Sunday, May 09, 2010


If you live in New Jersey, you're hearing a lot of garbage about "sacrifice" these days, specifically from the Governor's supporters in relation to his budget. I'm not going to get into the politics of the whole thing, but I do want to offer some thoughts on "sacrifice".

What passes for sacrifice these days is a living example of the old cliche, "Give an inch and take a mile". Those who are strong and willing to make sacrifices are the ones who end up screwed. Let me give you some examples.

My boss and I were talking one day, and she said, "Did you ever notice that if, say, the local post office holds a food drive for a local food bank--those people in your community who are barely getting by or have nothing will bring in bags of groceries, while the wealthy won't give anything at all, or maybe one canned item?" While I am sure there are exceptions to this, generally speaking, it tends to be the pattern. My friend Liz works in a library where the biggest complainers about free programs (or having to pay anything for a library program) are the wealthy. Her boss told her, "Liz, that's why they have money. They never spend it." In our current state budget crisis, Governor Christie has repealed a tax put in place by the previous governor on people making over $400,000 a year (note: see update on this in comments below), and has handled the state's financial crisis by eliminating or severely crippling services for the poor, the handicapped, and the unemployed. When people complain he and his cronies say, "Hey, we're sorry to do it, but we all have to make sacrifices." Which translates to "the middle class and the poor have to make sacrifices. Don't bother my rich friends."You don't see the upper classes sacrificing anything.

Greed certainly accounts for some of this, but part of it is a social phenomena that revolves around our accepted responses to difficult situations. We want to have enough of everything, to be able to pay our bills, to have some extra for leisure, and perhaps for some favorite "toys" (a new car, a new iPad, whatever). However--there is never enough money. Spending increases proportionate to your income (and so do your taxes--unless you make huge amounts of money). And as spending increases, debt increases, and you need more and more money to pay it. Even the most frugal can run into financial crises--I had wiped out all my debt a few years ago except my mortgage, and then I suddenly needed a new furnace and a new roof for my house. Not cheap when you have a moderate income level.

There is a mistaken notion that salary increases will also increase your personal wealth. When I got my first big raise from $30,000 to $50,000 a year about 10 years ago, it was a $20,000 increase, but I ended up giving back close to $15,000 in taxes, Social Security, etc. So--I only netted about $5,000 in extra income for my troubles. As I said before--there is never enough money, and the numbers are deceptive. Perhaps this is why the rich want big tax breaks, but is it fair to make the poor and middle class pick up the burden? The economic collapse a couple of years ago shows you that the "trickle down" economics theory is pure bullshit. If you bail out the very rich, they won't spend the money to right things--they'll put it in their own pockets.

And this is my point about sacrifice. Sacrifice is fine for those who are willing to do it. Those who have plenty are more than happy to let those who are struggling make the sacrifices. Shows of strength and community solidarity are shrugged at by those who really could make a financial difference. They say, "Well, see, they don't need our help, they can take care of themselves," and start grumbling about laziness and "pulling oneself up by their boot straps" when those of modest resources are drained and in need of help. You dragged yourself through the alligator-infested swamp before, you can do it again! Don't be such a baby!

That is the grumbling of the new tea party these days, which is mostly made up of the wealthy. "I worked hard for my money, I'm not giving it to some lazy idiot who can't get a job" is one of their mantras. This is why they have their money--they won't spend it. They want the government to provide things, but they are appalled at the notion that they should put their money into the system to make it happen. And those in the middle class and below should think about this. I'm not suggesting that you should give up the value of sharing with others and supporting your community. But if you grew up on the values of Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree", throw that damn book away and start placing limits on your sacrifices. You're only being sacrificed by the greedy for the maintenance of their own monster.


Unknown said...

Very well put, Brigid.... To quote a newspaper article I read somewhere (can't remember)- "People want to be taxed liked libertarians, but subsidized like socialists". Another good one- "Share the losses, not the profits"- In relation to the Wall St. bailout. Trickle down economics is a myth. It's more like trickle up... Just my two cents...

Brigid N. Burke said...

One update--a friend noted that Chris Christie didn't repeal the tax on those over $400,000--the Democratic legislature let it lapse to see what he would do, and he did nothing. So, I stand corrected on that, but it still holds true that the wealthy are not making the sacrifices that the middle and lower classes are making.