Sunday, January 3, 2016

Greetings from the Middle Class

Dear Rich People:

Yeah, you know who you are.  You eat at the best restaurants, drive expensive foreign cars, wear the finest clothes, stay at only the best hotels like the Peninsula, the Trump, the Ritz-Carlton brands in Chicago and New York.  Your house or condo is opulent.  Perhaps it's understatedly elegant or balls-out decorative or expensively minimalist, but everything cost a lot and looks like it cost a lot.  You don't vacation in Australia because that's so 2013.  New Zealand's for Lord of the Rings fetishists.  Skiing in Colorado?  Idaho is so much more exclusive because fewer airlines go there!  A vacation to New York affords you fourth-row-aisle seats at the hottest shows in town.  Do you like football?  Or hockey?  Or basketball?  It's the 50-yard line or courtside or a suite on one of the lower levels or why the hell bother.  You don't go to concerts, you book the same talent for a small, personal show somewhere more intimate.  Yeah, yeah, because you can.

Sure, you worked hard to get where you are but maybe you didn't work very hard or maybe you worked hard for a bit and then got very lucky or you married money or maybe Mom and Dad left you a chunk of change.  Chances are you weren't bare-assed poor; chances are you came from the middle class just like I did.

My parents came to the USA in 1946 with pretty much nothing.  They were guests of the German government during World War II and came to America because they had my mom's relatives as sponsors.  They both worked -- my dad doing a variety of jobs and my mom doing alterations in a department store in downtown Detroit, where we grew up.  They had nothing but started to earn more.  When my sister was born, my mom stopped working and my dad got a job at the Ford Motor Company; after I was born, he got a coveted position in the Tool and Die apprenticeship program.  He joined the union and made a good buck and my parents, sister, and I were part of the middle class.

Things were not easy but as time went on, we moved to a better neighborhood, our cars were better, our food was better.  We had classes in the arts.  We took driving vacations to places that weren't just the cabin of a friend in Northern Michigan.  We had car trips that covered hundreds of miles and for a long time, we had dinner in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit, every Sunday. It was a modest dinner but it was in another country.  I grew up with people who'd never been to Canada even once.

Eventually we went to college and, thanks to his job at Ford, my dad paid for both of us.  It was a time of prosperity and we enjoyed it.  My mom got herself a part-time job at a store and money was saved.  My parents moved to an even better neighborhood in a northern suburb.

The Chicago I know when I moved here as a young woman is gone.  Rents are astronomical and unless I can move into my own condo (that I assume I can afford), I will never move again because my place of residence is affordable.  I pay extra for a garage space that's also reasonable.  My car is 18 years old and I can afford to properly maintain it and cover the auto insurance I need to legally drive it in Illinois.  I've been doing the same job for 20 years and make a decent -- not fantastic, but decent -- buck.  If I am careful, I am able to save for special things like a great vacation once a year or two short vacations if one involves driving my car instead of flying.  I can buy clothes if I need them if they are at an acceptable price point to me, i.e. on sale and if there's a coupon for a further reduction.  I find I like to have new duds in April and I hanker for accessories in early December but I may indulge myself if there is a big sale at a favorite store.  I don't skimp on haircuts -- I schedule all appointments for the next year in December -- and keep all the appointments but I color my own hair.  My glasses are cutting edge because I have eye insurance that supplements my flair for the dramatic.  I have contact lenses because I like to seem pretty, too. If I need beauty products I buy them -- after I wait for a good coupon and a sale at one of the beauty-care stores I favor.

There are many of you rich, vociferous rich folks who think you don't have to pay taxes to the federal government.  I know that whatever hyper-rich suburb you live in has astronomical property taxes which you willingly pay.  It covers that great school your kids attend, the hyper-vigilant police force that drives around making sure that all is well, the beautifully manicured parks, that library that's the envy of surrounding suburbs, and the clean streets where there's not a speck of paper ever.  Maybe in addition to paying all these taxes your kids attend private schools.  You've obviously got some scratch.  So why don't you want to pay your share of federal taxes?

Federal taxes pay for the military, federal highways, mail delivery, your safety at airports.  Federal taxes pay the salaries of the air traffic controllers who in concert with your flight crew get you through the sky safely to your destination.  They give you passports to let you leave the country and then come back to it.  They give you beautiful parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Kings Canyon, and the Grand Canyon.  They use diplomacy to make sure you can keep going to Paris "for a few days," to Gstaad "for the ski season," to Japan because your company will do even better if you go.

Federal taxes also help those who just haven't had your fantastic success.  We aren't talking about welfare cheats.  We're talking about people who've been genuinely unlucky, whose health is terrible, whose spouse has worse health than that, whose kids are struggling because they are hungry.  Your taxes might also pay for those kids to have hot breakfast and lunch at school so they have two meals a day, five days a week anyway.  It doesn't break your heart to know there are starving children?

And unions?  Unions helped create a voice for those who were easily forced to do what they were told for long hours and often in unsafe conditions.  Unions stood up for people to make sure they were treated fairly, ethically, safely.  They let people stand together and say, "No, no, not right.  We will show you how not right it is."  The people stand together and walk off until things improve for them.  Rich People who own companies, I know you hate unions because they don't do just what you want them to do.  What good is being in charge if the rank and file are just rank and don't file in as you say?  You say jump and they say, "My contract doesn't allow me to jump.  We can do a small hop or maybe a dip, but I don't ever again have to do dangerous jumping."

People on the lower end of the economical stick are being paid less and less.  The middle class is being pushed down, down, and could eventually be just poor.  Rich People, you don't want that.  You want people to succeed, so it makes their lives better, so they spend more money, so their kids get food and toys and books that will spark their imaginations, so they can go out and do things that will spark the imaginations of their neighbors' kids or your kids or even the old lady up the street who is sitting in front of her computer pissed off at the Rich People who think they deserve it all. You want to help people succeed so they will not resent you.  Rich People, if you keep pushing people down, they will eventually push back. That will not be pretty and many of you will wonder what the hell happened.  Think about it now, Rich People, because wishing it won't happen doesn't mean it won't come to pass.  I know you, Rich People, you'll say "I don't understand."  Read this now; maybe you'll recall this article then and say, "Oh, yeah.  That old lady said this could happen."


The Staff of Oh, I Think So

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