(Also published at What Would Jack Do?)

Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all His children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.

– Cory Booker

Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviours. Keep your behaviours positive because your behaviours become your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.

– Mohandas K. Gandhi

Now that the media is finally covering the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’ve found it interesting to follow the tone of some of the coverage. Sure, there are those more left-leaning media outlets that provide coverage that can be described as perhaps a bit more balanced. Unfortunately, there are still those in the media who instinctively distrust the movement. Perhaps it’s the young people (a group suffering disproportionately from this recession). Or the “unwashed hippies.” Or the civil disobedience. Or the fact that the dress code and lack or organization make it look like a cross between Burning Man and a Rainbow Gathering. Get hung up on the stereotypes, though, and you’ll whiz right past the point of the Occupy Wall Street movement. To me, the point revolves around what sort of future we see for this country- one where Americans accept a collective responsibility one for another, or one based on a dog-eat-dog Randian ethic- “I got mine; you can damned well get your own”? Do we sit idly by and quietly acquiesce as the richest among us grab ever more and greater wealth for themselves at the expense of the rest of us? Or do we stand up and employ our superior numbers and moral weight to scream “ENOUGH!”?

Arguing for a more equitable distribution of wealth is not “Socialism.” Asking those who have been blessed with great wealth to recognize a responsibility to the country that made their success possible is not “Communism.” We don’t hate wealth, nor do we despise the wealthy. What we want is fairness. What we want is a system that isn’t designed to cater to the 1%, to funnel ever greater amounts of wealth in their direction at the expense of the remaining 99% of Americans.

I find it difficult to know what might happen next. Will the movement fizzle with the onset of winter? Will our national attention span lapse and be directed elsewhere? Will the oligarchy simply wait out those protesting their greed and avarice? All of those things are possible, I suppose…but can we dare hope that something positive might come out of Occupy Wall Street? Can we use the groundswell of anger, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment to create a better, more equitable, and more just system? Can we create an economic system not based on trickle-up economics, where the wealthiest among us continue to siphon up ever greater shares of wealth?

Occupy Wall Street is not the modern version of 1932’s Bonus Army…but it may just be the beginning of the end of our collective silence and willingness to sit quietly on the sidelines as the rich re-write the rules to their benefit.

Enough is enough. We- all of us- deserve better.

I’ve always believed in capitalism. America has achieved greatness largely through those who dreamed, sacrificed, and worked their tails off to create something out of nothing, something that they believed in. That passion and commitment has created vast sums of wealth for some, smaller sums for others, but the point is the same: the American Dream remains a possibility. It’s just that the playing field is no longer level. Those who have prosper, in far too many cases, at the expense of those who don’t. It’s time for Americans to decide what they can and cannot continue to tolerate.

Listen to the Right wing, and you’ll no doubt understand that they define “Socialism” as an unmitigated evil designed to suck the life out of this country. Unfortunately, not only do most of these folks not have a clue as to the definition of “Socialism”, they use it as a club to thwart any sort of rational discussion of the state of our social order. So, in the interest of fairness and intellectual balance, here’s a handy, if somewhat brief, definition:

so·cial·ism? ?[soh-shuh-liz-uhm]

noun

1) a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
2) procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.
3) (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

All right, so I’ll leave those interested in such things to parse the semantic significance of that definition. From where I sit, though, our increasing deference to the individual at the expense of the community is what’s gotten us into this mess. The “I got mine; you can damned well get your own” ethos has helped to create a system not only based on inequality of capital and opportunity, but one that fosters such inherent unfairness.

Not so very long ago, during the Reagan Administration, if memory serves, the top tax rate was 50%. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that no one likes have half their income appropriated by a government that doesn’t always use that money with wisdom and efficiency. Some actively resent it, which is why the wealthy tend to be so overwhelmingly Conservative. They made the money, they want to hang onto it. This, while an understandable attitude, completely ignores the reality that no one gets rich in a vacuum. The rich did not become solely through sheer brilliance and superiority of ideas. No, those in the poor and middle class made and purchase their products. Those products were transported to market on roads built by various governmental entities. The police and courts made certain that the rule of law ensured that their products made it to market safely and securely.

That being the case, I’d submit that being rich is a VERY good thing. In fact, being filthy rich is an ever better thing. Just ask Mark Cuban, who argues that the most patriotic thing you can do is to become filthy rich:

Bust your ass and get rich.

Make a boatload of money. Pay your taxes. Lots of taxes. Hire people. Train people. Pay people. Spend money on rent, equipment, services. Pay more taxes.

When you make a shitload of money. Do something positive with it. If you are smart enough to make it, you will be smart enough to know where to put it to work.

I don’t care what anyone says. Being rich is a good thing. Not just in the obvious sense of benefiting you and your family, but in the broader sense. Profits are not a zero sum game. The more you make the more of a financial impact you can have….

So be Patriotic. Go out there and get rich. Get so obnoxiously rich that when that tax bill comes , your first thought will be to choke on how big a check you have to write. Your 2nd thought will be “what a great problem to have”, and your 3rd should be a recognition that in paying your taxes you are helping to support millions of Americans that are not as fortunate as you.

In these times of “The Great Recession” we shouldn’t be trying to shift the benefits of wealth behind some curtain. We should be celebrating and encouraging people to make as much money as they can. Profits equal tax money. While some people might find it distasteful to pay taxes. I don’t. I find it Patriotic.

Those to whom much has been given shouldn’t have to be cajoled into accepting that their great wealth conveys upon them a responsible to the country that helped create that success. If you’re rich, then good on you. Time to step up and willingly do the right thing, don’tchathink? I realize that my premise will generate some argument, including in my own household. That’s OK; we need to have a debate in this country about how to level the playing field.

Or are you really OK with the idea that a fortunate few are splitting an ever-increasing portion of the pie, leaving the rest of us to fight for whatever scraps hit the floor?

Jack Cluth

Jack Cluth

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