Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Egalitarianism and The Rich

Larry Summers, Obama's pick for head of the National Economic Council, floated a proposal to tax the top 1% of taxpayers to the tune of $800,000. The money would be used to write a check for 10 grand to each household in the bottom 80%, those making less than $120,000 per annum.

You know what? I don't want the money. Apart from being a crazy idea from a practical perspective (as Dr. Reisman points out, imagine if you made $388,807 and suddenly found yourself over $411,000 in the red), it's grossly immoral even to suggest it.

It's important to remind everyone how immoral it is because when these ideas are criticized only from a practical angle they get tinkered with until they don't sound so crazy anymore. But they remain dead wrong.

The idea is based at bottom on one of the most evil philosophies ever devised: egalitarianism, the view that all people are or should be made equal. One middle-of-the-road version complains about "income inequality."

It sounds attractive to some ears at first blush because they conflate equal rights and equality under the law with equal results, which can only be attempted by government force. But even deeper than the evil of introducing the strong-arm of government into the picture, that idea has a still more scurrilous aspect. It treats superior ability as something to be ashamed of and in need of correction.

I've got news for Larry Summers. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have no reason to apologize for being smarter than him. Now, from what I hear (through reliable personal acquaintance, not just newspaper reports), those guys are real jerks. I don't care. They earned what they have and they're entitled to keep it, every penny.

I've known a great many well-to-do people in business and almost all of them have been real jerks. Almost without exception, they were appallingly vain and much more interested in increasing their authority than solving business problems creatively. Political correctness runs rampant among that crowd. But you know what? I hope they all get even richer. Much, much richer. Because, jerks or not, their increase in income helps me in numerous ways.

Poor people rarely give others jobs. The higher income of the rich is a major source of the demand for labor, and the higher the demand (other things equal) the higher its price. I'm always happier when my labor costs them more.

Beyond that practical and economically elementary principle, there is the much more important moral one. Provided no one introduces coercion, I'm free to work for them or not and they're free to hire me or not. That freedom is worth more than all the 'social justice' in the world.

Whether or not rich guys deserve all they have, a system of voluntary exchange protected by the rule of law undergirding individual rights is our best chance of material well being. It's also a major contributor to our spiritual well being, in virtue of the freedom it provides and protects. No slave was ever serene. Above all, it's an outgrowth of inalienable rights recognized by the Constitution.

That system is worth defending and should be restored, post haste.

The idea that all injustice is a fit subject for government policy is bad enough. Acting on it necessarily leads to all sorts of increased injustices. But the underlying moral belief that drives it — that no one should have much more than another whether in wealth, responsibility, or even opportunity is vicious.

That last item in particular will raise some eyebrows. It shouldn't. No one starts out with equal opportunity in every respect.

Those raised in more well-to-do families have one type of advantage of opportunity. So be it. Provided their parents didn't defraud anyone, they have a derived right to the advantage. In a free society, it will quickly come to naught in the face of competition from a smart, ambitious kid from the poor side of the tracks. History is replete with examples.

Those who have inherently superior ability have different advantages in opportunity denied to others by nature. So be it. To ask for it to be otherwise is either to engage in fantasy or to dally with dictatorship, both of which are dangerous. Whether blessed with high intelligence, rapid muscle-twitch fibers, or just an extraordinary creativity, no one can justly complain that nature's gifts are not distributed equally.

The only equality we all have a right to require is that provided by freedom, protected by a system ever-vigilant against encroaches upon it. Clearly, that's not what Larry Summers has in mind.


Jason_Pappas said...

As usual, Summers can’t distinguish between making $10k and getting $10k. He wants $10k of increased consumption but not $10k of increased production. Taking $10k from those that invest in job-creating enterprises will only destroy much more than $10k of production. We need “the jerks” if that they are.

Shackle Reardan and demand he produce more? Take away his capital and demand he employ more? I’m stunned at how fast the bailout-regulation culture is leading us down the road to serfdom. Atlas Shrugged was meant to dramatize the speed of collapse by showing what consistent and wholesale evasion can produce. I never expected “Atlas” rates of collapse because of our mixed premises. But these days there seems to be no effective opposition. Only the slivers of a sense-of-life, leftover from past traditions, keep the collapse from being complete … I hope. Stay tuned!

On a different note … have a merry Christmas. Thanks for the card.

Jeff Perren said...

Welcome to the Middle Ages, when aristocrats could loot and pillage at will and the church would dispense a portion to the poor.

"Only the slivers of a sense-of-life, leftover from past traditions, keep the collapse from being complete"

Exactly right, unfortunately. The Dems are all onboard with it, as are most Republicans. The few who are opposed will be ignored or insulted as 'mean spirited idealogues'.