Give the rich a break

Antagonism toward the wealthy may reflect more on the character of those who condemn them.

Andrew Johnson

Chances are youâÄôre skeptical about, if not opposed to, the title of this column. After all, the well-off are just that âÄî why do they need or deserve a break?

A certain resentful impression toward the successful as a class is accepted, such as claims that they donâÄôt give their âÄúfair shareâÄù or arenâÄôt âÄúsharing the sacrificeâÄù as President Barack Obama stated in his calls for tax hikes this week. As college students, though, I and most readers want to obtain the same success that is currently being rebuked. After all, isnâÄôt some form of success ultimately what weâÄôre after in higher education?

Convention dictates that we celebrate and try to emulate those that have achieved success, rather than punish or begrudge them for it. Should we as college students feel ashamed of our opportunity to attend a good university or be condemned for it?

No, nor should we hold those feelings toward those in positions of wealth. To put down someone for accomplishing, or even striving to accomplish, a certain level of rightfully earned success may be more of a reflection of the critic than of the subject.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, âÄúProbably the greatest harm done by vast wealth is the harm that we of moderate means do ourselves when we let the vices of envy and hatred enter deep into our own natures.âÄù Before charging the wealthy for being greedy, ask yourself if the issue is more about what you want to have, or what you donâÄôt want someone else to have. Who are the more selfish ones: those with means protecting their private property and the pursuit of their own interests or those who want to take it from them, disregarding the efforts they put forth to obtain it? The argument often strays from one of respect and reason to one of emotion and disillusion.

On that note, claims that the wealthiest Americans donâÄôt contribute significant amounts to the public welfare are usually misguided too. By now, weâÄôve all heard the IRS figures that the top half of income earners in the U.S. pay nearly all federal income taxes while the bottom half of Americans pay less than 3 percent, meaning that one person is effectively paying for every two. Comparatively, according to the Tax Foundation, the top 10 percent of earners in the U.S. is the most taxed of that subset worldwide, more than the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Australia and any Scandinavian country.

Furthermore, figures like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Bono have revolutionized philanthropy, bringing in unprecedented awareness and donations with their foundations and advocacy. Here, the only return on their investment they seek is the betterment of mankind. Would we be better off if the acquisition of their wealth were stymied? Both the products and services theyâÄôve provided to gain it and what theyâÄôve done with it should have us conclude that the answer is âÄúno.âÄù The view that the wealthy selfishly amass their money and actively snub charitable ventures is unjustified and never seems attributed to any specific, Scrooge-like individual, but rather the ambiguous and vague idea of whoever constitutes âÄúthe rich.âÄù

âÄúIn a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of,âÄù Confucius once said. âÄúIn a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.âÄù He means that a poorly managed nation diminishes the success of its citizens, while a well-managed one looks to help the needy. It is a commentary about more than just political governance, but of cultural governance too. If we permit a society where success is not just discouraged, but detested, weâÄôve cheated ourselves on something worse than financial capital. WeâÄôve corrupted ourselves with mediocrity and despondence: a social currency nobody dedicates their lives to, especially, and hopefully, not students.

 

Andrew Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected]