And Now, The Rest Chime In…

Well, it was inevitable. Now we have the 53 Percenters, a conservative group who I heard featured on CNN this morning as the answer to the "We Are The 99 Percent" protest offered up during the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Philosophically, I guess I should be right in line with these folks.  I work several jobs, I pay my taxes, I think there are a number of people who should live within their means and aren't (which got them in this situation to begin with), and I am a white, God-fearing male in my late forties.  I also believe that there are those who should "suck it up and get to work".  This being the basis of the 53 Percent group, according to an article by Annie Lowrey in Slate:

The 53 percent say everyone should stop moaning, quit pointing fingers at Wall Street, and pay their damn taxes. (The name refers to the fact that only 53 percent of households pay federal income tax these days.) The brainchild of Erick Erickson of, the 53 Tumblr features comments like: “I don’t blame Wall Street. Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”

But as is always the case, there is more to the story, which the ultra-conservative camp also seems to mention:

The short answer is: deductions and poverty. About half of households within that 47 percent do not end up paying federal income tax because they qualify for enough breaks to cancel their tax obligations out. Of that group, 44 percent are claiming tax benefits for the elderly, like an exemption for Social Security payments. And 30.4 percent are claiming credits for “children and the working poor,” like the child-care tax credit. The remainder get breaks for investment income, spending on education, itemized deductions, and a mish-mash of other things. When combined, it’s all enough to cancel out their income tax requirements.

I hate like hell to post a blog with so many quoted statements, after all, you can read the article yourself.  But Ms. Lowrey has done such a good job of stating the story that it would be ridiculous for me to try to re-frame it.

[This] covers about half of the households that don’t pay any federal taxes. The other half of households are just too poor to pay them. [The] pool of too-poor households has grown much bigger because of the recession and its aftermath: Average incomes have kept on declining even though the recession has officially ended, and millions of households have lost one or both of their wage-earners. Households are earning about 10 percent less than they did in 2007. About 12 percent of families live in poverty. That means a lot of folks simply aren’t eligible for income tax.

So what does this mean for any of us?  It doesn't change the fact that we are all suffering and our politicians, generally, aren't doing their jobs.  It also means that there are many in this nation who aren't contributing to the bottom line.  It ALSO means that there are those who can AFFORD to contribute and those who have NOTHING to contribute.  And likewise, those of us caught in the middle are saddled with covering the bets.

I'm not comfortable with legislating fairness.  I think that the fact we are even having this discussion, however, is an issue of justice.  Why am I even discussing this on Firehouse Zen, a blog supposed to be about leadership and change?  Because this is a classic study in leadership and power.  We can oversimplify the situation, but the realities are these:



  • We have a select group of individuals who are supposed to be leading our nation, yet are too embedded in status quo, favoritism, and big money to lead responsibly.
  • These people are heavily influenced by a number of individuals with the means and the connections to advance their personal agendas, which include enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
  • People who would probably make good leaders are dissuaded from doing so because they don't want to subject their lives to intense media scrutiny, negative campaigning, and having to spend more time running for office than managing our government.
  • We have an increasing number of poor as a result of a number of factors: joblessness, rising prices, unfair banking practices, living outside their means, etc.
  • We continue to sink funds into practices that continue to enrich a chosen few and fail to help the entire nation.
  • The situation is not improving.

The issue is not that someone like me desires legislation to "even the playing field".  I LIKE the idea of a meritocracy.  I LIKE capitalism.  I DEPLORE socialism; I resent that someone who would work less than I do would get rewarded for doing so, just based on the rules of that society.  But I am also something I consider more important.  I am realistic, I am skeptical of both sides of this issue, and I consider myself a leader.  

Real leaders don't let the weak get beat up by bullies, even though they have it good themselves.  It would be really easy for me to say, "You know, I meet the criteria for telling the rest of you to suck it up.  So suck it up."  But as a leader, I have to be concerned about those I lead.  And while I have a job, I can put food on my table, I have insurance, and I can afford to send my kids to a private school, I think abandoning the poor, the unemployed, the hungry, and those who really DO want to get back on their feet again is reprehensible.

Yesterday we were doing MAYDAY drills in our department.  One of the hardest things we continue to face in our job, and something we are trying to work through, is lying there on a floor with a fallen brother, whose air is running out, who is trapped and unable to be extricated, and with our air running out, saying, "I'm not going to leave you.  I will stay here and die right next to you, but I'm not leaving you."

We know what the right answer is.  Or do we?


  • Linda Marrero says:

    Very well said, Chief.  Your last paragraph really put the situation in to perspective.
    I have to disagree with you deploring socialism. Some socialism is needed. Our fire services are socialized. Our military is socialized. Everyone in this nation benefits from "socialist" programs including "The 53%", "The 1%" and "The 99%". 
    Thanks again for such a well written and thoughtful posting.

    • I guess what I meant was that I deplore the method in which people use socialism. I like a meritocracy from the aspect that if I work harder, I should be reciprocally rewarded. I am willing to apply myself, if someone else doesn’t choose to apply themselves, why should I have to subsidize that individual? This is different, however, from the individual who can’t provide for themselves, like the elderly, the disabled, or the disadvantaged. In which case, I am willing to share what I have worked for with them.

      But I do deplore socialism as has been historically applied, that whole, “Some people are more equal than others” socialism where the philosophy implies sharing the load, but only for the “rest of you people”. I agree that there are socialist mandates that have been beneficial to mankind (socialized medicine, fire service, etc.).

      Thanks for commenting!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *