Monday, August 22, 2005

Land of Contradiction

As I have grown up and become more aware of “how things work” here in the U.S., I have noticed some interesting contradictions. Across the world, people look to us as the model of how a country and a people should be. They see a country with a government that allows its citizens to enjoy abundant freedoms while also enjoying the pursuit of happiness. The U.S. is the “land of opportunity,” the place where if people combine a little ambition with some elbow grease, they can enjoy a life of economic freedom, good health, and a full stomach. Besides that, if a person is really on his toes, he can get an education followed by a great job, and he can begin amassing wealth to pass on to his children. He can enjoy the “good life” with a fine house, nice cars, and multitudes of comforts and conveniences.

Those of us who have lived here all our lives are in an especially good situation. We have the natural right to obtain all these benefits. It’s our birthright just for having the good fortune to have ancestors who came here before us. In fact, it is more than a birthright; it is a duty. We have a responsibility to get a good education and earn a good living to provide for our children and keep them and ourselves from becoming burdens to the rest of society.

But there are some among us who, in fact, do become burdens. These are the lazy, shiftless people who refuse to earn their own living. It is their own fault that they are poor and can’t pay their bills. When they do work, they don’t spend their earnings wisely. Because of their lack of ambition, their children don’t have enough to eat and have no hope of ever going to college and bettering themselves. These people force the rest of us to have to sacrifice our hard-earned money to fund welfare programs that only enable them to sit back and collect a paycheck for doing nothing.

This is the scenario that a lot of people believe. In fact, it makes us feel better to believe that when people are suffering in poverty it is their own fault for not doing as much as they could to better themselves. If we believe that they are responsible for their own plight, it justifies our not caring. The fact of the matter is that many people who are needy became so through no fault of their own. According to one study, approximately 2 million Americans are affected by bankruptcy every year because they are overwhelmed with medical bills, and most of those filing for bankruptcy are middle class college graduates who own their own homes*. One catastrophic illness has the potential to take a family from a comfortable middle class existence to a state of having to depend on others for food and housing.

Some will argue that many people who file bankruptcy have gotten themselves into such a situation because of overspending. That may very well be true. Many Americans own several credit cards and have charged all of them to their limits. Various sources report that the average family owes somewhere between six and twelve thousand dollars in credit card charges. Obviously, individuals need to be more prudent about their spending and begin saving more money. However, we live in a society that tells us that we need to spend in order to remain happy. Advertisers play on our emotions and convince us that we need the latest, newest improved model of everything. Credit card companies send new offers in the mail every week, making it easy to transfer balances and raise credit limits. This is still no excuse for consumers’ overspending.

However, it is a fact that our economy is based on consumer spending. When Americans decide to save money and overall spending decreases, the economy begins to falter. It is our duty to keep the economy thriving so as not to threaten our way of life. We were told as much by the President right after 9/11.

The United States is a country of contradictions. We project the image that we are a prosperous nation (and we are) that offers abundant opportunity (and we do). However, there are those who work at backbreaking labor every day and still live paycheck to paycheck hoping that the car doesn’t break down or the refrigerator keeps running, knowing that one small emergency will keep them from paying their bills or buying food. And there are college graduates working in white collar jobs who live in the same manner.

Our country has made it shameful to be in a state of need. I suspect this is so that those who “have” can feel better about having plenty when his neighbors are doing without. Those of us who are the “haves” need to pay careful attention and show a lot more concern for those “lazy” people because one day, it might be us in that situation.

*“Medical Bills Leading Cause of Bankruptcy, Harvard Study Finds.” Consumer Affairs.Com. 5 Feb. 2005.


Tony Arnold said...

Excellent essay. Very much in line with Chapt. 10 in Mere Discipleship.


Mike Kear said...

Good stuff!!

Wasp Jerky said...

There are so many things that blatantly contradict the assumptions you're talking about. For instance, nearly 20 percent of homeless people in the United States are military veterans. That must be something that not many people know or else the support the troops mentality would mean helping homeless veterans to get off the streets into affordable housing. People also get angry about people on welfare, yet many big corporations can literally get away without paying a dime in federal income taxes. I think it's obvious which of those is doing more harm to the economy and to the average taxpayer.

As for the land of opportunity business, I sort of touched on that recently on my blog.

JMG said...

I agree, Kevin. Whenever our (Republican) leaders speak of how supportive they are of our troops, I want to throw up. They say such and then won't fully fund the Veteran's Administration so that all these troops coming back wounded from their precious war can have timely medical care.

Tony Arnold said...

You make some good points Kevin. However, taxing businesses is not a good answer. Businesses don't pay taxes, people do. Like any other cost, it will be distributed in two ways. Increased cost to the user of the product or service or decreased benefits to the people in the business due to lower profits. I am not being on the side of business here, it just a fact. Taxing and more taxing is not the answer. You cannot tax indefinitely and ever increasely. What must be done is for our government, our people, and our business managers to realize they have to be good stewards of our God given resources and that our main mission is making the world better for everyone, helping our fellow man through affordable and necessary products and services.

Not trying to squirrel away as much for ourselves as we can. Check out Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke. Amazing book on how to run a business that serves society despite being considered secular.

We have to put others first. If businesses managed themselves this way, we would not feel the pressure to tax more and regulate more, because society would be served effectively.

I am not bashing your thoughts, just giving a different viewpoint on it I hope.


Wasp Jerky said...

Yes, but I'm talking about corporations which do not pay any taxes. None. Zero. Zilch. This happens far more often than you think. Are you suggesting that this is acceptable, or that it is somehow good for the economy? In the eyes of the law, a corporation is a person. Corporations use this precedent to do all sorts of repulsive things. By this same logic that the courts have upheld, does it not make sense to have them pay taxes? Could they not cough up a couple of dollars a year?

jettybetty said...

Amen--were did we learn that NOT being compassionate was okay?


JMG said...

Tony and Kevin, both of you are making valid points. I can sort of speak to this issue as Husband and I own an S-corp. I would assume that C-corps work in a similar fashion.

The corp itself is not taxed. All profits (or losses) are divided between the shareholders and the taxes are passed on to them. In our case, we divide equally since it's just the two of us, but some corps have lots of shareholders who hold different percentages. The shareholder's income is reported on a K-1, and the income from the corp is taxed at the shareholder's tax bracket. So if the shareholder had very little other income, the profits from the corp may not even be taxed at all.

Compensation of the corp's officers is taxed, but there are creative ways to distribute this compensation so as to minimize the officers' actual tax liability.

And, the corp is a "person" as Kevin said. As a person, the corp may do anything an individual does such as make charitible contributions, which of course are tax deductible.

To tax the corp's income before passing it on to the shareholders would create a "double taxation" issue (even though as I said, some of the profits escape tax anyway). The entire tax structure would have to be modified. I am in favor of major simplification.

Our tax structure, and our entire economy for that matter, is set up to benefit the rich, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

JMG said...

JB, you're up early this morning!

Jesus said that for those who have more, more will be required (or something like that--I didn't feel like looking it up). Lord help our country on judgment day!

Tony Arnold said...

I am personally in favor of no business tax, and a flat percentage on personal income with no deductions, no rules, just a flat rate you can't dodge. We would save billions in administrating such a simple system which could be piped to humanitarian spending. Won't happen.

Anyway, debating tax laws is not the point any of us are trying to make. I think we all agree that as people we have a responsibility to be good stewards and benevolent in our resources. Nothing less is required by Christ. People start and manage businesses. If we run our personal and business life as disciples, heck, just like we cared more about something other than our own self interest, we would not be having to debate the best way to solve this greed problem.

Keep tilting at those windmills Kevin! I love your sign by the way.


Wasp Jerky said...

Thanks Tony. It's actually David Bazan's (frontman for the bands Pedro the Lion and Headphones) sign.

Jana said...

JMG - Excellent post. EXCELLENT!!! I'm linking to this post on my blog.