“Over the past quarter-century, and especially in the last 10 years, America’s very rich have grown much richer,” shuddered the extremely alarmed Kevin Hall of the McClatchy newspaper chain last week, citing a study by economist Emmanuel Saez of -- hang onto your hats -- the University of California at Berkeley.
“No one else fared as well,” Mr. Hall’s report continues. “In 2004, the richest 1 percent of households -- 719,910 of them, with an average annual income of $326,720 -- had 19.8 percent of the entire nation’s pretax income. That’s up from 17.8 percent a year earlier.”
One searches Mr. Hall’s dispatch in vain for any mention of the fact that “the entire nation’s pretax income” has also skyrocketed, meaning that virtually everyone is richer, no matter how the new and vastly larger pie is now cut.
Yes, virtually all Americans today can easily buy piles of stuff their grandparents could never imagine. As economist Thomas Sowell of Stanford points out, “Most Americans living below the official poverty line today have air conditioning, microwaves and VCRs” and “about half have a car or truck.”
Yes, yes, the way those despised “rich people” invest their capital, looking for maximum returns, has created more jobs and wealth for all. But so what? Ignore that. The object of this recurrent exercise is to instead concentrate on the fact that the greedy rich continue to lay their mitts on “more than their fair share.”
“Experts disagree on the causes,” Mr. Hall’s tract continues, “but they’re in near agreement that this trend threatens to erode a fundamental American belief about fairness. ... In coming years, income inequality is sure to be a rallying cry in political debates over everything from raising the minimum wage to federal spending on education to overhauling the tax code.”
Now, Mr. Sowell (an actual “expert,” which is why he has a name) is always at pains to point out that “the rich” are not the same people now as they were 30 or 40 years ago -- that most of today’s top quintile were in one of the two lowest quintiles back when they were in their 20s and just starting out. That is to say, there’s plenty of mobility between income groups in the course of an average modern American lifespan -- unlike, say, pre-revolutionary France, where you were born either perfumed or shoeless, and not likely to ever change your station no matter how hard you worked.
But just because this flinging about of disembodied statistics concerning “income groups” is sheer nonsense is no reason to ignore this argument. In fact, we dare not ignore it. Because there’s an agenda here, you see. For the economically naive, the answer to this ginned-up “problem” -- always -- is for government to step in and “do something.”
Sounding revealingly like children in a schoolyard protesting it’s “not fair” that one team has a couple of tall players, allowing them to hold the ball above the other children’s heads, the “fairness” gang are never able to come up with a practical way to enable the shorter kids to reach up higher.
No, no, no. They want rules that produce a fair OUTCOME -- the littler kids winning at least half the games.
And so they inevitably demand that “teacher” even things out by imposing rules that handicap the taller, stronger kids “just enough” -- solutions reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous short story “Harrison Bergeron,” in which ballet dancers are made to wear heavy weights in order to avoid making the members of the audience feel inadequate due to the height of their leaps, while smart people are required to wear headsets which regularly interrupt their thought processes with loud and randomized noises, thereby assuring everyone that they won’t “unfairly” get ahead by having better ideas than anyone else, and being able to remember them.
Behind all these carefully massaged statistics, this argument always comes down to the notion that capitalism produces “unfair” outcomes, and that men with guns therefore have to take away some of that money from “the rich” and give it to those of us who spend our evenings watching TV and drinking beer instead of developing new ways to perform heart surgery.
The problem is that “Anything other than free enterprise always means a society of compulsion and lower living standards, and any form of socialism strictly enforced means dictatorship and the total state,” explains Lew Rockwell of the von Mises Institute, who has eye-widening examples from the Soviet Union to Communist Cuba to back him up.
“That this statement is still widely disputed only illustrates the degree to which malignant fantasy can capture the imagination of intellectuals.”
“If concern for human poverty and suffering were one’s primary motive, one would seek to discover their cause,” wrote Ayn Rand in Chapter 24 of “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.”
“One would not fail to ask: Why did some nations develop, while others did not? Why have some nations achieved material abundance, while others have remained stagnant in sub-human misery? History and specifically the unprecedented prosperity-explosion of the 19th century would give an immediate answer: capitalism is the only system that enables men to produce abundance -- and the key to capitalism is individual freedom,” especially the freedom of the productive to keep their stuff.
“America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to the common good,” Ms. Rand concludes, “but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes.”
Like it or not, the only way all of us can live better is to allow the most gifted, the most creative, the most talented to live better than the rest of us. Often, a whole lot better.
For what “solution” do the whining “fairness” brats propose to this “problem,” in the end? That a millionaire inventor who starts up a small company to market his invention should be required to pay his janitor a “fair” salary equal to no less than 5 percent of his own earnings?
If that millionaire made two million last year -- after suffering in poverty for years, running up huge debts while trying to bring his invention to market -- shall the federal Office of Comparable Worth and Income Equality decree he must pay his janitor $100,000? What if he responds by reluctantly laying the poor fellow off, and the inventor simply goes back to sweeping out the place, himself?
Shall the Wealth Police respond by seizing 90 percent of his earnings and “redistributing” them to others at random? Then why would the next inventor go to the trouble? Would you bother to play the Megabucks if the maximum payout was fifty bucks? And what’s to stop Mr. Inventor from taking his prototype so-called “personal computer” and fleeing to another country that lets him set up a factory there and keep his earnings?
“Incessant preoccupation with statistical disparities is one of the luxuries of an affluent and sheltered life,” points out the aforementioned Dr. Thomas Sowell. “Do not expect someone who has ever had to go hungry to get upset because some people can only afford pizza while others can afford caviar.”