11 June 2008

A Taxing Conversation

"Why don't they tax Oprah Winfrey?" Mr. Duff the old sportswriter asked, apropos of nothing in particular apart from the fact that Mr. Right was in the office early. Duff has joined Mr. Right in defense of the oil companies against alleged liberal persecution, although Mr. Right himself seemed uncertain of Mr. Duff's point. He was sure that Winfrey was already in the top tax bracket.

As for the oil companies, Mr. Right seems to think that their executives are being singled out because they're presumed to be Republicans or conservatives. He thinks that he scores some debating point by mentioning that the public figure with, to his knowledge, the biggest oil-based fortune -- Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia -- is in fact a liberal Democrat. I tried to assure him that, at least as far as average folk were concerned, party affiliation had nothing to do with their feelings toward the oil companies, and he himself acknowledged that Rockefeller has nothing to do with setting oil prices.

But why people complained still eluded him. "I don't understand why they want these people who make such an important contribution to the economy to just barely scrape by," he protested wearily, "The same goes for the pharmaceutical industry. Why do they want the people who are striving to cure diseases to only make the bare minimum profit?"

"It's really a very old idea," I tried to explain, as if appealing to age might impress him as a conservative, "Many people have an idea of a just price for any given product, usually based on their ability to pay, and they think the oil companies are charging an unjust price."

That struck Mr. Right, as so much does, as a form of class warfare. Thinking of Oprah again, I suggested to him that the problem might be that most people practiced a selective form of class warfare. He agreed to this, but I don't think he and I would agree on what exactly we had just agreed on.

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