Eat the rich. Three words expressing the belief that all our economic problems can be solved by soaking the rich. So I decided to take a look and find out exactly how tasty they are.
Using Forbes’s Richest People in 2009 I filtered out the 100 wealthiest Americans and calculated their total net worth: $661 billion. Many on the list are household names. Bill Gates tops the list, followed by Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet and Oracle’s Larry Ellison. The Walton family pops up high on the list as does New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Google’s Sergei Brin. Other names appearing in descending order: Democratic Party owner top contributor George Soros, corporate raider Carl Icahn, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Obama supporter and friend David Geffen, Ross Perot, Rupert Murdoch, and near the bottom, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ralph Lauren and Oprah Winfrey with a net worth of only $2.7 billion.
For accounting and Excel geeks, the mean net worth of the top 100 Americans is $6.61 billion; median net worth is $4.0 billion.
There are 300 million Americans give or take. If we ruined all these men and women and spread their wealth evenly across America, each person would receive a bit over $2,200. That happens to approximate what Americans spent per capita on food in 2008. So stripping the top 100 of all their wealth would feed Americans for a year. That sounds tempting to some, I’m sure. Personally, I wouldn’t shed tears seeing the Limousine Liberals on the list like Brin, Soros and Winfrey brought back down to earth. Americans could then take the money they had spent on food and used it to pay off 2/3s of their credit card debt – which in Feb 2010 totaled $858 billion. Or they could pay off a third of their credit card debt and buy Greece with the rest, which has a total outstanding public debt of $406 billion. They would then have room on their credit cards for air tickets to the Aegean Islands, giving them much needed vacations.
The problem starts the following year after Americans have come back from the Mediterranean with bellies bloated on Souvlaki and ouzo hangovers. Their credit card bills will be worse than the previous year thanks to interest, and there will be no Oprah to entertain housewives and slackers in the afternoon.
There is always the next 100 richest people. Let’s eat those!
But immediately we run into an obvious problem: the next 100 wealthiest Americans have a combined worth of “only” $190 billion. This cohort includes Ted Turner, Mark Cuban, and Donald Trump. While seeing The Donald actually work for a living and risk getting fired might be entertaining, it would only net each American $633. Americans lose that between sofa cushions each year. That may be an exaggeration, but it’s roughly what the Bush Tax Cuts netted. Do you remember what you spent your Bush Tax Cut on?
The basic problem with “eating the rich” is that there are so few of them compared to us. So far we’ve digested just 200 Americans, but there are 300 million of us. There simply isn’t enough rich to go around and make a difference in our lives – and that’s without taking into account the damage to society caused by our wealth redistribution exercise.
Societies that have indulged in wealth redistribution do not make the poor wealthier; they inevitably make the poor poorer. After the Chinese communist revolution in which the communist redistributed wealth, 30 million people starved to death. In the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn believed the redistribution of wealth from wealthy peasants (kulaks) killed as many as 60 million. In both cases that wealth did not end up with the people anyway; it paid for dakhas and filled Swiss bank accounts for the Soviet politburo members, and became the basis for the manufacturing empire of the Chinese Communist party. So wealth redistribution kills millions, impoverishes hundreds of millions more, and replaces one extremely wealth group with another. Yet this is what socialists hunger for?
The reason they hunger for it is simple: socialists want to get rich. Sure they want to give it to “the people” but they’ve convinced themselves that they are “the people” so they take the money from others and keep it. In most societies this is called “robbery” but in western Europe, Latin America and among American leftists this is called “socialism.” Today in the United States the head of the teacher’s union in New Jersey pulls in half a million a year – in a state with an median income of less than a tenth that. The average hourly wage and benefits of public employees is 45% higher ($39.66) than private sector employees ($27.42). it’s also nearly impossible to fire a public employee while private sector workers can be terminated at will. Even watching porn at work wasn’t enough to can a single SEC employee caught doing so. Federal employees, like those SEC porn connoisseurs, make even more. Nearly $120,000 a year.
That raises yet another problem with socialism: once you start stealing from those that have more than you, you quickly reach a point where you have more than someone else. It then becomes quite difficult to keep it and requires a complex and expensive state security apparatus to prevent you from getting on someone else’s “menu.”
So how is this better than the system we have today?
I cringe when I see movie stars make more for a movie than an entire platoon of Marines will make in their working lives. I mutter under my breath when I see a CEO drive a company into the ground and walk away with millions. But I don’t shoot farmers and steal their cattle just because I’m hungry – and neither should socialists.