Earlier this week I was reading Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” and I came across this:
“The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough. Ordinary people act differently. They take from those who do not have enough and give to those who already have too much.”
I stopped and thought that this reminded of our government. Through exemptions, loopholes, shell corporations, and off-shore banking, the top income earners and corporations in our country are able to avoid paying their fair share in taxes. Ordinary people often pay higher tax rates because their pay is subject to payroll taxes. Someone who is very rich might make their money from investments which are taxed at a lower rate, essentially giving them a much lower tax rate than the middle class.
Corporations receive an enormous amount of tax breaks and subsidies. The oil industry receives billions of dollars in subsidies each year from the U.S. government, while being one of the most profitable industries around. Oil company executives have even come out and said that the industry didn’t need these subsidies to remain competitive and profitable, but that the companies would not let these benefits go without a battle. It’s important to remember that a corporation’s number one goal is to make a return for their shareholders, which may be at odds with what is ethical and virtuous for the whole of society.
When I debate with people, especially those for who make a lot of money, they might get nasty and frustrated and reply with something like, “Who are you to tell me I make too much. I EARNED this money.” While I’m sure it is true that they did work hard and earn their money, it is important to remember that none of us exists in a vacuum. We rely on society, and the labor of other people for us to get ahead financially. The people at the top didn’t get their alone without help from others, but often on the back of those who may have not gotten their piece of the pie.
Because of scarcity and other factors, it is simply not possible for us all to rise up financially and make loads of money. The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said it best when he said, “This is like this, because that is like that.”
We can take that to mean – because one is rich, another is poor. He then went on to say that because someone is wealthy, a 13-year old girl is a prostitute in the Philippines. That is our reality in this country and all over the planet due to globalization. If one excels, another does not; it’s fairly simple. Go take a look at some of the posts on this blog’s clothing industry posts, to hammer the point if need be.
What I’ve come to realize about capitalism-based systems is that they can only work for all if the people operating at the top levels are virtuous and take into account the whole of society and not their own interest. The great majority of these companies only operate in consideration of the profits of their shareholders and deny responsibility to the whole of humanity. It is because of this that I think politicians like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the first of many to come. The interest of the businesses, the people, and the state must be balanced with peace, or this struggle will never die. Currently the scales are tipped in favor of the businesses and this needs to change because the foundation of our society is cracking.