“More Than Just Musings” #16
THE UNLEVEL PLAYING FIELD
MERITOCRACY VS LEGACY AND BRIBERY
When excellence, worth, quality, and value are pushed aside by legacy or bribery, the losses are more than individual. The paths of intelligent, industrious, meritorious citizens redirected by legacy and bribery may or may not lead to new opportunities; however, the message, if recognized, clearly violates the basic tenets of our democracy. The legacy operation is simply privilege passed along by family lineage, much as in the past “Royalty” delivered title, power, and license.
Bribery is more complicated and frequently involves criminal acts – tax fraud, conspiracy, etc. The latest college enrollment scandal provides a good example. For instance, a parent with $1,000,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI is income left after all deductions – taxes, depreciation, etc. – are taken) is now able to further reduce AGI up to 50% ($500,000) of the $1,000,000 for a legitimate charitable contribution. Without this charitable contribution the taxable income in California would be $500,000. However, with the charitable deduction, the AGI is now reduced to $500,000 and the taxable income drops to $250,000. Seems fine, our wasteful government gets less and a deserving charity gets half a million.
But, what if the parent has a student who doesn’t qualify for an “elite” university. What if a charity was established to solve this problem by accepting the $500,000 contribution with the intention of bribing college officials and/or staff with a sizeable chunk of the half million directed to support the university’s frisbee program. And, the parent, maybe even the student, and the officials/staff conspired to present the student applicant as a ranked frisbee competitor who then skirts the usual academic and athletic entrance requirements. Results, an undeserving student is enrolled, a deserving student is displaced, the parent receives a $250,000 tax reduction, and the governments get $250,000 less revenue.
Do we raise taxes to make up for the shortfall? On whom? Or, do we cut the funding of established programs? Which ones – school lunches, mental health, police and fire protection, education, infrastructure, social security, medicare?
This cuts both ways. Undeserving individuals who are rewarded must know or sense their unfair advantage. They may dismiss it as a birthright or a deserved financial perk. Then again, they may carry their guilt throughout their lives with some occasional self-doubt. On the other hand, the “victims” may shoulder an animus throughout their lives or they may accept it and gain strength and confidence from overcoming the experience.
The unanswered questions are what do we as a nation lose when merit is pushed aside by birthright and/or bribery. What lessons do the “winners” take away – self-righteousness and arrogance – along with the encouragement to perpetuate the system? Conversely, those trampled or cut off may harbor a lifetime of resentment, may accept their lot, or may work to change the system. The nation, however, may have lost the teacher, doctor, scientist, jurist, or statesman/stateswoman, etc. who might have not only changed lives but also contributed to the harmony of our democratic venture. Whatever the consequences, the negatives far outweigh the positives.
We, you and I, are an educated and politically aware populace with access to the time and tools to end this corrosive practice and level the playing field. We are unlike the “victims” of the past whose waking hours were filled with just sustaining their lives. The blacksmiths and bootmaker of the early 1800’s, needed Andrew Jackson. The longshoremen and laborers of the late 1800’s relied on investigative journalists – Ambrose Bierce, Nellie Bly, and Joseph Pulitzer. And, the factory/mill workers and tradesmen of the first three decades of the 20th century overcame with their unions. What say you?
The 28th Amendment to the Constitution is a good place to start.