By Brandon Ferdig
France's new Socialist president, Francois Hollande, is raising taxes on the wealthiest members of French society. This is music to some folks' ears, but to others the music sounds more like the theme to "Jaws." It's a matter of perspective, dependent on how you see the rich.
Indeed, there are different ways to get to the top, and there lies the disconnect in reactions to this news. And this disconnect is very polarized today, given recent indications that the middle class in the United States is shrinking.
Tough economic times (caused in part by some rich people) have the less wealthy eyeing the more fortunate with a mixture of scorn and jealousy. When rich and poor are polarized, it's no surprise that all the rich get categorized as the enemy: the 1 percent.
But while some rich get to be so at the expense of the middle and lower classes, and while they do pressure their governments to create the rules in their favor, this doesn't define the majority of millionaires out there.
For most rich people, wealth is an indication of how hard they work, of what they do with their money and the resulting growth they generate in the economy and the job market. A salesman gets a 10 percent commission and sells a ton of product; an inventor creates a device that makes life better for others; a business owner expands and can now offer jobs to more workers. These folks are the lifeblood of an economy. And as they increase the size of the pie, they should be rewarded, and we should be thankful for them. Without them we couldn't work our eight-hour work day in an air-conditioned office, have enough extra money to buy iPads or the resources to provide education and a social safety net. Laborers make the economy go, but these rich are responsible for seeing it elevate from the agricultural to the industrial to the electronic.
This may sound crazy in these economically trying days, but it would actually benefit a country to tax these rich folks less. Let these doers, these job creators, these wise investors, keep more money, because they're doing a wonderful job with it — certainly a more efficient job than government would do.
But people who don't like the rich either don't understand this or only focus on those who get rich at the expense of others. It's understandable that people conflate the two, but there's a big difference between a Goldman Sachs executive and, say, John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods. While taking your frustrations out on the rich, you're going to harm all the rich, and this will include taking away resources from those who use them best for all. It's cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The idea is to grasp this difference.
Our inability to do so allows this sloppy idea that it's simply the rich vs. the poor. It's simplistic and inaccurate when both the poor and rich work together as they do so often. It's incomplete to see the rich as all Goldman Sachs types; similarly, it's incomplete to exclude them when considering the upper class. Both the rich-defenders and the rich-haters are right in their own way, given what they're focused on. We can broaden our perspectives to include both truths.
Our common concern should be eliminating the ability for the "bad" rich folks from fleecing the poorer. Eliminate the enabling laws, prosecute those who steal, use the power of organized labor to stand up to abusive bosses, and enforce sensible regulations for working conditions. In other words, stop doing what's been done so much in U.S. history: using government to help allow the bad rich to thrive.