Let’s focus on the words, not the man

On June 29, President Obama gave the aviation industry a great gift. It may not appear to be a beautifully wrapped present with a bright, tidy bow on top. But it is.

Some of us will recognize this opportunity for what it is. Others will not. That’s human nature. Some of us focus on the words, while others focus on the speaker. We all have different motivations, which tend to color our perceptions. I will stick to the words alone. Because it is what was said that matters, not who said it.

The President said: “The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.”

This sentence intrigues me because it compares an industry with a job title, with an entity that may be either a corporation, a partnership, or an individual. It would not be fair to call this sentence an apples to oranges comparison. It is more closely aligned to a comparison of a truck, a driver, and the company that owns one and employs the other. It’s nonsense. But it’s carefully crafted nonsense. And that’s a problem for the aviation community, not to mention the country as a whole.

There is only one common link in this chain – envy. No, that’s not entirely true. Anger comes into play, too. That one sentence, for all the press its sentiment has garnered, has no place in a serious discussion on the topic of taxes, since it bunches the entirety of the tax code into a single disparaging remark that is intended to sound comprehensive, but is in fact, pointlessly vague.

The President went on to say, “And if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship.”

With the second mention of corporate jet owners in a press conference, we see that the first mention was neither casual or a poor choice of words. The speech writer has made it a point to lump ownership of an object in with what is being portrayed as an obscene level of wealth. More importantly, the attempt is being made to personalize the characterization. The implication is that the wealth is undeserved, that it is amassed to the detriment of others. Again, the oil companies are used as a ploy to raise ire, then their earnings (prior to any costs being deducted) are used to establish that the reader (or viewer or listener) is not the object of the speaker’s intent. Finally the point is made that if such astounding wealth is allowed in one segment of the economy, another segment suffers as a direct result — and that suffering lasts a lifetime.

This speech is excellent. It’s compelling, it’s emotional, it’s carefully worded and artfully crafted to convey a message of need – the need to punish those who are deemed successful, so that the listener, who is encouraged to see themselves as the victim, can have a fair shot at a better life.

Apparently, that better life has a ceiling to it. Those who cross over that boundary will find themselves in the danger zone, where the less wealthy are encouraged to envy and fear and take from them.

Yes, this is an excellent speech. It’s not particularly insightful, but it serves its purpose. It sets the stage for a fight, not a debate. It is intended to rally the troops and get them motivated.

For those of us who make our living in aviation, we should take this salvo seriously. Regardless of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, an Independent or a third party member, the dye is cast. We are the enemy, and we had better get serious about fighting the message, not the man. The president is merely repeating a position held, and espoused, by many in Washington. But they don’t truly believe it. They know it’s nonsense, but it’s nonsense that brings in votes. And that’s the problem we have to deal with if we want to survive as the leaders in aircraft technology that we have been for almost the entirety of aviation’s lifespan.

Let me be clear on this point: I am not a wealthy man. I have no plans or expectations that I will ever be a wealthy man. But I am a pilot, and an aviation professional, and an American – which makes most of the world’s population think of me as an obscenely wealthy parasite who survives by draining the potential of those around me for my own benefit.

That is the sad but very real reputation we suffer from. So we have to choose now. Do we lie down and give up the business we love, or do we stand up, speak out, and fight back? There is no third option.

I will stand tall and say that American aviation products represent some of the finest and most respected technological achievements in the world. And they got that reputation because a cast of tens of thousands has taken it upon themselves to push technology to its limit, then find a new limit beyond that one. Whether we manufacture or maintain the airframe, the engines, the fuel pumps, the props, the upholstery, the avionics, or even the paint that protects the aircraft, we make some of the most thoroughly safety tested, durable, and reliable equipment ever to see the light of day.

The issue is not about corporate jet owners, or oil companies, or even billionaires. The issue is us. Would we rather be home, unemployed, soothing our souls with the knowledge that we played a role in bringing a few billionaires down a notch? Or would we rather take pride in our work, do our best to inspire our children, or neighbors, and our friends — and hope that perhaps through diligence and a bit of luck, we might make a real contribution to the world through our work?

For me, I will be happy to maintain my life as a writer, a CFI, a general aviation pilot, a politician, and a dad. I will never be rich — and I’m just fine with that. But I will never be comfortable advocating that some of us confiscate the wealth of another, just because we want to make sure they don’t have more than we’re comfortable with. I sincerely wish the President and those who think like him felt the same way. Because as an American I have always taught my children that they can be anything they want to be — if they work for it. I’d hate to have to add the tag line “unless you earn too much money doing it.”

 Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.

Comments

  1. Jamie, Your article left me shaking my head with disbelief.This after what we at United have been through, along with our brothers at all the other airlines at the hands of the rich and egregious corporate leadership. We lost 60% of our salries and almost all of our pensions. Ill get $2300 a month instead of the $9000 that was earned and contracted. Also it was fully funded. While the employes lost everything upper managment made many hundreds of millions at our expence. This is what is happening in America. All the money that is being made by the ultra rich is being made on the backs of the middleclass. Instead of paying us our fair share they ship our jobs over seas so they can make even more money. They are not going to put us back to work. They will not give us OUR jobs back. They will not give us OUR SHARE of the prosperity WE produced. I dont know where you get your facts but I know for a fact they dont pay thier fair share of thier taxes. They have thier accountants and tax attorneys. They DONT PAY. I used to fly my cessna 210 300 hours a year. Now I dont put 5 hours on it. This isnt because I was lazy or stupid. I dont want something for nothing I just want what I earned as a United Airlines captain. And Im sure all the other hard working members of the middle class feel the same way. Captain Miller

  2. Thank you Jamie,
    Obama gave us the tax break on corporate jets as part of his “stimulus” program. Funny he didn’t mention that part… Now he speaks of it like something he “inherited”. This is just typical of him.

  3. Joe Elliott says:

    What’s cynical is the author’s asinine premise that rescinding this tax break amounts to an attack on an industry. I can’t believe no one’s mentioned that commercial operators already depreciate their aircraft over seven years! (The president has proposed changing the schedule from five to seven years for business jets, lest anyone let the vitriolic hype convince them that this is some kind of drastic tax increase; it’s not.) Sure, airplanes of all sizes can be valuable business tools (and none of the politicians accused of vilifying aviation in the last two years have ever suggested otherwise), but why should someone using a medium sized jet “in furtherance of a business” get special treatment vs. someone whose airplane *is* their business (or vs. GA owner-pilots whose airplanes aren’t owned by a corporate entity, for that matter)? Of all the challenges facing GA today, why must bloggers waste time trying to manufacture controversy and ascribe vilification based on adjacent words in a sentence?

  4. The wealthy will do okay either way- it’s the middle class that’s threatened with extinction if the govt. keeps heaping more taxes & regs. on any area of business that manages to
    demonstrate success in spite of the odds they’ve already overcome. At Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville, CA. a firm with corporate jets has become so fed up with the increasing anti-aviation policies & the general business climate in our state, that they’re now in the process of relocating to- you guessed it: Texas.
    Last November, CA voters just didn’t seem to get it, yet we hear all the whining about where have all the jobs gone. And the crap about poor kids losing scholarships (how many of those are supported by privately funded endowments- not taxes?) because of those
    selfish aviation people- well that’s become so typical of the low-blow drive-by rhetoric used to jerk the uninformed’s emotions in the desired direction. You’re right- it’s brilliantly crafted nonsense that appeals to those who don’t want to look more deeply beyond the superficial. If that’s the prevailing mindset in America- well, the picture won’t get prettier….

  5. Bill Lawson says:

    Business jets are a business tool and they need to be justified. Accelerated depreciation messes up the reasons for justifying a tool. in the long run it is counter productive. Accelerated depreciation is good for a short term stimulus and it is excellent as a means to encourage a company to invest in new, better equipment that causes them to grow and hire more workers. However when ever we champion the cause of a special deal for executive aircraft we encourage the non flying public to look at any airplane used for any purpose as a rich man’s toy. As an owner of a corporate aircraft I well know the usefulness of an aircraft and as a business man any tool you use has to have good reasons for using it.

    we are doing the aviation industry a disservice by saying that the only way to justify a Corporate aircraft is by special perks. Aircraft need to stand on their own two legs as a business tool and not be artificially supported.

  6. Well I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed. Based on the comments listed here, I’ve largely failed in my attempt to discuss the viewpoint expressed by the President. Instead, we have degraded once again into a battle of words over who is right, and who is wrong, and which group is victimizing another.

    This is all smoke and mirrors. It always was, it always will be. The rich do not take money or resources from the poor. And that’s not what the post was about – so trying to win that argument is somewhat like throwing down your cards and declaring, “Gin,” while your poker buddies look at you with a quizzical expression on their faces.

    The point of this is simple, and straightforward. The message of class warfare is self-destructive. There is no way for a team to excel and truly succeed if the coach encourages the members to celebrate the players on the bench, while simultaneously vilifying the players on the field.

    So let’s get back to the point – if you believe aviation enthusiasts who operate jets to conduct business are evil, selfish, greedy, individuals who are dead set on victimizing everyone else in the world – then you have your champion, and you have a cause to work toward. I will take the opposite view. I believe that employment and industry in technical fields is good – whether it’s medical equipment, spacecraft, aircraft, consumer goods, or construction. I see no benefit in pitting one group of us against the other.

    Flame on, friends. Flame on.

  7. Michael Hogan says:

    We need to stop whining. Obama didn’t say people shouldn’t use corporate jets – and the article saying he’s “cynical” for in his proposal (what they meant was “hypocritical”, but I digress) – is just utter nonsense. What he’s saying is that providing tax breaks for corporate jet owners, particularly at a time when the middle class is in real pain while the affluent just keep piling up a wildly disproportionate share of this country’s wealth creation, is patently unfair, and corporate jet owners should be asked to pay their fair share. There’s nothing cynical, hypocritical or unreasonable about that. If we don’t get past this mindset of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours should be mine” we’re never going to solve the financial problems facing this country.

  8. You said it right, it’s envy. Worse than jealousy (I want what you have), envy (I can’t have what you have so you shouldnt be allowed to have it) is a dangerous thing that is spreading across our nation and the president is stoking the fire.

  9. Joaquin says:

    Why do we keep on covering the truth. An inner city mentality does not work for the whole country. The president believes that any one who makes over $250k is a millionaire. He also believes that those individuals, or corporations, or other groups who use business jets should pay more taxes.

    It is that mentalify that fails to see that these industries (aircraft, boats, and other so called luxuries) are not really luxuries. Aviation, boating, automobiles are a necessity and the industries create lots of jobs. Tax them more and their business and industries will go to foreign soils.

    I remember when President Carter pushed and the Democrats passed the luxury tax on cars, planes, boats and other items. It destroyed those industries and it took a long time to recover.

    The ability for the middle class to dream to fly or have a boat or other “luxuries” is being killed by those who do not understand that such is the reason many work very hard in their businesses in order to live the dream. The approach to resolve the economic problem is not to destroy these industries; if they are sucessful, only the very rich will enjoy those dreams.

  10. Jaimie:
    I very much agree with you that we must deal with the message and not the messenger.

    My answer is simple. Our Company simply could not serve our 5 state market without our airplane. Our emerging business model has been built around our $1200/hour turbine aircraft to include a cost benefit analysis (for ourselves as well as the IRS).
    I believe that if the publicly traded companies would undergo such internal scrutiny on a regular basis and then use that data in a grassroots campaign with their shareholders. & the general public we could deflate Mr. Obama’s claims.

  11. Kurt Davies says:

    I read these stories and hear similar stories on TV, and i just don’t buy it. In fact….i’m sick of hearing the poor logic. The bottom line in my opinion is that we as a nation need to get rid of all the tax loop holes….subsidies to farmers, accelerated depreciation of aircraft, tax breaks for oil companies. Get rid of them, make a level playing field, and quit the whining. I am a pilot and an airplane owner and i pay my taxes. I did not get a tax break when i bought my Cessna….and i did not want one. We need to balance our budget…period. The more we waste our time ignoring the 800 pound elephant in the room the less of a chance we have of ever getting it right. I have kids and it scares me how poorly our leaders lead. Balance our budget. That means less spending and more taxes….there’s no free lunch…stop the spin, stop the lies…stop the delays. There are a lot of Americans such as myself that can see right through propaganda. The above article is one more piece of misinformation. I can see that…as most probably can.

  12. I fly a used (2003) Citation Encore Jet for a company that owns and operates restaurants. We are adding 10 more in a 2 year expansion. Without the jet, we could not and would not manage the expansion. We spent almost $4,000,000 for the purchase. We spend almost $500,000 to operate per year. We will employ 1500 more people when complete. This is almost 9 million added to the economy by this very small company.

    How dumb is our leadership in Washington. Most of them have never run a business, created any jobs or met any payrolls.

    They know best how to take the hard earned money from working people and give it to people that are too sorry to work.

    If you really want change, kick all of them out and put in 545 new people in office.

    435 in the House
    100 in the Senate
    9 Supreme Court
    1 President

    We are where are because of their votes and choices.

  13. Very interesting comments, that shows how brilliant this piece was, and how un-informed some people really are.

    Aviation is an industry based on the business use of airplanes, whether it is a single engine airplane, or a corporate jet. This industry provides the jobs for fueling and FBO’s, maintenance on the airplane, as well as the manufacturer. The one key note, is that an airplane is a very expensive piece of equipment, similar to an office that can be depriciated.

    The language of the “rich” getting away without paying taxes is ludicrous, as they pay for 90% of the federal taxes collected. Instead of being ill informed and wanting to join on the bandwagon of class envy, try doing a little research the IRS records are available regarding tax collections to the federal government.

    The aviation business would be substantially hurt if some of the business deductions weren’t allowed in our tax code. Often, to justify the purchase of a million + airplane, the airplane has to prove beneficial or else it is not bought, flown, and this all comes at a cost to the owner.

  14. Charlie says:

    Sam,

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 5% individual earners pay 60% of the Federal Taxes and the bottom half pay none (actually less than none as many get refunds exceeding their liability). So with a little math that leaves the 45% of us who do pay taxes accounting for 40% of the tax revenue. Now I am just a country farmer and not an economist but it looks like the rich are paying for the poor, not the other way around.

    I am also at a loss as to how accelerated depreciation really amounts to a “tax break.” Bonus depreciation just allows you to take an expense this year rather than taking it in the subsequent 4 or 6 year period. In other words the government is saying pay me now or pay me later but you must pay me.

    Bob,
    Corporations return their profits to their shareholders. My guess if you have any stocks, mutual funds, or have invested in a 401K or IRA you must count yourself as those who are “ripping off average Americans”. Just the way it works.

  15. 1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

    2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

    3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

    4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

    5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any system.

  16. Sam;

    While I respect your time in the trenches as a teacher, I feel compelled to point out a couple oddities of your post that require clarification.

    First: I’m not aware of any case where money is taken from the middle-class, or any member of the middle-class, and given to someone who falls into the upper-class category. If you can provide an example of that upward income redistribution, I would be very interested.

    Now understand, I’m not talking about a general statement or a generic position. I’m asking for a specific instance where actual money is taken from one and given to another. I cannot find a single instance of a poor or middle-class person being required to paymonies to the government, which is then redistributed to a wealthy person.

    I may be wrong on this point. Please feel free to show me an example.

    Secondarily: Fifty years ago the tax structure of this country was identical to what it is today. The Congress of the United States writes the tax code. If there is an unfair or unreasonable tax exemption in our code (and there are many) that exemption was put there by Congress and signed off by the President. If history has taught us anything it should be that a more complex tax system does not automatically lead to an increase in revenue. In fact there is substantial evidence that the opposite is true.

    Given that the tax code is inherently unfair and unintelligible now (which is undeniably true on both counts) how does it advance the cause of a free and fair people to target special groups for different treatment – in any way, on any topic?

    If we are all American’s, and all deserving of the same level of freedom, opportunity, and justice – how is it beneficial to insist on treating this class, or that class, or those guys differently from the rest of us?

    I’m curious. And I sincerely hope you will illuminate these issues for the benefit of the rest of us.

  17. Jamie, you, me, and other people that pay their taxes, assuming that you do since you say you are not rich, are litterally paying for the super rich to have that jet totally, or mostly free. If any one, or any corporation, can get enough tax break, to save enough on taxes, to litterally pay for the jet, writing it off in 3,5,or any no. of years, then it is completely free to them, payed for by tax payers, that large middle class, and upper middle class that actually pay our taxes. Can you or me go out and buy an older Cessna, Piper, etc. and get it written off so it is free? I think not.
    We need to get rid of all the incintives, and tax breaks, to all the corporations that are ripping off the average American, while makeing Billions in profits.

    One example is the money Oil companies are making from ethanol, if it can be produced at a profit, without the incentive tax money they are getting, ok, other wise get rid of it.

  18. It seems an overlooked fact that wealthy people are the ones that create jobs, not the government. The government just feeds off the wealth created by the private sector. No one is entitled to the money of another. A progressive tax structure punishes productivity. Government assistance is a disincentive that keeps the poor poor and the stepchild of society by the liberal minded.

  19. Jamie, it may not be an illustration you like, but the sentiment behind it is a fact: mIddle-income earners are being taxed to make up for the monies not being collected from the dramatically more affluent. This is plainly income re-distribution. It takes from the middle and gives to the top. (The poor, as always, are ignored.)

    Should the middle-income earner pay any taxes for the wealthy? The fact that it is debated only further illustrates that the dramatically more affluent have seized control of the soap box.

    Fifty years ago, when the tax structure was very different, I was taught in public schools that the wealthy owe the country for providing a place where they could become wealthy, and this is one way they repay for their successful use of the our country’s resources. Today we’re supposed to give them tax breaks for… what?

    As the years go by I see the rich getting richer, and everyone else poorer, and I ask myself, what’s so appealing about the poor and middle classes supporting the wealthy? What makes this open for debate?

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