Over the past year, Rapid City’s country club rebuilt its 50-year-old club house. An article in the Rapid City Journal on the opening of the new building elicited several online comments, including these:
• “And for [those] who built this obscene monstrosity right in the middle of a recession for the rest of us, shame on you for flaunting your riches.”
• “Can you say ‘Lower Class Stay Away?'”
Several others did point out that the country club provides local jobs and its new construction, funded by its members, cost others nothing in taxes. As one person put it, “It is not immoral or illegal to have disposable income.”
Maybe it isn’t illegal to have extra money, but increasing numbers of people seem to consider it immoral. This small exchange over a country club is a microcosm of a growing class warfare unfolding in America. Sadly, it seems it is no longer a good thing to be viewed as “rich” (which according to some polls is anyone worth over $500,000).
Certainly, it is a normal human trait to have some envy and resentment of those who have more than we do. I believe, however, that an undercurrent of deeper resentment against the rich is spreading in this country. One example is this response I received online to one of my columns: “I wish I had never saved into a 401K, I should have just spent everything when I was making it. Rich people in america are financially raping everyone else.(sic)”
For many people, the frustration and fear created by the recession has focused on highly-paid managers of failed financial companies and high-profile swindlers like Bernie Madoff. Instead of being seen as “one-off” unethical operators, these newsmakers seem to have become stand-ins for “the rich” in general.
Successful people are less likely to be viewed as hardworking entrepreneurs who create jobs and opportunities for others. Instead, in a throwback to the 1930’s, a growing number of Americans and their elected officials are blaming the rich for the economic crisis and determined to penalize them by raising their taxes.
One example of this was a survey conducted for the Associated Press by Stanford University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on funding for health care reform. The only funding methods supported by a majority of those polled were those that increased income taxes on the wealthy.
With such public support, it’s no wonder the health care bill passed by the U. S. House of Representatives is a plan to be funded by a 5.4% income tax surcharge on those making more than $500,000 a year. Some in Congress are also considering an additional tax on the rich to fund the Afghanistan war.
It’s as if the country is acting on a money script of, “There will always be enough money—just get it from the rich.”
Sooner or later, however, if the seemingly bottomless pool of “the rich” is taxed more and more heavily, it will dry up. Margaret Thatcher once said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money to spend.” The result will make the recent financial crisis look like the good old days. We will see consumers spending even less, businesses cutting back, and more employees unable to find jobs.
I am extremely concerned that this increased resentment of “the rich” is coming just at the time we need to be supporting small businesses in order to preserve jobs and create new ones. If we over-burden those businesses instead, the result will be fewer opportunities for average Americans to prosper and build wealth of their own.