Friday, October 17, 2008

Worshipping at the Altar of Capitalism.

Don't get the wrong idea straight off here, I'm not advocating socialism or communism, in fact, I believe that capitalism is the default nature of the human economic construct. It only makes sense, I make a product, I get paid based on the value of that product. The proof is in the history, there is no nation that has been able to get rid of a capitalist system completely, even communists can't get rid of it. There is always somebody who wants something and is willing to do something proportional to the value he ascribes to the object to obtain it. That is capitalism, and it has existed since humans have.

But what happens when we take hold of something, we take it to heart, we use it, we ascribe success to it, we ascribe failure to things that work against it, we give it value in our lives, we tell others about it, we think others without it are missing something, that they will be happier with it, we work towards its goals, we give it our time, we have faith in it to provide us success, wealth, fulfillment and happiness. Am I talking about religion? It certainly sounds as if I could be. No, I'm talking about American capitalism.

Conservatives claiming to be Christians talk about it all the time. True, more of the ones old enough to remember the Cold War talk about it than others, but those are the ones with the loudest voices right? But what kind of system would better lend itself to true Christian values? What kind of system would better fit the societal goals of Jesus himself? Is it winner take all brutish capitalism? Somehow I don't think so.

I heard a great idea come from Warren Buffet I think it was the other day, don't quote me, I have a notoriously bad memory. He said our current system as evidenced by the big bailouts is one where the rich live in a system of socialism, while the poor live in capitalism. His point? The rich receive all the help, while the poor not only pay for it, but receive nothing. I believe this is what the Bible is talking about when it decries the rich taking advantage of the poor. So our values now in this country are to make sure the rich keep their wealth so that their grape vines can hang over their marble walls to provide us with a few grapes now and then? That's not the ideal I live to support.

Am I trying to stoke some sort of class warfare? Absolutely not, I think the phrase is overused. I hear it from Hannity all the time, but he uses it as a catch phrase to deflect criticism of the current tax policy. But let the current trend continue, let the disparity between rich and poor continue to broaden, and you'll see real class warfare, you'll see the have nots rise up and take from the haves, and no one is gonna like the result. All existing examples are complete bloodbaths and gigantic horrific messes.

So we know what doesn't work, especially if our goal is to be prosperous as a country. We know that a policy of trickle down economics, Reaganomics doesn't work to bring prosperity to the country at large, it only serves to redistribute wealth to those who already have it. So the conservatives decrying wealth distribution are doing so to their own hypocrisy for they already support it as long as it is directed toward them and their ideals. But try to "spread the wealth" a code phrase for offering relief to those who need it, and suddenly there are cries of class warfare and socialism. Just today Hannity was whining about someone basically having his hand in your pocket because you make more, but that is a gross distortion. Like the welfare system doesn't do that already?

What we need is a system such that the playing field is much more level, where the rich do not suffer the injustice of losing all their hard (right) earned money, but the poor still have the chance to work hard and make something, but also so that no one is "living off the state" anymore than the amount it takes to feed one's self. We certainly do not want to be a country where people starve to death, no matter how much they don't work, but we should not be required to provide them a luxurious dwelling.

One way I think we can do this is by making the capital gains tax the same as the income tax, taxed the same way. No matter how you make money, whether you work for it, or whether you have enough money to make interest from your money, it should be taxed in the same manner. That's only fair. It is absolutely not fair for the rich who are able to make money from money to get to pay a lower tax than those not having enough money to do that. It makes no sense. I'm not saying this out of any kind of envy, I'm saying all income should be taxed in the same way. In fact, it would be even more fair if a ditch digger had to pay fewer taxes because his work is harder, but I'm not trying to put anyone ahead, it should be equal. No matter how you make your money, it should be taxed equally.

That is not to say however that however much money you make, it should be taxed equally, no, that is far worse, and in fact, we can see what steps toward that have done in the past eight years. The gap between rich and poor has widened by great leaps and bounds, so we know that is obviously a step in the wrong direction. The gap between the haves and have nots should never get bigger, it should get smaller or stay the same. You can't tell me that every single one of the millions of families living below the poverty line is there because they are lazy welfare society suckers. If there is one thing I have learned about poverty in my travels from there to the middle class, it is this: Poverty has very little to do with money. It is about knowledge, attitude, class, and culture. My neighbors live in a decrepit trailer, drive trashy cars, and yet have now as I speak probably $350 worth of Halloween decorations in their front yard. But I digress, back to taxes.

Taxes are in this country progressive, that is to say, the more money you make, the greater percent of it is taxed (to a point.) This is as it should be, but as the last eight years have borne out, the progressiveness is not quite at the point it needs to be to level the playing field. The rich are getting richer, and in perspective, the poor are getting poorer. We need to re-angle the graph of tax rates to better level off the changes between rich and poor. It can't be disputed that the more a person makes, the more taxes they can afford with out cutting into the fruits of their labors, there is no such thing as an income cap. Ideally what we should be seeing is that if the rich get richer, the working poor get richer as well, not that we should be taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, but that the working poor should not be saddled with a burden they are not able to shoulder. If you lower the rates of taxes on the rich, you drop a weight on the working poor. You tip the playing field, and you don't de-penalize the rich for making money, you penalize the poor for not making money.

So what are our choices? McCain wants to lower taxes on the rich including the capital gains tax to "create jobs." This is "startlingly retrogressive" as I've heard it said. This is making a false assumption, what it basically says is this. If you have alot of money, I will lower your taxes, so you can expand your business and make a whole bunch load more money. It keeps the people low on the ladder low on the ladder. We are just surviving now because the dream of climbing that ladder has been dashed by the the tax policy, we look up and realize that the rungs of the ladder are missing. Our employers are offered the chance of getting richer for employing more of us at the same wages, see the difference?

I was reading Habakkuk this evening and God suggested I blog about it, the verse was this: "He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?" Hab. 1:15-17. And this is the capitalism that Americans worship for by it they live in luxury, and in pursuit of it we destroy nations, and the rich trample the poor.

I suggest we abandon bare cruel capitalism in the name of Christ.

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