Friday, March 26, 2010

Wealth Is Not A Zero Sum Game

Senator Max Baucus spewed ignorance all over a bunch of reporters. While taking questions about the passage of the healtcare abomination bill, the Senator had this to say:
"This is also an income shift, a levelling, to help lower income and middle income Americans... The maldistribution of income in America has gone up way too much. The wealthy are getting way, way too wealthy."
Think about what those statements imply. Time's up. Here's what those statements imply:
  • An American can be said to be "too wealthy".

  • It is the function of government to decide when a person is too wealthy.

  • Wealth is a zero-sum game; that is, the only way for one person to get wealthier is for another person to get poorer.

  • It is the function of government to redistribute wealth from those deemed "too wealthy" to those deemed "needy".
Each of the above statements can be taken to be positions supported by Senator Baucus. In each of these positions, Senator Baucus is dead wrong.

The idea that a person can be deemed "too wealthy" is absurd on its face. We tell people that they need to be productive members of society. That they need to go to college, get a job, earn a salary and pay their taxes. Senator Baucus is amending that plea: don't get too wealthy, or you'll be ostracized. Don't be too successful, or we'll have to punish you.

Further, who would trust the government to decide who fit the definition? Going back to the campaign trail, the current definition of wealth is already set by the President at an absurdly low figure of $250,000. Ask yourself, do you know anybody who is worth that much? Do you think they're "too wealthy"? If you found out tomorrow that you were worth that much, would you consider yourself "too wealthy"?

The above beliefs depend on the idea that there is a static amount of wealth in the world and everyone is fighting to increase their piece of the pie at the expense of others. If you believe that this is true, I hope you don't own a business. Otherwise, every dollar you make is actually serving to move your customers closer to poverty. You have to believe that a company like Microsoft or Nike or Target has consigned millions (if not billions) of people to poverty by growing so large.

I'm sure you see the folly of this belief. But it serves as the basis for wealth distribution in America; the idea that government needs to be the arbiter of wealth, taking it from those who are deemed to have too much and giving it to those deemed to have too little. If this sounds suspiciously like the old Communist saw "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", that's only because it is that saw, dressed in 21st century American liberal thought.

Let me clear: I don't think Max Baucus is a Communist. I'm saying that if he believes these things, he is economically ignorant.

That a Senator of the United States could subscribe to these beliefs should be a wake up call to voters not just in Montana, but everywhere. Listen to what your representatives in Washington say. If they spout this sort of nonsense, at the very least do yourself and everyone else in your state a favor and vote them out. Unlike wealth, Congressional seats are a zero-sum game. The only way to increase our wealth is to trade people like Max Baucus for people who think building wealth is a good thing.

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