Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Top 1% Win Because They Play

Didn't being in the top 1% used to be a good thing?

I remember my years in high school (difficult to forget, since Gutenberg had just invented movable type) when were given standardized tests.  I took up the challenge of the PSAT, the SAT, and the ACT with relish as part of the college application process certainly, but also to measure myself against other students in the nation in a similar position.  Seeking and achieving a higher score in these tests was not only a source of pride, but assuaged the need to compete that I felt.

After my halcyon days of education and standardized tests were over, I was left to find new ways to measure myself against my fellow man.  Advancement in career was certainly a part of that, and being granted additional responsibilities was certainly a source of pride; but a job title never paid the rent or bought groceries.  No, it was financially that we ultimately measured ourselves against our contemporaries (and even many whose station was above ours).  In fact, I remember telling many a new salesman during their training period that commission checks were not only a justly earned reward for the hard work that they did, but a great way of keeping score.

Competing wasn't limited to work, and contests with peers on the simple electronic games of the time were always a part of the fun.  From 'Pong' and 'Donkey Kong' in those earlier days, to Role Playing Games (RPG's) like 'World of Warcraft' to 'Lord of the Rings' more recently, pitting ones skills against other players and those who write the rules (especially when you figure out the tricks and shortcuts) was eminently satisfying.  And while I'm not as good as some in my clan, I keep score and try to improve my standing.

It's with this in mind that I view the misguided thinking of the whole 'Occupy' movement.  Somewhere in the midst of being caught up in a twisted entitlement mentality, they've come damn close to something, but failed to grasp it.  Yes, the top 1% is getting a lot of the breaks these days; but it's not capitalism that's at fault for all of the world's problems, but crony-capitalism.  After all, we've had capitalism in this country since it was founded, and the disparity that they claim to so disparage has only become an issue in recent years.

What changed?  Certainly it isn't the principles of capitalism itself.  Capitalism is only an economic system in which the private ownership of the means of production and distribution is maintained.  It's a system where anyone can own both physical and intellectual property, and the score is kept based on how much of both you have.  Now maybe I'm wrong, but what they appear to object to is their inability to play the game by what they consider 'unfair rules'.

What they fail to grasp apparently, is that this game that has worked for centuries is increasingly being rigged ... by the government created to protect it. This doesn't make those bending the rules to the point of breaking (or hiring someone to do it for them) worthy of praise, but neither does it make them into maleficent demons.  What it does make them is pretty damn good at scoring points on a real-life strategy game with some pretty twisted and always changing rules. But like most of the electronic RPG's out there, the players don't write the rules.  No in this case, that's done by those clever little programmers in Washington DC and by their pals the lobbyists, hoping to get a jump at getting to and staying at the top of the pile.

Is the tax system rigged?  Of course it is. It's a set of originally simple rules that gets more complicated every time someone in Washington decides to 'fix a bug' in it.  Hell, even the IRS cannot and does not understand the thousands of pages of tax code that they are supposed to enforce. But if you want taxes to stop favoring the rich, simplify the tax code!  Take out the ponderous pages of rules, regulations, incentives, loop holes, and deductions so that there's nothing to take advantage of.  Join with Conservatives that have been pushing for years to see a 'Flat Tax' with the same rate for everyone or 'Fair Tax' based on the consumption of goods.  No exemptions, no deductions, and no tax-free investments for anyone.   (And oh by the way, without a complicated tax system, we'd need little or none of the massive IRS bureaucracy and the money we waste on it.)  

You want to fix the banking system, don't let the government add to the already ponderous regulation that it works under (and under which it collapsed), then bail them out when they flip a coin that says "heads I win, tails you lose".  Get the legislators and lobbyists out of the process and tell them that they're a business like any other.  Tell them that if they gamble their (our) money on risky investments and lose it, they will go bankrupt.  And tell them by the way, that they'll be going to jail as well for doing so, and have every personal asset they own confiscated to settle the bill.

You want foreclosures to end, then shut down government interference in the system and government run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well.  It was government regulation that convinced people to buy houses they couldn't afford and forced banks to lend them the money to do so.  It was government regulation that allowed the bundling investments that burst the housing bubble.  It's complying with government regulations that is hindering with clearing up the paperwork so the system can reset itself and move on.

You want to fix Wall Street, then stop letting Congress write regulations for its operation that allow the most egregious offenders to speculate without putting real money up.  You want major corporations to act responsibly, then yank the government safety net out from under them.  Stop the taxpayer funded incentives, the subsidies, and the legislative picking of winners and losers; and make the system run with little government supervision and no support.  Everybody from people who run trains to those who build cars knows that right now they can continue to operate under practices that are not and cannot be self-sustaining, and when the inevitable happens they can run to legislators under the 'too big to fail' scenario with their Oliver Twist suits on to beg for money.  Tell the government that it has to stop.

If nothing else however, remember that real capitalism is little more than a game with rules that you need to learn and understand.  And like any other game, it's one you can't expect to win unless you play.  Watching over the shoulders of others exerting themselves, and complaining that the rules won't let you compete won't get you into the game or take you to the next level.  So log in, get your password, and start playing with the rest of us.  Who knows, you might find that you enjoy this fairly realistic and rather challenging RPG far more than you thought.

And as for those you're trying to demonize for playing too well ... don't blame the player dog, blame the government writing and rewriting the rules of the game ...

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