The politics of envy is alive and well. Too many Americans, including President Obama, propose to “tax the rich more,” even though the top one percent of earners already pay 38% of all federal income taxes and most really do pay higher rates than the rest of us. They argue that “obscenely wealthy” people such as Bill Gates and the Walton family somehow violate the American sense of fairness.
According to these misguided people, if only the wealthy paid their “fair share” and gave a bit of their “outrageous fortunes” back, everything would be fine.
Choosing the Walton family and Bill Gates as examples of the “obscenely wealthy,” however, are especially poor choices. Their creations, Walmart and Microsoft respectively, give millions of Americans more convenience, better prices and more productivity than we ever had before. Too many of us assume wealth can only come at the expense of others. In reality, most wealth comes from meeting the needs and wants of others in the marketplace.
Some point to new data that show poverty is growing. But it isn’t growing because some become wealthy. As Robert Sheaffer put it in his book, Resentment Against Achievement, poverty is the default condition of mankind. Nobody creates poverty; it is wealth that must be created. In a free society, wealth is created by helping others. The politics of envy will leave us all worse off. It’s time to grow up, and stop blaming our problems on those who succeed.
Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.