Column/Rich folks are people, too

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2007

In national politics, every time candidates for president and Congress talk about tax cuts as part of their platform in any election campaign, they are severely criticized by the opposition for advocating “tax cuts for the rich.” In almost every case, those being chastised are members of the Republican party, and the castigators are the liberal Democrats.

In my opinion, the rich have been ostracized for years, and the recent Duke lacrosse case, when the three accused student were perceived to be from “rich families” is the perfect example of how so-called rich people can be trashed because of perception.

In reality, many of the Duke lacrosse fathers held working class jobs such as firemen and policemen.

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While it may be that there is no badge of honor in being wealthy, I don’t remember ever getting a job offer from a poor man. Actually, the definition of wealth is all over the map, and should not be measured in terms of material assets alone. A person who is not a millionaire but enjoys an abundance of family and friends, lives in a nice home, has a job he likes and embraces a religious faith, in my opinion, is a very rich person.

Peter Gomes, the chaplain at Harvard University, and author of the best-selling “The Good Book,” writes that “wealth is not what you have; wealth is what you have been given that enables you to give to others.” Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ biblical parable/hyperbole found in Luke 18:25, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Another memorable and more pertinent verse from Luke 12:18, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required … ”

My interpretation of the “rich” issue

per most biblical and religious writings I have read, is the condemnation of the “greedy, arrogant rich.” These are the people who flaunt their wealth in high profile ways, reaping only contempt from most observers.

This group of rich people don’t give any of it back.

An opinion writer for the Raleigh News and Observer, Rick Martinez, has drawn a quote from Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “…there’s no shame in being poor, but it’s no great honor, either.” Martinez has also suggested that “sticking up for the rich is about as popular as being a character witness for rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong, the district attorney in the Duke lacrosse case.” However, there is a very strong case to be made in support of the rich.

Combining my own thoughts and research with that of Martinez, I believe that it’s time for rich folks to receive the positive

recognition they deserve. For starters, I firmly believe that a high percentage of the rich have manufactured their own wealth. What’s the formula? Well, usually it starts with getting, at the very least, a high school diploma.

Then it’s very helpful, in many cases, to attend college and even graduate school.

However, the main ingredients for success and wealth is old fashioned hard work and the understanding that in our great democratic republic’s free market/capitalistic system a person is free to accomplish most any goal for which he is willing to strive hard enough. Indeed, great opportunities await any person, in any endeavor, one wishes to pursue.

It’s important to understand that rich people get that way from being producers and creators – and more times than not – that production contributes to the public good. It may be true that the rich benefit more from tax cuts. This is because I believe they pay a disproportionate higher percentage of taxes, something qualified by the Congressional Budget Office.

According to the 2004 Budget Office report, the top one percent of all income earners paid 36 percent of all federal income tax. This proves that the rich don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes, they actually pay more.

Additionally, the report states that 66 percent of charitable giving (about $250 billion annually) comes from just three percent of the nation’s most affluent households.

So to those people who denigrate the wealthy, rich folks do a lot of good. God bless ’em!

Byrd Looper is a regular columnist for The Times-Journal.