Thursday, March 5, 2009

Don't Be That Guy

I'm a doctor. That means different things to different people. A few view me with a kind of respect that is almost uncomfortable. Others view me with skepticism, even mistrust. Still others view me with a bit of disdain. Then there are those who are indifferent. The indifferent people form the vast majority of my patients and acquaintances. The indifferent have varying views on what my job and my life is about.

An increasing number of them think of me as a skilled laborer - like a mechanic or a cabinetmaker. This is really fine with me, because this is probably the closest to how I view myself. You see, I didn't grow up with a lot of money or anything. I was a pretty normal kid from a small town who found himself becoming a doctor because he had a talent for it. It wasn't my life's ambition like it is for a lot of people. It's just my job. It's how I pay my bills and how I hope to be able to save for my retirement and send my kid or kids to college someday.

I like my job. I get to meet a lot of people, and help them through difficult times. I take pride in being as good at it as I can possibly be. It's important to me. I try really hard to be timely, courteous, competent, and fair. I take pride in the results of my work. When I sew up a cut, or cast a broken arm, or help someone get their blood pressure down or diabetes under control, I view it with the same sense of satisfaction that a carpenter or brickmason might feel after finishing a demanding job. It's rewarding.

I tell you all this biographical information to get to a point, I promise. I had an interesting conversation with a colleague the other day. He invited me to do a little experiment. He suggested that I ask people what they think I make for performing my job. He promised I'd be surprised. I was. Guess what people think I, a lowly general practitioner, make in a year. One million dollars.

I guess it is that belief that leads people to be so indifferent to the economics of being a professional. I won't waste your time telling you that I don't make one million dollars each year. I don't, of course, but I won't go that route. Let me just put it this way. Imagine what you make in a year. Now divide that in half, because that is what the government takes from me each year - half. Got that new number in mind? Okay, now divide that half in half. That's what is left after I pay for licenses, fees, college and medical school loan payments and malpractice insurance just so I can do my job.

Could you live on 1/4 of your annual salary? Could you send your kid or kids to college? Could you take vacations? I'm just asking. If I actually made $1 million each year, that would leave me with a very respectable $250,000 each year. Sadly, I don't make anywhere near $1 million a year. I don't even make $250,000 a year. No, I am struggling, just like many of you. I live in a nice but modest 3 bedroom house and struggle to pay the mortgage just like you. We are waiting to have more children because we can't afford to right now - maybe just like you. I have too much credit card debt, just like you. I'm more like you than you probably realize.

I understand the way people feel about the fabulously wealthy. Sometimes I feel that way myself. I am sickened, just like you, by the greed of those at the top of big corporations who take bail-out money and go to an exclusive spa. That's why it is almost funny to me that my government puts me in the same category as those people. If Bill Gates is taxed at a 50% or 60% rate, he would be understandably upset. If that happens to us, we'll be devastated.

What upsets me the most, though, is that my own fellow citizens are okay with that. They are fine with taking from the "rich" and giving to others. It's all so anonymous. I'm sure most people would recoil in horror if they had to come and ask me personally for half of my paycheck. They would probably be offended if they were accused of stealing half of my paycheck. But know this. Just because someone in Washington steals it and gives it to you with your approval doesn't make it right. If you are in support of taking half of my paycheck by proxy then you aren't just a thief. You are a coward.

So don't be the person that hates "the rich". The one you are stealing from is me, my wife, and my son. When a politician tells you that you have a right to send your child to college for free, know that you are getting that because I am being deprived of sending my child to college at all. When you get your mortgage paid for, it is because I can no longer pay my mortgage.

Oh, sure. Some of the money paying for your new unearned wealth will be coming from the pockets of the people you hate at the top of those corporations - from people with names like Vanderbilt and Rockefeller. But the vast majority of the people who will be suffering to give you a quality of life you haven't earned are just like me. And surprisingly, just like you.

Thieves and Cowards

Congress has done it again. No, not anything all that earth-shaking. They just passed an Omnibus spending bill. No big deal. Well, except for the timing. This time, we're paying attention.

We in Alabama are paying attention to the fact that the bill contains $20 million for some sort of R&D park at the University of Alabama (Senator Richard Shelby's alma mater), several million more for some kind of silliness at Auburn University, $250,000 for "catfish research" get the idea.

The same government that warns that we're bankrupt - so bankrupt that they may just have to spend us into oblivion - still has money for pork, thankfully.

You know what would make me feel just a little bit better? Better about the fact that my own government is about to seize most of my assets so they can buy votes from lazy, unproductive people? Better about the fact that they are about to make doctors government employees and destroy my means of making a living? What would make me feel just a tiny bit better would be for just one of those lying thieves inside the beltway to just pay lip service to a crazy idea - that maybe, just maybe, we should cut a little bit of the ridiculous crap they are spending money on.

Take notice, Washington. I heard you loud and clear when you told me that my kid won't be able to go to college because you are going to tax the hell out of me to send the kids of inner-city crack mothers to Harvard. I heard you when you promised to "reform health care" (translation - ruin it). But now hear me. I am watching. Lots of us are. And we will not forget, Senator Shelby, how you stewarded our money during this "crisis". You may not believe this, but there really is someone with a brain on this end of the money cycle.

Stand by for hell, boys and girls. They may create it in Washington, but we must stand prepared to give a little of our own. Al Quaeda just moved to #2 on the list of biggest threats to Liberty. Congratulations, Washington. At least you are #1 at something.