TCS Daily

A Response to Krugman's "The Angry Rich"

By Erik Voorhees - September 27, 2010 12:40 PM

PRINCETON, NJ - OCTOBER 13:  Princeton Profess...

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Paul Krugman recently submitted a New York Times piece entitled, "The Angry Rich." In the puffy piece, the pop culture Nobel Laureate advances the idea that wealthy people are entirely unjustified in their anger toward the government - anger arising from the "modestly higher taxes" which are headed their way.

The Princeton Prince assures us that the landed gentry is being much too noisy and wholly inappropriate, for in a proper society there should be no brouhaha coming from that direction - they go golfing, after all. Only the poor are justified in their complaints, because they are "underprivileged."

In Mr. Krugman's world, resources belong with those who don't yet have them - so long as they're Americans. If we discover a woman with a nice house and fancy car, and a man with torn jeans, a '98 Taurus, and five children forced to share only one X-Box between the lot of them, Mr. Krugman will ensure that the privileged woman gives of herself freely... for she has much to give. The right to property, whether speaking of one's own body or the product thereof, is of no concern. Property is rightly owned by the collective - again, so long as that collective is American. Of course, the property wasn't produced by the collective, but that doesn't seem to matter. From each according to her ability, to each according to his need... and there's a lot of need.

But upon any academic examination of "need," one will find the term to be almost meaningless. What is needed by humans? Some food, some water, some shelter, and an X-Box. Americans, even the poorest of them, already have these things. The strict needs of 99.99% of Americans are met. The fact that, beyond these needs, many Americans don't have the job they want, the car they want, or enough cash to spend both on movie nights and fresh vegetables from the fertile fields of Italy doesn't make them "in need." Rather, they are, like all humans both rich and poor, simply "in want" - a perpetual condition that no increase in marginal tax rates will alleviate.

If Mr. Krugman really cared for the poor, for those truly in "need," he would be eyeing the comfy $30,000 made by blue-collar Americans. That kind of income is far more than anyone needs, but it's not enough for what everyone wants - and that is what truly bothers Krugman. Indeed, there are starving children in Africa, and starving not in the sense that their Twinkies have run out, but starving in the sense that they're dying (made even more tragic by the fact that they're then unable to continue plowing the fields and sewing the blue collars for the "poor" Americans). Poor is relative, and anyone who has traveled even a week abroad knows that Americans are not poor - even the poor ones. Krugman is not advocating for those in poverty, he's advocating for those in wealth... but those who just don't have as much wealth as Krugman arbitrarily deems appropriate.

Citing Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mr. Krugman asserts that "taxes are what we pay for civilized society." I'll cite myself here and suggest that forced servitude, AKA taxation, is precisely anti-civil. A society is civilized to the extent that force is avoided. The very march of civilization has been a prolonged and noble struggle against force: it's wrong to murder, it's wrong to steal, it's wrong to enslave...but it's just fine to partially enslave so long as Oliver Wendell Holmes stamps it with approval? Force is the antithesis of civility, not its beacon.

A suggestion for Mr. Krugman: perhaps the rich aren't angry just because their marginal tax rate is going from 37.5% to 39%. Perhaps they're angry because they're increasingly realizing that almost the entire 39% they're forced to surrender ends up not as the tuition for underprivileged youth, but as the piggy bank for an edifice of waste and inefficiency. I'm sure the wealthy would gladly part with more of their income if they could hope to receive something of value in return. The fact that it must be wrested from them says more about those taking it than those losing it. Successful businesses don't have to coerce, because their service persuades.

Yet, perhaps the rich do owe their pound of flesh to the hive... how ought we determine the proper amount of flesh? How much of herself must the wealthy woman surrender to you, Krugman, before you're satisfied with her sacrifice? To how many hours of her day are you entitled? Why must she go without 39% of the product of her body, merely because a bunch of men in Washington deem it so? Is it because other people voted those men into power? Being in power, as they are, are they entitled perhaps to 50% of the woman's efforts, so long as the majority - along with Oliver Wendell Holmes - agrees? What about 80%? And yes, slippery slope arguments are legitimate when you're pushing people down a hill... so could, perhaps, the majority rightly vote away 100% of the lady's efforts so long as it was "for a good cause?" Does any cause justify enslavement? Does the cause of alleviating starving cannibals justify the pushing of a fat, tasty man down a hill? No? What if the cannibals have hungry children and a mortgage?

And why is it that the wealthy be forced to give the product of their labor to the less wealthy in America, but the less wealthy in America need not be forced to hand over their goods to the truly poor in Mexico? And why should the Mexicans get cars when the Nigerians have no food? What right does the Nigerian have to three meals when the Chinese peasant hasn't but two?

There are people suffering, are there not? Is there not someone in need who could send their child to school for the mere price of your laptop, Mr. Krugman? How many Somalis-worth does your apartment cost per month? That photo of you in the New York Times - what ludicrous sum was paid to the photographer? Is it really equitable to have such a pompous and wholly unnecessary visage printed when hundreds of children have starved to death in the time it takes to enduringly wade through your hypocritical editorial?

Your concern for the poor ends, Krugman, when you force others to be charitable in your place. It ends when you advocate the enslavement of those who produce more than they consume in order to coddle those who consume more than they produce. It ends when you decide it's okay to point a gun at someone so long as they earn over 250,000 shreds of fiat toilet paper per year. It ends when you forget that anyone owning a house, a car, refrigeration, cable television, a cell phone, a waste disposal system, running water, soap, and an Xbox is living at some level of luxury, by any objective measure of humanity.

So long as you have food to spare, don't steal it from your neighbor... and if you ever run out of food to spare, try producing something of value, for once, and then feel free to donate it to a deserving individual. I would praise you for that, for you would then be a man, instead of a shivering, lecherous coward crouched behind the force of government while waiving your transparent flag of feigned philanthropy.


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