Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Forgotten Wealthy

Michael Medved's latest article is a paean to the forgotten millionaire, the ones we have been making songs attacking for a long time (he quotes several of these songs). But is that really fair?
The presence of unimaginably wealthy people enriches our area in both tangible and intangible terms. Its not just the obvious addition to the tax base, or the lavish level of charitable giving with local museums, parklands, performing arts institutions, universities, sports stadiums and much more benefiting handsomely from the generosity of the Gates family, or of his idiosyncratic Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. Theres also an energy, a cosmopolitan atmosphere and a sense of world class swagger, that comes to any community thats able to spawn and retain some of the most productive and powerful entrepreneurs in existence. Far from swallowing up limited resources that would otherwise nourish the middle class and the poor, a citys most successful businessmen generate and contribute resources that benefit everyone.
So far so good, but Medved does leave out a couple of points.

First of all, you have to ask how they made their millions; some people acquire money through base or immoral means. Yeah it's nice that a plutocrat might build a museum, but if he acquired the money to build that museum by exploiting the city's worker or polluting the city environment, well it might not be a net gain.

Secondly most wealthy who run industries don't choose to live in exactly the same communities as those industries. If you are wealthy, why would you want to live next to a manufacturing plant? Rather you move to a large urban center.

Thirdly he notes that people like it when a wealthy person moves into their neighborhood and dislike it when a poor person moves into their neighborhood. This proves we like wealthy people more. Or it proves that we are very sensitive about home values (this part of Medved's article is pretty nasty).

Finally, Medved's larger point is something that Conservatives believe generally, which is that the Wealthy's interests should be the interests of society in general. That whatever the wealthy want, the poor should want that as well. That has always struck me as faulty logic. While I am not keen on demonizing the wealthy as a class, it should be obvious to all that what is good for the wealthy is not necessarily good for the rest of us.

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