Laziness. Freeloading. Gaming the system.

That’s what I often hear many conservatives rail against. Nothing gets a blind rightie’s hackles up more than a story about a person who gets paid by the government to sit at home rather than go to work.

Frankly, I don’t blame them. It does suck to hear those stories, stories of someone taking advantage of the way things are in order to do as little as possible. It makes even more sense knowing that anger over such stories usually comes from working, middle-class conservatives who sell over 250 days a year to someone just to make ends meet, especially when no matter what they do, those ends never do seem to come together.

It’s true. You can find cases of a governmental bureaucratic system encouraging laziness. For certain people, in certain situations, it makes more financial sense to not take a job, because they get more money out of the government than they would from an employer.

What amazes me is that the statement above is used as a case against welfare, rather than a case for higher wages. Especially considering 1) that welfare and food stamps add up to a rough total of $1300 per month for a family of four (that’s $15,600/year – roughly $6800 short of the federal poverty guideline) and 2) that I’ve already demonstrated in an earlier post how the federal poverty guidelines simply aren’t enough to live responsibly on.

Never mind that life on $15,600 a year is far from luxurious; dreary and uninspiring is more like it. Never mind that the lavish lifestyle image of a true welfare leech likely involves sitting on a couch, eating horrible chemicals disguised as food, and watching our God-awful American television programming. While I personally don’t want to fund it, such a life is hardly enviable. Pitiful would be a better description. Perhaps even horrid. But on $15,600 a year, what does one expect?

Nonetheless, those counter-arguments don’t refute that some people in poverty are, in fact, abusing welfare and rather than using public assistance to prop them up while working hard to improve their situation, they fund their shiftlessness with our tax dollars. If you are poor and exploiting the system for your family’s $16 grand a year (only $6,000 if you’re single) you are the ultimate scourge of society.

However, if you’re wealthy and exploit our system for hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars in legalized tax avoidance, you are an iconic entrepreneur to be envied, revered, and protected as one of society’s most cherished and vulnerable.

Using Facebook’s approaching IPO (and Marc Zuckerberg’s expected profit) as a model, this New York Times opinion piece illustrates a systemic loophole for billionaires that no one of regular means could ever even imagine to have at their disposal. Seems that by borrowing against unrealized stock options, billionaires can fund their lavish lifestyles with money they claim to not even have, pay no taxes on these exorbitant coffers of stock, and leave these gargantuan treasuries to their heirs without ever paying any tax on the appreciation of said shares. Even their heirs are only liable for the gains accrued since their death.

Wow. I’ll admit I had no idea that this was even an option, let alone legal! And while I don’t necessarily agree with the notion of taxing millionaires’ unrealized gains, the fact that they can simply borrow against them, without ever cashing them in or paying income tax on them, to live a truly opulent lifestyle and potentially never work another day in their lives kind of makes the whole “welfare queen” argument seem a little petty, if not render it completely moot.

We have no idea what Mr. Zuckerberg’s Facebook stock will be worth by the time of his death. But assuming, ridiculously, that it simply doubles in value ($46 billion) the unrealized gains of $23 billion, taxed at a cap gains rate of 15%, would yield a net tax of $3.45 billion, if the loophole did not exist.

How many welfare recipients would we have to cut off to make up for the low capital gains tax revenue of Mr. Zukerberg’s fortunes? At $6000 in annual welfare for a single person, it would take 575,000 of them. Over half a million lazy, non-working, undeserving welfare leeches would have to abuse the system to make up for one billionaire’s tax avoidance. Can we find that many? No one really knows. But at a ratio of 575,000 to 1, you tell me where we should be dedicating our attention. You tell me who has the most to gain from our system.

Yes, Mr. Zuckerberg has probably worked very hard to get here. And beyond that he had a great idea, and successfully manipulated it into fruition. But after he or any other billionaire with unrealized gains dies and leaves his fortune in untaxed stocks to his heirs, will they have worked hard as well? Only time will tell.

Didn’t the manual laborer, who lost his job when the housing market dried up, work hard too? As did the autoworker who watched his livelihood be sent to Mexico, or the homeowner who worked hard to buy a house and lost it when values plummeted and unethical mortgages were called in, or millions of other people who have fallen on hard times and depend on welfare to see them through.

Hundreds of thousands of people who live below the poverty line work very hard, every day, with no hope of any multi-billion dollar reward in a mere seven years (as in Mr. Zuckerberg’s case). Are they any less deserving of a break?

It is this idea that recently crystallized in the Occupy Wall Street movement. And despite criticism of a muddled and inconsistent list of demands, at the center of the movement’s rage was not the fact that a distinct and super-wealthy few had more, but rather that over the last 30 years so many aspects of our system of taxation and economics and governance had been rigged so drastically in their favor.

Thankfully, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone promptly and adroitly rebutted weak and straw man arguments against OWS with an excellent blog post last fall. But such sound and rational analysis shouldn’t have been necessary for the rest of the 99%. Even a cursory examination of the facts of our system reveals that we’ve gradually shifted the tax burden over to the middle class. And while we claim to be a nation founded on working hard, and that by doing so you will one day be financially successful, the bulk of breaks and benefits of our system are structured to reward the super-wealthy more than the hard-working. And it seems the wealthier you are, the greater your public reward.

Seems to me we actually value wealth more than work. Seems that we’ll make any tax break for any billionaire a luscious reality without even batting an eye, but ask the public to pony up for strong public education, public housing, affordable health-care, or a social safety-net to protect and enhance a strong workforce and you’re labeled as a GD socialist.

Suggest closing a blatantly unfair tax loophole benefitting only the uber-rich and you are pegged as a job killer, but slash public funded-programs that have decades’ worth of positive results and you’re “protecting the middle-class.”

Propose a tiny tax increase on the absolute wealthiest 1% of Americans to see us through tough times and you’re waging class warfare, but demonize teachers, firefighters, social workers, and other public employees and you’re heralded as a champion of the working man.

I just don’t get it. Supposedly, we value work above all else in this country. And if you are poor and don’t work, your laziness should not be rewarded. Because to be poor and exploit the system is wrong, wrong wrong.

But to be rich and do so, well…that’s a different story.

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