Once again, I would like to pay tribute to Ambrose Bierce, inventor of the "Devil's Dictionary." In past columns, I've offered suggestions for new additions to Bierce's book of 998 definitions. Here are two more.
Flip-flop, v. In popular usage, it is a derogatory term used by ideologues to attack an opponent's alleged change of public position; implying that those who "flip-flop" don't have the courage of their convictions; unprincipled and untrustworthy, all the while remaining completely oblivious to the possibility that the "flip-flop" may be a genuine change of heart and mind and a sign of open-minded growth, which when applied outside of popular politics is considered a healthy psychological disposition.
Example: in the current presidential campaign, Bush supporters frequently accuse Kerry of flip-flopping. Whether the charge is true or not, it seems clear that the criticism is highly selective. Reasonable people understand that when a critic accuses his or her opponent of engaging in behavior their avowed leader is thoroughly guilty of, it is an indication of intellectual dishonesty, exposing the true nature of the attack; namely that such attacks are personal and not principled.
President Bush was opposed to the 9-11 Commission and now "supports" their work.
President Bush's primary argument for invading Iraq was because of the alleged WMD threat posed by Saddam's regime. Now, the war is being justified as an effort to liberate the Iraqi people and establish a democracy in the heart of the Arab world.
Market discipline, n. An economic term nearly synonymous with enforcing and instilling "personal responsibility" on the unemployed, underemployed and working poor but beyond the pale of acceptable policy when it comes to the wealthy.
Example: "welfare reform" proponents argued that the pittance Uncle Sam doled out to Americans on the dole provides an economic incentive for poor mothers to have children out of wedlock, remain "unproductive" citizens (raising children doesn't count as productive work in the current U.S. economy) and generally exacerbating the nation's "social problems."
But the same logic doesn't get extended to the wealthiest of the wealthy. According to Responsible Wealth, a group of affluent Americans concerned about the preferential treatment given to those who least need it, federal tax subsidies contributed more than $9 million to Google's $73 million profit.
Reductions in capital gains taxes over the last decade have added billions to the largest fortunes in America.
Now that Google's public offering is a done deal, company co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin made a mere $36 million a piece. If the Google offering had occurred in 1997, according to Responsible Wealth, Page and Brin would have each owed nearly $20 million in capital gains taxes. Instead, Uncle Sam's share will be just $11 million.
"This tax cut and others have combined to cause reductions in a host of federal programs, including the Small Business Administration. For the coming year, President Bush proposes to slash SBA spending by more than 50 percent," the report concludes.
"Google's founders' success is something we should celebrate, but they don't deserve or need multi-million-dollar subsidies - just for selling stock," says Scott Klinger, co-director of Responsible Wealth.
Why pick on Google? Responsible Wealth thinks the Internet search engine company provides a useful illustration in how society helps create wealth. In a recent report titled, "I Didn't Do It Alone: Society's Contribution to Individual Wealth and Success," the authors highlight the public investment and social institutions that helped Google, including the huge taxpayer subsidy for Silicon Valley and Stanford University, where Google's technology was first developed; as well as the Internet itself - "an invention funded by the world's largest venture capitalist, Uncle Sam," to which Google owes its very existence.
Klinger adds: "Google's success shows what kind of public investments are key to wealth creation. It's not tax breaks. It's real investments - from public education to technology research - that will deliver the Googles of the future."
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.
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