Somehow it has come to pass in public discussions that we all bring home “hard earned money”.  That being the case, all claims on our funds – especially by government (think taxes) must be completely justified and limited.  Workers like truck drivers, construction laborers, mom and pop store owners, medical interns, newly minted corporate lawyers and many others do indeed toil long hours at difficult jobs.  Surely their compensation is well deserved.  “Sweat of the brow” might not accurately describe their labors, but what they do, day after day, week after week, is indisputably demanding.  Just what percentage of our labor force brings home “hard earned” dollars is unknown, but our interest here is with those who don’t fit that category, i.e., those pocketing considerable sums, much of which appears to be “hardly earned”, though few if any would ever concede that point.

Haven’t we always known there’s “easy money” out there?  This is not about those one shot bonanzas, “killings” (a most infelicitous term) windfalls of one sort or another but of steady streams of cash that allow people to live on “easy street”.  No one is likely to step forward and admit to membership in this privileged caste (nor to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving rich, as happens with the poor).  Neither census data nor IRS records provide such information, nor do “generally accepted accounting principles”.  That means we need to initiate our own inquiry.

Those benefitting from substantial inheritances clearly qualify.  Some do work hard to augment their original stash, but many are content to let the dividends and interest payments flow in and pay scant attention to making their own living.  What about political appointees rewarded with “no show” jobs where paychecks bear no relationship to performance and where pensions are outlandishly inflated?  Consider, too, those “fixers” in our midst, well connected individuals paid handsomely to make phone calls and put in a “good word”; or the close relatives of company heads who are given titles and offices and outsized compensation, but who are encouraged simply to stay out of the way.  What we know about traders who make large bets on stocks after receiving confidential insider information allows us to place them in this group.  And then let’s not forget “insiders” whose stock soars on a takeover rumor, or gamblers when a real long shot pays off.  Less obvious perhaps are the countless leaders of corporations, universities, public agencies and even charitable groups, etc., whose salaries have gained substantially in recent years – as have their “golden parachutes” – increases unrelated to unique competence or organizational success, but to the peculiar logic of enhanced entitlement.  And to be fair and balanced, let’s not overlook certain tenured college professors who largely avoid the classroom, dabble in marginal research, but who collect substantial paychecks.

At best, this is a preliminary tally; much has yet to be unearthed.  But the evidence already presented should be sufficient to cause us to wonder whether those who speak glibly of “hard-earned money” have fashioned a smokescreen, tried to ingratiate themselves with the working public while successfully gaming the system.

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