Commentary: Asking the tough questions about class mobility in America

The Myrtle Beach SunJanuary 26, 2012 

Being born rich doesn't make you evil, just as living in poverty doesn't make you lazy.

Working within the current design of our capitalist system to earn millions is not a sign of immorality any more than not dying rich is indicative of a laissez-faire attitude.

There are rich people in the world who are salt of the earth and some poor who would sell their mother down the river no matter their circumstances, and vice versa.

The ideas and risk-taking of the innovators should be richly rewarded and respected – but so should the hard work being done by the everyday, average American without whom those ideas could never be turned into a service, product or profit.

The size of our wallets and bank accounts are not the most revealing things about character.

What we do, and how and why we do it, matters much more.

The amount of resources we are given stewardship over matters less than how we handle what has been placed in our charge.

It’s hard to remember those truths in times like these, in the heart of a divisive election cycle that has put the spotlight on the differences between the haves and have-nots.

As the political circus leaves town this morning and heads to Florida only hours after the voting in South Carolina’s extremely important GOP primary ended, now is a good time to be reminded of those truths, though.

The discussion itself is long overdue.

What does it say about our country that over the past few decades most of the wealth created has floated to the top to a relative few and income mobility has fallen to the levels seen in countries such as Russia?

Why has our tax system become so complicated that at times it punishes those who can least afford to be punished, namely those in the middle class struggling to not fall a few rungs on the economic ladder?

What’s the best way to reform entitlement programs that must change or they will lead us into fiscal ruin?

Who should be helped with taxpayer dollars? And when? And how? And for how long?

How do we isolate the cheats and hangers-on from the savvy and truly needy?

Capitalism might be the best, if flawed, wealth-creating system in the world. But how can it be perfected, to convince more Americans that the majority of us have a fair shot if we operate within it wisely?

We must ask and answer those questions without suggesting that a large personal fortune should qualify for or disqualify someone from the highest office.

We’ve finally gotten around to this past-due discussion because of the recent economic shocks this country has suffered. We didn’t think to have it when times seemed better, when the jobless rate was lower and untold riches seemed more in the reach of the average American.

Had we been smart enough to have it then, maybe we could have sidestepped much of the ugly rhetoric aimed at various socio-economic classes.

We didn’t.

We are having the conservation now because hard times have a way of focusing the mind.

But we can ask tough questions and conduct critical analysis without labeling some heartless demons and others spineless slugs, in other words, without caricaturing any particular group of people.

Can’t we?

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