Warren Buffett’s article created quite a frenzy with the fine folks at Fox. They were, of course, already rather riled up by Obama and the idea that a member of the billionaire class (which seems especially beloved to them) would dare suggest that the rich contribute slightly more of their income.
Oddly enough, Buffett was accused of being a socialist. This term seems to function for certain conservatives as the term “racist” functions for certain liberals. That is, it is thrown around without a proper understanding of what the term actually means. Socialism, in the classic sense, is government control of the means of production. Advocating that the very rich pay marginally more in taxes is no more socialism than being critical of Obama’s health care plan is racism. Now, if Buffett advocated handing over the entire economic system to the state, then he would be a socialist. Likewise, if someone rages against Obama’s health care plan because Obama is black, then that person would be a racist. While terms have some flexibility, if they are bend beyond their limits then they become meaningless noise.
The usual talking point of class warfare was also used. This is, obviously enough, hyperbole. Advocating that billionaires pay a bit more in taxes so as to bring them more in line with the rates most people pay is hardly an act of warfare. While people do throw around the term “war” (as in “war on X”) with little restraint, “warfare” indicates something beyond a mere suggestion of a minor tax change. Warfare is a much more extreme sort of thing. If Buffett had advocated taking a great deal or even everything from the rich or putting them up against the wall, then that would be class warfare. Crying “class warfare” over such minor things robs the phrase of its significance. After all, if a minor tax change is warfare, how will we describe a situation in which the lower classes rise up to overthrow the rich? This sort of abuse of language does cross the political boundaries. As noted above, some folks on the left apply the term “racism” to things that are not, in fact, racism. If people use their big guns to shoot at mosquitoes, they will be out of ammunition when the lion shows up.
Buffett was also apparently accused of demonizing the rich. Buffett clearly did no such thing. In fact, he is rather positive about his fellows:
I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.
That hardly seems like demonizing. Interestingly enough, the fine folks at Fox have demonized teachers, the poor, welfare recipients and others. Of course, demonizing is not just a tool of the right. Folks on the left also like to slap the horns on their opponents. However, this sort of demonizing is unfair and can lead to especially nasty versions of the straw man fallacy. Lest I be accused of demonizing the folks at Fox, simply watch them in action and compare what, for example, was said about the less well off to reality.
Speaking about the less well off, the fine folks at Fox seem very concerned that the bottom 50% of Americans don’t pay enough taxes. These are the folks whose collective wealth adds up to 2.5% of our national wealth. In an interesting coincidence, if the state took half of their stuff, this would be about the same as what the wealthy would pay if their taxes were restored to the Clinton era levels. Squeezing the poor, as Fox seemed to suggest, hardly seems like it would be an effective (or just) approach. However, protecting the privileged classes while squeezing the poor has a long tradition behind it. Of course, this sort of unbalanced economy leads towards real class warfare-something we could avoid by ensuring that the class disparities do not become unbearable.
I will no doubt be accused of being a socialist for wanting to prevent America from falling victim to country destroying class disparities. However, I am not advocating that the state take over the economy. Rather, I am advocating that the burden of maintaining the country be shared more fairly and that America should not follow in the steps of the states that collapsed due to unbearable economic injustice. In a nice bit of irony, the sort of approach that seems to be advocated by Fox seems calculated to create actual class warfare.