There’s Too Much Money in …

I’ve seen the riches, and they are many. An errand took us to downtown Bellevue today. Awhile back another errand took me to an area east of downtown, but today we hit the center of the wealthy part of town. We had wrong information about the time the store opened, so we had to kill an hour in nearby comfy chairs. It was during this hour that I strolled around to see what I could see, and I saw riches. Pirates would have drooled.

Fortunately for me, the riches, in the form of furniture, decorative objects, lighting fixtures, candelabra, etc., held no appeal to me. They were, in my judgement, gaudy if not downright ugly. I would never be able to relax in a room full of this stuff. Not to worry, I will never have the opportunity to feel uncomfortable in such surroundings.

There were so many stores with so very many riches that I was a bit shocked. And to think that the people who buy these things often have multiple residences to furnish, plus a yacht or two on the side. Many years ago, early in my teaching career, I kept a bumper sticker in my desk drawer that said, “Houses: Everybody Gets One Before Anybody Gets Two.” Yes, it’s a spinoff of the cookie sharing mantra we try to teach the children. Wasn’t true even then, but certainly isn’t true today.

Eventually, I had to abandon the bumper sticker when we bought a 26’ boat. When we went to get insurance for it, we learned that because it had a sink and a toilet, it counted as a residence for insurance purposes, so there we were, plainly middle-class, but breaking the “before anybody gets two” rule. I was humbled.

It’s pretty common nowadays for people of any means to have what counts as two houses. Any boat or RV with a sink and a toilet counts. Any humble cabin in the woods can count, to say nothing of the second homes that are more plush than many first homes. A condo in a resort area counts. (Not sure about time shares, though.) Tents don’t count, so a homeless person with two tents is off the hook. If you travel and stay in ritzy places, they don’t count unless they’re yours whenever you want them.

A bunch of my neighbors do a weekly Black Lives Matter vigil at an intersection nearby. (I don’t know what their goal is, but they are very committed to this activity.) There are far too many words for my bumper sticker to make a similar impression on people driving by, so what could I do to promote my idea? “Tax the Rich!” “One House per Person!” “Outlaw Poverty!” “Share, Dammit!”

I’m open to your ideas. I’m also open to a wealth tax such as that proposed by Elizabeth Warren. Even the capital gains taxes that have been proposed in my state could help (though I feel that assets that have been held a long time should have an inflation number factored in). Maybe eliminate the ability to shield gains on second homes from taxes? (I think this exists because members of Congress sort of have to have two residences.) Perhaps when people buy a second home, we apply a big tax at the time of purchase, then apply that tax to housing more homeless people?

I know that we are well off. About two years ago, our “wealth” (i.e. numbers on paper) had accumulated to the point that I’ve sort of stopped worrying about money. Yet we are aging, and I know that the cost of long term care could wipe us out if all manner of bad things happen to both of us. So, I do, periodically, worry about money still. But today, when I was surrounded by more high end merchandise than I could ever imagine, it all felt obscene. Why so much of it? And why do so many of the people who buy these things think they’ve earned their good fortune? I just don’t get it!

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