Makers and Takers

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Who built the Great Pyramid of Giza, oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?  There seems to be general agreement that it was constructed as the tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek).  So, his is the name attached to it, and we might surmise it was built at his command.  I doubt, however, that he helped to move any of the stones from the quarry to the sight or put his shoulder to the task of setting even a single stone in place or, for that matter, the task of designing and engineering the project.  Probably the actual labor of constructing (making) this wonder was performed by slaves driven by taskmasters who may themselves have been slaves or just a half-step higher on the even more formidable pyramid of the Egyptian social hierarchy.

Presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney has declared forty-seven percent of the people of the United States to be “takers” because they pay no federal income tax and, he says, take no personal responsibility for their own lives.  And why do they pay no federal income tax, even though most of them do pay state taxes, sales taxes, etc., and either pay or have paid throughout their lives payroll or self-employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare?  They don’t pay federal income tax because they don’t make enough money.  Most either work or else are retired or perhaps disabled from having worked all their lives, but Mr. Romney says they are takers.

He himself, on the other hand, has made piles of money (he won’t say how much or what federal income taxes he has paid) through asset management specializing in private equity.  His firm, Bain Capital, sometimes helped companies restructure and survive (partly by firing people), and sometimes loaded them with debt and walked away with hefty sums of money as they went bankrupt.  He calls himself and his kind of people “makers.”  The former employees laid off as part of Bain’s restructuring plans and those left jobless when some of those companies being helped went bankrupt became, through Bain’s helpful actions, takers.  They became takers of unemployment compensation and maybe of food stamps or even for a while, like Romney’s father at one point in his life, public assistance (welfare).

We are living through what I call the Walmartization of the American workforce, although Amazon might be almost as good a figure to represent what is being done to smaller businesses and to people.  Vast numbers of Americans are being kept financially marginal and dependent upon businesses that treat them as wage slaves without job stability, benefits, or collective voice.  Is this deliberately created dependency not a larger problem for the American people than dependency upon government safety-net programs which are, after all, our democratic way of sharing responsibility for each other in a free society?  The Mitt Romneys of our business world say people should be independent but do everything in their power to keep them dependent and subservient.

American public school teachers are under attack, not because they teach poorly or because the billionaires promoting the attacks really care about urban, minority children, but because they have not been dependent and submissive enough to suit the masters.  The teachers have continued to engage in collective bargaining (a terrible offense against the very important people) and to speak as though they were professionals to whom the masters should listen in discussions of educating children.  The corporate reformers, meanwhile, know that the real issue is profiting from public education which requires privatizing it.

Who built the Great Pyramid?  Who made it?  Was it mighty Khufu the son of the gods or the nameless slaves who moved the stones into place?  Who are the makers in American society, and who are the takers?

I wonder if it irked the nobles of Pharaoh Khufu’s court that the slaves had to be housed and fed at royal expense, as it irks the $50,000 a plate dinner crowd that all those lesser people must be provided with food assistance and emergency medical care, must have their offspring treated to schooling at public expense, and (worst of all) must be allowed to vote as though their say in American life should count for anything.  Just keep them working and keep calling them worthless slackers.  Too bad the whips can no longer be used.  Political correctness.  At least keep as many as possible from the voting booths by pretending there’s a problem of in-person voter fraud.  And keep them at each other’s throats so they don’t look up and realize who the real takers are.

For the biblically minded, let me note that the God to whom the Bible bears witness entered the stage of human history and its struggles on the side of the slaves in ancient Egypt.  The great prophets warned the kings of Israel and Judah that God would evaluate their kingships by how well they provided justice, relief, and dignity for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in their lands.  Jesus of Nazareth declared the poor “blessed,” not because he thought poverty was somehow good for them, but because he was announcing that God was coming to set things right for them, to the dismay of those who have taken more than their share.  He declared also that under the reign of God the first would be last and the last first.

As I watch and listen to the video clips of Mr. Romney’s denigration of those he calls the takers in our society (and he’s not at all alone in it), I keep hearing in my mind a line from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song, “My County ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying.”  She asks the larger society a question about the Native Americans that we might now ask the top one or two percent of our nation’s wealthy about a large and growing number of the American people:

Can’t you see that their poverty’s profiting you?

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