Updated: May 12, 2012 8:15AM
The sinking of the Titanic stunned the world 100 years ago, setting back confidence in what those living in 1912 viewed as a wondrous achievement — building an unsinkable ocean liner. But the magnificent ship’s aura of invincibility was short-lived, as it slipped into the sea within hours after striking an iceberg on April 14, 1912.
Last Friday, when I experienced the new 3-D version of the popular 1997 movie with a friend, I became keenly aware of the message I missed when it was first released. Director James Cameron’s version focused on the dichotomy between the world’s rich and poor, educated and uneducated, prestigious and common folk.
In today’s Occupy Now world, we understand his emphasis by thinking of the privileged 1 percent and the struggling 99 percent.
It’s almost eerie how the re-release of the movie, the tragedy’s 100th anniversary and the Obama administration’s revival of the Buffett Rule could coordinate so perfectly to saturate news and cultural discussions these days.
One source says a first-class passenger on the Titanic had a 44 percent better chance of survival over someone in the lowly third-class section. That type of situation should not exist in America today, the Obama administration tells us, urging America’s rich to contribute more than their fair share to the welfare of others.
Thus, the 1 percent among us, such as billionaire Warren Buffett, should be willing to pay higher taxes to help those not as fortunate, a concept called the Buffett Rule.
Or as Karl Marx wrote in his “Communist Manifesto,” “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Last fall, the Buffett Rule was under much discussion and was debunked. On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more in taxes than the middle class or the poor. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group contribute a much larger share of the overall tax revenue to the federal government.
The Buffett Rule will raise barely 1 percent of the federal budget, rather than fix the deficit as promised. Still, the U.S. Senate is scheduling a vote on the proposal next week.
And while Mr. Buffett insists that he and others like him are willing to contribute more to helping those less fortunate, one of his companies is in a court battle against the IRS, objecting to about $1 billion in unpaid taxes.
Maybe billions of dollars does silly things to a billionaire’s logic? Not so, President Obama says. It’s Congress and the American people who are confused.
“Do we want to keep giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans like me or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates — people who don’t need them and never asked for them?” Obama said. “Or do we want to keep investing in things that will grow our economy and keep us secure? Because we can’t afford to do both.”
What the president doesn’t explain is that he would end those evil tax breaks that keep his, Buffett’s and Gates’ money in the private sector, where businesses can invest in research and development and encourage entrepreneurs. Instead, Obama would rather the government confiscate that money from the private sector and invest it in government projects.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) agrees with the president.
“We know that spending cuts have to be a major part of deficit reduction, but making certain that we have revenue and that it is gathered by the government in a fair and just way is a way to say to the American people, ‘we are in this together,’” Durbin said in an Obama campaign statement Monday.
But we’re really “not in this together” because 53 percent of American adults pay federal income tax for the other 47 percent who pay no tax at all, and the wealthiest Americans bear the nation’s major tax burden. Durbin doesn’t explain that many of the wealthy also pay their share of their employees’ payroll and Social Security taxes.
One hundred years ago, most of us would have boarded the Titanic and stayed among our fellow third-class passengers. We would have been excited to just be on the ship’s maiden voyage and see sights and experience adventures.
But we’d also know that the ticket cost would not come close to covering the cost of labor, fuel and materials needed to create such an awe-inspiring vessel. And we’d be aware of how the commitment of first-class passengers was essential to achieve the Titanic’s successful launch.
“The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles,” Marx wrote. And without class struggle, we simply won’t advance and reach our highest potential as individuals.
Let’s consider this for Tax Day 2013. First, revamp the federal and state tax codes to make sure that every American has substantial skin in the game and pays some income tax. No more 47 percent absolved from contributing. Second, no more class delineation by making some pay more simply because their income is greater than others.
Shipbuilders learned valuable lessons from the Titanic’s structural flaws, as revealed by the tragedy, and Americans can learn from their cultural challenges. Indeed, “a rising tide lifts all boats” is the classic imagery for a free-market economy that will deliver to the next generation real hope and effective change. All aboard.
Fran Eaton is a Southland resident who co-founded and edits the conservative political blog, illinoisreview.com