What I want you to know. Which is everything.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Entry Wanders. A Lot

I've been listening to the Adam Carolla Show Podcast lately. I began listening because I was about to go on a long roadtrip this summer and needed some good listening material to help pass the time. If you aren't familiar with Adam Carolla he is a comedian who has been on several TV shows, usually with some kind of hosting duty. Probably his most famous show was The Man Show which was on Comedy Central in the early 2000s. Before that he did a call-in relationship advise show with Dr. Drew Pinsky (Celebrity Rehab) called Love Lines, which was a TV version of a radio show he did with the same name. On Love Lines Dr. Drew would give sound advise and Adam would generally make fun of the person, or give funny and at times common sense advise.

If you saw Adam on the Man Show then you probably also know Adam's more famous best friend, Jimmy Kimmel. On the Man Show Adam and Jimmy generally portrayed exagerated versions of the "typical guy." They drank beer, looked at hot chicks and would talk about men stuff like sports, cars, wrestling, bratwurst, and you name it. It was supposed to be fairly toungue and cheek and the humor was derived from the fact that Adam and Jimmy were not understood the ridiculousness of their ultra-macho behavior.

As I have been listening to Adam I've discovered that he is really a pretty funny guy. He would chastize me for pointing this out as he has been a working comedian for years now and of course he's funny. We don't feel the need to point out that accountants are good with numbers! I suppose I was surprised that I found him funny. On the surface he didn't seem like my cup of tea. He generally comes off as the very type of guy I didn't like in high school. He generalizes people based on their race, their job, income, and makes blanket assumptions about who people are without giving any possibility for alternative views. But, that's kind of his shtick and he also has surrounded him with people who don't necessarily believe like he does. This tells me that this is all (in part, at least) just how he has gotten laughs, and not his deeper feelings. He is also very knowledgable of politics and the goings on in America and comments frequently on the state of our economy. He holds some pretty strong opinions about anything from welfare to steroid use in professional sports.

I don't tend to agree with him on much of anything, but I don't really think he cares if you agree with him, when he decides whether or not you are worthy to talk to him. He is pretty cordial to all of his guests whether they be liberal Hollywood types or conservative politicians. His own politics are very libertarian. He is an atheist and can't understand why things like marijuana, prostitution and gay marriage aren't legal. On the other side of the spectrum he is brutal on taxes and welfare.

He talks about his upbringing and his parents quite a bit. In fact, most of his most strongly held opinions tend to be linked to the way he was raised as a poor kid whose parents were either neglectful or just plain mean to him. Or both. For instance, one reason that he doesn't believe in God is because his family would only attend church on special holidays and he realized the ridiculousness of people who treated God like a cash machine or magic genie. This soured him on religion and he eventually decided he didn't believe in God at all. His parents didn't have much money and they would talk about wealthy people in extremely negative terms. Further, according to the way he talks on the podcast his parents didn't give him much in the way of attention or material things. This is my own sort of armchair analysis of Adam, but based on what he says during his podcast, the attitudes of his family as well as his desire for wealth seem to be what drove him to his own success. Apparently, when he first became successful and told his family they responded with apathy or outright disdain. It's this part of his life that seems to have had the biggest impact on his worldview toward poor and economically challenged.

The other day on his show he was discussing taxes with one of his guests and he was talking about the Democrats wanting to raise taxes for the wealthy. He used a really great analogy to indicate how horrible it is to want to ask the wealthy for more. His basic point was that the wealthy are already the ones contributing the most to the government til and therefore we shouldn't ask them for more. Besides they worked hard to get themselves to the point where they are and therefore deserve the benefits of their hard work and tanacity. You know, the old line.

His analogy was this: We're all in a row boat and the wealthy are the only ones paddling, or at least taking on the brunt of the work, while the poorest (especially those who don't make enough to pay any taxes all) are sitting lazily on the deck, not helping out at all. His argument was that everyone needed to be putting in their fair share of paddling.

I liked his analogy a lot. However, I don't really see it like Adam sees it, and I think he stopped short of taking the analogy to a fuller and more accurate realization. So, I'd like to add to his analogy by offering a broader picture of of the rowboat reflecting how I see the world and how wealth is distributed, as well as the fairness of how we are taxed.

In this boat (that is powered by paddles, I guess) the wealthy are certainly the ones doing the majority of the work. However, that doesn't mean that they are working that hard. What Adam failed to mention was that the ones doing most of the paddling are extremely well built, healthy and strong. They are all huge Goliaths that are capable of lazily turning the paddle through the water without really breaking a sweat. Adam's version of this analogy fails to mention that the poor lazy bums not doing anything have broken limbs, are suffering from cholera, respirtory failure and any attempt they make at rowing cripples or kills them altogether. As a liberal tax and spend democrat, I feel this boat would be going a lot faster if the big, strong, muscle bound guys with their health and stamina should start using both hands and push a little harder. They don't have to strain, but maybe the big guys can pitch in the effort they are capable of exerting.

In other words, it doesn't matter that wealthy contribute more to the national debt. What matters is that the amount that the poor do pay is way more detrimental to thier living than what the wealthy pay. Weathly people and poor people, dispite the idea that the poor should live within their means (which I whole-heartedly agree with) live in the same world and much of the expenses of living are the same, regardless of your income level.

To illustrate this point I did some figures. I assumed that there were two families of four, both consisting of a stable mother and father with a boy and a girl below driving age. I tried to come up with a reasonable budget for both families based on current utility prices, percentage rates and tax brackets. One family has a joint income of $30,000 and the other family earns $250,000. I placed these families in Abilene, Texas. First, bescause that's where I live and I know about how much things cost here, and second, Abilene has a generally low cost of living, so I thought it would be a simpler comparison. I only included items that I felt were necessary to live and hold down a job (i.e. While cable TV is a luxury, I think it can be argued that cell phones have become a modern day necessity. I could make that arguement about internet, as well, but I've left that out of figures.) I also took pains to not inflate the Poor Family's expenses or deflate the Wealthy Family's. Here are the two budgets.

Wealthy Family earning 250K per year:

Income/Month 20833

Rent/Mortgage 2044.75 based on a $319K home and good credit
Electricity 225 based on Bill Estimator by Consumers Power, Inc.
Food 400 Based on my own monthy grocery bill.
Phone 270 Based on a Verizon Family Plan with 4 lines.
Car 2260 Based on a 2012 Lexus GX (assuming a 2 car family) used Edmunds.com
Insurance 200 Based on my own car insurance bill plus more to account for car type
Gas 240 Based on filling up once a week at $60 per tank
Taxes 6875 Based on a 33% tax rate (Source: bargaineering.com)

Total Bills 12514.75

Ending Balance 8318.25

Poor Family earning 30K per year. Unless indicated, estimates are based on the same sources as the Wealthy Family.


Rent/Mortgage 850 Based on the low end rent of a decent 3 bedroom house in Abilene
Electricity 150
Food 400
Phone 70 Based on a Cricket, no contract, month to month plan with 2 phones
Car 180 Based on a 2006 Dodge Caravan*
Insurance 200
Gas 240
Taxes 375 Based on a 15% tax base

Total Bills 2465

Ending Balance 35

*I find it hard to believe that someone, even with good credit, would get such a low monthly payment, or that a Dodge Caravan in good condition would go for so little, but this is what Edmunds.com estimated for a 2006 Dodge Caravan. My suspicion is that it would be more.

If I only had $35 left after all of my other bills had been paid, I'd be pretty nervous. This of course doesn't account for kid's asking for money for a feild trip, or new clothes, or car repairs, or the miriad of other things that we find ourselves needing money for here and there. The wealthy family, on the other hand, have a very comfortable cushion to sustain them through the sundries that pop up from time to time, to put into savings, or to simply use for vacations, movies, or other entertainment. I won't get into the value of these types of experiences to a child's worldview, therefore giving the wealthy kids a much greater opportunity for success in the future.

So, what does this mean? I think Adam Corolla, and many conservatives, would say that the wealthy family has earned the distinction of having more because they have worked harder to acheive more. I won't debate that rich people are going to have more stuff. And that's okay. What I am saying is that if they can throw a little more in the til and still have most, if not all of that, they should. From what I've heard and read in the news raising taxes to pre-Bush levels would essentially solve the debt crisis within a few years. If this is true, I think it should be looked at much more seriously.

The problem of course is political, as it always is. Republicans would lose their seats to more conservative Republicans, or (gasp!) a Democrat, and Democrats won't hold the line either for the same reason. Furhter, as I think we've witnessed over and over during the Obama years, Republicans are so adamant on getting their way that Democrats are essentially forced to give in, time and time again, or else risk failure in much greater porportions.

I often wish that people could come and work with me in my job, or any teacher for that matter and really get to know kids from other cultures and upbringings from themselves. Not that all teachers are raving liberals, but there is a reason that teaching is a more liberal profession. When you speak to a kid whose dad was murdered in gang activity and whose mother is uneducated and unemployed, it's hard to really blame that kid for not wanting to read "To Kill a Mockingbird." Education is the key to get that kid out of poverty, but it's near impossible to make that kid realize that. If Adam Corolla, who against all odds was able to pull himself out of the clutches of cynicism, abuse, and apathetic parents, could see the gulf that lies in front of a person who is trying to simply survive, let alone succeed, I think he would stop calling them "lazy," "losers," and "scum." From his vantage point, he was able to overcome lots of adversity. He lashes out at the idea that it was all dumb luck, because he scraped and clawed and found a way to wealth and success. But, he's neglecting the fact that he is a funny person. He acknowledges his lucky brakes, but maintains that he would have come through anyway, because he was determined enough. His story really is pretty amazing. I just wish he would realize that a., not everyone who was born into poverty is a worldclass stand up comic, and b., sometimes those breaks don't come. C., and I believe that psyche plays a much bigger part in success or failure than some people want to believe. Mental barriers and limitations are not superficial limitations. Generations of uneducated family members have a much larger effect on ones ability to escape poverty than the poverty itself. Race and pressures due to race also play a large role in determining what a student is willing to even try. For instance, I've never heard a white claim that he or she can't do something because of their race. I hear this from Black and Hispanic students frequently.

So, should we try as hard as we can to fix poverty? Absolutely! But, should we help those who are engulfed in it? We have to.

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