Are the rich simply more deserving?

November 09, 2011

Anthony Marcavage continues a vital conversation about the nation's social contract ("Both sides wrong about social contract," Nov. 3) and promotes an at-first-blush balanced view that both liberals and conservatives are wrong — certainly plausible in this day and age.

However, Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's argument is mischaracterized in order to conclude falsely that her contention about what we each owe one another and society is wrong. Ms. Warren's argument that the rich factory owner (or corporate CEO) didn't get rich on his own as he moved his product over the roads that all taxpayers paid for is not, as Mr. Marcavage incorrectly states, an argument that a corporate CEO (or factory owner) benefits "disproportionately from the social contract simply because he is rich." Ms. Warren's conclusion is that corporate CEOs owe a debt to society for the benefits they receive from society, and this conclusion says nothing about whether corporate CEOs disproportionately benefit just because they are rich. That is a leap beyond her argument, albeit a true one.

If, as I believe, 99 percent of the people would agree that corporate CEOs owe a debt to society and that the debt to society is translated into the payment of taxes for the benefit of our entire nation, then corporate CEOs that evade their fair share of the tax burden (through the aid of high-priced accountants, corporate lawyers and a Congress all too willing to shower tax breaks on the wealthiest while demanding cuts to services to our neediest fellow Americans) are disproportionately benefiting from the social contract. Is this simply because they are rich? Let me know when the playing field is level and the middle class and poor can afford the high-priced accountants, corporate lawyers and Congressmen. It takes money to make money in our society, and we do not all share equally in access to this resource.

Mr. Marcavage correctly states that the worker (that's you and me, folks) uses those same roads to get to work, and by my own argument, I admit that the worker owes a debt to society in the form of taxes for the benefits the worker receives. Nevertheless, the suggestion that the debt owed by workers to society negates the debt owed by CEOs is ludicrous!

Next, the Alice-in-Wonderland night-is-day argument that the corporate CEOs' greater "productivity could justify a reduced tax burden" begs the question of exactly what Herculean corporate CEO is actually as productive as several hundred of his staff? That poor guy must be awfully tired! Most infuriating is the assertion that "Ms. Warren's position ... does not distinguish between the value of the worker and the owner," in accusing Ms. Warren of relativism. It is Mr. Marcavage's argument that is relativist, in that the owner is worth more than a worker and therefore deserves a reduced tax burden, while you and I, the workers, should foot more of the bill since we are worth less. Mr. Marcavage's proposed moral standard of "deserved" tax breaks that is different for the community of owners (or rich) than from the "deserved" tax burdens for the community of worth less workers is exactly relativist.

As if tossing an obvious bone to reality, Mr. Marcavage concedes that "they [some individual workers] have not had access to the infrastructure, schools or security [to say nothing of high-priced accountants, corporate lawyers and Congressmen] needed for high achievement. Mr. [Herman] Cain's rhetoric does not account for the fact that society sometimes breaks the social contract." First, it isn't just society overall, but the very corporate CEOs who have broken and even flouted the social contract. Second, to say "sometimes" is being too charitable to the least charitable (toward society) among us.

Finally, we in the "real world" are told how we are "not so foolish as to believe that [we] are somehow responsible for the success of strangers and therefore entitled to the fruits of that success." Ninety-nine percent of us workers do contribute to the success of "strangers," be it our bosses through the work we perform, or actual strangers through the taxes we pay for everyone's benefit. This does entitle us is a fair, equitable and shared tax burden (and not "deserved" tax breaks for these Hercules equivalents).

Mr. Marcavage's bias is quite understandable, as he identifies himself as a labor attorney representing an "owner" hospital and undoubtedly has to negotiate with those worth less workers. Knowing that many of these workers likely make close to minimum wage (say, even $10 per hour) and lawyers bill at high rates (conservatively, $300 per hour), must mean that Mr. Marcavage can do the work of 30 of these workers. Get busy, Mr. Marcavage!

James G. Trautewin, Baltimore

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