Permit me to paraphrase Matthew 19:24, King James Bible: And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to seek or to contribute to he who would seek public office without being sorely demagogued as unfit, immoral or out of touch with the middle class.
I suppose I should qualify the above by adding "rich woman" lest my readers accuse me of soldiering in the war on women and, by specifying, "particularly, if the wealthy individual(s) happen to be of the conservative stripe." Now, before I am drawn, quartered and hung out to dry for that partisan statement, let us compare the venom leveled at Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain (for his many residences) and the much-maligned Koch brothers, with the passes generously bequeathed to the likes of Sen. John Kerry and George Soros.
I am uncertain just when the accumulation of wealth and earning a profit became evil — or at least downright unseemly — and enjoying riches and/or success came to be the antithesis of honesty, integrity and character in seeking or holding public office. It would seem more reasonable that one's previous leadership, business or investment success would be more highly sought after by an electorate than those with mediocrity or failure as their lot.
Among my circle of friends, acquaintances and political confederates, the absolute nadir of this denigration of wealth is represented by the Occupy movement and its throngs of hygienically challenged, lazy, undisciplined, unruly and, for the most part, clueless genre clamoring for "their share" of bounty not earned. One can feel sympathetic for those wanting through no part of their own, but for the something-for-nothing crowd, sympathy can be found between schmuck and syrphus (genus of flies) in the dictionary.
Call it what you will — class envy, class warfare, the curse of the green-eyed monster or just plain old garden variety jealousy — to covet or to harbor an inordinate desire for that belonging to another is not only wrong, it is also unhealthy. While envy has always been a part of man's makeup, this current state of covetous behavior has never been this acute among Americans.
For evidence, let us return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, not so far back as to hear the thundering hooves of the great horse Silver but merely to the 1930s and '40s of my youth. Growing up on a share-cropped farm with my parents and siblings, attending a one-room grammar school for eight years and a public high school for four, I cannot recall any of the anger and envy now directed at the wealthy.
However, that was before the spate of social engineers, television talking heads and level-the-playing-field politicians began to orchestrate the "them vs. us" doctrine so popular with the baby boomer and "me first" generations. That was also an era in which almost everyone was responsible for daily chores and reading was the preferred method of learning.
One of the literary giants of my youth was Horatio Alger Jr. and his nearly 50 novels of poor-boy-makes-good. There was "Ragged Dick," "Paul the Peddler," "Andy Grant's Pluck," "Only an Irish Boy" and "Do and Dare" — all tales of youngsters who lifted themselves from poverty by dint of initiative, honest hard work and solid character — and without government subsidy.
By today's standard, the dialogue is somewhat stilted and corny, but the message is clear — other than poor physical and/or mental health, the sole bar to success lies in the individual's lack of goals, endurance and self-reliance. The American dream is alive and well, however, it is not projected on the screens of the lethargic, the slothful and the fainthearted.
The popular notion that virtually all of those with wealth and power achieved their successes not by hard work but through trickery, inheritance, deceit and by criminal pursuit is simply not accurate. While believing so doubtless lifts the self-esteem of low achievers, most of the accumulated wealth in the U.S. was earned by someone's hard work, attention to detail and studying the markets.
Blaming, denigrating and even cursing the wealthy is hardly a recipe for economic fairness or justice. Nor, likewise, is levying punitive taxes against those who earn but 19 percent of the income but already pay nearly 40 percent of the income tax, regardless of the equally predictable and ludicrous polling results.
Granted, there are the unscrupulous and greedy among the country's wealthy, but, likewise there are also grifters, welfare cheats, thieves and scalawags in the ranks of the less affluent. Conversely, a survey done for the United States Trust Company illustrates the level of philanthropy among the top 1 percent. Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed donate to charitable causes for an average of 8 percent of their after-tax income.
Regardless of those who believe the rich are somehow obligated to share their bounty, it is not in the best interests of either freedom or growth for the government to decide how much wealth an individual may accumulate, who may accumulate those riches and, through the means of taxation, usurp the prerogative of charitable giving.
To level the playing field by redistributing wealth destroys individual incentive and initiative. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed (our Declaration of Independence) — that consent is neither sanctioned by opinion poll nor by mob rule.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com. Questions? Contact Elizabeth Conner.