Thursday, January 15, 2009

donald kaul strikes again

i haven't re-published anything from the don in a while, but he smacked THIS one outof the ballpark. his target, one of his--and my--favorite targets: the rich. let's see what kaul has to say today:
– by Donald Kaul
I hate to say I told you so but I told you so. You could look it up.
For years, decades even, I have been railing against the lifestyles of the rich and famous, questioning the utility of their outrageous salaries and bonuses. I mocked them for their multiple mansions, their submarine-included yachts, their private jetliners, their jewel-drenched parties. They were not worth the money they were making, I said. While some of them were accomplished corporate executives, too many were greedy clowns who got lucky.
I argued that justice demanded at the very least that they pay considerably higher income taxes and perhaps a significant estate tax too. (Give me the choice between being taxed when I’m alive or when I’m dead and I’ll take dead every time.) What I was asking for was merely a few crumbs off the tables of the rich so that poor people could afford operations for their crippled children. (Eat your heart out, Charles Dickens.)
And what did I get for my troubles? Scorn. Vilification. Vicious personal attacks. I was called a socialist, a communist even. I was accused of engaging in class warfare and told I was merely jealous of my betters, people smarter, more accomplished and more industrious than I.
Let me say this about that:
I am not jealous of the rich and their three or four or five mansions. That’s way too many roofs to worry about. I figure if you’re lucky, you have one nice home and when you go on vacation, you rent a room. That’s what hotels are for.
As for being jealous of their intellect, it is to snicker. Many of them owe their success to being born rich. When a truly original idea crosses their path, they recoil from it like a vampire before a cross. Many of the others are accomplished chiefly in their ability to fleece the public, bribe politicians, and plead for mercy when the bills come due. What’s to be jealous of?
As for class war, well, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. The rich of this country have been waging class war against the unrich for the past 25 years without meaningful opposition, having sold the American public on the fantasy that we’re all going to be rich someday. It’s time we fought back.
(This just in: You’re not going to be rich any time soon. Get used to it.)
Another argument against encouraging people to make mountains of money while the multitudes make do with thimblefuls (and this is one that should appeal to the religious do-gooders among you) is that it is bad for their souls. Great wealth is a temptation to criminality.
Most people are honest. Neither you nor I would think of going into a department store and shoplift. If the clerk gives us too much change, we give it back.
But suppose you walked into a store in which there were bags of $100 bills on the shelves. And there were no clerks, no security guards. And everyone else seemed to be taking bags off the shelves and walking out with them. How honest would you be then? Wouldn’t you convince yourself that you deserved a bag of cash or two, that no one would miss it and that if you didn’t take it someone else would? More than likely.
Well, that’s pretty much the position of our corporate executives, poor things. We’ve given them a license to steal and they have used it, rationalizing all the while that they deserve the loot. In reality, they know they don’t. Some few of have given up their bonuses in response to the abysmal performance of their companies but for the most part, they’ve taken their bonuses, their golden parachutes, their golden handshakes and run like bandits.
Because they can. There are no security guards at the door. Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen was a Salvation Army worker compared to this bunch.
To the barricades!
for the most post, kaul and i have agreed about almost everything since he began writing "over the coffee" way back when the register was actually worth the quarter it cost. when he moved to d.c, i continued to agree with him. even when he quit doing ragbrai because it had gotten too large and commercial, i agreed with him, except i continued to do it, because it's just too damned much fun.
but the 800-pound gorilla that even kaul ignores is bernie madoff, and what his ponzi scheme says about classism. it's greed that put people in touch with old bernie, and they got what [big generalization here] many of them had coming. they KNEW it was risky. they KNEW it sounded too good to be true. but they invested their fortunes, their life savings, their inheritances, their ill-gotten gains, with a man who was even greedier than THEY were.
it's EXACTLY like flashing a big roll of cash in a high-crime area. EVERYONE--mom, your friends, classroom teachers, the little voice in your head--tells you "don't do that."
but the lure of the big nut, the monster return, even more vast wealth, got the better of them. but it WASN'T the mugger, the stereotypical bad gang who stole their riches.
it was one of them--or who they wanted to be--who made off with the goods.
sure didn't see THAT one coming. hard to, when you're blinded by greed.
it may make for many sad stories of mom and dad, or big movie stars, or fill-in-the-blank, having to go out and tough it out in this terrible economy and start all over.
especially when there are so many others in line ahead of you.

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