A Defense of the Enterprising Rich
"The disposition to hunt down rich men as if they were noxious beasts is a very attractive sport."
- Winston Churchill (1939)
With the mid-term elections having arrived, I would like to take a moment to defend the people among us, those designated as "rich", who seem to be considered less fellow citizens than sheep to be shorn. In the prevailing attitude towards those so designated, in the redistributionist policies promised by craven office seekers to the voting mob, we treat these people less as human beings than as lambs to be slaughtered for the gratification of our greed and envy. We need to take a moment and think about what we are doing, because by attacking them, we attack ourselves.
Where once our Founding Fathers deeply feared democracy (they created a Constitutional Republic, a vastly different creature), today we Americans look upon it in almost religious terms; the voting booth our church.
In contrast, our Founders warned repeatedly of the dangers inherent in democracy, its tendency to promote violent factions (civic discord) and what was than called "leveling" (what we today call communism and socialism). In The Federalist Papers #10 James Madison wrote of "an equal division of property" as a "wicked project".
The prevailing attitude in our country towards the successful (and hence, wealthy) businessman is nothing if not wicked. Look no further than the overwhelming majority of popular movies, TV shows, or literature, and who is almost invariably the villain?
It's the evil corporate CEO whose entire being is but lying, conniving, and ready to do any deed for a few more dollars. Yet, who builds a successful business with such attributes?
The characteristics of a successful businessman are the exact opposite. Over 100 years ago William Graham Sumner was moved to write, "Capital is the fruit of industry, temperance, prudence, frugality, and other industrial virtues. The welfare of society is found to be rooted in moral forces."
This attitude of ours is nothing new, envy of and greed for the riches of the more successful among us is part of human nature, it is a barbarous reflection of a most base, uncivilized instinct. The current, widespread opinion that the rich have somehow stolen their just gains - as if the wealth they've created would have magically sprung up of its own accord - is timeless.
If we need any modern example of the vicious divisiveness of this issue, the reaction meted out to University of Chicago professor Todd Henderson, who was subjected to the ire of the mob by daring to defend his property from the proposed tax hikes, is telling. The kinder responses to his blog post chided him for having "too much" property.
Yet, the very label of "rich" is but an opinion, rich being a relative term. The worst slums in our cities would likely be looked upon by the inhabitants of Eastern Congo as a paradise fit for kings.
Leaving aside the moral issue of what these unseemly offerings to expropriate other peoples' property for political gain entail, we need to look at the practical, everyday effect this will (and does) have on our economy's ability to continue to generate wealth. It has long been noted that slaves make for a rather unproductive workforce, as without a return on one's labor man will stop working, and what is slavery but 100% taxation? The higher our tax rates, the less of an incentive we leave for the go-getters among us to produce abundance.
The propensity to be a "workaholic" is a personality quirk that, for the most part, very few people possess. Watch any episode of VH1's Behind the Music or MTV's Cribs and you will see sameness to all those profiled in the fact that all of them do nothing but work. These are not the type of people to go home and put their feet up on the couch to channel surf until bedtime. They are the worker bees who keep the hive buzzing.
The wealth they create is not simply buried in a hole in the ground - they are the ones with the means to try new products before they are mass produced for the rest of us, who provide the capital to fund new ventures to produce yet more goods, plus as the Gates Foundation makes plain, they're innovators in the realm of charity. By taxing away their wealth, we tax away our economy's ability to produce more of the same. The accumulation of wealth that these people deservedly attain is the fuel that powers our economic growth. Without the wealthy, we will stagnate.
It has long been said that "progressive" taxation is necessary as wide discrepancies in wealth are a danger to the social fabric. How so? Again, Mr. Sumner wrote, "To prove any harm in aggregations of wealth it must be shown that great wealth is, as a rule, in the ordinary course of affairs, put to a mischievous use. This cannot be shown beyond the very slightest degree, if at all."
For every Paris Hilton, there are innumerable others, just as wealthy, hard at work doing what they are driven to do, if only they be allowed to do so. The sociologist Helmut Schoeck once opined "It would be a miracle if the democratic political process were ever to renounce the use of the envy-motive. Its usefulness derives, if for no other reason, from the fact that all that is needed, in principle, is to promise the envious the destruction or confiscation of assets enjoyed by the others; beyond that there is no need to promise anything more constructive".
The true danger to our social fabric comes not from those able to purchase yachts and other such baubles, but from the political demagogues who promise the mob a redistribution of Other Peoples' Money as their road to power. This is unlikely to ever change due to our political structure; and that is why I have never voted.
American politics being what it is today, the Catholic in me feels that if I did vote I'd be breaking the Tenth Commandment, thou shall not covet thy neighbors' goods.