Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Our Classless Rich

Mark Dayton is running for Governor. He was a so-so Senator and for this he is being pilloried in attack ads (particularly for being the only Senator so send his staff home after 9/11). Mark Dayton is also very rich, his family being founders of department stores Dayton and Target among others. A key campaign plank of Dayton's is that he is going to raise taxes on himself and his fellow wealthy Minnesotans and shift the tax rate back to what it once was when the wealthy in the state paid a slightly higher percentage of their income in state taxes than the way it is now when they pay less, in percentage terms, than their middle class fellow citizens. It seems like a fair and sensible plan. But of course he is being pilloried for this as well. His plan is a "job killer." It is funny how we have lowered the tax rates on the wealthy during the last decade and don't have more jobs to show for it. But that is another story.

Whatever Mark Dayton's faults as a Senator and as a person, he has class. He represents what is mostly a bygone notion among the rich today - wealth however come by is a privilege and there is a concomitant duty to give back to the community a proportionally larger share of money and service than would be expected of those who are working long hours to put bread on the table for their families.

His name came to mind when I read this post by Michael O'Hare on the classless rich of our era:

Real class is what the economic aristocracy of our country has almost entirely lost. The American rich are wallowing in a moral slough, grasping for more and more money they have no clue what to do with, and venting their frustration that climbing over each other to new heights of wretched excess brings no satisfaction by lashing out at every social institution, and at a government whose largesse is never enough for them. Andrew Carnegie may have had his miners shot at Homestead, but he came to regret it and he also said it was sinful to die rich. He walked the talk; there are Carnegie libraries, a university, concert halls, and more all across America, still creating value. (All the Vanderbilts, not so much.) But Larry Ellison has his name on nothing and for all his billions, has absolutely no class and no idea that he lacks it, and a whole class of cowboy millionaires and billionaires have the fatal idea that he is a target to emulate. No, money isn’t a way of keeping score; great schools and passing laws that make us all better off and building a subway system for New York and a high-speed rail line in California is a way of keeping score. Anyone who thinks he’s self-made, and single-handedly created all the value he’s come to possess, has no class, no more class than a Gulf sheik who thinks the accident of living on top of an oil pool makes him admirable and distinguished. Keeping track of (and taking care of) all the people without whose labor and pioneering you couldn’t have done anything, that’s how to keep score.
What is really disappointing to me is to see how well this describes so many Democrats in Congress these days.It is bad enough that you practically have to be a multi-millionaire to be a Senator. It is worse that there are very few Nelson Rockefeller-like rich Republican Senatorsany more (i.e. ones with class) But is just pathetic to watch Democratic Senators talk about the need to make sacrifices like raising the Social Security age in order to do something about the deficit, and then turn around and support extending the Bush tax cuts for their classless rich cronies. Talk about having no class.