Editor's Note: The following commentary by Dr. Lawrence Schall, president of , was first published on Huffington Post on July 11, 2012.
For the most part, the conversation remained civil, although I left a few minutes before the official end and things were starting to disintegrate a bit. The audience was getting restless and that's rarely a good thing. I was feeling restless myself, but I decided to leave rather than pile on.
I am a no-new-city fellow, but I will acknowledge that there were reasonable points brought up by the yes gang. Not enough to convince me of changing my mind, but I was at least assured that there are some well-meaning people on the other side. The reality is that we have no idea whether any of the promises made by the new city proponents will materialize. I am generally suspicious of such claims, but if this comes to fruition, maybe I will be proved wrong.
There is, however, a larger issue underlying the city vote. A neighbor of mine who is a city yes person cannot fathom why the rest of us are not champing at the bit to leave the non-Brookhaven residents of the county behind. Our job, he suggested, is to take care of ourselves. That, in a nutshell, is why I care about this issue and why I care so much about the state of politics today across our country.
Take the tax rate issue. The president has once again proposed raising the taxes on Americans who make more than a half-million dollars back to where they were when Bill Clinton was in charge. The Republican leadership, not surprisingly, is outraged, or at least pretending outrage. Taking away a greater percent of the wealthy's hard-earned money will be the nail in the coffin of our economy, removing all incentive of the rich to work harder.
Wow. I don't know where to begin.
The data I have seen show that no such thing. Simple common sense would tell you that having to pay a few more thousand dollars in taxes for someone making hundreds of thousands won't change a damn thing about their behavior. Well, maybe one less large-screen TV or a smaller boat, but please, strip away the incentive to work? No one thinks that way. Sure, it is always nice to have more rather than less even if one already has plenty, but turning this natural human tendency into an economic policy argument is just disingenuous.
The real issue that divides the country right now is not the precise tax rate but whether we as a people share a common fate or not. If one doesn't believe that to be the case, then it is not unreasonable to build prisons to house and segregate the poor rather than improve schools, to remove environmental government regulation designed to protect us from the over zealousness of corporate America, or to allow the urban infrastructure to collapse from lack of investment.
If one does truly not believe that in the long run the fate of our children and "their children" are intertwined, then why spend our money to ensure a better future for all Americans? The very wealthy in America have gathered so much money these days that they can pretty much avoid the "real world." They can send their kids to private schools, they can live in gated neighborhoods, they can even own their own planes and fly out of their own private airports.
I certainly don't begrudge personal wealth if it has been gathered with integrity, but I do believe that with that good fortune comes responsibility. And more than that, I believe that in many ways, like it or not, we all do share a common fate. Eventually, the deterioration in the quality of life of other people will impact my life. If not mine, then certainly the lives of my children.
So that's one reason why on this small issue of cityhood that I will vote no. Dividing our community further for shaky promises of lower taxes and better services is just not worth it.