Don’t believe them

Letter from Edward Hawkins

Economy – October 2003 – Colorado Central Magazine

Don’t believe them

Martha:

Great letter from the editor in September issue: “Divided and Conquered.” But I dasn’t let you continue life believing all those quotations, information and other junk from Kevin Phillips, Donald Bartlett, James B. Steele, and others. But I rather like the info derived from Kiyosaki, and I’m here to tell you that the middle class is alive and well in America. Education, hard work, attention to saving and willingness to let the “Joneses” get so far ahead that they’re out of sight and not worth trying to keep up with will put you in the middle class every single time…..nice and cozy.

Since the U.S. Treasury informs us that the top 5% of tax payers pay 53 percent of the income taxes and the lower 5% pay 1%, that leaves 94% of the taxpayers paying 47% of the taxes. Not a bad ratio considering the benefits. What if everyone had to pay their fair share? What if the top 5% only paid 5% of the income taxes. What if I had to pay 36% on my measly earnings just like the guy who makes over $100,000 per year. I’d really be miffed!

I’m a part of the 94% middle class. I only pay about 20% of my earnings in taxes. I get 100% of the benefits of our great country. I like my job. I like my employer. I like his company. I try like hell to make him successful and rich, so the company (and my job) won’t go down the tubes and leave me stranded. My employer appreciates this attitude and me. I provide him with efforts whereby he makes 40 times my salary. But then he works all the time….poor guy. He worries all the time. He’s first one there in the morning and last to leave in the evening. While I’m helping him stay afloat in these economically troubling times, he’s running to the bank every two weeks, financing his inventory, guaranteeing that my payroll check won’t bounce every payday, dealing with the IRS, EPA, EEOC, FICA, DOD, and a myriad number of other miscellaneous government acronyms. He can have his 40 times earnings. He deserves it, if only because he can remember all those damn acronyms.

I don’t agree with the conclusions you draw in the last few paragraphs of your letter. Yeah, the rich do revel in their wealth. Middle class working guys such as I wallow in the luxury of having a paycheck each month and not having to worry over how I’m going to meet the house and car payments, a thoroughly comforting feeling. My employer worries each day about accounts receivable and accounts payable and that dastardly bank that may call his inventory floorplan loan next week. Sure there is a spread between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy working employee. But it’s not the fault of the wealthy employer. I figured out long ago how to get wealthy. I could do it quite well if only I were willing to take the el crapo that the wealthy (or their ancestors) had to take on the road to wealth.

So don’t besmirch the middle class or believe that the middle class is being put upon by the wealthy. It just ain’t so. I and many, many others of my ilk like being middle class. Instead of great wealth, we have many other things of great joy, including reading a copy of Colorado Central Magazine each month, and living in a country where we can become wealthy….if we want to.

With kind regards,

Edward H. Hawkins.

Denver

Edward,

Thank you for your kind words, but I sure don’t seem to have gotten my point across. Federal income taxes are only a small part of the picture. U.S. citizens also pay Social Security, sales, property, gasoline, state, and local taxes, and by those measures the lower quintiles are not favored. But taxes are not my major concern.

On the contrary, my primary concern is that the gap between the very rich and the rest of us has been growing for thirty years and yet some politicians feel that corporate America needs to offer industrialists more incentives, deregulation and tax breaks. Today, both Democrats and Republicans seem to regard the stock market as the best gauge of America’s economic health. But in our era of wealth-worship, far too many people expect to make money off of essential services.

Take health care, for instance. There are the clinics, hospitals, doctors, nurses, administrators, and lab technicians; and the insurance companies, and their employees, stockholders and CEOS; and the medical supply companies — which furnish everything from magnetic resonance scanners to tongue depressors; and the manufacturing firms which make the medical supplies, and the pharmaceutical companies; and all of their employees, CEOs and stockholders.

Today single parents may need two or more jobs to live modestly, and many workers can’t afford health care or legal aid. Yet corporations keep cutting labor costs but spending more on management.

Despite our President’s assertions, our extravagant health care costs are not due to malpractice insurance. In a study cited in Against the Conventional Wisdom by Douglas Dowd, New York hospitals spent 40% more on patient-care staff, 155% more on non-patient care staff, and 327% more on financial and billing staff than Parisian facilities. Yet life expectancy is higher in France.

In the public sector, an aggressive push toward privatizing national institutions has added layers of profit-making middle men and administrators to running everything from national parks, forests and campgrounds to operating publicly funded schools and hospitals.

— And although you say that your boss only makes 40 times more than you, CEOs today typically make 400 times more than laborers on the line.

— And even though your corporation apparently takes care of most of your needs from tax deductions, to pensions, to health care, that’s not true for many Central Coloradans. In rural areas, corporate employers are rare and small businesses usually can’t afford pension plans or sky-rocketing insurance rates.

But I didn’t write my essay to increase resentment against the rich. I merely wanted to encourage citizens who have been victimized by wage and benefit reductions, downsizing, increasing Social Security taxes, rising health care costs, escalating tuitions, mounting housing prices, and unequal legal and political representation to get involved politically — because that’s what democracy is all about. Besides, I think this growing gap between rich and poor has countless ramifications: economically, socially and morally.

Usually I’ll answer a letter, because I feel we’ve touched upon a really important topic, and I’d hate to have the discussion end here. I hope people will talk, write, think and read more about the matter. And in this case, there are so many related issues left to address.

Do you really believe that CEOs earn their multi-million-dollar paychecks? Or do they merely make that much because we live in an era of union-smashing rather than trust-busting; when government deregulation means corporations set the rules; in an age where corporate raiding, hostile takeovers, dismantling viable companies for short-term profits, disloyalty to employees, and exploitation of third- world workers have become standard practices?

Is it good business to cut benefits, staff, pension plans, customer services, and even factories and facilities in order to increase profits? Or are modern corporations merely robbing their customers, staff, infrastructure, and our society, in order to lure new stockholders?

You inspire me, sir. I guess it’s time to brush off my dusty old copies of The Wealth of Nations and The Federalist Papers and study the matter some more — because I really can’t believe that our modern economy is the one those great men had in mind.

Martha