Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You Can't Do Shit with That

After a brief lead-in, you'll read a story about my Uncle, and this title will make sense.

I've been seeking for some time now to begin another project, a video blog discussing current events. Not just talking about the now, but also focusing in on how we got to where we are and where we might go from here. My first intended topic was economics, and in the interest of being as well-informed as possible, I decided to seek out people who might have insight into our economic past and future that I might not. In short order, this led to my Uncle Mike, who some might call a man of means. I had just seen him, following a trip to New York he had organized as a family reunion. During that time I let him know what my goals were and we agreed to speak at a later point.

So when the appointed time came, my Uncle was more than willing to give his opinions on the state of our economy. First and foremost in his mind was the taxation that he, as a wealthy citizen, is subjected to. Now, they say you know you're doing well when the government takes half of what you earn, but he is just a bit put off by the fact that the money he works for gets taken away at such a rate. After a lot of talk about the role of government in society, some trickle-down economic theory, and his own thoughts on the Clinton-era lifting of the Glass-Stegall Act of 1933, he boiled down his stance on things with this quote;

"Let's say you make a quarter of a million dollars a year . . . the government takes half of that, so you have $125,000. That breaks down to just about $10,000 a month, and you can't do shit with that."

Before I go any further, here's a brief list of the shit I could do with $10,000:

1) Pay off my student loans
2) Take a trip around the world
3) Go on a vacation with my girlfriend
4) Move into a better apartment
5) Up the amount I donate to charity every month
6) Complete my classic video game collection
7) Buy a fountain that dispenses chocolate pudding

And also, I think he was just using that initial quarter-million as an example. I'm pretty sure he makes more than that.

I related this story to a few people. They all had pretty much the same reaction, that being "oh man, if I made that much money . . . " and then the conversation would move on. That is, up until I told one friend of mine whose reaction can best be described as indignant.

She was just short of outraged that my Uncle would hold that opinion. Does he not know the poverty line in this country? Is he not aware of the institutional racial oppression we have? How can he have that much money when he only got the chance to get it because he's white? Why does he need $10,000 a month to support his spoiled white kids and live a lifestyle where that's still not sufficient? Rich people, she posits, don't do anything of value with their money.

Now, as I detailed in my last post, it is entirely her right to hold and express these opinions. Just as it is my right to express my disagreement. Well, express I shall.

My Uncle lives the lifestyle he worked to obtain. He came from nothing and made himself something because he didn't want his kids to have the kind of childhood he had. That was the opportunity this country provided him. If being white was an advantage, it was his only advantage. Is he supposed to feel guilty about the circumstances of his birth? Should he have prefaced every job offer he received with "I will accept - unless there's a minority candidate who wants it, too?"

Now, I understand frustration with the system. Despite all our social advancements in the last 60 years, it is still the white man's world. We run the government, we run the banks, we run big business. Sure we've made progress, but the way things operate is going to take a lot more time and a lot more effort to change for good. So is your solution, then, to harbor disdain for every single person who has money and is not a minority? How then, do you feel about wealthy black people? Or Asians? The richest man in the world is Carlos Slim Helu, a media and real estate mogul in Mexico. Does he get a pass on being wealthy because he's Hispanic? Is my Uncle working to make money so that his kids won't have to worry about their future less acceptable than Tiger Woods spending $38 million on a house and $10 million on a yacht?

People in a capitalist society will, ostensibly, life a lifestyle that reflects the effort they put into obtaining it. Of course this is not true 100% of the time, and yes, we do still face social obstacles that hold down people based on race, gender, and religion. So should we hate everyone who managed to overcome the odds which face anybody, regardless of origin, to become a success, because they made it while others can't? No. That's ridiculous, and you're ridiculous for thinking it.

To put it in clearer terms; don't hate the player. Hate the game.

Furthermore, I think regardless of the amounts involved, if you work to earn a certain amount of money and end up with only half of that at the end, you're bound to be disappointed. If my Uncle needs more than $10,000 a month to cover his bills and still feel comfortable, and he's willing to work for it, then more power to him. Sure, a lot of other people could use that money, but the last time I checked this wasn't a communist country, or, despite what Fox News might feed you, a socialist one. Our nation was set up so that people can use their wealth in whatever way they dictate - after taxes, of course. If I want to make that kind of money, I'll do the damn work, and if I'm upset at the system in place, I'll work on changing it.

What I won't do is cast bitter vitriol at the people who have money already. I won't complain about a system I'm doing nothing to change. I won't become just another ranting voice espousing all these societal issues without any effort being put in to change them.

Because when you do that, you end up with nothing but resentment, anger, and a whole lot of misplaced hatred.

And you can't do shit with that.