Monday, March 09, 2009

Comfort and Politics

A friend who blogs on many weighty subjects said recently:
"I realize my best moments of magnanimousness are easier because Steven and I are safe - economically, physically and spiritually."
He also quoted Warren Buffet who said recently:
"The people that behaved well are no doubt going to find themselves taking care of the people who didn't behave well"
This morning I was reading Harper's (March 2009) and Lewis H. Lapham quoted C.V. Wedgwood in his column.

"Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right, rather than in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong."

Lapham was assailing Obama's cabinet choices, but I'll leave that argument aside. I want to talk about comfort. And politics.

A lot of people talk about wanting change. And now that the stock market has tanked and mortgages are threatened with forclosure (if they can be found at all) people would like to change that. But folks who have achieved some comfort don't want to give it up. Sure Buffet and Gates can talk about not minding paying more taxes. I get that. They already had billions (with a 'b') dollars of excess money to give away. Clearly the lifestyle they find comfortable is far below the income they have. The tax code makes a bigger difference to me. Sure I give away money. Obama wants to change the way that donations are taxed. Probably the big boys don't care. I do. It's either taxes or donations for me on that percentage. I'd rather get the tax break because I'm not crazy about the government spending money, buy hey. I don't look forward to the government deciding on a confiscatory tax rate down in my realm because, of course, I foolishly planned my retirement on a more reasonable one. Of course, some of the returns are disappearing...making the tax rates irrelevant. Also, to make things more predictable, we invested in tax-free bonds. I suppose the goverment could decide to tax this income. I don't think they will given the disarray of all credit markets including that for municipal bonds. I imagine that such an action would bankrupt thousands of cities and utilities and schools. But you never know.

Are my views selfish? Of course. But how many of us are willing to make ourselves uncomfortable in some outpouring of fairness? Certainly not me. I understand that my good sense in the past will be punished to some degree as my tax dollars provide 2% mortgages to people who did not plan well. (Or behave well as Warren would have it.) I just wish that those of us who did behave well could get 2% on our money markets!

There is a reason that fiscal liberals are largely found among the very, very comfortable and the penniless. Those of us in betwen must plan more carefully to stay comfortable. The very comfortable person already has a large discretionary level of income they can do without. (Of course, some people can never get enough money for themselves. Like you, Bernie.) The penniless have nothing to lose in a tax increase and everything to gain in increased food stamps, mortgage resets, etc. I budget for my charity and for my taxes. Like everything in my budget, when something gives one place, it gives another. The last thing I give up willingly is my comfort. Regardless of how unfair some might think it is for me to be comfortable. The sad thing is that the deficit can't be handled by the billionaires, it will ultimately fall further down to me and to other retirees and folks who just were trying to be comfortable. People worry about bankrupting the next generation. I worry about bankrupting mine and the greatest generation in their retirement.

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