By Bradley Harrington
“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much … is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” — Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Joseph Milligan,” 1816 —
It isn’t often someone writes a rant defending rich people, so I knew when I penned “‘Tax the rich’ philosophy cuts into all of our wealth” last week (WTE, Feb. 18), I was bound to trigger objections.
Objections such as this, for instance: “History disagrees with Mr. Harrington. Concentration of capital in a tiny percentage of the population is a recipe for disaster. Thomas Piketty sets it out meticulously in ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century.’” (“Gruf Rude,” “Online comments,” Feb 18.)
Always curious to learn something new about political philosophy — but with a gut feeling, based on decades of study and debate in that arena, that I was about to step into some kind of collectivist rehash — I checked out the reference.
Nor did my gut feeling fail me, as the following Wikipedia summary of the book’s thesis (accurate, in my opinion, after reading it) makes clear: “The central thesis of the book is that inequality is not an accident, but rather a feature of capitalism, and can only be reversed through state interventionism. The book thus argues that, unless capitalism is reformed, the very democratic order will be threatened.” (Wikipedia, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” 2018.)
And what would such “reform” consist of, one wonders? “The right solution is a progressive annual tax on capital,” Piketty tells us, as this “will make it possible to avoid an endless inegalitarian spiral while preserving competition and incentives for new instances of primitive accumulation.” (Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” 2014.)
So: The problem, as Piketty sees it, is that (1) Some people have more wealth than other people do, and (2) That such inequalities are actually “not an accident” but function as a “feature” of capitalism.
Except that “inequality” is not a “feature” of capitalism, as such, but an aspect of reality itself: ALL of us are completely and absolutely unequal to one another in millions of different ways. (Sidebar: Such inequalities of ability and outcomes are NOT to be confused with the equality of all of our individual rights, which all of us DO retain equally.)
The fact that some people actually produce more than other people, however — the fundamental inequality leading to all the rest, economically speaking — is completely discounted by Piketty and his ilk, a fact apparently not worthy of notice or consideration.
Discounted, but NOT ignored: Otherwise, why the progressive taxes? No, the Pikettys of the world don’t seek to wipe out the fact that some individuals produce while others don’t — they merely seek to enslave them, along with the products of their efforts, instead.
What, then, separates Piketty’s political philosophy from communism? Not much that I can see, as both Piketty and Marx view the rightfully-produced wealth of individuals as the property of the State, as nothing more than economic tools to be used, plundered and exploited at will, for whatever purposes the State deems appropriate, all at the point of a government gun.
The fact that such communist economies have ever been spectacles of chaos, control and stagnation, of course, is just another aspect of reality that utopians such as Piketty and Marx choose to ignore.
Throughout the industrial history of the United States, however, where such “concentrations of capital” were encouraged and rewarded not penalized and punished, that capital accumulation made possible a level of production and a standard of living never seen before in all of man’s history. Far from such “concentrations” being a “recipe for disaster” as “Gruf Rude” claims, they are absolutely essential for such accumulations of investment capital to occur. And the more “accumulations” the better.
Nor do such accumulations take from anybody else, as — again — such concentrations represent NEW wealth that has been introduced into the economy. In reason, justice and morality, that new wealth belongs to those who created it. The fact that capitalism leaves that wealth in the hands of its creators is not its greatest flaw, but its greatest virtue instead.
So, what are we left with? Jealousy, as far as I can tell; some people just can’t stand the thought that other people might have more than they do and think they can just go ahead and steal it.
Thus, ENVY is now to be the force that drives all of our political organization? Now THAT, Dear Reader, is a “recipe for disaster.”
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on February 25, 2018.