16 April 2009


Saw this in a comment section today, not to single out the particular commenter because this is a frequently expressed sentiment.
I feel like the rich are being demonized and punished for working hard and earning money. They should have the freedom to spend that money as they like rather than have it taken from them by the government for social programs they may or may not support.*
This is a prominent feature of vulgar Calvinism present in the United States; a person's station in life is the public manifestation of their private righteousness. The rich must work hard, otherwise they would not be rich, while the poor are lazy and shiftless. It's should be surprising that this is as widely accepted as it is, given the existence of people who work for a living, sometimes at multiple jobs, yet are far from wealthy because their work has been deemed of little value by the invisible hand of the marketplace. We call these people, strangely enough, the "working" "class." You may have learned about them in your high school history class. In mine, I learned that America was the world's first classless society, so your mileage may vary.

However, I wonder something about the people who claim wealth is a direct correlation of work. Specifically, I wonder whether these folks ever invest any of that money they earn, and if so, where? Surely, they can't claim that money made from invested was really "earned" by them. Even if they claim that their wealth is a direct expression of their personhood--as some do--they still don't directly control that money. Or did all the people who lost their retirement savings during the financial collapse suddenly have a fit of laziness beforehand?

Similarly, I'm not sure I accept the oft-asserted notion that a safety net that's too strong will encourage people to simply stay unemployed rather than find a job. This may be true in limited cases, and that can't really be helped, but I doubt its as widespread as claimed. This boils down to what the meaning of "work" is. Having a job to identify with is essential to a person's identity, and I suspect the great majority of people would feel incomplete without one, even if they could survive well enough without one. People need to feel they are producing something, even if they aren't being paid for it. If nothing else, the social stigma on is, and would be likely to remain, astronomically large. I've read a number of items during the recession of people feeling ashamed of being newly-unemployed. I doubt that is solely the result of financial concerns.

*It's interesting that this commenter in particular only seems concerned about the rich having a say in how their tax dollars are spent. Does he think voting power should be concentrated in the hands of people who contribute the most tax revenue? If so, I can't see how he could be too upset with the present arrangement.