A few days ago I read the op-ed article by Warren Buffett posted in the New York Times entitled Stop Coddling the Super-Rich. As is hinted by the title, his article implores the members of congress to impose the same weight of financial accountability on the wealthy toward improving our economy as is expected of lower income folks.
This article was passed along my Facebook friends like a collection plate, which was quickly filling up with their two cents worth. The fist shaking was not merely aimed at our legislators either, blades were then unsheathed and pointed in the direction of that mere 1 percent of our population referenced by Mr. Buffett.
At first I read the article with congratulatory jubilation for the tycoon, who magnanimously volunteered his piece of the pie to the economic Rube Goldberg machine built from prime interest rates, paper clips, taxes, dominoes, an insatiable appetite for petroleum, and Slinkies somersaulting down plywood inclines. I signed my name on the giant greeting card with many others that read “It’s about time someone from the wealthiest of the wealthy takes responsibility for their part in the corruption and/or reparation of the economy.”
That’s when my own minister tapped me on the shoulder and flipped open his doctrines on personal power. I don’t remember the exact phase or verse (as there really isn’t one), but it was something to the effect of Blame arises from an unwillingness for personal accountability. And as always, the message is written on a mirror.
As much as I still appreciate Warren Buffet’s heartfelt plea to his fellow gazillionaires, a perspective that seems rare among his class, I realized that my name was not on the list of his editorial call-to-action. The figures of my salary are neither 8 or 7, and 6 is a little ways off as well. How can I help fix the problem if I can’t be counted in that sliver of highest earners? I don’t count finger wagging and fist shaking as a solution. For all intents and purposes we might as well have 99 people standing in a circle around a single person telling them that the circle is at risk of breaking down because of that one person.
This is where I put on my troll hat and prepare to hear the rebuttal to what I have said thus far in this post. I do realize that Buffett was addressing lawmakers in his op-ed piece. He was asking them to consider legislation and budget proposals that are more inclusive of the chunk of the earnings of the wealthiest citizens. I can hear my critics from under their bridges yelling up at me, telling me my call-t0-action is through my votes, through my choice of who should represent us on Capitol Hill.
I think it goes a bit deeper than that. I remind myself that what we see from our lawmakers is merely a cross-section, a snapshot, an icon that represents the true psyche of the constituents whose sum total equals 99 percent. I believe this recent someecard states it best:
With every litany we recite that begins with When I win the lottery we are reinforcing the power that we give to elevating the wealthiest of the wealthy to exempt status. We gnash our teeth in the direction of the wealthy and vilify them for their gluttony and greed yet would trade places with them in a heartbeat. It seems we are building a facade around the truth of our own perspective when we honestly believe that we would follow different rules if we found ourselves bathing in a sea of financial abundance. Who are we kidding?
Isn’t it easier to blame the lawmakers who we hand-picked? Isn’t it easier to say the problem is greed as we participate in the unending game of consumerism? Yet we like to say we’re not complicit as our meager incomes in comparison cannot afford us nearly as voracious an appetite for consumption. Well we cannot consume nearly as much, true, but our appetite is still as great.
How many of us carry a high balance on credit cards? How many of us finance cars and boats and time shares?The idea of spending money that isn’t really there has us behaving like Wimpy from Popeye, substituting high-ticket items for hamburgers. Then when Congress attempts to address the gaping hole in our economy we look to every other place for creating it, ignoring the shovel in our own back pockets. The economy is essentially based on smoke and mirrors, as we individually spend money we do not yet have with the broad assumption our future earning ability is inviolately guaranteed in perpetuity. We have created an economic rat snake that is surviving by consuming itself, with our insatiable consumerism keeping it in captivity.
Down from the soap box and back to the mirror. How am I contributing to the problem? I am borrowing money to build a garage for my cars when instead I could save up the funds for the project and build it on a future date. I am under the illusion that some of my dreams require copious amounts of cash, which on close examination is quite doable with the money I currently make without incurring debt. I still use products that are wrapped in an excess of plastic, hauling a bin full of all things superfluously wasteful out to the curb week after week. I myself have mortgaged part of our economy and our environment for modern conveniences and creature conforts born out of First World entitlement.
It pains me to have to own up to my own complicity in the state of our economy and our environment. However, if I expect those things to change, I myself have to change. One of my favorite quotes is that of Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world. I cannot make these changes without owning my own contribution to the problem. The ironically inspiring part of this is that by recognizing where I am responsible for the state of affairs of today I am completely empowering myself as well through seeing the actions I can take toward correcting it.