A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and was very much in favor of 'the redistribution of wealth.'
She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.
One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school.
Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.
Her father listened and then asked, 'How is your friend Audrey doing?'
She replied, 'Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.'
Her wise father asked his daughter, 'Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct a 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA.'
The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, 'That wouldn't be fair! I have worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!'
The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, 'Welcome to the Republican party.'
The story equates academic achievement at college with people's financial place in life. You have the daughter who has a 4.0 GPA because she works hard; and you have Audrey, who is on the verge of flunking out because she "played" instead of working.
If the message was about college I'd have no problem saying that at the college level you should get the grades you earn. I'd have no problem agreeing that you have to work for your grades. I have three degrees and what amounts to about 11 years of college. But the message isn't about college; it's about wealth...
The idea that all wealth is the result of hard work on the part of the wealthy is ludicrous. The majority of truly wealthy people are born wealthy. I remember a quote from the era of the senior president Bush; someone said that George Bush thought he'd hit a triple when in fact he was born on third base. Wealth is largely inherited.
The corollary assumption of this little email tidbit is also flawed. If grades in the story are supposed to make us think of money in real life, we're suppose to draw the conclusion that people are poor because they "play" too much. Poverty comes from being lazy and immoral. But I teach at a school where more than nine out of ten kids qualify, technically, as "poor." And in kindergarten, I don't think it's their fault. I work in a county where 56% of the adults between 18 and 65 don't have jobs. Maybe a few dozen of them could run out and get jobs tomorrow; they haven't because, well, they're lazy and immoral. But there's no way that all of them could find jobs this week, or this year, without leaving the place where generations of their family has lived. And because they don't have jobs, they don't really have the resources to just up and move, anyway.
The truth is that poverty, like wealth, is more or less heredity. Grades in college might have to be earned, but poverty is something you get free from your mom and dad...
There are additional flaws in the story. It talks about redistribution of wealth as though that is an end in itself in the Democratic Party. I'm a pretty active Democrat. And I don't think redistribution of wealth is really the goal any more. I'm not sure it has been for a long while now. I think the goal now is redistribution of opportunity. Heck, it's probably not even a case of redistributing opportunities. We don't want to take anyone's opportunities away, no matter how rich they are; we want to expand the opportunities that are out there and make them more available to people who haven't had opportunities in the past.
There's some misdirection in the story, as well. I have daughters. Sometimes they believe things that are wrong - and think I'm stupid. I know how that feels. This story wants you to think of that feeling (it happens to all parents), and to feel something about Democrats instead of thinking about the arguments.
The email talks about "fairness." I've never heard that term adequately defined. But I pay seven and some odd percent of every penny I make to the payroll tax. Many rich people don't. How is that fair? I'd like to make life fair by having people who make several million dollars a year pay that same seven and some odd percent of their income to payroll tax to help support the social security system. If I pay seven percent or so, why shouldn't they? But Republicans scream and moan and call me a communist when I talk about it.
Since we're talking about fairness, let me ask this question. My wife and I pay 28 percent or so in taxes on our relatively piddly income as educators. My sister and my sister-in-law, both registered nurses, pay about the same I suspect. And yet someone who makes most of their income by trusting a stockbroker to invest their money for them pays a lower rate and calls it capital gains tax. How is that fair? I get up and leave the house at 7am, spend the day trying to figure out new ways to get fourth and fifth graders who live in poverty to actually understand what they read, go home a worry about lesson plans and such, and pay 28% while the guy who writes his stockbroker a check and then goes home to watch TV pays a lowewr rate. I can't see how that's fair. I've heard people argue about how it's somehow "good" for society. But it's still not fair.
I'd like to live in a society where kids don't go hungry, even if their parents as drug addicts. I'd like to live in a society where kids can go to college even if their parents can't read. I'd like to live in a society where military veterans with PTSD don't end up homeless. And (call me a communist) I'd like to live in a society where anyone can afford to see a doctor (and take their kids to the doctor) whether they have a job or not.
So anyway, spliting your grades with someone isn't the same thing as paying your taxes. And it was a Republican named Oliver Wendall Homes who said that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.