Saturday, June 16, 2012

Intended consequences

Edward Conard has published a book, “Unintended Consequences”, to add his views to the current debate about inequality and taxation fairness. Mr. Conard’s takes the contrarian view, the unpopular one, and sustains that inequality is not evil, and that the rich, the very rich, deserve every advantage and every consideration because of their superior diligence, intelligence and dedication.
He writes a very cogent book, full of formulas and coherence. He describes how he, from humble beginnings, worked very hard, and ended up at the Harvard Business School. There he met Mitt Romney, who recruited him for Bain Capital. He proceeds to describe the long hours, the meeting-packed weekdays and weekends, that he put in to earn his hundreds of millions of dollars.
I have recently arrived to the Bay Area, and used the services of a national moving business. On the Sunday before our intended departure a huge van arrived, manned by a driver and his helper. They proceeded over the next sixteen hours to pack and wrap the content of our house, all the furniture and 300 boxes of the flotsam and jetsam that we had accumulated over the last twenty years. They were meticulous, cheerful, respectful and relentless.
During the Coast to Coast transit they picked up another load for San Francisco, checking on our progress by cellphone every day. Six days later we arrived in Oakland and they appeared on our doorstep a few hours after us, having discharged their second load in SF. They proceeded to unload carefully over the next ten hours, left everything where we wanted it and cleaned up their traces.
They told me that they had not been home in six months, crisscrossing the USA on their business, seven days a week. They were making a living, only one of them had health insurance. Here we have an instance of the fingerpost. Our societal model rewards different work very differently. Need I ask you about the fairness of such a reality? Working hard, paying their taxes and playing by the rules, they were certainly not attaining the American dream. Shouldn't we aim for a social compact that values solidarity? By solidarity I do not mean the abundant works of beneficent support that some of the very affluent keep pouring out. Solidarity should not depend on the individual's impulses, but should be inbuilt into the kind of society we all want to live in. Reawrds should be meted out like punishment is in Gilbert and Sulivan's "The Mikado": Make the punishment fit the crime". Or, like the old Marxist saw: to each according to his needs, from each according to his means.