Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do

For some reason most of the conservatives I know tend to have more liberal than conservative friends even though statistics show that conservatives outnumber liberals in the US by two to one. My fellow Watcher’s Council colleague Bookworm Room is married to one, and even my wife aligns more to the Left although her recent experiences with Medicaid and other government interference in health care is steering her hard to the Right. The vast majority of my “Facebook Friends” are liberals and regularly post about politics. Being conservative and polite I try to keep my mouth shut, but it takes some serious effort sometimes and every once in a while I just can’t help but open it.

Recently Elizabeth Warren’s little canned speech about taxation “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,”  made the rounds among liberals and sure enough a couple of my friends posted it on their “walls”. I noticed that it originated at a site called “The Other 98%.” I recognized that immediately as a liberal meme that 2% of Americans own the other 98% or something to that effect, and when matched with Warren’s speech it implied that 2% owned factories and broke the social contract which liberals like her were going to rectify by imposing taxes on them. I did a little research then broke my “no posting about politics on Facebook” rule.

“As best as I can figure out the bottom of that 2% is around $200k for a married couple filing jointly (IRS statistics use 1%, 5% etc). I doubt anyone earning that who owns a factory. Even the 1% cutoff of $388k could mean 2 doctors or a pair of lawyers.”Those earners making $200k might be considered bourgeoisie by some making do with $30k a year, but I doubt that Warren Buffett, George “Judenrat” Soros or even Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon would hang out with them after they washed the smell of hippies of themselves (except Moore; by the looks of him I doubt he washes much.) I later wrote, “What concerns me is that the rhetoric is being directed at the top 2% of taxpayers – not solely billionaires. Warren is including people making $200k with the likes of those worth tens of billions of dollars.”

Well that opened me up to friends of my liberal friend. One posted:

“Why? Sorry, but I find it hard to feel terribly concerned that people who are earning “only” 200k per year might have to pay more in taxes. The words “cry me a river” somehow get stuck in my head every time I try to muster up some pity in my heart for folks bringing home only 6 or 7 times my annual income.”

I didn’t know this woman, but a review of her profile found that she was evidently a librarian who got her undergrad degree from one of the best public schools in the country, then went to graduate school at one of the country’s most expensive private schools, albeit one not considered top-tiered. Judging by her photograph she was younger than me, although not by much. For all that education, by her own admission she was making $35k year, max?

Long ago while the Wife was attending preparing for medical school, I invited a salesman from Appleby windows into my house to learn about vinyl replacement windows (big mistake; don’t ever mess with Appleby Products.) The guy was not a salesman, he was a con-artist. I like salespeople; my mother was a saleswoman, and the best never lie or cheat their customers. This guy was a con man. He dodged questions about the price of the windows and instead asked personal questions about our backgrounds, searching for emotional leverage over us. We were honest, but we knew what he was doing. We mentioned the Wife’s graduate degrees from Japan and her continuing study while prepping for med school. He eventually asked, “You care about your baby, don’t you?” We nodded. “You don’t want him to catch cold now do you?”  “I thought viruses cause the common cold,” my wife chirped. The salesman went on for a few minutes until it became clear to him that we weren’t going to by his crappy overpriced windows he went from being pleasant to rude in a heartbeat.  In exasperation he said to my wife, “All that education gone to waste.” It was the first time I’ve ever physically grabbed a guy and threw him out of my house. I didn’t know I had the strength or the body mass to actually throw another man out of my house, but I did heave him through the door.

When I read the librarian’s comment on Facebook I remembered, “All that education gone to waste.” It was true in this librarian’s case. Grad school and making $35k a year? Whose fault is it that? Society’s? Mine? George W. Bush’s?

6 years after I graduated college I was faced with a problem: I was back in the USA, had a wife and a baby to care for, and my political science degree and the experience I had overseas teaching in Japan wasn’t worth anything on the job market. So I took a job working at a help desk in the IT field. It’s not that I loved answering phones and being yelled at by my boss, but it gave me a foot on a path that led to better paying jobs in the IT field. In two years I had parlayed that job into one making more than the librarian does today. I kept learning new skills which lead to better paying jobs. Some of these involved risk. The technology changes quickly in IT, and worse, both India and China had coders that charged 1/10th what American programmers charged. But I stepped from technology to another which netted me a little more money to pay the bills while the wife went to school. I eventually left coding altogether, not because I don’t like it (I do) but because it had become a commodity that had been offshored.

The Wife’s story is even less conventional. After 7 years active duty in the Navy, she went to college and got her undergrad. Then she went to Japan and got her D.Sc in zoology. After we returned to the US, she was accepted in a postbac program and eventually got accepted to medical school. For years she worked hard while piling up a massive student loan debt. Now she’s working 60 hours a week and saving people’s lives. I don’t know any librarians who do either of those.

This brings up an important point: marriage or even cohabitation where the two parties pull their resources together is important. The librarian is evidently single. If she paired up with someone, even another librarian at $35k they together would be making just shy of a third of that 2% $200k figure. She is also a government employees; these tend to have lower dollar salaries but better benefits packages. It is unlikely that she is including those benefits in her “6 or 7 times my annual income” statement. She might think she’s only making $35k but is receiving another $15k in benefits such as pension, health care, etc. I have spent most of my career as a contractor in the IT field, so there are no benefits; the hourly wage I make is all I get.

But with all that education, $35k benefits or no isn’t a lot. At that salary she isn’t even paying income tax, and I’ll leave it to others to decide whether someone who pays nothing should have a say on those who do pay income tax. It sounds to me that she resents her salary, so why doesn’t she change it?

Are librarians worth more? The market seems to think so. The median salary (base pay only) of librarians is $56,749 – so I’m not sure why she’s making much less. Perhaps she’s working part-time, but if so she shouldn’t compare herself to those working full time (and usually many more hours) for more money. If she wants to make more money, what’s to stop her?

I feel like telling her: Change careers. I did, and so did my wife. She started medical school beyond the age of 40; I had to start my career chained to a phone being yelled at by computer illiterates at the age of 31. There are plenty of jobs out there that she could get that pay more. It takes courage and some preparation, but it’s better than resenting others who took the risks, work much longer hours, and reap the rewards – which we should remember by supporting Warren and other limousine liberals she wants the Government to steal.

Our system has its flaws. I have personally lost a job in a futile campaign against offshoring and labor dumping through the government’s meddling in the labor market. I worry about things like the cost of education and the future value of college degrees. Just like many liberals I too resent seeing the same people who caused the financial meltdown still in power instead of the chains they deserve. But for all of its flaws, it’s still the best at providing choice to anyone who demands it.

If you want to become a doctor, you can become one. If you want to start your own business and sell tutus to little girls studying dance, you can. If you want to start a restaurant or cook at one, there is no bureaucrat needing a bribe or law preventing you. Our system excels at providing choices to people whereas other systems provide outcomes. You are a farmer, but you will sell your produce to us at a price we determine. You are a doctor, but we will determine how much you are paid for each patient. You want to sell shoes in my district, you will have to pay me a flat fee every month (that’s how my friend Jan Mohamed was shaken down in Tanzania under socialism).

It takes much more than education and hard work to become a millionaire or a billionaire. To reach those heights one needs luck, family connections – a variety of things that are out of reach to all but a very few. But if you are young and your goal is to make a solid middle class salary of $100k a year, or $200k for the top 2% of households, you have to choose a career that pays well and you have to marry or live with someone with the same goal. There’s nothing magical about that formula, and no reason to resent those who have achieved that goal.

As my late mother-in-law said, usually when I had come home complaining after a rough day at the office or the Wife had a particularly tough night on call, “You chose this path.” And we have, all of us, chosen our paths. The Wife and I could have chosen to forgo having children, moved to a major city and gotten higher paying jobs; but we chose to live in a rural area with our rescued animals and our son. She could make much more money as a dermatologist or cardiologist, but she chose the lower paying specialty of family medicine because she wanted to be an old country doctor.

I almost titled this “Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent Those Who Are Better Off Than I Am,” but that would have undermined the very theme of this essay. I am better off than anyone else, living in a beautiful area of the country, with a woman I adore and a son whose every breath is a miracle to me. Sure people have more money than I do, but I don’t resent them; why should I when what I have means more to me than a figure on a bank account statement? My mother-in-law, crazy as she was, was right; I did choose this path, just as the librarian chose hers. Instead of resenting those who make more than she does, perhaps its time that she changed her path to one that will end in a place where she will feel much the same as I do here, among my family and my misfit pack of dogs in the North Carolina mountains.

UPDATE: As the Occupy Wall St. movement has grown, so has the percentage it claims to represent. The Other 98% has morphed into We Are the 99% – probably after some Lefties realized $200k won’t make you rich enough to steal from, especially in their favorite hangouts in San Francisco and New York City where $200k is almost poverty level.

22 Comments

  1. Roger:

    Bravo. Truly excellent post and words which I am constantly having to speak loudly every time I get together with my extended family. Out of 8 children, I’m the only one who bothered, or rather SACRIFICED, to get a college education. It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard the words, “We can’t all be as lucky as you.” Lucky?

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the value of education. This topic comes up every time the economy is in trouble. The fact is, college educated people make more and are more in demand. Yes it’s true today we have many college educated folks out of work. But the college education gives them an edge. The issue now is to motivate these folks to go search for work. Too many have given up; why not with 2+ years of unemployment?

  2. Rob Miller:

    Hey Razor, nicely done.

    You should check out what Mark Steyn says about the diminishing value of college education in his latest book.

    And I mean not only in terms of dollars but in terms of the actual value of what mostly gets taught.

    Aside from a few professional fields, it’s always seemed to me that the biggest value of a high dollar colege education, especially in the top private schools is the connections you make.Just ask Barak Obama.

    Regards,
    Rob

  3. Watcher of Weasels » Watcher’s Council Nominations – ‘Occupy’ Edition:

    [...] To Murder Saudi Ambassador Right Truth – White House Reaction to Violence in Egypt The Razor – Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do Bookworm Room – The USS Carl Vinson rocks! VA Right – Rick Perry Has a Jeremiah Wright of His [...]

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    [...] The Razor – Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do [...]

  7. TrevorLoudon.com: New Zeal Blog » Watcher’s Council Nominations – ‘Occupy’ Edition:

    [...] The Razor – Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do [...]

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    [...] The Razor – Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do [...]

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  10. Watcher of Weasels » The Council Has Spoken!! This Week’s Watchers Council Results:

    [...] And that’s freedom, isn’t it? Here’s a slice from The Razor’s fine essay Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do :Our system has its flaws. I have personally lost a job in a futile campaign against offshoring and [...]

  11. NoisyRoom.net » Blog Archive » The Council Has Spoken!! This Week’s Watchers Council Results – 10/14/11:

    [...] what he doesn’t and that’s freedom, isn’t it? Here’s a slice from The Razor’s fine essay Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do: Our system has its flaws. I have personally lost a job in a futile campaign against offshoring and [...]

  12. TrevorLoudon.com: New Zeal Blog » The Council Has Spoken!! This Week’s Watchers Council Results – 10/14/11:

    [...] what he doesn’t and that’s freedom, isn’t it? Here’s a slice from The Razor’s fine essay Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do: Our system has its flaws. I have personally lost a job in a futile campaign against offshoring and [...]

  13. Tammy:

    Excellent article!
    Spoken like a libertarian.
    How in the world could you possibly be a liberal?

    Live and let live, should be the true philosophy of a liberal, but instead, liberals(Democrats) want to take money from people who work hard for it, and give it to someone who doesn’t.

    I don’t even go to church anymore, but I do remember the 10th Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house or anything else that is your neighbors.

    Democrats don’t just covet. They steal.

  14. The Council Has Spoken!! This Week’s Watchers Council Results - 10-17-2011 | Virginia Right!:

    [...] Ah, choices….we all make them in life, and this week’s winner discusses his choices freely, choices based on what he values as opposed to what he doesn’t. And that’s freedom, isn’t it? Here’s a slice from The Razor’s fine essay Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do : [...]

  15. Sard:

    Great piece! Thoroughly enjoyed it. Could not agree more. In these parts it’s called a “work ethic.” “He who does not work does not eat.”

    From the “new guy.” (therightplanet.com)

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  18. Zachriel:

    The Razor: Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do

    The quote you provided from your liberal friend or from Warren doesn’t indicate resentment. In a time of national economic crisis and overseas wars, additional taxes may be necessary. In particular, the wealthiest Americans may have to pay more. No reason to “cry a river” over the poor rich people.

  19. Scott Kirwin:

    Zachriel
    Define rich. At the time Warren made her comment she was speaking about the top 2% of taxpayers. That’s couples earning a shade over $200k a year. That may seem rich to you if you are making less than that, but is it really? Obviously not since I notice that Warren and the OWS movement have lowered the figure to the top 1%.

    The problem with that is that you could tax the top 1% by 100% and still not have enough to fix the deficit. So inevitably they would have to lower their sites on those in the top 2% of taxpayers, or the top 5% or the top 25%. You start by looking to soak the rich, you end by impoverishing the middle class.

    The Middle Class always bears the brunt of social redistribution schemes because the true wealthy move their money around or can buy loopholes. Moving money around is easy for the wealthy; it’s impossible for the middle class who don’t have bank accounts in tax havens like the Cayman Islands or offshore funds set up to manage their wealth. With the wealthy it’s tax policy is a conversation: if they don’t agree with it they stop talking and move their money someplace else. With the middle class and poor tax policy is a command: we do what we are told and have no recourse.

  20. Zachriel:

    Scott Kirwin: At the time Warren made her comment she was speaking about the top 2% of taxpayers.

    The discussion concerned raising the top marginal tax rate to 39.6% from 35%. In a time of war and economic crisis, it may be necessary at some point for the wealthiest Americans to pay a bit more.

    Scott Kirwin: The problem with that is that you could tax the top 1% by 100% and still not have enough to fix the deficit.

    No, but it would help. Other changes will be necessary.

    Scott Kirwin: The Middle Class always bears the brunt of social redistribution schemes because the true wealthy move their money around or can buy loopholes.

    The middle class did reasonably well during the Clinton Administration. Taxes were higher, but there was robust economic growth and plentiful jobs. This shows that it is possible to have financial health, middle class security and a balanced budget.

  21. Scott Kirwin:

    Zachriel
    No, but it would help. Other changes will be necessary.

    Why does that statement creep me out? Maybe it’s because those other changes would include raising taxes on the Middle Class.

    You can’t raise taxes during a recession just like you can’t start an exercise regiment while you are sick in the hospital. I was in Japan when it raised its consumption tax during its recession in the mid 1990s. That country still hasn’t recovered. We are in danger of turning Japanese just without the benefit of a huge personal savings nest egg to keep interest payments down.

    You aren’t going to tax your way out of this mess for the simple reason that the government spends money less efficiently than people do. Raise my taxes and I cut back. Maybe I don’t hire a contractor to tile my floor and do it myself or go without until times are better. Lower my taxes and that money goes to work. At my income what comes in goes out almost as fast, so any bump we receive in earnings get spent.

    Here’s an idea: cut the size of government. In a time of war and economic crisis, can we really afford cabinet level posts like Health and Human Services, Education and Energy? Even Veterans Affairs could be disbanded without impacting actual veterans. And yes we can cut defense without reducing effectiveness. There are weapons programs that soldiers and sailors don’t want but congress-critters do because they bring pork to their districts. Cut funding to the UN; end the occupation of Korea, Germany, Japan and scores of other places. So yes, there are defense savings to be had.

    Then there’s the whole issue of tax reform. Screw reform, let’s just scrap the entire income tax completely. We lived without it for over 150 years, so why do we need it now? A federal tax code that runs 72,000 pages that no one has read or understands, that even the Treasury Secretary has run afoul of, isn’t reformable. We need to think creatively to develop a transparent tax system that isn’t regressive, but yet is fair. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 might not be it, but at least it’s the start of a discussion that is long overdue.

  22. Zachriel:

    Scott Kirwin: Maybe it’s because those other changes would include raising taxes on the Middle Class.

    More than likely rates on the order of the Clinton-era would be prudent.

    Scott Kirwin: You can’t raise taxes during a recession just like you can’t start an exercise regiment while you are sick in the hospital.

    That is also correct. These are the economic problems facing the U.S:

    Short term, jobs
    Medium term, deficits
    Long term, entitlements

    The best policy would be continued stimulus during the recovery, but with a strong plan in place to address the deficits when the economy returns to normal growth. This will allow the economy to regain its footing, and reassure lenders in order to help keep interest rates low until the debt can be addressed.

    Scott Kirwin: You aren’t going to tax your way out of this mess for the simple reason that the government spends money less efficiently than people do.

    There was a robust expansion during the Clinton-era, and the somewhat higher tax rates didn’t stop growth. Indeed, it helped moderate growth. This policy was reversed during the Bush Administration, so not only did the U.S. build up deficits leaving it vulnerable to crisis, but the deficits contributed to the overheating of the economy.

    Scott Kirwin: Here’s an idea: cut the size of government.

    For the same reason you don’t raise taxes during a recession, you don’t cut spending. They both cause economic contraction. Once the economy recovers, then prudent cuts and tax increases may make sense.

    The American people need to decide how much government they want, then pay for it. The cuts you point out don’t address the long term structural issues. That will require addressing entitlements and taxes.

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