Class Warfare: The Underlying Social Contract

Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senate candidate, paints a strong picture in argument against conservative outcries of “class warfare”.

Warren’s point was simple: Nobody gets rich on their own.

“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,'” Warren said. “No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

There is often intense suspicion or questioning when a man or woman of faith weighs in on current affairs and political issues.  Allow me to preface this post by saying, It always baffles me when I hear this misconcept­ion that people of faith (any faith) are not to engage in political debate or attempt to affect political change. This speaks to such a lack of understand­ing regarding the purpose for “separatio­n of church and state”.

As Christians­, for example, we are given much scriptural basis for how to engage in politics and several reminders for what a high level of responsibi­lity we have to maintain fair social systems (I refer you to Old Testament prophets).  Knowing what a high value my God puts on justice and accountability I can’t see anything more appropriate than the faith community weighing in on the current “class warfare” debate.

President Barack Obama recently proposed a new package which included the “Buffett Rule”, named after Billionaire Warren Buffett, that would raise taxes on people making $1 million a year or more.  This has sparked an outcry from republicans that Obama is attempting to launch a war among the classes.

Perhaps there is a “war” going on but “class warfare”?  This is a war against economic injustice, something I have, sadly, addressed before in posts such as Jubilee.  What I see here is unwillingness from the American people to tolerate such injustice any longer.  What is being sought is a law that ensures that the rich pay their fair share of taxes.This is not as simple as squabbling siblings fighting over who has more marshmallows in their hot chocolate (though I could see cause for childish analogies).  Balance and fairness may be temporarily restored, through legislation that assures we all have the opportunity to get the same number of marshmallows, but that can only last so long.  To give voice to the idealist in me, it is a change of heart not law that we so desperately need.  The root issue here is the individualistic mindset that we have so finely crafted in our country; so much so that many who read this will experience an initial uneasiness at the “socialist” concept of thinking like a community rather than a singular person.

During recent research this quote, from Joshua Holland,  stood out to me, “real class warfare is when those who have already achieved a good deal of prosperity pull the ladder up behind them by attacking the very things that once allowed working people to move up and join the ranks of the middle class.”

There is something clearly wrong in the argument that the financial struggle of millions of Americans is simply evidence of personal failure, incompetency, and a general lackadaisical attitude about work.  I can certainly see the allure of such a flawed argument.  I have no need for accountability or self-awareness if the “problem” clearly isn’t me but rather everyone less successful than me.  Yes, there is a small percentage of people who will attempt to manipulate the system but it is an act of fear-mongering to latch onto that small percentage and inflate its impact in order to maintain the status quo.

Mr. Holland very effectively addressed this in another of his articles, “Less than half of those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – the most significant anti-poverty program remaining in our welfare system after the Clinton-era “reforms” – are unemployed. About a quarter work jobs that earn poverty wages, and the rest aren’t in the workforce because they’re disabled, caring for a relative or they’re children. In fact, almost half (48.1 percent) of all TANF families receive benefits only for the kids, not the adults. It’s true that children are, in strictly economic terms, “nonproductive,” but they will be productive someday, and more so if they receive adequate nutrition, housing, health care and the like.”

It’s astounding to me the number of conversations I have had with staunch supporters of abolishing the welfare system who had no real understanding of how such systems work, whom they serve, and to what standards their recipients are held.  Most of America is living a “paycheck to paycheck” lifestyle and it would only take one accident or a few missed checks to land them in line for such services.  Of course such an idea offends our sense of security and comfort and so most dismiss its validity.  Along with valid calls for welfare system reform (not abolition), it is tax reform (addressing discrepancies in percentages) that would help ensure assistance is readily available if, heaven forbid,  you should one day need it.

Tax reform is not an attempt to force the Elite rich to carry the majority of America on their backs.  It is asking for an acknowledgement that America’s rich has enjoyed questionable tax breaks for long enough.  While Americans in all income categories saw their tax rates slide slightly from 1979-2007, the top 1 percent of households saw a big drop: From 37 percent to 29.5 percent. The richest 400 households in America got an even better deal, says the Economic Policy Institute: Their average tax rate dropped from 26.4 percent to 16.6 percent ― a tax rate nearly 4 percent lower than the average American’s.

As President Obama put it, “This is not class warfare, it’s math.”

When we remove all of the rhetoric and grandstanding what is that we are really discussing?

Explain to me how demanding that tax laws reflect a balance that crosses economic lines can be called an act of war?

Where is the “wrong” in the expectation that people, regardless of financial status, would pay a similar  (not drastically higher or lower) percentage of taxes (from personal or investment income)?

I found the following articles very interesting:

Why math is scarier than class warfare

It’s time for the truth about taxing the rich

Jim Wallis: God and Class Warfare

And just to ensure that I am reading/providing views from both sides:

Candidate Obama’s Class Warfare


This article can also be viewed at All Voices : A Citizen Journalism site





2 thoughts on “Class Warfare: The Underlying Social Contract

  1. Very good post. I think most of what’s wrong with our country could be solved if we could just find a way to lower the level of greed and up the level of love for our fellow man. Unfortunately, that’s asking a lot..

    • “Unfortunately” is so right. It is sometimes suffocating to know the most simple, loving answer is the one least likely to be pursued.

      Still… one must fight the good fight!

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