As I scrolled through Facebook the other day looking for pictures of puppies and updates on what the Oklahoma legislature is doing with the standards that our teachers and the Oklahoma Department of Education has dropped into their laps like highly polished jewels (Nothing, in case you were wondering), I ran across the following nugget of digitally-enhanced conservative wisdom:
This immediately made me think of Mary Fallin and the Republican pro-tax-cut legislators in this state.
Before I dive into what is so wrong about the concept behind this video, I’d like to point out that Prager University is actually just a website founded by conservative radio host Dennis Prager. It offers five-minute videos on various topics, including the Ten Commandments and the progressive income tax. It is not an institution of higher learning.
In case you can’t stomach watching the five minute tale above without wanting to throw your computer out of a window, here’s a short recap. Basically, triplets have grown up together, moved out on their own, and started families with a wife and two children. They live on the same cul-de-sac in equally priced houses. The brothers are also all carpenters who earn $25 per hour.
It is then noted that triplet #1, Tom, has chosen to only work 20 hours per week and his wife has chosen to stay at home. Dick, triplet #2, has chosen to work 40 hours per week and his wife works part time for $25,000 per year. Their brother Harry has chosen to work the most at 60 hours per week and his wife works full time making $50,000 per year.
At some point in time, they decide they want to keep the riff-raff out by installing a fancy gate at the entrance to their dead end street. They’ll also plant some flowers to make their property pretty for those people they do let in. This is going to cost $30,000. Rich triplet Harry thinks they’re going to split the cost three equal ways. Middle brother Dick determines that the $30,000 is 12 percent of the families’ combined income, so each should pay that percentage towards the costs. Finally, Tom, the relatively poor triplet, whips out a pamphlet from the IRS and determines that he should not have to pay any of the cost, rich Harry should pay almost 80 percent, and Dick should foot the rest of the bill. Dick decides he likes this plan better than his own because it means he pays almost $3,000 less. The brothers go with this plan and are bitter for the rest of their days.
I’d like to note that Harry is presented as the reasonable one who is a hard worker being taken advantage of by whiny entitled brats who want their cake and to eat it, too.
Perhaps this might be true — in a perfect world.
However, it’s not a perfect world, and we’re not comparing the incomes of identical siblings who were raised in the same household and have the same opportunities. Here are some of the problems I see with the scenario described in this video:
- Lack of choices: In the video, we’re told that Tom and Dick and their wives chose not to work as much, even though they were able to be paid the same amount. But what if Dick has a heart attack, or gets into a serious car accident, and can no longer work? Perhaps his wife has a congenital heart defect that means she has to go to the doctor every week for testing and medication. She also cannot spend a lot of time on her feet and has to have oxygen available in case she has trouble breathing. Dick can no longer be a carpenter with his physical disabilities, and his wife does not have the skills of the other two wives.
- Inequitable income: In the real world, people have varying skills that are valued at different dollar amounts and benefit packages. For example, what if Tom worked 60 hours per week at three different jobs making $8 per hour with no health insurance or other benefits. He still makes $25,000 per year, even though he works just as much as Harry. Let’s say Tom’s wife works, too. But she makes just enough money to cover the cost of daycare, which means she might as well stay home and raise the kids herself. Keep in mind, with no benefits, if Tom is sick and has to stay home, he does not get paid. He is working the same amount as rich Harry, but is nowhere close to making the ends meet as easily as Harry.
- Discrimination: In the video, the brothers are triplets. But what if they were just neighbors and Tom had black skin, Dick had red skin, and Harry had white skin? What if Tom had spent a lifetime trying to prove his capabilities, but business owners just would not hire him? What if Dick had grown up on the nearby reservation, was separated from his family to attend Indian boarding schools from the time he was six, and is still struggling to come to terms with what this all means for him and his people? Dick is an amazing carpenter, but sometimes he struggles with substance abuse, and that’s why he can’t work more.I almost forgot to mention: Tom has a learning disability and his local public school is so short-handed and underfunded, he is barely getting any services at all. His teacher does the best she can, but with 27 other kids in his class, 20 percent of whom also have IEPs, she just can’t spend much time with him. He passes all of his courses in high school, but can’t pass the End-of-Instruction exams, so he is not given a diploma. This is why he has to cobble together a 60 hour work week at three different jobs for $8 an hour.
- Privilege: What if Tom and Dick didn’t grow up in the same home as Harry? Perhaps their parents didn’t think they could handle three babies, and so adopted out two of them. Harry went to a rich couple who brought him up in a nice house, with lawyers and doctors for neighbors, and pushed him to do well in school and extracurricular activities. Dick went to a middle class couple who divorced after he was adopted.This comic shows how a lack of privilege in childhood can snowball into lack of resources and opportunities during adulthood.
In short, the video above does not take into account the inequities of real life. It presents a slick but bogus argument and I think it’s wrong.
Finally, for those of you who claim to be Christians, take these verses into consideration:
Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:48
Consider the context of this verse. It is part of Jesus’ Parable of the Faithful Servant. The unfaithful servant has mismanaged his master’s wealth to satisfy his own greed, instead of glorifying God and benefiting others. The late Distinguished Professor of Bible Exposition, Emeritus, at Dallas Theological Seminary J. Dwight Pentecost wrote that this parable “emphasizes that privilege brings responsibility and that responsibility entails accountability.”
Remember, the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. Second, you should love your neighbor has yourself. (Matthew 22:36-40) Not sure who your neighbor is? Check out the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Keep in mind, too, that 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us that we should be cheerful givers. From this perspective, Harry should have been the one to offer to pay more knowing his brothers had less. From this point of view, Harry is the one that is being whiny, entitled, and selfish, not his brothers. Perhaps some of our Christian conservatives need to spend more time reading their Bibles and less time resenting those who are less privileged.