If you are wealthy – or aspire to be – listen up.
There is a growing movement in the U.S. and around the world that sees us and our way of thinking as the enemy.
They view the economy as a zero-sum game where one person’s economic success only comes at the expense of someone else.
And they want to use the hammer of state to change that.
Consider the bestselling book by French economist Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
It was a runaway hit, selling out rapidly even through its fourth printing.
Trust me, this is not a thriller you’d take to the beach.
It is a dense, academic book tracing the distribution of income and wealth for various countries back to the 1800s.
The author recognizes that, in a free market system, different people of different abilities – through a combination of education, determination and, yes, some luck – will achieve highly unequal outcomes.
Yet his proposed solution has nothing to do with reforming public education, simplifying the tax code or revitalizing the economy.
Despite the fact that every transaction in a capitalist system is a voluntary one, he believes the “haves” are literally stealing from the “have-nots.”
He called the wages of high-income earners “largely arbitrary.”
He says no CEO could ever justify his or her pay based on performance.
And he declares that most fortunes are due to nothing more than inheritance (more commonly known as “the lucky sperm club”), flaws in corporate governance, luck or “outright theft.”
His solution is tax rates of 80% on anyone making $500,000 or more, rates of 50%-60% on incomes as low as $200,000, an annual wealth tax of 10% on large fortunes and a one-time assessment as high as 20% on much lower levels of existing wealth.
I did mention he’s French, right?
Piketty believes capital is the enemy. And he breezily assures readers that confiscatory tax rates won’t hamper innovation, entrepreneurship or the risk-taking essential to economic growth.
Moreover, he doesn’t propose soaking the rich to improve economic opportunity, rebuild our infrastructure or even enhance social justice.
He straightforwardly declares that he wants to put an end to high levels of accumulated wealth, which he calls an affront to democracy.
From this vantage point, I was awfully naïve as a young man.
Back then, whenever I saw someone who had achieved economic success, I instinctively thought, “There goes someone who must have studied hard, worked diligently or taken some big risks.”
I didn’t just admire them. I wanted to emulate them.
Their success was a source of inspiration and motivation to me.
I imagined that if I were ever to succeed economically, I’d have to follow a similar path.
But, according to Piketty and his followers, I had it all backward.
These people were my oppressors.
The reason I had less was because they had more. I should have been envious. I should have been resentful. I should have been angry.
Most of all, I should have voted for politicians who promised to take their wealth at the point of a gun and redistribute it… to people like me who didn’t have much.
In a society as rich as ours – where no one who wants it lacks food, clothing, shelter or healthcare – “economic inequality” is a largely manufactured issue.
Don’t get me wrong. Poverty is a problem. And so is social mobility.
(We need to make it as easy as possible for people from all economic backgrounds to rise and succeed.)
But the fact that Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey have a lot more than me?
That’s the kind of “problem” that people create in their heads.
Redistributionists would like me to believe that if Oprah hadn’t created her fortune – with plenty of hard work and smart decisions – that that money would have found its way into other people’s pockets.
Really? How does that work? How is that even possible?
On the other hand, I understand confiscation and redistribution perfectly well.
I have zero objections to providing (and funding) a social safety net for economically unfortunate Americans.
But using the threat of force to take lawfully earned income or wealth from one group and give it to another group to reduce “economic inequality” is not social justice.
It’s theft, something I recognized even when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together.
Apparently, I’d make a very poor Frenchman.