What does it mean to be rich? Does having a million dollars make you rich? Are you rich if you make over $250,000 in one year? Is Joe-the-Plumber's $250,000 worth any less than Joe-the-Lawyer's $250,000 because the former wore a blue collar?
Our culture has an interesting relationship with wealth. We want wealth, most individuals deny that they have it, and the litmus test for "rich" is "making much more than I make."
I am rich. I counted myself rich when I could go to the grocery store and not tally up the cost of my peas and carrots before I got into the check-out line. I sleep on a real mattress, under an intact roof, and I can afford healthful foods. Many in the world dream about this kind of luxury. Yet I do not even come close to the threshold of any American political bar for monetary wealth.
What does that mean for those who do meet that bar, yet cry out for tax breaks? What does that mean for us who eat three times each day and sleep in a cozy bed, but still call ourselves poor? Perhaps it has been too long since we have had to return that loaf of whole grain bread in favor of the 99-cent loaf. Or no loaf at all. Perhaps it has been too long since we have shivered at night for lack of heat or blankets. Perhaps it has been too long since we have counted our blessings and realized the abundance in which we live.
The taxes on Joe-the-Plumber's $250,000 (and property) bought me my first-grade textbooks when my family was on food stamps after my parents' divorce. We were not on food stamps for long, but I do not feel guilty that Joe may have had to drink less-expensive champagne that year so that I could have a sandwich for dinner. Taxes are not always a bad thing. I like to think that a portion of my taxes now are buying some child a textbook and a turkey sandwich.
It is human nature to always want more. As soon as we earn more, we tend to inflate our lifestyles to create our new, more costly norm. Somehow, since our spending keeps up with our incomes, we forget how much we have. We forget how much we waste.
It is time to remember. It is time to realize that just because we have gotten used to our luxuries, that has not transformed them into necessities. It is time to realize that we are the rich, not just those who make more than we do. As we face economic uncertainties, it is time to remember that, yes, we will have to make sacrifices to help those less fortunate. And that's OK.