Friday, March 05, 2004

Forbes ferrets out injustice

I spend a fair amount of time reading and listening to conservatives and Republicans. Sometimes I start to believe that there must really be something there that’s really better than, well, what my basic liberal soul tells me

I’m not talking about the rationality or rightness of the actual content of conservative arguments. Sometimes that’s pretty good, sometimes so-so, usually craptacular. I try to learn from the reasonable points I hear, and discard the rest. But there’s something underneath going on that hits me. Something in the tone, maybe, or in the subtext, that seems to be trying to convince me of something. And some part of me, well, sort of cringes, really. I feel like there’s some superior virtue going on, somehow.

One of the virtues for Republicans is definitely not whining about how unfair things are all the time. Suck it up and deal with it. Work harder, and get ahead. The race isto the swift, dammit. People get what they deserve. Liberals enable the weak and cripple people who try. You know, that whole line.

This one hits me, sometimes, even though it doesn’t have a lot of intellectual weight behind it. I know that I could be working harder, for one thing. Maybe other folks could, too. Of course, many people do work insanely hard and never get out of poverty anyway. Back and forth….

Well, anyway. Whatever the intellectual merits, I can sort of feel the force of the general dictum, Thou shalt not whine.

This is way too long an introduction to something I read in the March 15th, 2004 Forbes. Rich Karlgaard writes in “One Huge Tax Disparity” (page 41):

A typical 4,000-square-foot home in a tony New York City suburb such as Greenwich costs:

* Twice as much as its counterpart in Lake Forest, a suburb outside of Chicago, Ill.
* Four times more than one in Auburn Hills, a suburb outside of Detroit, Mich.
* Six times more than a spread in Clive, the best address in Des Moines, Iowa.
The same ratios hold for smaller houses….

So, OK, nothing new so far. You knew that, more or less, right? What’s the point?

Let’s say you want to enjoy an executive-class lifestyle…. [First, you need a big house with a gourmet kitchen and so on.] … Let’s further suppose you want to drive a Lexus, BMW, or Cadillac, join a country club, keep a wardrobe suitable for business and business casual, put your kids in private schools and give to your favorite charity, as well as save money. Tally it all up, and you’ll discover this takes about a $500,000 income in New York or San Francisco, a $400,000 one in Boston, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C….

But in Des Moines you’ll need $150,000. In fact, maybe only $100,000, because the public schools are so good and so few people give a rat’s patootie about the status competitions of clothes, cars and clubs, anyway.

These calculations are beforetaxes.

Rich's argument is that these gaps lead to tax unfairness. Why? Because federal income tax rates do not notice these differences. So “the coastal urban executive class, drawing mid-six-figure salaries or beetter, has become America’s prime tax patsy.” And if Bush isn’t re-elected, it’s only going to get worse, because “John Edwards can make a $200,000 family income in Summit, N.J. or Pasadena, Calif. sound like the treasury of Louis XIV.” Higher taxes for rich folks, here we come! And that is just sad. His conclusion: You might want to move to Des Moines. (No, really, that's his conclusion. New Yorkers, move to Des Moines. You have nothing to lose but your chains.)

Let me tell you, I read this and I smiled. I still smile. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Did you hear the man? People making half a mill in New York City are just barely getting by! It’s … it’s … it’s unfair!


We have a new champion of whining.

Let’s look around. You have people all over Africa starving and dying in civil wars, people all over the third world dying of AIDS for lack of money for the vaccine, people in Haiti with raw sewage in their drinking water. You have forty million people in the United States without health care. One-fourth of all black children in New York City have asthma because of environmental problems. The Bush administration is doing everything they can to make sure that people with repetitive stress injuries from working on the job cannot get compensated for their injuries. And so on, and so on, and so on. People in this world are really suffering, they are really getting screwed.

Liberals complain about these injustices, and we’re called whiners.

Now Rich looks around for the great injustices of the world to write about. What does he see? He sees the lifestyles of half-a-million-a-year executive-lifestyle BMW-driving country-club folks with gourmet kitchens, nice furniture, and kids in private school. And his heart goes out to these poor, suffering people.

I swear, you can’t make this stuff up.

It isn’t just Rich, of course. It’s the whole Forbes worldview. We are a magazine about capitalism. We can devote an issue every year to all the billionaires in the world. But never in our pages will you see stories exploring what victims capitalism might produce. Not one. The only victims we see are the multi-millionaires living on the coasts.

I never want to hear another Republican complain about liberal whining. Not once.

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