Saturday, April 23, 2011

Were slaves just a bunch of "free loaders?"

The current debate about who "earns" most of the income in our country, who "pays" most of the taxes, and who is really getting the shaft in the whole deal just keeps making me think of the old slave plantation. There's a popular idea that the richest people all got that way because they "earned" all of their money through hard work and skill. Further, since close to half of Americans now have so little income that they owe no federal income tax, it's become popular to portray the half of Americans at the bottom of the income scales as "free loaders" who live off the hard work of the rich.

But this is based on a very flawed definition of "earning" income. It seems like if you're able to somehow get your hands on money, then you have somehow "earned" it, no matter what resulted in you getting your hands on it. But would any rational person argue that it was the slave master who "earned" all of the plantation's income merely because he collected the revenue generated by the operation? Or could a sane person say that the slaves were "free loaders" because they received no monetary compensation for their efforts, and subsisted purely on the "generosity" of the master in providing food and shelter?

Yet, so often the in today's debates the rich and powerful are portrayed as heroes who contribute so much to society based on what they "earn". Meanwhile those who toil away at productive (but poorly paid) jobs, providing real goods and services that people actually use, are vilified as free loaders because they make so little money that they owe no income tax.


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