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Life is Not A Zero-Sum Game

Denying advantage is a cover for white guilt.

Just because a group wants their fare share doesn’t mean they will take it away from you.

The ultra rich would have us believe that social program designed to equalize the playing field and provide more opportunities to the under-served and deserving in our community is a treat to the American dream. I have always subscribed to the theory that a strong and diverse community is good for America, and where we are able to, the decent thing is to help those in need.

Ironically I have friends and relatives who are the beneficiaries of social programs — from cousins on medical social security, to relatives collecting farm subsidies, to a virulent anti-government cousin-in-law from North Dakota who rants ad nauseum on social media against big government, despite living in the State that receives the second most Federal funds AND he works for the Federal government. So what is it about these people who feel that minorities are eating there piece of the pie?

I had a Twitter Trump fanatic accuse me of being ashamed of being white. This is patently absurd. I am neither proud nor ashamed of being white; I don’t need to be, my race is nothing I earned or deserved. Being white was just something I was, and something most of the people I knew were. I never gave the matter much thought. I’ll never know how it feels to have to explain to my child why a stranger hates him or her or called him or her an ugly name simply because the color of our skin. My race never got me or denied me a job. I wasn’t in a highly diverse community. I won’t apologize for being born white any more than I would apologize were I born blind. I am unabashedly proud of my achievements in life, none of which have anything to do with being white. All that aside, I despise the bigotry and the open displays of hatred that seem so much more prevalent every day.

The white population is shrinking while other populations are increasing. This scares white, middle-class, conservatives who think that redistribution of wealth means that they will have their lifestyles threatened, and they ask why should THEY have to give up something that they worked so hard to obtain? This is because they believe that life is a zero-sum game. These people believe that equal opportunity isn’t about providing a leg up, it’s about minorities pulling us down. In a zero-sum world if someone gains something someone else loses something and this is true if revenue stays the same. But there are ways to increase revenues (revoking the ludicrous tax cuts for billionaires comes to mind) and also ways to reduce cost by eliminating waste.

If you can, as my friend Greg Gerweck, often tells me, “tell what is truly important to someone by watching how they spend their time and money”, our Federal budget, using that logic, tells us what is truly important to us as Americans. The largest expenditure of the Federal budget is the military. We spend so much on the military that it is more than all other expenditures put together. We value war or the opposing point of view we value security, or still another view is that we view global stability. Wherever you fall on that spectrum there is no denying that we spend most of our money on the military. We value our veterans far less spending only 6% of our budget on veterans benefits. Couldn’t we squeeze a couple of percentage points from military spending to care for disabled vets, unemployed vets, or homeless vets? When you look in outrage at the Federal taxes taken out of your paycheck ask yourself if we couldn’t maybe get by with less military spending?

I never considered myself a child of privilege, but as a white farm kid from Michigan I was. I labored for half my life under the misconception that I was poor. I wasn’t. I always had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and enough to eat. I had six siblings, so my parents didn’t have a lot of discretionary income; if we wanted the latest “hot” toy we knew we had to earn our own money and buy it ourselves or do with out. I remember saving my money for something I really wanted, but once I had the princely sum of $130 I realized that my coveted prize wasn’t worth the effort I put into earning the money and I decided not to buy it. But back to my point, food, shelter, clean water…these are the things that count as wealth among 90% of the inhabitants of this planet. 

I always thought that my success was a product of my hard work; it wasn’t. Sure I worked hard, starting at age 13 working seven days a week during the summer for a paltry $35, $28.28 after taxes. I had to put $20 a week away to help pay for my education. So while I worked hard, I also had parents, and grandparents, and great grandparents who sacrificed so the generation that came after them would have it better than they did. Not just THEIR children, but all of society’s children. For me to claim that I achieved what I have solely as the product of my own hard work is to dishonor my ancestors and frankly be ungrateful. All I needed to succeed was to stand on the shoulders of the generations of giants who came before me, and of course, not screw things up, at least not too badly.

I gained an education. I went to Catholic school, so I had to earn the right to attend. I didn’t want to go, and my parents could afford to send seven kids to Parochial School without assistance. This meant that I had to work and contribute to my tuition, books, and seemingly endless fees. Dropping out was not an option. I honestly don’t know what my parents would have done if I tried to drop out. As for the school, they could have (and truth be told SHOULD have) thrown me out at anytime, I’m fairly certain that they didn’t keep me enrolled because I was white, but there’s no way of telling. I’m pretty sure the school was too uptight to expel a minority. There was only one African American in my class and he left after one year because he felt alone and out numbered. I always felt bad that he left. 

I was not a good student. I took classes like “Pottery Survey” a course where we didn’t make pots, rather we learned about people who made pots; I got a D and it was a pity D. I didn’t care about school. In fact, I was told by a nun that I would most likely end up in prison, and by a priest that I would never amount to anything (he was eventually caught up in the pedophile scandal and defrocked so I will compare my legacy to his any day.) It took me 11 years to earn my four-year degree. So when someone harps about a Latina taking his slot at Harvard, I have to stifle a laugh because usually the person complaining has about as much a chance of getting into Harvard as I do of genetically engineering a new species of giraffe. If you didn’t have a prayer of getting into a given university than spare me the “a minority” stole my education schtick. If anyone stole your slot in the Ivy League it was the inbred simpleton whose daddy bought the school a new gymnasium. 

Similarly, unless you are unemployed and unable to find a job working in a sweat shop, landscaping, or fishing dead rats out of swimming pools don’t tell me some illegal immigrant stole your job. Your choices dictated where you ended up just like mine put me where I am, so quit whining.  I once had an old bigot on the bar stool next to me observe (while watching a basketball game) that African Americans were the reason I could never play in the NBA. I laughed out loud. I asked him if he seriously thought that a 5’7″, uncoordinated, out of shape, guy with a virulent hatred of authority, could play in the NBA were I black. Sensing that I was not a comrade in arms he retreated to his canned beer and slunk back to his thoughts.

In case you missed it, I was born (and remain) white. And I say again, I am not embarrassed or ashamed of my race, but I have never been particularly proud to be white either. In fact, I never really think of my race. I felt with acuity that my socio-economic background was a far bigger determinate than my race, so yes, I am not crazy about tax cuts for people who make 100 times more in a month than I will in my entire lifetime. I saw with my own eyes how the “rich” kids were treated and it was better than the poor kids. I also realized that I was neither rich nor poor. The rich kids were easy to spot with expensive department store clothes and all the uselessly fancy note books, colored pens, and folders with a celebrity or cartoon hero on the cover. The poor kids were equally obvious, with their hand-me downs and thrift shop clothes and more than a couple of them smelling like pee — or worse. I was content with my wardrobe from Kmart, my haircut my mom did herself (okay I wasn’t exactly content, she cut hair poorly, rest her soul). If a rich kid made fun of my plain blue note book I would punch him in the mouth; it was my own anti-bullying campaign and an effective one at that. If there was a social program for which I might have qualified, my parents wouldn’t have applied for it; not because they were too proud, but because they rightfully believed that there were far more people in far greater need than us. I didn’t get the Scooby-Doo binder-keeper but I didn’t mind, I knew I was probably going to lose it anyway.

But the advantages I had don’t stop there. Along with 327 million other people I lived in America, here again, this is an opportunity that I had, that literally billions of people didn’t. I had nothing to do with this, as a wealthy friend of mine says of his birth, “I won the genetic lottery.”

Finally, I was born male. We can argue the hows and whys of things but being male means that I will likely make more money that a woman in a similar job. Should I take 20% less to make it fair? Or is it a better solution to have employers pay more to women to make up the difference? This is my piece of the pie and the rich business owners are better equipped to fix this issue. Every economic downturn they cry poor mouth and we give them some of our pie, but when things are flush, we never seem to get it back.

I am neither ashamed nor proud of any of my advantages. But I will say this: I have been rich and I have been poor, and I liked being rich better. I believe that most people feel the way I do, I don’t mind paying taxes but I don’t want my tax dollars wasted. The problem is that we can’t seem to agree on what it means to waste taxes. I don’t like my taxes going to pay my relatives not to grow rye, but that is such a small part of the budget — as are most social programs — that there’s no point in grousing about that. 

America was not founded as a superpower. We are a country founded by immigrants, malcontents, and people fleeing religious prosecution. Our espoused values are Truth, Freedom, Equality, and Justice for all. Shouldn’t our Federal budget reflect this? And why are so many people so terrified if it does?

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