by Molly Ivins
now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
Easter, it seems to me, is a good time to consider the gospel, and Silicon Valley seems like a good place to start.
Think "Silicon Valley," and what do you get? Multi-zillionaires, mansions, fancy cars and the heartbreak of Suddenly Acquired Wealth Syndrome -- that's the tragic dilemma afflicting those who become billionaires before they're 30 and are left trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
Would it surprise you to learn that seven out of every 10 jobs being created in Silicon Valley pay less than $10,000 a year? How much have you heard about that 70 percent of the residents?
The news media supposedly hold up a mirror of our society, but it seems more and more like a funhouse mirror. Headlines and great stretches of air time are devoted to the gyrations of the stock market, yet 50 percent of us own no stocks.
"(Be) not greedy of filthy lucre."
"Thy money perish with thee."
The New York Times devoted some space in its Sunday magazine recently to the poor, apparently on the theory that they're still with us. Well, actually, it wasn't an article about the poor -- it was an article about how little the rest of us ever see or think about the poor.
One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt probably didn't waste a lot of time thinking about the people who built their pyramids, either. OK, so it's not that bad yet -- but it's getting that bad.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
The very structure of our cities and suburbs hide the poor from the rest of us. We live increasingly in enclaves of people who are about as rich as we are, not matter what that level is. When Ralph Ellison wrote his book "Invisible Man," he was talking about black people, but the invisible people today are not black but poor. ("Poor and black" remains a special category.)
"And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."
Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch philosopher, wrote: "To give aid to every poor man is far beyond the reach and power of every man -- Care of the poor is incumbent upon society as a whole." That seems obvious, but the political temper of the times is resistant -- perhaps, again, because we don't see what is happening to our countrymen.
With the exception of the PBS documentary "Surviving the Good Times," by Bill Moyers, I cannot think when I have last seen struggling working-class Americans speaking on television. Of course, we get those statistical reports -- more people without health insurance, more people living in dilapidated housing and paying more than half their income to get it, more people working two and three jobs. But all of those people together have not received half the attention that the media have lavished on Martha Stewart and her deathless advice on how to entertain beautifully.
"Make not my Father's house an house of merchandise."
So much of our political life is a shell game -- tax relief plans that benefit the rich, health-care plans that won't help, vows of environmental concern from those who demonstrably have none.
Bill Greider has suggested a tax relief plan that makes real sense. Three-quarters of all Americans pay more each year in Social Security taxes than they do income taxes. Yet the pols keep talking about income tax brackets, which mainly affect those in the highest brackets.
The incomes of top earners are largely exempt from FICA taxes. The tax is capped after $76,200 -- you don't have to pay another nickel, no matter how much you make. That's 6 percent of all Americans. (If everybody you know makes more than $76,200 a year, you might want to re-examine the earlier point about the invisibility of the poor.)
Greider suggests cutting the present rate of FICA, which is 12.4 percent, by 2 percent and offset the lost revenue by abolishing the cap so that those making more than $76,200 will continue to pay. Greider says that average working families would get about $700 in relief on an income of $35,000. For someone making $1 million a year, the bite would be about $100,000 -- which, Greider points out, would make FICA precisely the flat tax advocated by conservatives.
"And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple."
As I have detailed in other columns, there are several kinds of financial institutions that specialize in ripping off poor people. They offer loans at usurious rates, prey on poor homeowners and aggressively recruit poor borrowers. There oughta be a law -- there really ought to be a law.
"And distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."
Well, you can't get a quorum in this country for redistributing income from the rich to the poor. But wouldn't it be a good idea if we stopped redistributing income from the poor to the rich?
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another."
April 23, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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