Opinions of the Wealthy

February 15, 2014

Understandably, many of the wealthy feel no concern to address growing inequality. Many feel that whatever they earn or have amassed is solely due to their great competence.

Tom Perkins may be one of those. He is an ultra-wealthy private equity investor. He may well have amassed his entire fortune, estimated at $8 billion, in a moral and legitimate way. He is undoubtedly of greater competence than many of us. He has also been philanthropic with his wealth, and the corporations to which he has contributed governance, advice, and capital have been among those which have improved our lives.

So, in all those respects, he is one to be appreciated and admired.

On February 13, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, he had some things to say about inequality, which captured the attention of the media. He reportedly suggested that our American system should be modified such that there is one vote for every dollar of tax paid. He apparently went on to argue against any methods of trying to create more equality (http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/14/investing/tom-perkins-vote/index.html?iid=Lead&hpt=hp_t3).

It’s not surprising. If I had $8 billion, perhaps I would be thinking this way. Perhaps I’d be thinking I am solely responsible for this accumulation, not my heritage, not my parents, not my skin color or religion, not the financial or social connections of my family, not my educational opportunity, not my career and other opportunities, not my timing, not my birth country, not circumstance, not luck, not the mentors who coached me, not even my genetic disposition to good health, not even the support given me by my wife, friends and family. Just me. I did it.

And, to those who want to redistribute my wealth, I might say they simply didn’t take advantage of the talents, hard work, and opportunity which abounds for people of all birth situations in this great country. I can’t be held responsible for that. Indeed, if we were to think that way, we’d be dis-incenting the essence of American capitalism, which is the essence of America.

Of course, I don’t want to accuse Tom Perkins of this thinking. I am not privileged to know him, and I imagine him to be a very decent human being.

But, he must know when talking this way that he will ignite a reaction among those of who who feel that all the elements mentioned above contribute to or provide obstacles to the achievement of many of us who do not achieve great wealth.

But even if this set of contributing factors is dismissed by the wealthy, even if there is no moral feeling of obligation to the lesser privileged, there remain these factors mentioned in the previous post here:

1. There is no argument here to change America to an entirely equal or socialist country. There is no argument with the value of incentives–you should indeed get to keep most of what you earn honestly. There is not even an argument with inequality–up to a point. The argument is with allowing inequality to rise to the present very high level and do nothing to arrest its possible continued rise.

2.  There are many ways to gradually re-distribute, most of them not involving taking anything from what one has earned and accumulated to this point. To mention only one–supporting a system of equal education for all–not just for those who can afford private and Ivy League schools from kindergarden through graduate programs.

3. It is likely that economic growth, GDP, will not grow as fast under conditions of high inequality (as is the case today), as it will under conditions of moderate inequality.  Just consider the additional worker talent available to capitalists like Tom Perkins if we substantially enhance the skills of our educationally motivated youth–and the additional productivity and profit contribution of those skills.

4. Finally, there is the ultimate result to consider–gated communities, guards, vigilantes protecting the wealthy, and potentially, eventually, revolution.

Why not share a little of the wealth?

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