. To turn one’s back on others who fall on hard times and ignore them as lazy and unmotivated is to ignore the fact that as a community each of us depends on others along the way. Romney’s attitudes, reflected in numerous comments he has made (in or out of context) reveal him to be a man with no sense of history and no awareness of the innumerable people who have helped him get where he is today.

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8 thoughts on “Unequal Opportunities

  1. Great post. You are so right – it seems to take money to make money in this country, which sets people up to remain in the same socioeconomic status their parents are in. Which is ironic in some ways, when the “America Dream” is to make something out of nothing. That borrow from your parents comment gets me every time. So out of touch.

  2. Great post Hugh. I heard a statistic on Bill Maher’s last show – the person who cited it is an editor for Time, I think. She said in a global survey, America has fallen to 10th in social mobility in the world. This means there are 9 countries where it is easier to move up in social strata. This has to be an average, as there are people in our country that have close to zero chance, while others have much better odds. Thanks, BTG

  3. Another “mittens moment” is his continuing claim that he didn’t inherent anything, he made it on his own. This is absurd. Daddy got him into Harvard, and got him 4 military deferments, keeping him out of Vietnam, out of harms way. Daddy also got him his start in business. And his claim of struggling to support his family while in school, sometimes having “to sell some stock.” Where did the “stock” come from, his job as a soda jerk at the ice cream shop???

  4. i am still ‘mending’ so my emotions are a bit more on my sleeve; when i reflect from my expat vantage point where futbol is the top news of each day, i get quite sad when i catch up with what is happening back home. how in the world has our country veered so far from our founding fathers’ expectations/dreams, and why can’t we find the power to stop the out-of-control roller coaster? thank goodness there are people like you, hugh, who still have a backbone and speak up/speak out. it goes back to that ole concept of apathy – too many people suffer from that disorder and need to wake up. z

    • As Huxley said, we are easily distracted — and there are way too many distractions these days. Many thanks for the valuable comments!

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