When I was growing up in the suburbs of Portland, the Johansen Family (not their real name) lived down the street from us. They had a son that was two years older than I was and a daughter that was two years younger. They went to the same Methodist Church that we did at the time and were exceptionally warm and loving people. I used to love to go and play at their house and to hang out with my friend Mark.
Now Mr. Johansen was one of the heirs to the Levi Strauss company fortune and they had lots of money. They didn’t flaunt it in anyone’s face and were never obnoxious about it though. Although they owned what was arguably the nicest home in the neighborhood by far, they really were just another typical American family.
I remember loving Mr. Johansen’s showroom-condition convertible ’66 red Mustang! And their house! It was awesome! They had converted their basement to look like the local Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. They had a pool table and a wet bar with their very own soda fountain! And in the room next to it, they had the new Atari game console! In the summer, they would always invite me and my little brother over to swim in their huge pool! It even had a slide.
I remembered thinking how wonderful it must be to be rich and have such nice things. More importantly, I remembered how much I truly liked them and enjoyed being around them as often as I was able.
The Johansen’s were a wonderful family.
If I were to be honest, I suppose I was a little envious of Mark and his sister Debbie, but they were my friends and I never thought ill of them. It would never have occurred to me to think that it was not fair that they should have all of those cool things and live in such a neat house with its own built in swimming pool. I never considered that Mr. and Mrs. Johansen came by their money by somehow taking it from the poor or needy. Indeed, I suspect they were quite generous with their money.
You see, I was taught by my parents, and indeed by the entire culture of my youth, that if I studied hard at school and put my mind and hard work into it, I too could grow up to be financially successful – just like my friends the Johansen’s.
Sadly I see very little of that same strong work ethic and play-by-the-rules mentality taught to our youngsters these days. Instead the prevailing mindset today seems to be one of greed and wanting to take what others have earned. There seems to be damned little interest in having to work hard to get ahead. Too many of the younger generations today are looking for the shortcuts to wealth and to get rich quick. They all want instant gratification. And the rich, well they obviously got their money by taking it or cheating it out of the poorer people. It seems only right that they should thus be punished and have a substantial amount of that ill-gotten wealth taxed so that it could be redistributed to those people that were not lucky enough to have “won life’s lottery”.
Look at the college-aged kids today as an example. Look at the Occupy Wall Street Crowd. What was one of their many complaints? Capitalism is unfair. And it was unfair that they should have huge student loans. Those loans should be forgiven accordingly. Never mind the fact that these kids knowingly applied for those loans and entered into the agreement to pay those loans back. People now want something for nothing. And as we just saw earlier last month, they evidently comprise the majority in America now and vote accordingly.
Instead of working hard for one’s self and attempting to better one’s financial standing through talent and the sweat of one’s brow, today we want to tax the rich even more and redistribute that wealth to those who have less – even if they haven’t worked for or earned it, nor have any intention of every doing so, for that matter.
Instead of looking at the rich and seeing that as a goal to strive for, like I did when I was a kid, today we want to tear them down and punish them for having the temerity to have more than the rest of us do.
Ironically, instead of being frugal and financially responsible ourselves, we try to imitate those rich people we inwardly loathe by buying things we cannot really afford. “I am going to strain my budget and buy that Lincoln Navigator or that Escalade instead of buying that Hyundai that I can actually afford. And, since Fannie Mae doesn’t require that I have a well-paying job or any collateral, I will go out on the limb and get a loan for that 2500 square foot house, even though I really won’t be able to keep up with payments, unless I settle for that 1200 square foot home instead. It just isn’t fair! All of these young people in the movies have nice cars and beautiful homes and Ivy League Educations. I want that too and it just isn’t right that these things are seemingly only available to the rich. If I cannot have such things, then they should be punished for not contributing their fair share to society.” Such seems to be the prevailing mindset among many Americans today. Never mind the fact that as of July 2009, the tax burden of the top 1% of wage earners in America finally exceeded that of the bottom 95% combined. They should still pay MORE, they say! One wonders what they think the rich's fair share should actually be.
This class envy nonsense that has been stoked by progressives has become so prevalent today that class warfare is a standard tactic amongst many of the less scrupulous Democrats in office. Why? Because it seems to work. Never mind the fact that our economy is tanking and growth, when there has been any in recent years, has been anemic, the Democrats still scream that the rich aren’t paying their fair share. They have gotten their wealth off the backs of the poor. Therefore, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi are bound and determined to right these wrongs and ensure that the rich finally pony up what is owed. The irony of that is that to do so will only make our economy worse and thus hurt the poorest among us even more so.
Mitt Romney was castigated severely during the presidential campaign for having had the temerity to point out that 49% of Americans today pay no net federal income tax and are often beneficiaries of others’ tax dollars. Now granted, many of these folks are retirees living off their well-deserved social security, or military retirees, etc. That said, when nearly half of America doesn’t have any skin in the game and our politicians are stoking the fires saying they deserve more from those that are paying taxes, well the sustainability of such a system is obviously not a very long term possibility. I long ago learned that we don’t often appreciate what is simply given to us without us having earned it. If anything, that tends to breed more resentment and further foster an entitlement attitude.
On the other hand, when we work hard and achieve some success through the sweat of our brow and the sacrifices we have made in time and effort, we are often far more appreciative of our accomplishments. It is a concept that is seemingly lost on many today. They would rather rant and rave at the unfairness of their situation and blame the rich for having more than they do, rather than working hard to become rich themselves.
Many decades later, I have long since moved away from my beloved childhood neighborhood. I sometimes wonder what became of the Johansen’s. I suspect that Mark and Debbie both grew up, worked hard, and became successful and productive citizens, just as their parents were. After all, they were taught that same work ethic and respect that I was taught. I wonder if they look at society today with bewilderment at the loathing and envy many folks have towards them for their great success. After all, that was something that was never seen or even considered as they grew up in a wealthy family nearly forty years ago. Sadly, that is the norm today. It is an upside down world now when it is considered greedy to want to keep most of the money one earned himself. Evidently it is not greedy though to be an unemployed-by-choice and slothful person that thinks that other people’s wealth is owed to him without having to work for it. Yep, I think the transformation of America that President Obama and the progressives were looking to build has finally started coming to fruition. It is an America I no longer recognize and I mourn greatly for its loss.