By Arthur H. Gunther III
A recent New York Times edition unintentionally offered proof of the growing American economic contrast in this topsy-turvy world of post-recession stall.
On its Opinion Page January 6 was a third-position editorial, “Republican Disdain for the Jobless,” which rightly castigated the GOP for not extending temporary unemployment benefits for 1.3 million. Just two pages later, on the back cover of the first section, in obvious, deliberate and expensive “paid position” advertising, was a call by the famous Bonhams auction house for a very rare and expensive automobile.
Such contrast between the rich and those who are not. Collector car prices continue to rise, almost exponentially, as Wall Street investments pay off and as corporate salaries/bonuses increase, while permanent unemployment and under-employment escalate, too, but not in the same fun way.
It is irony that with the same newspaper, the front section of The Times, January 6, 2014, a relative few but nevertheless expanding class of our people could read the classic car ad and ponder offering a bid for such needless luxury while others, also a growing number of our people, might glance in nothingness at the same ad as they wrap themselves against the overnight cold on the streets or in the ever-longer employment line.
This isn’t a liberal’s lament, for this columnist believes in the promise of individualism, even if it must be rugged. There are enough without responsibility for self, and government programs cannot prove a lifetime — sometimes generational — parent.
Yet in a more enlightened time, and that is what America is supposed to be in 2014 — it is not 1914, nor 1814 — economic, and, so, social progress must depend as much on those with resources as it does on pulling yourself up with bootstraps. Otherwise, what is the purpose of democracy? Isn’t it a progression of betterment for all?
A modest parting of the super-rich’s riches, aka a “trickle,” could begin a re-employment boom in this once middle-class-led nation. Dare we say, the rich would be even richer?
Now, you can get fancy with this argument, and so probably stall it, which seems Congress’ way these days. For example, you can say that big government costs too much and that reducing it — its reach into our lives — would prompt investment in new or modified industry and business. Doesn’t work that way, so proclaimed bully pulpit Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who waited and waited for a “trickle,” and when he saw no tap open, offered the “Square Deal,” anti-trust actions and improvement of urban working and living conditions to fuel a progression that made solid the nation’s emerging middle class. And the rich made even more money.
You can and should argue that big government is its own enemy, for even in good intention, large bureaucracy is ripe for overcharging, waste, corruption by special interests and most fertile for endless red tape. Involving responsible, government-checked private business is better for employment and cost control than government-run bureaucracies. (This may prove true for Obamacare, largely a private system, once the government application end of it runs better.)
The road to less government spending, and, so more money for all taxpayers, is jobs in new-world business, technology, industry. That requires seed money, as surely as did the lift out of the Great Depression that World War II spending and then the great G.I. Bill brought to our nation. Think of how many professionals came out of the G.I. Bill, how much growth there was in the middle class. Less government regulation can be the result of greater, meaningful employment.
The popular Pope Francis says his grandmother would say that “burial shrouds have no pockets.” You cannot take your money with you, and if you are super-rich, you don’t even know your worth. Why not do good with some of it, “pay it forward” as it were? Invest in re-shoring the middle class. There would then be less of a need for government programs. And have greater faith that people will better themselves if you also invest in their dignity, their humanity. Contrast that with the greed that now exists, with “A Christmas Carol” playing all year long.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This essay may be reproduced.