We are a nation at war. The enemy is not another super power or even another major power. It is an asymmetric war. This war is not like the asymmetric wars in the news where a powerful army is constantly embarrassed by the clever tactics of irregulars, sometimes called freedom fighters, sometimes called terrorists. It is as old as civilization, and although we aspire to be fairer, we fail. The winning side is not even aware of this war; they just feel entitled to the benefits they reap without thinking about the situation of the other side. The rich and the poor are equally forbidden to steal bread and sleep under bridges.
In much of the world and much of history a ruling class, was entitled to take whatever they wanted from the lower classes, anything: food, money, sex, livestock, children, anything! The poor put up with it because they had no choice, no power, no mana. Sometimes Menehune is translated as little power. The ruling class was usually reinforced by the priest class offering the rulers moral justification in exchange for protection and a share of the loot.
Some radical came along and wrote: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
They had a little war over those words, won that war and assumed everything was OK, but it was not. Some were still slaves. After a few more wars the words were taken a little more seriously until today we like to tell ourselves that I’m OK, you’re OK, but a lot of our neighbors are not OK. Indeed some men (and women) are less equal than others. The privileged have more limitations now, O.J. had to stand trial, but he could afford a legal dream team. Still we have a legal system that is much harsher on the poor. What is a $50 parking ticket to someone making $500,000? How about someone making minimum wage? Someone who can’t afford a lawyer? Can fines be proportional to the ability to pay? Can we stop disrupting families by jailing breadwinners for non-violent offences?
We have progressive taxes that are not progressive because there are exceptions, loopholes for the privileged. Can’t we design an income tax without those special bargains? We have regressive taxes like GET that hits hardest those who spend most of their ‘disposable’ income on things that are subject to the tax, like food, instead of investments, legal advice, aircraft service and foreign vacations. Social Security tax has an upper limit, no matter how much you earn, after $118,000 income the effective rate goes down.
The main cause of poverty is the original sin of being born poor. Sure some people overcome it, some by hard work, some by luck and some by cheating, but the field in not level. Entry level workers have very little bargaining power, a job offer is usually, take it or leave it. Once hired it is often deemed employment at will, meaning the employer can terminate at any time. Minimum wage has hardly changed for over 20 years, while the cost of living has increased significantly. An increase in minimum wage is good for business. “If they can’t buy the cars, who will?” Henry Ford. If they can’t buy the pizza, who will?
We can’t make everyone equally well off, that has been tried and it never works. What we can do is stop kicking people when they are down. I am not advocating socialism, just social justice, eliminate regressive policies, the asymmetrical war against the poor.