One argument conservatives make against higher taxes for wealthy Americans is that people should be entitled to keep what they earn through their own efforts. They have no moral obligation to pay more just because they earn more.
This argument also carries over to maintaining benefits programs or “entitlements”, like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, VA benefits, unemployment compensation, food stamps; programs rich people have no use for. Why should a wealthy person be morally obligated to take care of those who can’t afford to take care of themselves, they ask.
It’s the “effort” part of the argument against higher taxes that’s so pesky and the “entitlement” label conservatives have plastered over “federal benefits programs” that’s so appalling.
When you break it down, the underlying implication is that wealthy people have expended a greater effort to obtain their wealth. They not only work harder but they’ve struggled to get where they are and have the right to hang on to their money because, to paraphrase the old Smith-Barney slogan, they made it the old-fashioned way. They earned it.
And sometimes it’s true. There are those who start at the bottom rung of the ladder both personally and professionally but they buckle down, they get noticed, they’re rewarded with raises and promotions and eventually they find themselves in the enviable position of being labeled “wealthy.”
People get rich in a lot of ways but it’s rarely because they’re toiling away, nose to the grindstone, burning the midnight oil night after night as they transform from poor and invisible to wealthy and influential. Sure it takes a certain amount of effort for example, to go to college and get a degree or maybe an advanced degree while working reasonably hard but the rewards along the way, both financially and professionally, usually make it a worthwhile journey.
And often those that do make it to the upper echelon of the economy start with advantages that give them a significant head start; they come from well-off families, they don’t have to assume crippling student loan debt, they have connections in their chosen fields. In other words, they're not starting from rock-bottom.
But the real riches often come in terms of bonuses, generous retirement plans, stock options and investments. There isn’t much effort involved in watching investments multiply and it’s not earned money either. It’s gravy.
In the case of the uber-wealthy, people who make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars annually, it's nearly impossible to believe not only that any one person is worth paying that much but that he or she is diligently earning every penny of it, day after day.
To imply that all wealthy people got there solely through their own efforts without any help and to call benefits programs “entitlements” does two things: it makes it sound like people who don’t have a lot of money simply don’t work hard enough but they still feel like they’re entitled to something they don’t deserve.
How terribly insulting that is to the millions of people who work hard at low-paying, dead end jobs with no opportunities for advancement, no raises, no stock options, no healthcare or retirement plans.
A poll probably isn’t necessary to determine that the vast majority of poor people would prefer to be rich and they’d be thrilled to work as hard as necessary to get there. A poll also isn’t necessary to determine that most people who get some form of government assistance would rather earn enough money through their own efforts so they didn’t need it.
Most people aren’t poor because they like struggling and worrying and wondering how they’re going to make it to the next paycheck. They’d rather be worrying about the stock market’s effect on their portfolios.
So why do conservatives want to stigmatize the less fortunate and make it seem like they brought their economic state on themselves? Why are they so adamant that the wealthy should hang on to every last penny, as if going from “rich” to a little “less rich” is a bad thing.
Almost as if they can take it with them when they die, even though most people pass on the wealth to their children, entitling them to carry on.
When you break it down further, it hardly seems to be about money.