Milton, You Have Got to Be Kidding!

Roger Schlesinger
|
Posted: Mar 10, 2009 3:28 PM
Milton, You Have Got to Be Kidding!

I never read the Los Angeles Times, for a myriad of reasons. However, I was out of town and thought it would be an interesting way to fill up some time before my wife awoke.

In no time, my blood was boiling and I felt a bit sick to my stomach. How could someone write a letter to the editor without considering what they were saying from various points of view? The letter was full of assumptions that couldn't be substantiated, causing the writer to come up with a questionable conclusion. So, Milton, I am going to help you understand what you wrote, whether you actually want to or not. You couldn't have given much thought to what you wrote because it really doesn't make sense, especially coming from an American writing to other Americans. So here goes my attempt to set the record straight.

Milton (that is Milton B. R. from Dana Point, California, a beach city in Southern Orange County) was defending another writer's defense of the shifting tax burden that is being demonized by the wealthy as a redistribution of wealth. Milton writes that "when we have a country where 1% of the population owns more than 90% of the nation's wealth, this is most definitely wrong." In as much as Milton fails to define what the nation's wealth consists of, I must take exception to his assumption. The nation's wealth includes its land, structures, currency, businesses, rare treasures, resources, intellectual properties, etc. If we have 300 million people in this country, must we really believe that 3 million people own 90% of all of the aforementioned assets? I think of the University of Washington and its ownership of land in Seattle; the oil reserves we have in Alaska that belong to the state; the ski resorts in Aspen, Snowmass and Vail in Colorado, along with the mountains that host the activity; and the Louisiana Purchase which created untold wealth.

Do I, or anyone, really believe that 90% of America's wealth is owned by so few? The vast amount of America still belongs to our governments: federal, state and local. (These governments are really we the people). Milton went on to say "when the rich have 21 times as much as the middle class, it is said there is more economic inequity here than in any other non-Third World country." Milton either didn't know, or declined to list all of the non-Third World countries that we are behind, but Russia seems to leap to the forefront when I think of inequitable societies. The bigger point is the assertion that the rich have 21 more times as much as the middle class.

This point brings out a question that few ever consider: what is wealth and who is really rich? Although we are called the United States of America, the label couldn't be further from the truth in some respects. As a longtime member of the mortgage industry, I can tell you that dealing with the 50 states is akin to dealing with 50 different countries. I bring this up because someone who is wealthy or rich in one state may find themselves substantially different, from a wealth standpoint, in another state. Just ask Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or HUD. They all have different maximum loan limits throughout and among the various states.

A couple earning $250,000 in Kansas with two young children have a completely different financial experience than a couple who have three teenagers in San Francisco, California, or in New York City. What might appear to be over the top earnings in Lincoln, Nebraska, could be just hanging on in Chevy Chase, Maryland. It is also important to define wealth not as an accumulation of assets, but rather the difference between what you own and what you owe. I believe the current real estate crisis aptly demonstrates this important point.

Milton concludes his letter to the editor with the thought "there is nothing wrong with taxing the wealthy and easing the burden on the unwealthy." The most frightening part of this statement is simply who makes these decisions? First, we must determine who is wealthy and then we must figure out who is unwealthy, per Milton. How in the world do you divide up our countrymen into two groups? Perhaps it should be three groups.

Could there also be a group that is not only unwealthy, but at the same time, isn't wealthy either? The vast majority of societies in history who have tried to do something that appears to be as simple as this not only failed but also vanished. But overlooking the historical evidence, I go back to my original question, who makes the choices? We have reached the major question we must all consider as we weave our way down this slippery slope: are we willing, as Americans, to be categorized and defined by a third party? If we are, is this considered freedom, the very right we have fought for, to preserve for ourselves and our future generations for over 200 years? I, for one, cast a hearty nay. What say you?

Milton did what so many people would love to see: reward without risk. Why can't we have Christmas every day? Why can't we turn over all of our problems to the government and let them solve them, while allowing us to live the life we have chosen, without consequences? It seems so clear when you focus on the end and ignore the process.

I heard one economist say that the only way to save the real estate market is to forgive all the mortgages or simply lower them all to a rate everyone should be able to pay. It sounds good to me, but what happens to the institutions and people who are holding these mortgages and expecting a return on their money as well as having their money returned?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but unfortunately when you examine him closely, you realize he doesn't work for the government. Unfortunately, we all must grow up and find out that Santa is really just us!