It’s no great revelation that there is a dichotomy in this country between how middle- and lower-income Americans are treated compared to the rich.
If an individual or family with a modest income misses a car payment, a house payment or even a medical payment, the response is swift and severe. They’re threatened with everything from legal action to the loss of that house or car if they don’t make good immediately. Extenuating circumstances rarely make a difference.
And why should anyone expect anything else? If you sign a mortgage, you’re agreeing you’re good for that money and acknowledge that, if you’re not, the conditions change.
Yet, it isn’t it that way for the wealthy.
Last week, a report appeared in the Gazette-Mail detailing a $2.9 million ruling in a Kentucky court against West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and family after seven of their numerous companies failed to live up to an agreement to have a mine site cleaned up. And it’s not like time wasn’t given. The cleanup was part of an agreement reached back in 2015, after violations at the site, and was to be completed by 2019. The court shouldn’t expect that $2.9 million anytime soon.
The Gazette-Mail and other publications have documented what seem like endless reports of Justice, his children and their companies failing to abide by court decisions, defaulting on massive loans, letting health benefits or other coverage for employees lapse and settling cases for money owed after years of haggling in court. And still there’s always another negotiation. Another hearing. Another chance to delay and string things along.
Forbes magazine dubbed Justice “the deadbeat billionaire,” but he’s hardly the only ultra-wealthy person in the United States to operate this way. The rules are just different when you’ve got clout and money — especially the latter.
In fact, the system enables this sort of thing, whether it be in relation to a business or personal finances. The Gazette-Mail reported that Justice, the wealthiest man in West Virginia, owed $15 million in taxes when he took office in 2017. A recent report from ProPublica found that the governor paid hardly anything — and most of the time, nothing at all — in income taxes between 2000 and 2018. And everything he did to avoid paying those taxes was perfectly legal. Most folks look at that and see Justice taking advantage of the system, but why wouldn’t he?
In the meantime, the country and this state punish those without resources or who receive government assistance. Drug-testing and work requirements for things such as food stamps are enacted by state legislatures like West Virginia’s to try and detect those the wealthy see as cheating the system (even though the administrative costs of doing so outweigh the benefits of catching these supposed scammers).
As governor, Justice, the master of the last-minute, one-more-chance play in his own affairs, ended augmented unemployment benefits that were part of federal COVID-19 relief three months early. How’s that for an upside-down universe?
Should the uber rich “pay their share?” Should the system treat them like everyone else? Yes. But the system has to change for that to happen, and that involves a series of reforms that don’t look like they’re coming to fruition anytime soon.