Making Them Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are. Radical Bleeding Heart image

Ideals and Realities

Take Them At Their Word. Thomas Jefferson is famous as, among other things, the author of the Declaration of Independence, a document containing this noble and memorable sentiment: “all men are created equal.” He was also the owner of slaves. We could, were we so minded, sneer at old T. J. as an abominable hypocrite. Or we could be just note that often our ideals outrun our realities . . . and be thankful for that fact.

If they did not, it is highly probable that our realities would never change. Even when such lofty ideals are firmly established, when they are engraved above the entrances to our churches and sacred monuments, they can be given the lie by the realities that we live, and those realities can be very resistant to change.

The ideals make the change possible. Reformers like Mahatma Gandhi and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. made use of the ideals to change the realities. In effect, they said “That is what you preach; this is what you practice. We call on you merely to practice that which you preach.” They persisted until the reality was changed. It was not easy, and without the ideal in place, it may have been impossible.

So what sorts of ideals does our society preach in defiance of the realities we live that could be useful to us revolutionary progressives?

Equality of Opportunity. One of the favorite reactionary clichés is “I believe in equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.” This is invariably uttered with a cocky air of having said something both profound and unanswerable. They almost certainly believe nothing of the sort, although they would be shocked to have that pointed out. What they probably do believe in is some opportunity. That is, they reject a caste system in which everyone is irrevocably doomed to the station in life into which they were born.

But that is not equal opportunity. Giving one man a million dollars and another a lottery ticket representing a one in a million chance of winning such a sum is not treating them equally.

We will put aside for the moment the ethical implications of assuming that the highest goal in life is to become richer than anyone else.

Instead, let us take their cocky assertion seriously for a moment. If you really did believe in equality of opportunity, what sorts of policy would you pursue?

Inheritance Tax. Well, for one thing, a confiscatory inheritance tax would be absolutely essential. Yes. Even assuming that J. P. Gottrox acquired his pile of booty honestly, through hard, productive labor (a questionable assumption to be sure), that is no reason why Little Joe Gottrox, Jr. should get a free ride. Indeed, even without a dime of inherited pelf, the sons and daughters of the rich have enormous advantages over the offspring of the poor and middle class: such as the best schools and the kinds of connections that usually are more valuable than talent, good looks, and brains.

Of course the defenders of plutocracy will scream about the Death Tax! Let them scream. Just make sure that everyone understands that by allowing large fortunes to be passed on to the next generation means giving the rich kids not just a head start (they have that in any case) but a free ride! The rabid raving right is always moaning about “Makers and Takers” with the assumption that the wealthy, no matter how they acquired their loot, are the hard-working ”makers” who earned every penny.

How did they earn the loot that they inherited? Please ask them to explain that!

And let us not hear any more about those poor small farms that have been in the family for generations but have to sold to pay the wicked Death Tax! They do not exist! It is easy in any case to provide exceptions for small family farms and businesses. Besides, more and more of the children who inherit those farms do not keep them; they sell them off for millions and invest the proceeds. Farming is hard work! Who needs it?

And while we are at it, let us not forget to impose a hefty gift tax. In fact, here is a useful rule about taxes: Any form of tax on income should be heaviest on unearned income and lightest on earned income. Presently the opposite is the case. We punish those stupid enough to do productive work for a living and reward those who just skim the cream off the top.

Free Education for All. If we want to provide equal opportunity for all it is essential to provide an equal opportunity to be educated. And the best way to do that is to make education free to everyone.

We would all benefit. Society as a whole is enhanced when each of its members is able to develop its individual talents to the fullest extent possible. We are, as St. Paul said, “members one of another.” He who diminishes my brother diminishes me.

Some will object that if you make anything free, it will be wasted and abused. They have a point. People do not value that which costs them nothing; they are apt to waste and abuse that which they do not value.

But that does not apply to education. You cannot give anyone an education. You can only give them the chance to acquire one. The acquisition itself comes at the cost of great effort, discipline, talent and time. The only demand we need make on the students is that they have the ability and willingness to learn. That is cost enough.

One advantage to our colleges and universities would be that they could and should become more demanding academically. Presently schedules are designed so that poor students can spend much energy and time working part-time jobs in order to get through, while the rich kids use that same time on such dubious activities as partying and binge drinking. A more demanding curriculum will mean more accomplished graduates.

Allowing everyone to develop their talents to the fullest means a broad understanding of education. Vocational schools should be equally available to any and all who which to follow that path. Training that is specifically for jobs is great for some people — so long as the jobs really exist.

At the other end, pre-school and day care should be available to all.

Can we afford it? Of course! The question should be how can we afford not to get the most of the abilities of all our citizens.

[Next: Rewarding the Productive.]