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{For Thanksgiving, instead of writing an article for the week, I dug deep into my notes and came across this unpublished essay from December of 2004. After a proofread and slight changes, here it is.}

Possibly falling to the historically inaccurate hyperbole that abounds these days, I will say that never has there been such as disparity between public opinion and knowledge. They never seem to do more than taint each other, and instead of an alleviation of ignorance by unprecedented mass media and mass communication, it seems these are simply better ways to more quickly become and stay misinformed. Backwoods rumors and urban legends are now transformable into mass hysteria and delusion. Even the isolated and insulated college campuses are not immune, perhaps more than the rest of us in some cases.

The bottom line is that people no longer need to be intentionally indoctrinated, conditioned, or brainwashed by any of the powers at work — economically, religiously, or politically — since the slightest bits and pieces of propaganda from any and every side will send them hurtling into a fit of convincing themselves into this or that corner at whim.

The perfect example in our culture is our socio-economic perspective. I am not speaking just of the rantings and ravings of oh so many voices that never sat in an economics classroom or made a business plan or even a successful household budget. I myself must make every effort to not catch the contagion of opinion. But in all my own ignorance, I can still make a few qualified observations to know that the person talking at the bus stop or water cooler, complaining about this or that issue, has less chance of having a clue than being struck by lightning. The academicians? I would expect better odds for some, but in general I’m not convinced.

The big question is why, and the answer is simpler than I had thought. There is a vast perceptive gulf between what people hear and what people see. Through either extreme of laziness or excessive introversion, they believe only what they hear. And in spite of their own eyes, their afterthought observations are shackled to their own self-fulfilling beliefs. Of course, what I am proposing here may prove to be a plank in my own eye, but there are a speck or two in which I may be of assistance, so please read on.

First, we hear that big business is by its nature corrupt and self-serving — we want to force them to be accountable environmentally and in particular, be self-sacrificing servants to the working class by paying more taxes and wages, or if necessary by going away altogether. Furthermore, I hear the battle cries of a never-ending class war, where the haves become filthy rich (or richer) on the backs of the have-nots. And it is in this truth full of lies that we, in a fit of anthropologically predictable human nature, no longer consider such capitalists part of our tribe, but an oppressive race.

What I see are the vast number of respectable institutions in our nation created, developed, and maintained by the collective efforts of many — in the private sector as corporations, mind you — and under the direction of a few ambitious, seemingly immortal individuals, with names like Carnegie and Rockefeller. The great monopolists; the great philanthropists. In our speech we may decide if they have done such things to atone for their capitalist sins, but with our own eyes we see the wandering poor on the streets, not when wages are low, but when the plants close. And at these times, it is from these heartless institutions, that the forced generosity of corporate taxation make up the lion’s share of thenceforth public moneys that maintain economic safety nets beneath the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder. And in such zealous use of another’s money, there is little if any discrimination between those who cannot work and those who will not work.

What I see is that the books of a business do not balance if they do not receive more money than they spend. A company cannot exist to provide goods or services if it does not charge more than the cost of labor. But it has become more and more visible over two hundred years of free market economy that any evils of the powers of big business eventually become balanced by the ever-present potential for new competition, and this means better goods, better wages, and better prices, limited only by the constraints of business survival itself. I see more and more examples that these occur often without the need for governmental reforms and regulations, or in fact in spite of them, as they often go to the other extreme and necessitate outsourcing and moving manufacturing elsewhere, not to save the bottom line, but to save the business itself, and its corresponding ability to perform its function in the economy at all.

What I hear is are the complaints of the underprivileged, and the outrage of the morally conscious middle class, of such a great disparity between rich and poor.

What I see is a television (or two or three or more) in every home, half of All Americans owning their own land, endless streams of cars across highways coast-to-coast of every shape and size and price and condition. The poorest of our poor do not starve. Our lower class lives in small spaces that are mansions to middle class people in most of the rest of the world. We are not without need of charity, but never without the presence of charity by churches and social programs. Access to the arts, books and the Internet, and the beauties of nature in preserves and parks, are declined to no one. And ignoring what you hear, what you will see is that many of these were made possible by the voluntary efforts and resources of none other than the rich of the private sector.

I hear of a lazy America where the caloric weight of fast food is not counterbalanced by more than an easy desk job by day and vigorous channel surfing by night. I hear of the working poor and the idle rich.

I see that in the more idealistic-than-we ‘European States of America’ (EU) there are countless laws to protect workers from long hours, while we line up to get overtime because we “need” it, but not truly for necessity, but for comforts we are willing to work for. I see laziness only in those who take undue advantage of social programs of which the Europeans criticize us for not doing enough. This obvious irony is couple with a subtle one, namely that those who reap the greatest benefits from the communal effort of corporations should somehow not be those who have the most responsibilities and have devoted the most effort to reaching a position to do the most for that community of employees, investors, and consumers, ever mindful that any one of these may take their vital part in the endeavor elsewhere. Good corporate citizenship is a competitive requirement in a true free market economy, and abusers change their ways or suffer consequences in the courtroom or at the cash register.

The chants of special interest groups who have caught our ears tell us that our energy-excessive consumerism is destroying the earth, and our grandchildren will not have clean air and water.

Being in the plastics industry for a number of years, I saw that strives in such things as recycling and responsible conservation were often admittedly done at the prodding of legislation and public pressure (the pressure of wallet share, not picket signs), but were made possible by the private sector’s research, development, and implementation. And again, for it to work it has to be fiscally viable for those companies involved. In fact, many of these advances and practices went against popular opinion of what was best for the environment, and the earth will thank Big Business and not Greenpeace. Informed consumers help keep businesses responsible; popular ignorance impedes progress and perpetuates outdated negative stereotypes of industry, which by its nature is often amoral and at the whim of circumstance.

But most disturbing of all I see the average Joe criticize the lifestyle of the captains of industry (without any actual proof that their assumption is correct), all the while trying to reach that same point worthy of his previous vilification. Indeed we all long to be part of that fantasy image of an elite, but we intend to do it by more ‘honest’ means, such as (the top three shown by a recent study): The Lottery; A Lawsuit; Inheritance. Such are the virtues of the masses, if not only in our collective subconscious.

I hear much groaning regarding the underprivileged and the elite. In echoes of the gossip of previous, less free markets and peoples, it is widely voiced that the working class stays poor while the rich get richer. The cliché is brought out every time our government is gracious enough to give some of our own money back, with more to the rich and less to the poor.

What I see is that most of today’s richest people in the world are “new-money” Americans who came from working middle-class families — the ultimate proof of economic mobility. What I see are the tax returns of poor people getting breaks back commensurate to the small amount they pay, and the top few percent paying half of all taxes without any special consideration of the protections of law or other services of government.

I see that here and now the American dream of our forefathers of all classes being equal has come. I see no one being told they must wait behind another or given right of way in traffic or law by virtue of caste. I do not see job applications with questions aimed at deciphering what one’s ancestors did for a living, or the sum of one’s bank accounts.

But sadly I see that people are undeniably often held back, buy not by some imaginary economic machine run by a closed-door club of the rich, but by the very programs set to help the poor — programs set to communize our resources and socialize our services. I see the simple logic that every long-term free market economy has shown that economic equality is not the natural state of man, and universal suffrage and representation has taught us that wealth is a perturbance but not necessarily a detriment to social equality. These safeguards are controls placed by the masses to fetter the hands of those who are in the business of prosperity. The experiments of artificial egalitarianism so prevalent in the last century have all failed.

We have observed time and again that no land ever raised itself by bringing down the mountain of the richest to fill the valley of the poor, but in a free market economy the rules have changed, allowing the mountain to rise while pulling up the lay of the land ever upward with it. You cannot fail to see this is the case if you so much as look at the commercial goods and services available in the poorest of American communities, items of which would not be there if our poorest could not buy them, yet the owning of which would be unimaginable to the poor of other times and places.

And I see one more contradiction, more unusual than the others. The royalty of our time is not made up of the family-man millionaires you do not know are living next door, or drive themselves to work, albeit in a more expensive car. What I see is that American royalty lives in the land of Hollywood and in the castles of Beverly Hills – those who are somehow worthy of more respect because they can retire at any time (and often do) and who treat marriage as a wardrobe and cash is for the artificial enhancements of figure through surgery or consciousness through pharmacy.

And so we live in a country where the poor both envy and hate the rich, the rich pay half the taxes yet are the great philanthropists, and social programs achieve the evils they strive to cure. We have somehow retained (or borrowed from Europe) the old notions that the working class and the wealthy class are exclusive to each other, which at best is biting the hand that feeds you, and at worst a denial of our own potential in a free-market democracy. We have the attitude of class war in our very blood, with proles and patricians, plebes and bourgeois, which we so endeavored to rid ourselves from by founding the Great Experiment.

I suggest we give ourselves a transfusion of perspective and sense, filling ourselves with the light of day by accepting the freedom that gives us the nobility of the right to work and advance by our own efforts as we wish. It is our choice to not accept the plight that comes with the defeatist viewpoint the world has placed upon the collective American persona, and reject other’s failed attempts to constrict human society, economically or socially, as such that our own eyes can see do no justice to the nature of Man. And let us recognize that neither wealth nor poverty are evil, but transient conditions by which a nation can show the opportunities and consequences of each free man’s self-responsibility, the choice to produce or not to produce, and to participate or not participate in the processes of government and law, business and ownership, leisure and charity.