Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
December 7, 2011
I heard a story on Aspen Public Radio this morning about a local woman who is shivering in the winter cold (especially today, when temperatures were well below zero) because she can’t afford to keep her apartment warm.
This woman, a longtime local resident, is in her late 70s, scraping by on a low-paying job as a housekeeper, plus a little money from Social Security.
In past winters, she has gotten help with her heating bills from LEAP, the federal Low-income Energy Assistance Program.
But this year, it seems, she won’t get any help – not because she can afford her heating bills but because the federal funding for the program has been slashed.
Now, I know some people are going to start huffing and puffing about how that’s too bad, but this country is broke and we just can’t afford to … blah, blah, blah. You know how it goes. (And, for sure, those huffers and puffers will not be people who need any help paying their bills. Although you might think that people who insist global warming is a fraud would at least be willing to help out with heating bills – if only to make a point. But there you go.)
So, for a moment, let’s stop and think about this great, big, wonderful nation of ours.
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On the one hand, here we have a woman – an elderly woman who is doing physical labor into her late 70s and cannot afford to pay to heat her home.
And on the other damn hand, here we have people who say that woman can freeze – maybe even ought to freeze – because we as a nation are broke and we certainly cannot, must not, will not raise taxes on multimillionaires.
Sorry, but it’s pretty much just that simple.
In fact, those “no tax increase for the super-rich” people are saying that the answer to our country’s financial problems is to raise taxes on that nearly broke woman.
Oh, yes, they are!
Their code phrase for raising taxes on the poor is: “We don’t need to raise taxes on the wealthy. We just need to broaden the tax base.”
“Broaden the tax base” means getting more people to pay taxes – which means taxing the poor.
In fact, we should note that the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial referring to people who are too poor to pay taxes as “lucky duckies.”
That’s because anyone who doesn’t pay taxes must be “lucky” – even if they happen to be freezing to death.
And if you freeze to death because you’re too poor to pay for heat, one has to assume the Journal would say you’re lucky again: no estate taxes. (Or, as they call them, “death taxes.”) Lucky duckies indeed.
There’s a theme I keep hearing from some of the most vile loud-mouths on the right wing of our political divide: “We have become a nation of takers versus makers.” And, they lecture, when the “takers” outnumber the “makers,” America is doomed.
Actually, I happen to agree with them.
Except, of course, for one minor detail: They’ve got it exactly backward.
I mean, they’re right about “makers” versus “takers.” And they’re right that if the “takers” are victorious this country is doomed.
What they’ve got dead wrong is the most basic point: who’s who.
They think the “takers” are the people like the Aspen woman who needs help to pay her heating bill in the dead of winter.
And they think that the “makers” are the super-rich whose taxes must never be raised.
But that Aspen woman worked all her life (we have to assume, because she’s getting Social Security), and she’s still working hard, even well past age 70.
That’s a “maker,” folks. Low-paid, sure, but working hard to keep society moving.
On the other hand, we have, just for example, Ronald S. Lauder, as recently reported by The New York Times. (Yeah, I know, it’s a liberal rag – but accurate anyway.)
Lauder is currently worth something well north of $3 billion.
Did he work for that money? Well, not exactly. His mother was Estee Lauder – and she certainly did work for her money: starting from virtually nothing and creating a multibillion-dollar international cosmetics company.
And I say, good for her. She was a “maker.”
But her son, little Ronnie Lauder, has specialized in protecting and expanding the family fortune, mostly through clever legal maneuvering to avoid taxes.
Yes, to be fair, he apparently founded a successful cable-television business – in Central Europe, with headquarters in Bermuda.
And, yes, little Ronnie contributes a lot of money to his charities of choice, some of which are certainly quite worthy, and one of which is his own private foundation, to which he gives works of art from his own private collection – saving millions in taxes along the way.
As The New York Times reported, “His vast holdings – which include hundreds of millions in stock, one of the world’s largest private collections of medieval armor, homes in Washington, D.C., and on Park Avenue as well as oceanfront mansions in Palm Beach and the Hamptons – are organized in a labyrinth of trusts, limited liability corporations and holding companies, some of which his lawyers acknowledge are intended for tax purposes.”
To sum it up: Mr. Ronnie inherited a vast fortune and has devoted his life to playing legal games to preserve and increase that fortune.
He, in short, is a genuine “taker.” A greedy, grasping “taker” of the first order. (Pretty much exactly the same as Paris Hilton, now that I think of it: famous name, inherited fortune, worthless human.)
And when those “takers” overwhelm the hardworking “makers” – from the housekeepers to the factory workers to the truck drivers, the school teachers, the short-order cooks, and yes, the founders of great fortunes, like Estee Lauder, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – then this country will indeed be doomed.
And we’ll all be lucky duckies, freezing in the dark.
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