September 21st, 2012

Let Noblesse Oblige drive out contempt for Lucky Duckies


… and take Ayn Rand with you …

Did you see the Nov. 20, 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial labeling those too poor to pay income taxes “lucky duckies”? I didn’t. It’s a mean-spirited tirade by the rich investor class (who accumulate wealth rather earn an income) against the dirt poor. Then comes Republican presidential candidate Romney in 2012 caught on hidden camera speaking freely to rich donors (are there any other kind?) in Boca Raton about caring not at all about the American “victims” who pay little to no taxes.

Contempt for Lucky Duckies seems popular. Contemptuous people feel no need to apologize. The cruelty fits well with a social darwinistic, goodies only to the fittest, which in American society means the most financially well off. Forget Darwin, think Ayn Rand‘s pro-corporate/anti-government/self-centered preachings.

My wish is that the filthy rich adopt an old-fashioned attitude of noblesse oblige instead.

Here are excerpts from the original 2002 WSJ editorial cited in Wikipedia:

Who are these lucky duckies? They are the beneficiaries of tax policies that have expanded the personal exemption and standard deduction and targeted certain voter groups by introducing a welter of tax credits for things like child care and education. When these escape hatches are figured against income, the result is either a zero liability or a liability that represents a tiny percentage of income.

Say a person earns $12,000. After subtracting the personal exemption, the standard deduction and assuming no tax credits, then applying the 10% rate of the lowest bracket, the person ends up paying a little less than 4% of income in taxes. It ain’t peanuts, but not enough to get his or her blood boiling with tax rage.

The absurdity of the wealthy picking on someone earning only $12K per year is striking. And one writer responded to this ludicrous scenario in The New Republic on June 12, 2003 by inviting the WSJ editors to trade places.

I am one of those lucky duckies who pay little or nothing in federal income tax (at least by the standards of Wall Street Journal editors; $800 is more than a chunk of change to me). I am not, however, a stingy ducky, and I am willing to share my good fortune with others.

In this spirit, I propose a trade. I will spend a year as a Wall Street Journal editor, while one lucky editor will spend a year in my underpaid shoes. I will receive an editor’s salary, and suffer the outrage of paying federal income tax on that salary. The fortunate editor, on the other hand, will enjoy a relatively small federal income tax burden, as well as these other perks of near poverty: the gustatory delights of a diet rich in black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, chickpeas and, for a little variety, lentils; the thrill of scrambling to pay the rent or make the mortgage; the salutary effects of having no paid sick days; the slow satisfaction of saving up for months for a trip to the dentist; and the civic pride of knowing that, even as a lucky ducky, you still pay a third or more of your gross income in income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes.

I could go on and on, but I am sure your editors are already keen to jump at this opportunity to join the ranks of the undertaxed. I look forward to hearing from you.

Pier Petersen
Chicago

The Roosevelts were American aristocrats. They were part of the Eastern Establishment of which an even tinier part was comprised of Boston Brahmin families that traced their ancestry to original colonists and founders of the American republic. Being first made them rich which, in turn, allowed them to contribute to the arts, culture, science, politics, trade, and academia. The New England spoken accent is identified as part of the Brahmin and Harvard University cultures.

The Roosevelt cousins — Theodore and Franklin — became progressive politicians who did much to help poor Americans. They did it out of sense of duty or obligation.

Teddy Roosevelt said in 1903:

“Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense.”… “We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.””The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote about his family:

“They [the Roosevelts] have never felt that because they were born in a good position they could put their hands in their pockets and succeed. They have felt, rather, that being born in a good position, there was no excuse for them if they did not do their duty by the community.”

Both men acted on their felt obligation because they were wealthy. They demonstrated noblesse oblige. From the French translation literally meaning “nobility obliges.” Noblesse oblige is defined as the moral obligation of those of high birth, powerful social position to act with honor, kindliness,and generosity (toward those less fortunate).

Noblesse oblige is the antithesis of the modern attitude, “I’ve got mine. Go get your own.” The wealthiest today loathe and mock the poorest among us. We often talk about the coarseness, the incivility, of our society. Add to our ever-saddening condition, the ingratitude of the truly luckiest — the 1%-ers.

Sad, but true, six members of the Walton family, inheritors of the Wal Mart fortune, own more wealth (a combined $102.7 billion) than the bottom 41.5% of the entire U.S. economy (representing 49 million families in 2010). 6 = 49 million!

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 21st, 2012 at 12:14 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, The New America. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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