Thursday, September 2, 2004

'Class warfare' accusation unjustified

Your voice: Joseph H. Wessling

In his "Your voice" column "'Class warfare' rhetoric on ownership" (Aug. 25), Mark Sutton takes aim at syndicated columnist Paul Krugman's criticism of President Bush's economic policies. Sutton's aim is off the mark. There is a big difference between what Krugman has said and what Sutton represents him as saying.

Sutton writes, "Krugman seems to think it is unfair that those with more stock should earn more income because they have more shares ..." I am a regular reader of Krugman's columns and challenge Sutton to point out where Krugman has stated or even implied such a thing.

When Sutton does quote Krugman, his responses are unsustainable, even bizarre. He finds Krugman's "Don't workers have as much at stake as property owners in the economy's success?" a reflection of "Marxist thought." Isn't it rather a reflection of common sense? Those dependent upon employment have more reason to fear a failing economy than property owners, and they don't need Marx to tell them so.

The reference to Marxism ties in with Sutton's closing paragraph. He wonders if Krugman will support a flat national sales tax, and comments, "Very doubtful - I can hear the class warfare argument now." Here Sutton is employing a tactic long in use by those engaged in government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich: try to discredit anyone who speaks up on behalf of the poor and the powerless by mischaracterizing their efforts toward a just and equitable society. If we label them "Marxists" and accuse them of "class warfare," we can neutralize their voice in the public forum.

"What constitutes a moral claim to wealth?" That's a very difficult question with probably no conclusive answer, but it's one that must not be bypassed in any debate over the distribution of wealth.

More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle offered this answer: "To each according to his need; to each according to his contribution." The unspoken assumption prevalent in our society is "to each according to his/her success in acquiring."

Aristotle's answer is at least preferable to the current acquisition standard. There is no necessary connection between acquisition and contribution.

Joseph H. Wessling is a resident of North Avondale and a professor emeritus of English at Xavier University.

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