Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Who is the prototypical rich person?

I recommend this op-ed by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Not because I agree with its recommendation of super high tax rates on the rich, but because it makes clear the perspectives and motives of the Left.

In the standard economic approach to optimal redistribution (such as Okun and Mirrlees), the case for progressive taxation is based on diminishing marginal utility. But that is not the essence of the matter, according to Saez and Zucman. They view rich people as fundamentally undermining democracy. It is more a political argument than an economic one.
Saez and Zucman seem to think that rich people are like Henry Potter, the conniving banker in It's a Wonderful Life. Mr Potter makes his money dishonestly and uses it to control the instruments of the government to further enrich himself and impoverish the lives of those around him.
Another kind of rich person is someone like Taylor Swift. She is fabulously wealthy (net worth > $300 million) but earned that wealth by enhancing the lives of others through great music. As far as I know, she does not have significant political clout.
So are most rich people more like Henry Potter or Taylor Swift? Obviously, they come in both kinds. Unfortunately, we now have a Henry Potter living in the White House. 
But most rich people I know seem more like Taylor Swift. They make their money honestly by providing value to others. And they have less political influence than is often supposed.

Indeed, most rich people I know would have been happy to spend vast sums of money to keep Mr Trump out of the White House. And many tried. The Trump phenomenon is not an argument that the moneyed elites have too much influence on politics. If anything, it is an argument that they have too little.