Selwyn Duke
It's time for a Greed Czar
By Selwyn Duke
March 26, 2009

With the recent passage of the "TARP bonus" bill, it's obvious that our politicians are finally serious about tackling the problem of greed. It's about time, too. We've long had "hate crime" laws, so one had to wonder when the next deadly sin would make it on the legislative agenda.

This bill targets people at certain companies — most visibly the much-maligned AIG — taxing any bonus pay pushing one's income over the $250,000 threshold to the tune of 90 percent. Yet the popular conception of the legislation sells our enlightened overlords short, as their vision entails far more than bringing a handful of rapacious Gordon Geckos to heel. Henry Blodget explains writing at Yahoo! Finance:

    If the "TARP bonus" bill the House passed yesterday becomes law, any of the hundreds of thousands of people who work for Citigroup, Bank of America, AIG, and nine other major US corporations will have to fork over 90 cents of every bonus dollar that puts their household income over $250,000.

    That's household income, not individual income. If you're married and filing singly, you'll have to surrender anything over $125,000. Indefinitely.

    . . . (If you're a $40,000 a year telemarketer at a TARP company married to a $210,000 lawyer, any bonus will be taxed). So this tax will be felt by a lot more than the handful of execs at AIG and Merrill who ran off with several million dollars apiece.

Yet we must amass the lynch mob and applaud Uncle Samantha for punishing the robber-baron villains in this story. And I admire the government's ability to divine the eternal truth that $250,000 is the magic number. That does seem to be the consensus; for instance, that old closet Fabian Franklin Roosevelt once said that no one should be allowed to earn more than $25,000, which today is approximately $265,000 adjusted for inflation (FDR had to settle for a 94 percent rate on all income over $200,000). It's also great how this uniform standard ignores that $250,000 doesn't go nearly as far in Manhattan, NY, as it does in, let's say, Bartow, WV. Because we all know how especially greedy people in high-cost-of-living areas are.

I know these anti-free-market statements must surprise you left-wingers, since you believe people such as me emerge from the womb incorporated. So you should know what I really think of big business. I'm suspicious of "big." Big is powerful. Big is threatening. Big is scary. I learned that watching Godzilla movies in the seventies. And I think millions of screaming Japanese would agree with me.

In all half-seriousness, the bigger an entity is, the more inefficient and corrupt it tends to be. Why, even the armed forces, with their vaunted military discipline, have paid $600 for a toilet seat (unless "Men in Black" was right and that was just to cover funding for space-alien investigation). Perhaps we should nationalize the armed forces. It's also true that the more an entity can do for you, the more it can do to you. This is one reason why people of faith understand that fear of God is as valid as love of God. Of course, some would say that our worldly false idols and faux gods are much more to be feared, as they're far from all good, and absolute power really can corrupt them absolutely. These people might be mystified that fear of big is conspicuously absent when the matter is government. These people might say that while Citigroup, AIG and other corporations own big buildings, government is the Godzilla that can send them crashing down on our heads. I'm sure these people are crazy.

I'm also sure that many — no, strike that — all AIG employees are greedy. I mean, we certainly can read their hearts and minds, and it's especially damnable because it's such an unusual fault. I mean, we're never greedy — it's always the other guy. Most of those who criticize greed refuse money and benefits above and beyond what they deserve, and they also possess inerrant judgment regarding what they actually do deserve. That's why I'm sure every reader of this piece will send me a $10 check, because I'm plainly under-compensated (OK, say it, I know I left myself wide open on that one).

And I can't think of anyone better to be the arbiters of greed than our benevolent overseers in government. We know that the Chris Dodds, Barney Franks, Nancy Pelosis and Hillary Clintons of the world would never accept salary, perquisites (or votes) they didn't deserve. They've only risen to the pinnacle of power in the hallowed arena of politics by being the ungreediest of the ungreedy — they're just downright doubleplusgood. Thus, I suggest what should be obvious.

We need a Greed Czar.

After all, with the precedent TARP sets, we now stand at the precipice of a new age of fairness. We've long targeted certain groups with tax policy, most notably those who earn more than the average burned-out, ponytailed, jowl-breakdown, closet-socialist ex-hippie. But now we've opened up a whole new world of targeted taxation. And given what people complain about, I can envision what's on the horizon.

We can have the Barry Bonds Bill, to tax the earnings of athletes above that $250,000 threshold. I mean, I always hear how sportsmen are overpaid, and why should they earn more than a nurse or schoolteacher? Bonds himself was making a cool $22 million annually (plus endorsements) as of 2006, and that was partially the result of using steroids to pump himself up bigger than a government bureau. Skin 'em to the bone, I say.

Then we can have the John Edwards Act, to tax trial lawyers on all earnings above, you guessed it, 250G. Think about it: Why should a man get rich bankrupting hospitals? Oh, don't misunderstand me. Greedy doctors and hospitals should be broken, but that can be left to Barack Obama and socialised (British spelling. Since we're becoming like Europeans governmentally, let's really get into the spirit) medicine. There's no reason for greedy lawyers to get rich performing that noble task.

Finally, I have a few more suggestions: The Ludacris Act and the Russell Simmons Act, for rappers and rap moguls. The Madonna Act, The Cher Act, The Dan Rather Act, and, before my act gets old, I'll say that I'm not intellectually capable of itemizing America's millions of sin phenomena in need of remedy. Only the government can do that. But I can provide a basic outline.

We need to address all the Seven Deadly Sins. The climate is right for a Greed Czar right now, but we also need a Wrath Czar (hate), a Sloth Czar, a Gluttony Czar, an Envy Czar, a Lust Czar and a Pride Czar. And, at risk of seeming presumptuous, I now present my nominees for these posts.

Greed Czar: Rod Blagojevich or William Jefferson. No one understands a problem like someone who has been there. Democrat Louisiana Congressman Jefferson has gotten his hands dirty, down in the gutter, wallowing in gobs of money, as evidenced by the fact that authorities found $90,000 worth of marked bills in his freezer. He well understands the lure of cold cash. As for Blagojevich . . . 'nough said. We'll choose the one who manages to stay out of prison.

Lust Czar: This is a no-brainer — Bill Clinton. Barney Frank is a close second for once having a call-boy operation run out of his home, though.

Hate Czar: Barack Obama's longtime friend and pastor Jeremiah Wright, and Reverend Joseph Lowery can be his assistant. Who better to make sure that "white will embrace what is right"?

Envy Czar: Since Winston Churchill said the "gospel of envy" is socialism, I'll have to go with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. I respect the fact that, unlike other Senate socialists, he's honest enough to proclaim what he is.

Gluttony Czar: There are many worthy of mention in this category. One that comes to mind is Democrat Gerald Nadler, a congressman from my state who was once affectionately called "Congressman Waddler" by former Senator Alphonse D'Amato. Yet the obvious choice is a relative unknown, Republican member of the Mississippi house W.T. Mayhall, Jr. Representative Mayhall made all the other contenders look like poseurs in 2008 when he distinguished himself by proposing HB 282, a bill that would have prohibited restaurants in his state from serving fat people. It also would have had the positive unintended consequence of addressing greed in restaurateurs, since fat people constitute about 75 percent of the industry's customers in Mississippi.

Pride Czar: This is easy — Al Gore. Who else but the man who invented the Internet and knows he can save the planet from imminent ecological disaster?

Sloth Czar: I'm the man. If you understood my lifestyle, you'd know why. But I'm sure I'd be good at enforcing industriousness on everyone else.

Moreover, we may be approaching a fortuitous intersection of political will and scientific discovery. It is being reported that scientists are developing the ability to read minds with brain scanning equipment, which means we perhaps won't have to long rely on merely circumstantial indicators of sinful thoughts such as monetary compensation or dalliances with interns. I mean, just because a medical assistant only makes $19 an hour doesn't mean he isn't flushed with feelings of greed upon receiving his paycheck; just because a man is never caught in adultery doesn't mean lust is absent from his heart. But such things won't matter soon, as our government will just be able to determine if a subj . . . er, citizen is manifesting untoward thoughts. So if little Johnny exhibits brainwaves associated with greed upon collecting his 50 cents for a glass of lemonade at the stand, Uncle Sam can tax a portion of it sufficient to make his brainwaves, uh . . . as Barack Obama would say, change.

Of course, I don't claim to be a seer or even a futurist. But I do know about the power of precedents and can recognize another giant step toward a perfection of the human spirit that only complete submission to the angels of government can bring. You may say that I'm a dreamer, that it can't be done. I say something else.

Yes, we can.

© Selwyn Duke


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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