The Balance

When it comes to America’s problems, everyone has a solution. Luckily, we have the privilege of living in a nation that champions freedom of speech, and though anyone can say how they feel, only those with enough money to amplify their voices are heard. Johnson C. Montgomery and Warren Buffett are two such men with the wealth needed to offer their opinions respectively in “The Island of Plenty” and “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich”. Montgomery is an upper class attorney whose essay explains how America can preserve its future via hoarding and isolationism in an overpopulated world with a rising population. Buffett tackles the issue of American perseverance from a financial perspective: reducing the deficit by raising taxes on the rich, which he reasons would ease the burden of the poor.


Buffett explains how wealth allows him special tax loops, what Buffett calls, “…blessings…by legislators…who feel compelled to protect us” (275). He goes on to explain that his wealthy friends are good Americans who donate, then briefly talks about the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which failed and disbanded in 2011. Buffett finishes by offering some of his own suggestions on tax rates, and demands the government live up to their notion of “shared sacrifice” by ceasing to coddle the rich with lower tax rates than the rest of working Americans.


Raising taxes on the rich would help, but that’s just one piece of a very complicated puzzle. The rich make up a handful of the nation, and taxing them more would help reduce the deficit, but by the same logic, paying Americans a wage that matched the rising inflation would also reduce government debt. If you follow his argument closely you see it’s not really about helping us, it’s about reducing the deficit, which might help the working class. It’s not very convincing because Buffett acknowledges our plight in the beginning of his essay, but clearly states in his closing tax advise: “I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged” (277). Why not lower our taxes while raising theirs? He also compares data from the 1980s and 1990s, attempting to correlate higher taxes on the wealthy to job growth, but his data is extremely vague, a myriad of reasons can account for job growth.


To make his argument worse he says, “It’s nice to have friends in high places.” and “Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)” which frames his essay like he’s writing to one of his rich friends (275-276). Even the sheer notion of shared sacrifice from those who’ve never given up a single thing is off-putting to someone who’s never earned more than $32,000 in a year, much less the millions of people who don’t even make that. It’s no wonder only the elite get to carry America’s conversations, they’re the only people with enough free time to do so.


Montgomery foresees a hopeless future of starvation if we can’t get the world population under control. His solution is simple: Americans should horde everything, and limit the number of children they have. He hopes to champion his ideas to the middle-class to build momentum so he can insist the rest of America pay attention to his ludicrous views. He then sites his personal contributions to the cause: his founding membership in Zero Population Growth, and the vasectomy he received after his second child.


Montgomery’s concern is valid, population can hypothetically get out of control and cause mass starvation, but his solution is not only unethical, and classist—it’s ignorant—and his argument is riddled with inconsistencies. For instance, in his 6th sentence Montgomery tells us, “Ample food and resources exist to nourish man and all other creatures indefinitely into the future.” Then four sentences later he contradicts himself with, “Too many people have made excessive demands on the long-range carrying capacity of our garden” (539). In the paragraph after he tells us the problem isn’t a food shortage, just too many people, but if that’s the case and we have plenty of food, then why reduce the population?


He claims to have foreseen the looming world-famine from the fifties, due to an over crowded planet and its various ills: “nuclear war, global pestilence, illiteracy” (Montgomery 540), but none of those have much of anything to do with population, so much as they do government, climate change, and chance.


Montgomery’s racist agenda is evident early on, when he starts talking about nonwhite countries reproducing themselves into disparity, while also implying that we should let those people starve to death. He confirms the racism later when he states explicitly “white American middle and upper classes” (Montgomery 540). Only to really rub it in with a completely unnecessary paragraph in the middle of his essay:


The future of mankind is indeed with the children. But it is with the nourished, educated, and loved children. It is not with the starving, uneducated, and ignored. This is of course a highly elitist point of view. But that doesn’t made the view incorrect. As a matter of fact, the lowest reproductive rate in the nation is that of one of the most elite groups in the world—black, female Ph.D.’s. They had to be smart and effective to make it. Having made it, they are smart enough not to wreak it with too many kids. (541)


He wrote that paragraph specifically to tell us all that black women who’ve been in college for eight years are smart enough to not have kids. That’s racist and sexist. All women, no matter their color, can make up their minds as to how many kids they want to have or don’t. Not just black women with Ph.D.s.


“The Island of Plenty” is more like an island of hate fueled fear-mongering. His thinking and argument are so far removed from me that I thought I was reading a satire. Starving off most of the world’s population (thought it’s not explicitly stated, it’s very clear) is right up there with eating babies. But his essay is very serious, and the philosophy Montgomery’s pushing has terrible implications—starving people off isn’t that distant from Hitler gassing them.


It’s clear both men want to help America, whether their real goals are selfish or not, Buffett and Montgomery want a wealthier, more secure future. But their arguments for achieving those goals are severely lacking, or wrong altogether. Raising taxes on the rich might help pay off the debt, but it doesn’t keep a single mother off welfare, which also contributes to the overall deficit, but Buffett’s wealth doesn’t make him an economist. Montgomery is a selfish attorney who spends more time singling out nonwhite people than actually making a valid argument for population control. Their ideas are not balanced and not just with the real world, but with us, the people they claim they want to help.


What these essays convey is that rich white people get to saturate society in their opinions, whether they’re ethical or if they’ll even work. Whereas all those who could really help with these problems are folding clothes and serving food, because poverty doesn’t get you an article in the New York Times. Living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t afford a person any time to think of solutions and proactively help the nation. I think the real solution to the problems Montgomery and Buffett tackle is simply giving Americans more opportunity. That will reduce the deficit, and give the country a much brighter future, without deliberately killing off most of the world.


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