Share “the Wealth?”

During the last Presidential campaign, Barack Obama famously told “Joe the Plumber” that “when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everyone.” The problem with that statement is the use of the phrase, “the wealth.” There is no such thing as “the wealth.” “Wealth” does not just grow on trees; it is created by hard work, ingenuity, and, yes, risky investment. It belongs to its creator(s). Wealth is a relative word. We use it to distinguish between larger and smaller amounts of (usually) money. That’s why it’s so hard to determine how much money constitutes wealth. If I earn $20,000 a year and my neighbor earns $25,000, all other things being equal, he has more wealth than I do. I wouldn’t be justified, though, in claiming $2500 of his wealth just to make it “fair.”

President Obama more recently opined that at some point a person has “enough money.” While that makes sense to some, it is purely arbitrary to pick a number to identify where that point is. And, I submit, no one, not even a President, has the legal right to decide when a person has “enough money.”

Now, of course, those who argue in favor of the redistribution of wealth say they want to equalize the amount of wealth everyone has. It’s only “fair,” they say. But equal distribution of money would have to be imposed on people and would stagnate human progress and elevate a self-appointed elite to positions of power over the rest of us that would make Simon Legree look like a camp counselor. Nothing fair about that.

Elizabeth Warren, candidate for Senate in Massachusetts and favorite of Pres. Obama, suggests that a person who builds a successful factory is entitled to keep a chunk of the money earned, but most of it should go to the government, presumably for distribution to the people. After all, she says, the factory owner distributes his product on roads that the rest of us pay for. Therefore, “we” have a claim on his income. She does not say whether, if a group of marauders assaulted and destroyed his factory using roads that “we” have paid for, we share their guilt and should spend some portion of “their” time in jail.

Any scheme to spread “the wealth” counters basic human aspirations. Such schemes are hopelessly utopian. Even in the Soviet Union, people curried favor with the leadership to get even a slight edge on their neighbors. Some had dachas; most did not. Utopia is not a “place” we can reach after which everything will be “hunky-dory” and static. People would not sit back, take a deep breath, and say “at last, we are here.” Society would continue to change for no other reason than that people are curious, always wondering what if…

Dwight Boud

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