Larry Jordan

Everyone is related, and everything is connected.

Income Taxes Part VI: Personal Reflections

Jul 18, 2022 by Larry Jordan, in Taxes
oday, I conclude my posts on poverty with some personal reflections.

My previous posts have been factual, and they have not drawn much fire from folks on either side. When you think about it, wars are always fought over beliefs; wars are never fought over facts. Alternative facts and fake news and Facebook rants and twitter wars are all about beliefs, not facts.

Most of us are surrounded by folks who act like us, look like us, talk like us, think like us. We assume that there is something good or normative or reasonable about us; not so much about them. We judge ourselves (us) by our intentions; we judge others (them) by their actions. Us and them.

I was “poor,” and I was “rich,” and I was the same guy with the same character who made the same choices. There is no reason to demonize or lionize the poor; there is no reason to demonize or lionize the rich.

Whether we are rich has as much to do with chance and circumstance as with choice and character. Was I “rich” because I worked harder or because I had better luck? Yes and yes. Some poor folks understate the importance of effort; some rich folks understate the importance of luck.

When I was one of the one percent, I used to think that there were makers and takers, that the makers (us) worked and paid taxes, while the takers (them) loafed and collected benefits. Until I met an undocumented immigrant working three part-time jobs with no benefits and no security. Until I met a working mother who had to choose between paying her rent and paying her health insurance premiums.

Most of the takers that I know were investment bankers on Wall Street. Until they were convicted of bid-rigging or bribery or conspiracy, they were masters of the universe. Sadly, I know even more about financial crimes (as an observer, not a participant) than I know about poverty.

I used to think that everyone should work. Until I met a single father tending to his dying daughter. Until I met an Army veteran with Agent Orange exposure or post-traumatic stress disorder. Until I met a man with an obvious disability, like paraplegia, or a hidden disability, like narcolepsy.

I used to think that everyone who wants to work can work. Here is an experiment to test that theory -- go to a job interview with a cane. Tell the employer that you can work; you are only 10% disabled. Keep limping into interviews until you get a job. Let me know when you get chosen.

“Choice” is a loaded word, and we can forget that choice works both ways. We can choose to go to work. Will the employer choose us? We can choose to attend a private school. Will the school choose us? We can choose to buy health insurance. Will the insurer choose us?

Worse, when we talk about “choice,” we wrongly assume that everyone has the luxury of a “choice.” Is it meaningful to provide “choices” for good healthcare or good retirement options or good schools, if we are only providing “choices” to those who already have them and can afford them?

I worked at one of the most aggressive companies in one of the most competitive industries anywhere, so I know that capitalism works. At the same time, I know that capitalism creates winners and losers. The challenge to any civilized society is to ensure that the “losers” do not get ground in the gears.

It is one thing to embrace free markets. It is another thing to back healthcare policies and tax reforms that take choices and money from the poor to give choices and money to the rich.

In my career, I paid over $2 million in federal income taxes, and I never resented it, because my taxes paid for the courts and hospitals and roads and schools that helped me to succeed.

There are many places in the world that lack the public services that are essential to success. There are many places in the USA that lack the public services that are essential to success.

These are tough times to be an immigrant, to be disabled, to be poor, to be sick, or to be unemployed. Hopefully, I have helped to shine some light on those of “us” who live in poverty.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Thanks for reading.