Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Who really celebrates the rich?
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Column: Sherry Wolf
======== WHO REALLY CELEBRATES THE RICH? =====================================
Do people really "celebrate" the wealthy and their supposed accomplishments?
April 21, 2011
WHEN PRESIDENT Obama dipped his toes into the tax-the-rich waters in his
budget speech last week, he started off by assuring the insecure affluent
that we don't "begrudge those who have done well. We celebrate their
Setting aside Obama's imperial pronoun decision to employ the royal "we," is
this really an accurate portrayal of how most people feel about the rich?
What's more, can we really characterize Obama's budget the way that most
liberals have--as a return to the New Deal and Great Society values? MSNBC's
Rachel Maddow and /New York Times/ columnist Paul Krugman, who have taken
Obama to task for his some of his shortcomings, were sucked into the
president's oratorical trap last week.
Maddow gushed over what was predictably the money quote in response to
Republicans wanting to give rich people--like, for example, Barack Obama,
whose annual household income last year dropped to a mere $1.7 million--a
$200,000 tax cut while forcing seniors in the government's Medicare health
care program to pay an estimated $6,000 more each year in beneficiary
premiums and co-insurance. "That's not going to happen as long as I'm
president," Obama said in the only applause line of the curiously timed
Krugman praised Obama's speech outlining how to reduce the federal
government's deficit as "serious" and "reassuring." Yet at least $2 trillion
of the deficit reduction in Obama's plan would come from further severe cuts
in spending on government programs that working people depend on.
As for the idea that Obama is finally ready to tax the rich, don't hold
you're breath. The fact that the president appointed one of the nation's most
successful corporate tax cheats, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, as
chairman of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, doesn't bode well.
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AS FOR whether or not we "begrudge those who have done well," it seems--to
judge from research and polls--that Obama may be overstating the giddiness
most Americans feel about those at the top.
The rich, loosely defined as the top 2 percent of taxpayers--around 2.4
million households--who take in $250,000 per year or more, is a pretty broad
category. But while it's true that inflated housing, food and transportation
costs in New York City mean the cost of living is roughly double what that of
Chicago, for example, a family with an annual income of $250,000 still banks
nearly five times the median household income across the U.S. ($50,303) and
four times the median household income in New York City ($63,957).
Anyone with a quarter of a million in earnings this year who complains, "I'm
nothing compared to Trump!" should just stop it. Most people don't gauge
wealth against an aging narcissist with a bad combover. Wealth is like porn,
we know it when we see it.
Even though a quarter-millionaire--who likely has savings and investments
worth substantially more--doesn't lead the life of Donald Trump, she's not
garnering sympathy from anyone earning a teacher's salary either.
So now that we have a working definition of "the rich," how do the non-rich
actually view them? For starters, by a margin of two to one, Americans
believe that the Bush-era tax cuts should be done away with for those making
$250,000 or more, according to a CBS//New York Times/ poll .
As for whether Americans "celebrate" the wealthy, the picture's a bit fuzzy.
At the height of the recent financial crisis, /Forbes/ magazine reported 
that 52 percent of Americans still said they admired the rich, 29 percent had
mixed feelings, and 8 percent were sharpening their pitchforks.
More fascinating, at least to me, is how much money people felt they needed
in order to consider themselves rich: $120,000 a year. The amount is
interesting because it speaks to a certain level-headedness about what most
folks want and need--a nice place to live, health care, an education for
their kids and a vacation once in a while, which is what that income gets
you. No yachts or personal jets or self-indulgent home movie theater-pool
hall-disco wing of a mansion that you see on MTV's /Cribs/, just some
creature comforts and occasional dinners out.
And in New York City, $120,000 will get you a nice two-bedroom rental and an
all-inclusive Caribbean vacation for one week, but your kid's going to a
state school, not some overpriced liberal arts college.
According to researcher Marjorie Kornhauser, Americans also seem to retain
some Puritan attitudes that differentiate between kinds of
wealth--millionaires who "make it on their own" are held in higher esteem
than those who get money the old-fashioned way by inheriting it.
And frankly, the concept of making it "on your own" is a bit of a misnomer
that dismisses social realities like race, social connections, upbringing and
an assortment of real game-changers. Black wealth in the United States, for
example, is approximately one-tenth of white wealth. In other words, nobody
really makes it on his or her own.
So getting back to Obama's presumption about Americans' feelings toward the
rich, I need no study or poll to ascertain one basic fact. If the U.S.
government continues to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corporate
America, which guarantees the income and wealth gap will continue to grow,
resentment of the rich and their wealth will grow, and eventually spill over
to outrage. And rightly so.
What Obama will never admit is that ghettos and hovels don't merely exist
alongside mansions and penthouses in this world. The creation of gross wealth
is the precondition for deep poverty--without one, we wouldn't have the
other. And that's nothing to celebrate.
/This article was based on one first published at SherryTalksBack /.
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Columnist: Sherry Wolf
Sherry Wolf is the author of /Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and
Theory of LGBT Liberation/  and an associate editor of the /International
Socialist Review/ . Her writing has also appeared in the /Nation/ ,
CounterPunch  and
. She is a public speaker and blogs at Sherry Talks Back .
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