Column on It’s Wrong to Soak the Rich

It’s Wrong To Soak the Rich

Tibor R. Machan

Someone asked me why I defend the rich and I told him I don’t, not in
particular. I defend individual rights, and since the rich have the same
rights we all have, I also defend them, especially when they are targeted
for systematic rights violation as they often are by governments. I also
defend the tall, beautiful, talented, short, scientists, scholars,
athletes–well, you get the point. I defend individual human rights,
period, and these can use all the defense that can be mustered in their
support since individual human rights, not the rights of the rich or tall
or pretty, are under constant assault by those who think when you do well
in life, you are fair game for being assaulted, having your goods and
services expropriated or conscripted. (See my book, Individuals and Their
Rights [1989] for the long story!)

In fact, no one is fair game for that, not anyone. It is ridiculous,
morally obscene, to believe the rich can be ripped off and urge the
resulting public policies from this idea. If the rich are rich honestly,
if they got their wealth through good fortune and work and other people’s
voluntary patronage, no one has any right to take their riches, not even
democratically, no way.

Yes, it is counterproductive, too, to do so but that’s not the central
issue. The central issue is that the rich are human beings with their
unalienable individual rights, including the right to their lives,
liberties, and property. John Locke was right–to deprive someone of his
or her property is to invade his or her life, no matter how much of it
there is. (The only exception Locke allowed is in a state of total natural
chaos, like a major earthquake or flood or the like, in which case some
might gain an unjust monopoly by sheer accident.)

Frankly it has always been a puzzle to me that people want to rip off
others who have more than they do. After all, if the stuff is theirs, how
dare anyone do so? Why not rip off one’s extra kidney or eye or why not
attempt to make the beautiful ugly so they don’t gain extra advantages? It
is clearly rank envy to believe that such actions or policies are
acceptable.

When people are luckier than I am, so much the better for them–many are
(for example, all those who get published in books, magazines, newspapers,
etc. where I’d love to see my work appear). (Oddly, the supporters of
wealth redistribution aren’t all that eager to part with their own
advantages, such as prestigious appointments at Harvard or Princeton
University or important book contracts with Oxford or Stanford University
Press!)

Something infects people when they think of other people’s economic
advantages, although now and then it goes further than that. But somehow
when a baseball player garners enormous wealth from playing ball–yes,
playing!–it seems to be fine for most. Why? Maybe because they can see
the player do what he gets paid for, whereas the rich of Wall Street or of
the banking industry earn their wealth behind closed office doors. (And
don’t talk to me about crooks–there are plenty of those in any field of
work, including baseball!)

There is just one thing I can think of that may make all this envy, all
this zero-sum game thinking, slightly understandable. This is that not too
long ago in history the rich–the monarchs and their minions–were nearly
all crooks. They ripped off the peasants, they confiscated wealth through
taxation (because they viewed others as working on "their" land, in
"their" country). Since much of human history witnessed gaining wealth by
illicit means–and sadly a good many still do so–millions still think
that all wealth must be gained that way. Wrong. And to treat all the rich
as if they got rich by robbing people is rank injustice.

Sadly even in America, the supposed leader of the free world, with its
institutions of supposedly largely free enterprise and free markets,
people still don’t get it. Wealth, unless it is stolen, doesn’t grow on
trees but must be produced, created, earned. Sure a bit of it is a matter
of luck–like that of the beautiful model who cashes in by adorning the
covers of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. But we all benefit from some luck,
just as we suffer from some misfortune, rich or not alike.

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