Prom dresses, the Tiny Tyrant within, and taxes

“Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.” Abigail Adams “Remember the Ladies Letter” 1776

“…. you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.” Emerson Self-Reliance p. 23

Dear Reader,
A few weeks ago I was mindlessly perusing Facebook only to come across a picture of my youngest maternal cousin in a beautiful and pricey canary yellow prom dress. My first thought was excitement for her and warm fuzzy feelings for the wonderful young women she has become. A few weeks later, I was again pursing Facebook only to come across a picture of this same cousin in pictures for another prom, and she was wearing a completely different, although beautiful, gown. I could not help but to feel miffed that her parents, who are part of the 1 % bought her two separate and expensive gowns. . I immediately began thinking of what I would deem better uses for all that money. I thought about how many supplies I could buy for the DV shelter I volunteer for, or how many books I could purchase for next my next semester. I felt kind of discussed at the extravagance over two dresses that my cousin will probably never wear again. Surely I know how better to spend that money. Surely that money could have been put to better use. Yet, then I began to think, who am I to tell my aunt and uncle to spend their money? My aunt and uncle are part of the 1%, but they did not start off that way. They both started working for company which partly for all of their hard work allowed the company to become as successful as it is.And in the midst of the economic recession both my aunt and uncle opted to be paid less so that the company could keep workers employed. They also happen to be super generous people on so many levels. Who am I to think that I know better how to spend their money than they do? This fallacy, the thought that we know better how to spend other people’s money, is demonstrated in what Frederic Bastiat called the “broken window fallacy.”
Here a video is John Stossel explaining the theory:

This brought me to the idea of voting for progressive tax increases, especially for the 1%. What is the thought behind that? Is it not the same tyrannical thought that emerged in my mind over my cousin’s prom dresses? We think we know better than certain people, mostly rich people, on how they should spend their money. Redistribution of their tax dollars to people who live under the poverty line, people who need healthcare, unemployment benefits, etc. While the intentions of those of us who vote for progressive tax increases may be good. I want to pose this question: does intent really matter? If we think that we know better than others how to spend their hard-earned money, what does that say about us? What I am suggesting, Dear Reader, is that there is a tiny tyrant in all of us. Also, if those of us who vote for progressive tax increase become a majority, which we are,  are we not falling into the pit of the tyranny of the majority? In our reading of Democracy in America, Tocqueville on page 259 warns the reader:

Some have not feared to assert that a people can never outstep [sic] the boundaries of justice and reason is those affairs which are peculiarly its own; and that consequently full power may be given to the majority  by which it is represented. But this is the language of a slave. A majority taken collectively is only an individual , whose opinions and frequently whose interests,  are opposed to that of another individual, who is to styled as a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to that same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refused to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.


Then I guess this is the question for you, Dear Reader: do you have a tiny tyrant inside you, too?

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3 Responses to Prom dresses, the Tiny Tyrant within, and taxes

  1. fallenstar66 says:

    To answer your question simply, yes. Though there are some who won’t admit it, we all have some aspect in us that we believe we are better at then others and because of this, we speak out against those who would do something different. And when it comes to how to spend money, everyone has an opinion. Coming from a family that did not have much, I learned very fast how to be frugal with what I buy and there are many times that I will pass on something because I know that the money needs to go elsewhere (like bills or textbooks). Though I may at first resent those who are able to buy whatever they want, because either they have someone else paying their bills or they make much more then me, I push those feelings down because at the end of the day, it is not my business how people spend their money.
    People believe that the rich should be taxed more because they make more and that the rich instead of donating their money, spend it on extravagant items that are not needed. However, many of the rich do in fact donate much of their money to charities. From big businesses such as Google to big name celebrities such as Oprah and Angelina Jolie, each have donated thousands to help those worse off. In addition, though I will agree that sometimes people will buy useless items, all economic classes do this. Did that lower income family really need to spend their food stamps on Jack in the box instead of buying fresh produce that would last a week or more? Probably not. Did that middle income family really need to buy that huge gas-guzzling car that will only be used a handful of times? Probably not. Did that celebrity really need to buy a house that big? Again, probably not, but it is not our business to ridicule them when they are spending their own money to do that ( though I realize there is an argument in here with the lower income and what is considered ‘their money’). It’s a tricky situation to be in when you see people in need being overlooked while the upper class spend their money frivolously, but it is not their problem alone to tackle poverty, but rather everyones problem and the solutions to help it should involved everyone.

  2. cindylyon says:

    What a fun anecdote! Never before would I have associated Tocqueville with prom. I think your ability to recognize the “broken window fallacy” was keen but I’d say it could be pushed even further. Are we not trying to monopolize everything when we vote? We vote for representatives who we then feel should vote according to our whim. Does that not sound like what fallenstar said, “we all have some aspect in us that we believe we are better than others, and because of this we speak against those who would do something different”? We had a brief conversation about this in class. Would you vote to elect someone you didn’t agree with? Would you vote for someone after deleberating (not upon whether they would vote exactly as you do) but other characteristics and then upon reaching a decision vote for someone you entrusted to make the decision? Even if it might not be the same decision you would come to? It’s just something interesting to think about. If we really do feel like we’re being too bossy in telling rich people what to do with their money, could the same logic be extended to other aspects of our representative democracy? I admit it’s thin, but I think there’s something there.

  3. alphaomegawords says:

    You have ventured into yet another interesting arena with this post. Money is an especially polarizing subject, whether it is Federal spending, charitable giving, salaries, retirement savings, etc. At the heart of what makes the topic of money so polarizing is that we all tend to have opinions about how the ‘other’ uses (or fails to use as it were) the money available to them. In some cases, we criticize someone who ‘doesn’t have much’ for buying this or that. On the other hand, we can each be quick to complain about how those that ‘have so much’ could better use their money for this reason or that cause.

    To answer your question, I, too, have struggled with the same ‘tyrannical’ thoughts you some succinctly admitted in your original post. Such is the struggle that broken humanity will wrestle with. It always seems easier to me to quickly find the limitations with my own resources (money, time, energy, etc.) and fault someone else for doing something other than what I think would have been best if ‘I were in their shoes.’ In these moments of my own failings, I have to recognize the very limited view I possess, both of others, but also of myself. As Tocqueville alludes to, we generally strive for our own purposes in what we think and do, demonstrating the limitations of our field of view and how our field of view is affected and colored by our experiences. What we say, advocate for, the causes we participate in, and so forth are all reflections of our desires. I’m not saying that everyone everywhere always does the selfish thing. For example, you identified your uncle and aunt as having been great examples of diligent work ethic, even a willingness to sacrifice their own potential earning so that others could keep earning.

    Participating in a larger conversation with others and truly being honest with ourselves is an important starting point. I find that I have often deluded myself into a certain approach or action only to reconsider all that was motivating me when I have exchanged ideas with others outside of myself. This is especially important when it comes to money and possessions, at least for me, and has really pushed me to examine assumptions I make and to address the tyrannical selfishness that so thoroughly infiltrates those moments when I fall prey to situations like you have shared.

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