August 30, 2012

Family Rich. You can be rich without owning an acre of land, without ever having worked or created anything, just by inheriting your money.

Though it’s hard to argue this is admirable, I can’t see that it’s deplorable. What else should happen to dad’s money? The government should take it? It is highly unlikely they would make any better use of it than the average individual. Surely it is healthy for society to contain a seasoning of persons who need not answer to anyone other than the law for their actions.

There are of course non-average individuals who’ll pee away their inheritance for no social purpose; but hey, the money goes into circulation, and they’ve harmed no one but themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, an individual of great talent with a nice cushion of inherited wealth is free to do great things.

Again, this may be personal, but as a fatalist and strong genetic determinist, I’m fine with the Trustafarians. Invite me to your houses, please!

Entrepreneur Rich. Who minds the guy who builds a better mousetrap? Not me. I don’t mind rock stars or millionaire athletes, either. They’re satisfying a market, same as the mousetrap guy. Go to it, guys.

I’d add a slight qualification here. Burton Folsom, in his 1991 classic The Myth of the Robber Barons, distinguishes between economic entrepreneurs (build a better mousetrap) and political entrepreneurs (wheedle, blackmail, or bribe your pals in the government to grant your firm the mousetrap monopoly).

Economic entrepreneurs, ¡Sí! Political entrepreneurs, ¡No! This brings us into the zone of politics, though, where there is a type of rich worthy of my anger.

Politician Rich. This is where my blood starts to boil. Did you know that Hillary Clinton is worth $31 million? That’s without ever having done anything you or I would recognize as work. (Yeah, yeah, she lawyered; but she was the governor’s wife.)

Then there’s Tony Blair, one of four or five people whose mere image on a TV screen or newspaper page brings bile into my throat.

Tony Blair is costing taxpayers more than £400,000 a year despite building up a £30 million fortune since leaving Downing Street.

This is quite a new thing in the Anglosphere. After leaving office, Harry Truman had to take out a bank loan to have leisure to write his memoirs. Calvin Coolidge went back to his law practice. Further afield, there’s this from that epochal bestseller We Are Doomed:

When Bob Menzies, Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, left office in 1966 after 18 years in power, having given up a lucrative legal career for politics, he could not afford to buy a house in Melbourne. (Some wealthy supporters eventually put up funds for a house in a respectable suburb.)

Eat the rich? Not me; not if they’ve come by it honestly, by inheritance or effort or brilliance or even plain dumb luck.

There are a few of the Politician Rich you could serve me, though”€”gutted, stuffed, and roasted to a nice crispy outer texture, with an apple between their lying teeth. Plus some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Surfer image courtesy of Shutterstock


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