In this morning’s New York Times, Bill Keller, the former managing editor, has a column on an Indian reformer who has been on a hunger strike against government corruption, a huge problem on the subcontinent. He writes:
Like Occupy Wall Street, Hazare embodies a national frustration with broken democratic institutions. Indeed, India’s government makes our paralyzed Congress look nimble. Like Occupy, Hazare’s grand grievance is the wholesale diversion of wealth from the middle class and poor to the unworthy few — in India’s case through payoffs, patronage and thievery, in America’s through tax and regulatory policies that have expanded the gap between the richest few and everyone else.
I’ll leave India to the Indians, but Keller’s idea that wealth has been diverted from the American middle class to the mega-rich few via tax and regulatory policies is somewhere beyond ludicrous. The gap between the richest few and the rest of us has indeed increased in recent decades, but that is not because the rest of us have gotten poorer. It’s because the richest few have gotten enormously richer. In 1982 it took $82 million to get a slot on the Forbes 400 list. Today, just 29 years later, it takes a billion, more than ten times as much even allowing for inflation.
All major new technologies–railroads in the 19th century, automobiles in the early 20th—cause an inflorescence of new fortunes. The more fundamental the technology the greater the size and number of fortunes produced. The microprocessor is about as fundamental as it gets, vastly reducing the cost of information manipulation, producing huge gains in productivity in
practically every area of human life, and revolutionizing every branch of science.
So it’s hardly surprising that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, and Sam Walton, became fantastically wealthy. But they did not impoverish the rest of us by doing so. They made us much richer too. Wal-Mart has forced down the prices of almost all retail goods, Amazon did so as well, first with books and now with practically everything. A Dell laptop allows me to submit this blog post instantly without leaving my house.
Did Steve Jobs make me poorer when I laid out $600 for an iPad the other day? Of course not. I valued the iPad more than the $600 or I wouldn’t have bought it. So I got richer and so did Steve Jobs’s estate. (And now, if a 19th century technology, electricity, ever comes back on after a freak October snowstorm, I might actually get to use it.)
Since money-grubbing businessmen are, in Bill Keller’s and the rest of the left’s opinion, beneath contempt, let’s look at another great fortune. Paul McCartney was born poor. Today he is one of the richest men in Britain. Who did he impoverish in the course of getting so rich? No one, of course. His music has greatly enriched the world and the lives of all its inhabitants.
Taxing away great fortunes or preventing their accumulation is what makes the world poorer. It transfers wealth from those who created it to those who will pay off their political allies with it. It is often dreams of great wealth that makes people work so hard to come up with the next big idea.
Why would anyone want to take wealth away from Steve Jobs and give it to the people who ran Solyndra? Liberals, that’s who.