Should price of success be high taxes?

Posted Sept. 22, 2010, at 8:34 p.m.

The degree of vitriol that is evident in the debate regarding taxing the wealthy is unfortunate. To some degree the animus towards the wealthier segment of our society is understandable given the depth of this economic recession. However, much of the hostility can be attributed to the current administration’s pandering to its base.

The danger is that in debating tax policy in sound bites we may lose sight of the fact that not everyone in our society is a stereotypical Wall Street tycoon complicit in the excesses that at least to some degree contributed to our current economic contraction. We need to not lose sight of the fact that many of the so-called rich are entrepreneurs who have taken risks and developed business that provide jobs. Small business is the single most important source of jobs and we run the risk, through misguided tax policies, of killing this all-important source of employment.

It is worth taking a deep breath and putting a human face on the wealthy that do not deserve blanket condemnation. They can be a farmer in Aroostook County who risks everything he owns each crop year in order to get a crop in the ground. Many of these growers have literally bet the ranch on their crop and have lost everything.

Others, through incredibly long hours of hard work and informed business practices, have been profitable and have expanded their operations. A number of these successful growers have invested in value-added processing or have rescued processing plants that were about to go bankrupt. In the process they have both created jobs and saved jobs.

They have risked all and they have succeeded. What exactly have they done to be on the receiving end of short-sighted, punitive tax policies?

In my early business career, I met a gentleman who had fled Cuba in the first wave of Cuban immigrants to the United States. He had been in the meat business in Cuba. When he arrived in Miami he literally had nothing. A gentleman in the airport gave him a $100, which got him started.

In a matter of days, he had taken a job as a meat cutter in a packing plant. He did well enough that he was promoted and rose through the ranks of this organization. He subsequently left this organization and started his own meat wholesaling business.

When I met him, he was running a very large organization employing well over 100 employees and he had become very wealthy in his own right. This gentleman built a business from nothing and created well-paying jobs in his community. I can only imagine what he is thinking today as he attempts to deal with being singled out as someone who somehow has not contributed his fair share to his community and adopted country.

My college roommate joined his father’s very small roofing company when he graduated. Over the years, he transformed that roofing company located in Washington, D.C., into a highly successful chain of retail roofing centers. During his active business career he provided many, many well-paying jobs with health and pension benefits to his employees.

As he neared retirement age, he sold the business he built and in the process he did very well financially. Today, he spends his retirement as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and many other worthwhile causes in his community.

My friend played by the rules, always paid his taxes, was a steward of his community and provided good-paying jobs. He is now “wealthy” and the subject of ill-directed class envy.

Our politicians, reporters and social commentators would be well advised to be cautious before they unleash the furies for political or ideological gain. The subjects of their attacks in many instances are the very same people who have the potential for turning our economy around or consigning the economy to an indefinite period of high unemployment.

Joseph Lallande of Fort Fairfield is a retired business manager.

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