According to legend, when a reporter asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he said, "cause that's where the money is."
I think about this when people debate the national debt. Not too many years ago the nation had a surplus, or so we were told. Then we began to spend and finally to borrow. Now we are in debt and so conflicted about how to fix the problem we came within an inch of shutting down the U.S. government.
Where did all that money go? Either it wasn't real in the first place or somebody robbed the bank. In that case who has it, and how do we get it back?
I'm the last person who should be writing about financial matters, but maybe that's OK because it was the financial wizards who got us into this in the first place. It seems to me that if we want to pay off our debt, we should do what Willie Sutton did: Go where the money is.
In the last 30 years the very rich (the top 1 percent of the American public) have doubled their share of the nation's wealth. The share going to the super rich (one tenth of 1 percent) has tripled.
Meanwhile, taxes on the wealthy have dropped from 70 percent to 35 percent. Capital gains have dropped from 35 percent to 15 percent. The estate tax has dropped as well, and the tax only applies to estates worth over 5 million. Am I the only one who thinks there's something wrong here?
And let's not forget corporations. There's some real money there, and some corporations don't pay any taxes at all. General Electric made more than $ 14 billion in profit last year but paid no federal taxes. ExxonMobil and Citigroup have paid next to nothing for several years. Some corporations even got refunds.
It wasn't this way in the late 1950s and early '60s when the U.S. economy was booming. Unfortunately, today the tax burden has shifted from the corporate world to the general public, and our economy is in trouble.
I don't understand much about finance, but what I don't understand at all is why conservatives, people who say they represent the average American, are so against taxing those with a net worth in the millions. Is it because so many pundits and politicians are part of that wealthy 1 percent, or does every little guy really believe he's about to win the lottery?
Why have taxes been so demonized? Responsible people pay their bills. It's not supposed to be fun or popular any more than cleaning the bathroom or taking out the garbage, but it's what decent people do; and money properly spent is an investment in our nation and its future.
While we're talking about where the money is, let's remember that what Congress is squabbling over is only a small percent of the federal budget, the part known as discretionary spending. The real money is in defense and entitlements. Just asking if all that money going into defense is well spent can get you in trouble, but if the budget cutters had any real courage this is where they would start.
When it comes to entitlements like Medicare, I am at a lost because I read so many conflicting reports. Health care is a highly emotional issue. This makes it an easy target and subject to political manipulation, but it's an area where the other fellow's welfare impacts our own wellbeing. Keeping the public healthy serves everyone best interests.
If our neighbor is sick, we may get sick, too. If his children fail in school, the nation fails as well. Public health, food safety, worker protection, a clean environment and disaster relief are issues that touch us all. They should not be politicized.
We can and must pay for them. We just have to go where the money is.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.