Re: Unbalanced Wealth

Let’s talk wealth distribution.

Recently, I watched Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream (click to watch), a point-of-view film by Alex Gibney. The description of the film on the PBS website is as follows:

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) presents his take on the gap between rich and poor Americans in Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream. Gibney contends that America’s richest citizens have “rigged the game in their favor,” and created unprecedented inequality in the United States.

Then Tim Isbell, the former senior pastor of my church back home, posted his thoughts on wealth distribution in response to a friend’s inquiry about a video entitled “Homeless in High Tech’s Shadow.

I’m still developing my knowledge and forming my thoughts on poverty, politics and economics. I have a lot to learn, so what better way than to start a conversation?

These next days, I want to start searching for answers about the issues surrounding poverty. My goal isn’t to get solutions, though they may be there. It is not to persuade or be persuaded, although that may happen. It’s not to nail down ideology at the expense of gathering knowledge, or vice versa. It is to get understanding and to arrive a place where we can start agreeing on principles, facts and values. Some of this will be subjective and we will disagree, but I hope we end up disagreeing on the things that make us who we are, and not on the things that can be debunked or the things that cause us to react with irrational or unreasonable fear. Any thoughts I arrive at or express are, as my “Posts” page states, subject to change. Views publicized do not necessarily imply endorsement.

As would be fitting a conversation, I want to structure my approach as a response to my pastor’s original post.

Pastor Tim writes that Washington must “… collaboratively attack the deficit and debt problems, as well as work to repair the currently unhealthy wealth imbalance.” He suggests that Washington might pursue actions such as:

  1. Reduce the size of our Defense spending to no more than 2-3 times that of the second largest defense spender (China).
  2. Raise tax revenue, primarily from corporations and the very wealthy. While doing this, make the tax code fairer (close lots of loopholes).
  3. Restructure Medicare.
  4. Restructure Social Security.
  5. Continue to strategically invest in future technologies.

He goes on to suggest what policymakers and citizens alike should do.

  1. Actively encourage teachers and students to higher levels of achievement, especially in STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).
  2. Encourage healthy 2-parent families. This is crucial part to rebuilding the middle class and to improving our students’ academic performance.
  3. Work to increase the education of males in comparison to females. The politics of the past few decades has successfully improved the education and career status of women, but now the men have fallen behind.
  4. Encourage our smartest entrepreneurs to develop ways to rebuild middle-class jobs. Several are currently working on this problem, but more is needed until we see a healthy middle-class revival.

Therefore, as follows are the issues I will explore, along with the questions I have to ask.

Defense spending. How much do we need to spend? How much are we spending? Why are we spending what we are spending? Toward what does most of our spending go? In which countries are we intervening militarily? Why? Should we be intervening to the extent that we are? In what ways is intervention appropriate?

Taxation. What’s going wrong with our tax code? What’s going right? Who wins and who loses? Why are people opposed to certain taxes? What taxes do people support? What tax credits are gained at the expense of others? Who are the “others” that lose in order for others to win? How do taxes provide incentive or disincentive for individuals?

Medicare. How should Medicare be restructured? Where is the bulk of the spending in Medicare going? How is the Affordable Care Act already impacting Medicare? What proposals for Medicare reform are on the table? What is worth criticizing in each proposal? Why are we considering Medicare reform? Who are the powerful voices that are influencing Medicare reform? Whose voices are not being heard? How are decisions about Medicare impacting those without voice or with quieter/quieted voice?

Social Security. How should Social Security be restructured? Which populations does Social Security impact the most? On what is Social Security being spent? How are concepts of intergenerational justice/fairness impacting the rhetoric around Social Security? How has thought regarding Social Security shifted over the years? Why have thoughts on Social Security changed? What is working and not working about Social Security today? How does the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) formulation impact Social Security? How does the Federal Poverty Line formulation influence Social Security? How does longevity and retirement age impact Social Security’s sustainability?

Education and STEM curriculum. Why is the US lagging behind other countries? In what areas are we lagging? What states, cities and regions are lagging, and why? What conditions preclude educational success? What are factors that contribute to strong STEM curriculum? What is at work in the gender disparity in STEM achievement? How can we encourage girls to pursue STEM studies and careers? Why should we encourage girls to pursue STEM?

Family. What family structures are conducive to children’s educational attainment, parental saving behaviors and wealth accumulation? Why? How do these structures differ by socioeconomic status? What is the “marriage industrial complex?” How does community play a role in child rearing and education? What is the role of older adults in community and family today? What workplace policies are necessary to support caregivers of dependents, ranging from children to people who are disabled to older adults?

Career and Demographics. What populations are disproportionately impacted by unemployment and underemployment? How do genders differ when it comes to career selection? Are men falling behind women and why? Is gender the primary lens through which we should assess employment and educational success? How does career selection impact regional economies? What is the role of local government in creating incentives for corporations and regulating business activity?

Jobs and entrepreneurship. What are the characteristics of sectors, companies and individuals who create the most jobs? Where do we find the most job satisfaction? What are trends in employee benefits and why do these trends exist now? How are social entrepreneurs meeting the needs of their communities? In what ways are sectors, companies and individuals creating jobs for people who have low to moderate incomes, with lower levels of educational attainment and fewer job skills? In what ways are organizations and individuals preparing individuals for work? How are job readiness programs impacting those who are homeless? Disabled? Older? Former prison inmates? How do visa restrictions and citizenship policies impact immigrant work status?

Phew, that’s a lot! Have questions to add? Have answers to give? Got people you think I should interview, or books and articles I should read? Please post a comment! I would love to hear from you!

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4 comments
  1. Thanks for resharing my recent post. Very nicely done. I’ve been following you on FB for a while but didn’t know you also write a blog. Just took a look at it and subscribed to the RSS feed using Feedly. Hope to also see you on Google+ soon.

  2. Arick said:

    I have read Tim’s article and he encourage me to read your.
    Before I start sharing my comment, maybe you want to know about me. I’m arick and live in Indonesia. here is my G+ profile. https://plus.google.com/u/0/115440379036165782818

    As what I have said to Tim in his G+ Post https://plus.google.com/u/0/102848762362933917561/posts/T5HteiRhe8K ,”Raising tax revenue” is attracting my attention.
    He explained in his post to increase the tax revenue.
    “primarily from corporations and the very wealthy. While doing this, make the tax code fairer (close lots of loopholes).”

    I believe Tim was referring on how corporations and other rich peoples could help the unlucky person and make huge differences just by paying more taxes. I do believe More taxes wouldn’t make them poor. By paying taxes, they would help the country in fighting poverty. It was an irony to see a someone live in poverty while another people live in extreme wealth at “Homeless in High Tech’s Shadow” In California’s Silicon Valley. If they share few of their money, there might be huge differences.

    I couldn’t understand Tim’s last word in his second solution: “close lots of loopholes”. I thought he might referring on the taxes which didn’t sent to government or a company or people which game the system and didn’t want to pay the taxes (they may pay taxes but not at the exact value of their property).
    There is a very bad case in Indonesia where a company was not paying taxes because they have connection with government (Don’t count me on it, I just read the articles and saw the news in television) and taxes which was being corrupted by the people whom working in Tax department (it have been already proved, more than twice with too much loss for the government).
    I’m thinking united sate wouldn’t have the same problem just like us (Indonesian, tax being corrupted and company refuse to pay taxes). I was thinking Tim was encourage the government to increase the taxes only for corporation and rich people that is become richer than before. Did watching the poor guys struggle to get live didn’t make them sad?

    As your Taxation questions, I see you have deeper feelings than me. You have lots of questions for government and public. By answering your questions, surely there would be better solution.
    1. What’s going wrong with our tax code?
    – Couldn’t answer this question. it was out of my skills. However it must be improved if there is something wrong with it.
    2. What’s going right?
    – I couldn’t answer it. maybe if everyone paid the taxes, they could help the government. Wrong?
    3. Who wins and who loses?
    – I believe everyone get the benefit of paying taxes, even the corporation.
    4. Why are people opposed to certain taxes?
    – Maybe they were afraid of being poor or they think the taxes were not fit for them. They may asking why another people have no obligation to pay the taxes while they must pay it. I think the government should make them pay the taxes or they have to start thinking just like the others whom live in worse condition. I maybe wrong about it but hey, this is just my opinion. :)
    5. What taxes do people support?
    – Maybe taxes which doesn’t make them worried. People love to pay taxes which is calculated exactly at few percentage of their maximum income and poverty.
    6. What tax credits are gained at the expense of others?
    – I believe others have better opinion than me. :)
    7. Who are the “others” that lose in order for others to win?
    – You must already have the answer. :)
    8. How do taxes provide incentive or disincentive for individuals?
    – People got lots of features and resources after they paid the taxes, right? :)

    Your eights questions above are the types of questions used to make the other remember and thinking about taxes. Maybe you should share your answer so other people may able to read it (I have good faith you already answer the questions and wish the other to start thinking about the Unbalanced Wealth).

    Arick from Indonesia.
    (I wasn’t an expert in the topic being discussed so my comment may looks terrible. I do apologize if my English wasn’t that good as English wasn’t my native language.)

  3. Arick, thanks for your comment! You used your English well to express your points, and I appreciated it! I am grateful for the Indonesian perspective your provided. Unfortunately, the United States, like many other countries, also has corruption, which is why Pastor Tim suggests closing tax loopholes that prevent people from paying the taxes they need to pay. However, I like the comment you made about how people are more willing to pay taxes that do not worry them, that are a percentage of their income, and consider poverty.

    • Arick said:

      As Indonesian, We always ask: “what makes American better than us (in term of prosperity)?”. (I’m not said all people from US is better than all of us. Surely it depend on many factors. It is a question while I’m in college).
      Today, I get the answer. It isn’t technology which make them better. Their mind and spirit are what make them better. People like Pastor Tim is what we need. Since the revolution in 1998, more People in Indonesia lost their sense of humanity. So much rich people and new corporation but the poor families keep growing.

      Pastor Tim was right, Corporation should help them by paying more taxes. I believe it wouldn’t make the go bankrupt. With strict rules and monitoring, surely the taxes will help government in lifting poverty. Being Homeless in homeland is bad. Maybe the corporation should recruiting them as employee. (people in Indonesia used to block the access (road) to company in order to force the corporation – I know it wasn’t good solution but it sometimes work).

      I like the last sentence in your comment above: “However, I like the comment you made about how people are more willing to pay taxes that do not worry them, that are a percentage of their income, and consider poverty.”. It just like a summary of my comment. :)

      Our government always said “Worry-Free Taxes” logo and “this project was built from your taxes”. Indonesian began understand the importance of taxes for developing our countries. It is true Individual has better awareness to pay taxes than corporation.

      For corruption, I thought united states would never had the same problem just like as. However, it is up to the individual to do bad or good activities. In Indonesia, corruption has been reduced but the money being corrupted were bigger than before. Well, I’m not here to talk about corruption as I have no references for it (only assumptions and news from television – I thought it were not qualify enough to be references). But I believe if more people care the other and fight poverty by paying taxes, there would be better life for everyone. People, Corporation and Government must stand together.

      Arick

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