Sunday, May 22, 2011

Left behind

In December 1999, I went to a grocery store in Boulder, the town where I lived at the time, and bought a box that had four 1-gallon jugs of water. They were on sale, on a special pallet in a prominent aisle. The store, of course, was trying to capitalize on the "Y2K" scare. My preparations for the coming calamity didn't extend much beyond this purchase, but I spent whatever amount of money I spent to get it. The following summer, there was still a box with four 1-gallon jugs of water in the room of my apartment--it served as a nice little table--and I had to empty the water when I moved out.

There was a certain amount of ridiculousness to all this. On most levels, I didn't believe the Y2K scare was much more than a scare, or I thought that, at most, maybe ATM's wouldn't work for a day or two, or perhaps the wrong date would appear on my bank statements, or my television, reverting to an earlier, double-digit aught-aught, would show only reprisals of Mr. Dooley or old "Mutt and Jeff" cartoons (okay, I made the last one up).

My purchase of water was also ridiculous for another reason: if things were going to be so bad that I needed 4 gallons of fresh water on stock, I would probably need a lot more than just 4 gallons of water. One can, I have heard, go without food for weeks and still survive. But without water, it is hard to survive (again, so I've heard) for much longer than a day or two. Four gallons likely would not have lasted me a week, and I'd probably feel obliged to share that with my roommates. One final point: I had water bottles and mason jars and the like--probably more than a mere four gallons worth, especially if I had sanitized old milk jugs that we saved for recycling--and could have stocked up on good ole tap water without paying whatever price the grocery store charged for what was probably also tap water.

The changeover to Y2K had no noticeable, direct affect on me personally or on anyone I know. I imagine some things stopped working as they should, but I either didn't notice them or if I did, they were so insignificant that I have since forgotten them.

Now, I hear that the much anticipated (by some) "rapture" of Christians has failed to materialize. The "rapture," as I understand it, is the notion that as part of the beginning of the end of this dispensation, Christ will take up the last remaining generation of Christians before the world undergoes a series of "tribulations" that will result in the second Kingdom of God. I suppose there are variations on the theme and although I think I have gotten the gist right, my description may fail in certain particulars. Anyway, apparently, some reverend somewhere has anticipated that the "rapture" would come yesterday, and it either failed to come or the number of Christians taken up was so small, and the Christians apparently so humble and so unworldly, that the remaining coterie of mammon worshipers has not noticed their absence.

This prediction has elicited at least some commentary (but then again, what prediction never elicits any controversy whatsoever?), most of it humorous or mocking. At Ordinary Gentlemen, Jason Kuzinicki has a quite funny post--followed by an amusing comment thread-- about the rapture predictions. And Alex Knapp, author of a "sub-blog" at Ordinary Gentlemen, has his own, more pensive, commentary on it. Other such commentaries abound. One facebook friend, for example, suggested that this was an essentially American phenomenon (if she meant that this particular prediction and instance of hand-wringing were mostly American, then I agree; if she meant that only Americans are susceptible to such millennialist anxieties, then I disagree). Most of the commentary I have seen (I have read nothing by those who purported to believe yesterday was THE DAY) embrace one or more of the following themes or ways of looking at the issue:
  • The people who believed that the rapture would happen yesterday are stupid.
  • The people who believed that the rapture would happen yesterday are/were so caught up in the narrative of their religion and are so willing to discount disconfirming evidence that their faith--or at least the faith of most of them--will remain, if shaken, largely unchanged.
  • These people are rightly objects of our mockery.
  • These people are rightly objects of our pity.
  • These people are different from us, who are rational and not so subject to such wacky epistemological claims as those made by the true believers.
  • The belief that the rapture would happen yesterday represents to some degree an absence of faith.
  • The belief that the rapture would happen yesterday represents a misreading of the scriptural authority on which the notion of the rapture is based.
Perhaps humor is the right way to comment on these things. I have done and believed some wacky things in my life and sometimes the price of believing and doing wacky things is to be made fun of. And if one has even a modicum of a sense of humor, one can, hopefully, laugh at oneself after the sturm und drang is over.

Still, I hesitate to think that I or my more rationalist friends, are really all that free of such millennial or otherwise incredible (to others) thinking. Of course, maybe I'm an outlier--not everyone bought 4 1-gallon jugs of water, just as not everyone believes that if only we have a workers' revolution we will usher in a new era of peace, prosperity, and widgets for all--but at the same time, maybe I'm not.

I don't know what lies in people's hearts,. what others secretly fear. And for what it's worth, especially if the notion of a "rapture" is untrue, we are all probably going to die someday and will worry about our final end, especially because probably none of us has complete certainty about what will happen afterward, or if some claim to have certainty, that certainty will not necessarily ease every and all anxiety:
I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore.
It also seems to me that most branches of Christianity that accept at least some of the claims of the miraculous--even if it's only the incarnation--at least leave open the possibility, in the abstract, that something like the "rapture" might happen. Having been raised Catholic, I have never, or at least do not remember ever having heard, a priest expound on this possibility, but I have trouble believing that the notion of a rapture is so contradictory to Church doctrine that it is not at least debatable. I was, in a large chunk of my life, involved with what I will call evangelical faiths on at least some levels, and there I heard about the "rapture" in much more explicit and credulous terms. My point here is only that the most recent rapturists perhaps have committed an error (of faith? of timing? of hermeneutics? of hubris?), but they have done so drawing on beliefs that are not necessarily much different from those of some of their detractors.

It is easy to mock. It might even be necessary to mock. Still, I can't forget that I once bought 4 gallons of water.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Joe has much, but at least he's got his pride

The long (1 week) awaited (by me) "part 2" of the travails of Joe the exactly $250,000 before taxes income recipient/earner has now been published. You may recall part one (here), and my critique (here). In part 1, "Joe" talked about how hard he worked to get his $250,000. In part 2, he talks about where he spends it. It is short and easy to read, so I won't summarize it. Still, here are a few thoughts on both parts 1 and 2:

First, I'm open to the possibility that Enrico, the author, may have intended these columns as a parody. I have read nothing else he has written. But some of the statements--especially in the second essay, when he says that if he lived in the "very expensive city" in which he works, he would have to live "in a high-rise apartment with a doorperson, because otherwise, I would need to carry an Uzi when taking the garbage down the hall to the incinerator"--likely is not meant to arouse any sympathy from people who actually live in that city.

Second, it is very unclear to me how "Joe" can claim to earn exactly $250,000 before taxes. In my last post, I wondered whether the tax increase proposed by Obama et al. was based on adjusted gross income or based on some prior income consideration. Is the $250,000 before or after the AGI is figured? More to the point, in part 2, "Joe" mentions how hard it is to put away anything for retirement, which suggests that he puts at least something away. Now, there are various ways to save for retirement, and many ways involve tax-deferred mechanisms, such as 401(k)'s and IRA's.* He probably, therefore, earns at least some money that is not taxable, so the claim he earns "$250,000 before taxes" is probably more an approximation. (I am not certain if there is an income level beyond which one may enjoy tax-deferred contributions, and if there is, perhaps that challenges my point here.) Finally, I assume he has at least 1 interest bearing account--either taxable or non-taxable--and for the interest to add up, plus his other income, to exactly $250,000 is quite a feat, especially if it happens more than one year in a lifetime. [see update below]

Third, I'm sympathetic to the claim, implicit in both of his posts,** that he is a net-taxpayer (i.e., that he pays more in taxes than he receives in services). Yet he receives at least some services and benefits. In one of "Joe's" hypothetical scenarios, his children go to a public school in an "affluent" suburb. In most of his scenarios, "Joe" drives a car on roads that are maintained in part by public funds (yes, I know some of the roads are probably toll roads). Take, also, social security and medicare. It is possible that they are not involved, yet, in the proposed tax increases on "the rich."*** I won't mention the temporary relief given on social security taxes this year (actually, I just did mention it, but I'm not sure if there's an income requirement that would make "Joe" ineligible for the relief). I will even grant that maybe those programs won't be around by the time "Joe" retires. But if he has a parent or parents who depend on social security and / or medicare, it is just possible he is therefore an indirect beneficiary.

Fourth, Joe has more choices. He need not live in an expensive high-rise apartment: he can probably rent out a good room with the owner of a two-flat, like my girlfriend and I do. And I'm sure the landlord would be much happier to have a low-maintenance middle-aged man with a stable income than a slack-jawed (almost middle aged) grad student like myself.

Fifth, it is true that in one of the hypothetical scenarios, "Joe" has a skillset the demand for which is in decline. In other words, if he loses his job, it would be very difficult for him to find a comparable job at the same or similar salary. Indeed, he might even be priced out of less remunerative jobs because, as a former senior level management person, he might be seen as too overqualified for, say, a barrista post at Stardollars (a job that he might find is hard in its own right). I also acknowledge that as someone who is presumably middle-aged, he would probably face the very real prospect of age discrimination on the job market (as someone who is approaching middle age myself, I am becoming much more sensitive to the possibility). But in those cases, he will be earning far less than $250,000 and therefore will no longer be one of the oppressed rich.

As I argued in my last post on the plight of "Joe," I have much sympathy--even empathy--for Enrico's apparent effort (if he's not writing a parody) to challenge the facile assumption that "people who make $250,000 a year have it easy." In some ways ways, they have their own challenges and worries and concerns, and their life might attain a level of stress, ennui, and unhappiness that others who make less might be more in a position to avoid (the key word is "might"....they might very well have other stressors, ennuis, and unhappinesses, too, but I'm not dismissing outright the possibility that "Joe" has it worse than he might if he made, say, only $50,000 a year). But in some important ways, "Joe" has choices, and he appears, largely, to deny it.

Update: 5-21-11: The reason I harp so much on the difficulty of claiming that "Joe" makes exactly $250,000 a year before taxes is because that claim is meant to have a lot of persuasive force. The reader is lead to believe that, but for the arbitrary imposition of a penny (or, more likely, a dollar) in his salary, "Joe" would evade the terrors of the tax increase. The persuasiveness of his claim about the apparent arbitrariness of the line-drawing would not be as strong if "Joe" made, say, $255,000 before taxes. Also, and as an aside, I suspect many people would draw the line at which one becomes rich well-to-do at a point somewhat lower than $250,000, say, at $200,000, or at $100,000. Such people would likely see the arbitrariness as extending in the other direction: too many of "the rich" are getting by without the increase, they might say.

*My understanding of Roth IRA's is that the income invested is taxable, but the interest/earnings on the investment are not, or are at least tax deferred.

**For example, in the first essay, he complains about people raising his taxes for "federal budget deficit I had nothing to do with," and in the second essay, he complains about property taxes raised to support local schools, etc.

***I have heard the claim, the truth of which I don't know, that these programs are actually funded by unique funding streams and are not really included in what is officially counted as the budget deficit....again, I don't know if that is true, but I have heard the claim.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gingrich might win the presidency

Newt Gingrich has announced that he is running for president and he might win it. I say this in the "stranger things have happened" sense: if he wants to run for president, this next year is his best chance to win. Here's why:
  • Obama, at least right now, seems unbeatable. Such things and seemings can change at the drop of a hat, but while it the seemings do truly so seem, they prevent others from entering the race.
  • Because Obama seems the candidate to beat, and because incumbent presidents have a strong history of winning reelection, other Republicans who are more electable will set their sites on 2016. If a Democrat wins that year, the best Republican options will set their sites on 2020. If a Republican wins that year, the 2020 spot will presumably be taken. Gingrich would have to wait until 2024 before he has as good a chance as he does now.
  • Gingrich might be the "Goldwater of 2012": the throw-your-vote-away candidate.
  • Who knows, if the economy continues to do poorly, or is seen as continuing to do poorly, Gingrich could pull an upset.
  • Gingrich's past and his character would be issues in any campaign, but he wouldn't be the first candidate to win with such questions about his character. (Of course, in his case, the character issues are largely verified: the Gennifer Flowers incident was largely denied and gainsaid whereas the specifics of what Gingrich did are much more stipulated to.)
I hope none of this is taken as an endorsement of Gingrich. It's just an observation.

Historians' ethics and the search for salt and pepper

My dissertation topic--antitrust policy as it may or may not have applied to coal dealers in Toronto and Chicago from 1880 through 1940--is about as dull as it gets for the hapless non-specialist who, for some inexplicable reason, might decide to read my dissertation. So it's always nice to find an amusing anecdote to spice things up a bit. I have found one, but using it presents some ethical problems.

The anecdote--actually a series of anecdotes--is the doings, mostly correspondence, of a coal dealer in Toronto. This dealer is unusual first because she's a woman. Among the better established coal dealers, women were exceedingly rare, and this woman was quite well-established in the city's coal trade even if she wasn't one of the major overall players. She is unusual, second, because she made her voice heard. A lot. She corresponded frequently with government officials, and the records of the Ontario Fuel Controller, the legislative assembly of Ontario, and the Toronto City Council, have copies of her actual letters and multiple references to other "communications" that I haven't yet been able to find.

So far, so good. But she is also unusual because of what and how she wrote and the things she did. In fact, and I say this with respect, she appears to have suffered from some form of mental illness. There is a record of her complaining to a Toronto governing body that oversaw the regulation of telephone lines about how Nazis were using the phone lines in her office to pump in natural gas and asphixiate her. (This was in the late 1930s.) Many of her letters, at least the ones I have uncovered, are rambling and suggest she perhaps wasn't thinking clearly when she wrote them. It is not so much that she may have lacked education in proper business letter writing etiquette; it's more that what she writes borders on nonsense.

What good would come of using her letters in my dissertation? Well, there is one thing she did in the winter of 1922-1923 that made life very difficult for Ontario's Fuel Controller. The controller had been appointed as an emergency measure to deal with a severe shortage of coal that winter (a huge strike in the United States drastically reduced most of Ontario's coal supply), and the controller had to do all he could to convince the US government not to embargo all coal from the US. Some in the US, especially New York and New England, protested that Ontario already had more coal than it needed, and they were clamoring for just such an embargo. Well, in this context, the coal dealer in question put an inquiry into the Boston market for coal, offering to sell her supply at a very high price, which added grist to these protesters' mill when it came to their claim that Ontario had more than enough coal. (This is all relevant to my dissertation because it shows the ways in which Ontario and Canada tried to manage competition in a period of a coal shortage: the short answer is that in Canada, government officials were more likely to work with the coal dealers while in the US they were more likely to prosecute them for "profiteering" or for "restraint of trade."

Here are the problems with using this coal dealers' letters as a source:
  • The actual letters are not necessary to discovering the controversy. There is enough evidence from the government documents for me to say "one Toronto-based coal dealer's tender to sell coal in Boston fed the outcry in the US for an embargo on coal to Canada" without mentioning even this coal dealer's name. My footnote would refer to the letter of the Fuel Controller where he complains about this coal dealer.
  • There is the "middle way" of citing this coal dealer's letter but redacting her name. But if I did this, it would pique the curiosity of the reader, and every instance I include references to her would be one more invitation for the reader to go to the Ontario Archives and find out for herself. [See update #2 below]
  • Our society has a lot of ways of approaching the issue of mental illness: avoidance, institutionalization, out-patient treatment. One of these ways is humor, often caustic humor, that treats those with mental illnesses as someone to be made fun of, to be "othered." My inclusion of any more information beyond the fact of the coal tender, mentioned above, could only plausibly serve to put her in a bad light, to make fun of her, for her difficulties.
  • Aside from the controversy over her Boston tender, She was not Charles Guiteau; she did not kill anybody or do anything so horrible that her her mental health is legitimately an issue for a historian to ruminate on [see update #1 below]. All she ever did that was "bad" was violate a few coal ordinances and face prosecution as a "public nuisance." It would be arrogant of me, a non-specialist (to put it mildly) when it comes to diagnosing others' mental health. Even if I were a specialist, it would be further arrogant and irresponsible of me to make such a diagnosis from what amounts to, at most, 20 pages of typewritten documents (and that includes the references to this coal dealer that do not come from her letters). Maybe she had no mental illness, or had only rare episodes.
  • My including her correspondence still puts her in a bad light personally. I doubt she would want to be remembered, or her family would want to remember her, as a crank who wrote embarrassing letters to government officials.
I should say that this question does not appear to be a legal issue. All the sources from which I have found her letters or other references to her are public, probably on the assumption that the governments of Ontario and Toronto have decided that anyone sending such letters to them had to expect that they would be made available to the public. I will shortly consult some "restricted" documents from Toronto in the 1930s--assuming I can get clearance--and if any of her letters are in those--and if they are not redacted--the issue of whether to use those would, presumably, be of legal import.

Update #1 5-15-11: I suppose there could be legitimate reasons to study this coal dealer in such a way that would have to deal with her eccentric behavior. A biography of her, for instance, could be interesting for a lot of reasons: she was one of only a few women in a male-dominated trade in which membership in male-dominated trade associations was an invaluable form of social capital. Someone doing research, for example, on how eccentricity or "mental illness" was handled in the public sphere might find this coal dealer's situation enlightening: she was brought up on charges of being a "public nuisance" (although I do not know the disposition of the case), but before then and afterward, she continued to show up to city council meetings and write letters, and as far as I know she wasn't ever civilly committed. These exceptions prove my rule: a biography of her, if thoughtfully written in accordance with what is considered the elements of the historian's craft, would be sensitive to all the nuances, problems, challenges, and contradictions of this coal dealer's life. A historian studying the history of how mental health ought to be aware of the ethical issues involved in protecting others' privacy. The topic of my dissertation, however, really doesn't require me to touch on most of what she did, outside of the 1922-1923 stunt and, maybe, an incident that happened during World War I.

Update #2 5-15-11: Even if the reader of my dissertation isn't interested in finding out who this coal dealer is, my inclusion of sufficiently redacted information does not answer one of the other objections to including this evidence: it feeds the notion that mental illness is something to be made fun of or something to be dismissed with eye-rolling glances and quite chuckles.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What did the lady clown say to the airplane pilot?

"Yes, my name is Shirley, and don't call me 'serious.'"

Why so glum, Joe?

At creators syndicated, you can find a column written by Cliff Enrico, called "A Rich Guy Speaks Out Against Higher Taxes (part 1 of 2)." In this column, Enrico creates a hypothetical narrator ("Joe") who makes exactly "$250,000 per year before taxes" and works any one of a number of hypothetical jobs:
I [Joe] may work for a large company as a midlevel or senior executive. I may run a successful small retail or service business. I may be a professional — a doctor, lawyer, accountant or architect.
And he, apparently, works hard, sometimes as much as 60 or 80 hours a week. He has little free time and even on Saturday afternoons when he "(or, more likely, my spouse) [might be seen]...trying frantically to get the household chores done that we can't do during the week. But we have no time for small talk — we have to get back to work." He studied hard in college, working at menial jobs and not enjoying the fabled "undergraduate experience" of alcohol, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. "I'm actually," he says, "having a lot less fun than you are." He is either what amounts to an at-will employee, or a professional who has to worry perpetually about malpractice suits, or an independent business owner who lives his business 24/7. His ability to find other work if he is laid off is severely limited, especially if he is a senior managers whose skills structural changes in the economy have made obsolete.

In part 2, which I haven't found or read yet, he'll explain where his income goes. But "Joe" offers the following teaser: the money doesn't go "for luxury yachts, McMansions, sports cars, or fancy parties."

The tragedy (or comedy?) of this column is that Enrico raises an important issue. We (by which I guess I mean "people in general and on the news and politicians) target "the rich" and believe they live a life of luxury whereas many of them lead lives full of stress and worries and uncertainty (and, I suppose, quiet desperation).

The "rich" are not nonhuman drones; they are people just like you and me. In many ways, many of us are also the rich, even if we are far from the $250,000 a year threshold that "Joe" has attained. I have more than what a lot of the poorer people I meet on the street have, for example, and even more than what some of my graduate student friends, with whom I am in other ways (e.g., social class, access to opportunities) similarly situated, have. Yet, I would feel very put upon and resentful if (and when) I be accosted simply for my privilege. I would probably be upset if my tax rate were increased significantly. In fact, there was a recent issue that involved a very dramatic change in the way Graduate Assistants at my university are taxed. When I found my and others' paychecks were reduced by more than 50%, I was quite shocked and resentful. (At the same time, for reasons I won't go into now, I'm not sure the change is the rank injustice that some of my colleagues feel it to be.)

The "$250,000 per year before taxes" is of course a reference to the taxation plan that President Obama campaigned on in 2008 and that Democrats have been threatening to implement. (Curiously, the financial destiny of "Joe" and similarly situated comrades appear to have dodged that bullet until at least 2013.) Obama's plan was to ensure that people who made less than $250,000 would see either a decrease in their taxation or no change. (I'm not sure if the tier that Obama refers to includes original income or adjusted gross income (AGI). If it's AGI, "Joe" will still be off the hook by taking the standard deduction or donating about $50 dollars to a charity to put him into the next lowest tax bracket.)

Part of the appeal of Obama's plan is emotional and is attributable, I think, to the fact that a large majority, even most, even almost all, Americans make less than $250,000 a year and to the notion that such $250,000 a year pluss-ers have it so well off that they ought to share the wealth.

Enrico, through "Joe," points out that whatever the merits of this taxation scheme--and he concedes that "everyone should pay his or her fair share of taxes"--singling out hardworking, hard-worrying people like "Joe" is "not 100 percent fair." In fact, "Joe" is resentful that "now you want to raise my taxes so I can pay for YOUR health insurance or the federal budget deficit I had nothing to do with? Excuse me, but why should I pay for your — ahem — failure to achieve what I have in life?"

Again, I'm on board with the argument that I see as implicit in Enrico's column. I believe we should use utmost humility and caution when we become righteously indignant at how easy the rich supposedly have it. (For a recent example of me waxing indignant and forsaking humility, see my rant about tenured professors in this post.) We should remember how the lines we draw for tax purposes between "rich" and "poor" are drawn much more because a line has to be drawn somewhere than because the placement of the line represents a sharp moral distinction. Finally, we should beware of how facile it can be to say that the problem is members of group A have more money and are much less numerous than members of group B, and the solution to the problem is to take money away from group A. If that is indeed the problem--and I think, to some extent, it might be, although I have seen credible arguments claiming that most of us in America, regardless of our income, are materially better off than we would have been in, say, 1960--it is not the whole of the problem and such "solutions" are never so simple.

What I disagree with is way Enrico fashions his argument. He makes out his "Joe" to be too much the ideal type and more importantly he ignores certain important questions.

"Joe" is a bit too good to be true. He worked a menial job, or took extra classes to graduate early so as to save his parents money. He didn't, as he accuses his unnamed, imagined, and redistributionist-loving interlocutor of doing, engage in the college practices of "getting snoggered at fraternity or sorority parties or chasing each other around the dorms dumping buckets of water on each other while wearing only your underpants (you know who you were)."

"Joe"'s upright fastidiousness is hard to believe. He may have worked a menial job and took extra classes, but does that mean he never took any time off for himself whatsoever, even to watch a re-rerun of MASH on his TV or to take walks to settle his thoughts and enjoy the spring air? Did he never eat a candy bar or pay $5 for a fast food meal in lieu of a healthier meal that he could have made at home for $2? Did he never socialize beyond "networking with alumni, trying to land the entry-level job that would propel me into the upper-middle class"? Sad life, but I suppose it's possible.

But Enrico / "Joe" also neglects ways in which he was probably helped by more than just his pluck and abstemiousness. Did he have student loans? If so, he benefited from easy access to credit and, depending on the loan, credit that might have been subsidized by the government or at least has interest rate caps. If he had some sort of scholarship, even if it was merit based, that was help that might not have been available, and the money had to come from somewhere. If he went to a public university as an in-state student, a good portion of his tuition was subsidized by the state. If he went to a private university, his institution benefited from non-profit status. If his parents helped--which he suggests might have been the case--he benefited from having a family in a position to help him.

My objections here have something of an ad hominem flavor about them. If I am right, even on all these points, that doesn't disprove what Enrico is arguing. It does, however, call into question of who is likely to be convinced by his argument. I knew at least a few dedicated undergrads; in fact, I was one, although not as perfect as, and perhaps had more assistance than, "Joe." The list of people who have worked hard in life and yet still don't make $250,000, or even $30,000 a year is probably very long. Are they, upon hearing of "Joe's" abstemiousness and virtue, likely to agree to stop all calls for raising taxes on people in his income bracket? Are they going to abandon readily the facile assumption that "Joe" has it easy? Probably not, even though the actual facts Enrico sets out, if they are true, ought to lead the reader to that conclusion.

No, I suspect Enrico's target audience is either those who make $250,000+, or those who make, say, $100,000 +. The most likely effect of Enrico's argument, it seems to me, is to assuage the guilt that some in the higher income levels might feel about their own income and their relative privilege.

That is my guess and it's only a guess. And as a guess, it's only important if Enrico's goal is to reach others beyond merely his economic peers.

What bugs me more is the questions Enrico declines to address. What about people who work 60 to 80 hours a week and make, say, minimum wage or even a higher wage than minimum that does not, even with OT, make up the $250,000? Do these people cease to have chores and other things to take up their free time if they have less money? If the tax increases are unfair because they are targeted at the $250,000+ brackets, what would be a fair line? (One of his asides--"Millionaires and billionaires should pay more income tax than average folks because they can afford the 'hit' and still live the lives they've become accustomed to"--suggests that he favors merely ratcheting up the line at which people are considered justifiable targets.)

None of the issues I raise invalidate what appears to be Enrico's point about not demonizing the $250,000 crowd. I'll also acknowledge that doing what it takes to earn $250,000 is probably not worth it, for a lot of people, and that working less and earning less can be its own reward. I acknowledge also that columns have strict limits on the number of words an author can use--Enrico simply doesn't have enough space to go into the nuances of his arguments or the possible objections one might raise. Columns also function more as thought-pieces, meant to provoke discussion or convince people to look at issues in a different light. And in these senses, Enrico column "works."

And yet there was such a lost opportunity. I haven't read his part 2, so I don't know exactly how it will come out, but I regret Enirco's failure to acknowledge that we just might all be in this together. Maybe "Joe," instead of being the abstemious and self-denying business major, is someone with his own faults as well as virtues, someone who has committed his own mistakes and maybe made a certain share of wrong turns. He did a lot of things right, and he worked really hard, maybe even harder than many of his colleagues. But perhaps "Joe" might be human enough to regret the fact that some people find it difficult to make ends meet, even if they "had it coming." Such acknowledgement would not resolve the ever present problem of what the tax rate should be, what the best health insurance reform would be, or a variety of other issues. But it would edge us all close to the realization that, as one of S. E. Hinton's characters said, "things are tough all over."