by John Hawkins | May 31, 2006 9:38 am
“We’re the party that wants to see an America in which people can still get rich.” — Ronald Reagan
“Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” — Honore de Balzac
The two quotes you’ve just read do a great job of representing how most liberals and conservatives view the rich. Conservatives believe that America is a land of opportunity, a place where a person can go from rags to riches if he’s clever and willing to work hard.
On the other hand, liberals believe that in and of itself, wealth is evidence of wrongdoing. Either the rich are, “winners of life’s lottery,” who didn’t earn the money they have or it was somehow swindled from the poor. Even if somehow, some way, neither of those conditions are present, then how can any decent person stand to be so rich when so many other people are so poor—well, unless you’re a trial lawyer, celebrity, or someone who contributes vast sums to the Democratic Party as penance, in which case all is forgiven.
These two attitudes explain why liberals often engage in class warfare and accuse conservatives of being, “in the pocket of the rich.” When your starting point is that, “rich people are bad people because they’re rich,” then simply refusing to display knee-jerk hostility towards the wealthy is taken as a sign of unscrupulousness.
But, what so many liberals fail to see is how much the rich contribute to our society. Just to name one example, let’s take a look at a man whose name is practically synonymous with limitless wealth: Bill Gates.
Would this country be better off if Bill Gates had never been born? My guess is that Microsoft’s 61,000 plus employees wouldn’t think so. What about the recipients of the $28.8 billion that Bill Gates has given away to charities and causes? What about the people who built his mansions and his cars? Heck, what about you? Do you have any Microsoft products on your computer?
The reality is that when you take down a rich man, legions of poorer men suffer as a result of his misfortune. Of course, there are some people who did inherit their money or become rich by leeching off society (like John Edwards), but most Americans who have become wealthy made their fortunes by doing an exceptional job of serving their fellow man in some capacity.
Take Derek Jeter, Mel Gibson, or Barbra Streisand. Is it fair that they’re able to make such incredible sums playing sports, acting, or singing? Of course, it’s fair! They have very rare talents and people are willing to pay and pay well to see them perform. And if the public is willing to shell out vast fortunes to watch them work, why shouldn’t they benefit from it? Who are we to decide that they don’t deserve the money that they earned by entertaining millions of people?
Similarly, consider CEO’s like Lee Raymond from Exxon. How many other people on earth could run a huge company like Exxon? Percentage wise, very few. Now, of those people? How many could have run the company as well as Raymond? Almost none. He was a “Michael-Jordan-quality” performer in his profession. So, given that Raymond ran a company that grossed $371 billion worldwide in 2005 and made $36 billion in profit that same year, is a $400 million retirement and salary package for 12 years’ worth of work out of line? When put in its proper perspective, that money was a drop in the bucket for a corporation like Exxon—and if anything, given how well the company performed under Raymond, he was probably underpaid.
But, that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people because they believe that the pie is only so big and if some Americans get a bigger piece of it, then that means the rest of us have to make do with less. However, that’s not true. If you think about it, it’s very obvious that the “pie” keeps expanding.
If it didn’t, we’d all still be living in caves, bonking each other on the head with clubs and trying to figure out how to steal some rocks from the guy hoarding them across town. Moreover, that “expanding pie” explains why the richest and most privileged Americans 100 years ago had a lifestyle that was markedly inferior in most ways to that of Americans with modest means today. Most poor Americans have television sets, radios, air conditioners, microwaves, and other gadgets and gizmos that would have been considered priceless a century ago.
So as you can see, if we have a strong, thriving economy, then over time our entire society will benefit from it in a myriad of different ways—and allowing people to create tremendous wealth for themselves is a necessary part of building a strong, thriving economy.
This may come as a shock to some people—like liberals—but the rich don’t sit around in their mansions all day and pass the time by swimming in pools full of their own money like Scrooge McDuck. They’re creating jobs with their companies, investing in the stock market, and loaning entrepreneurs the money they need to start businesses. Also, did I mention taxes? The top 5% of wage earners in this country pay more than half of all Federal Income Taxes.
That’s why we need to try to make it easier for Americans to get rich. It’s because the rich aren’t the enemy in a capitalistic country like America; they’re the geese that lay the golden eggs.
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