Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Positive Externalities of Riches

Tibor R. Machan (from my archives)

Although I came to America as a poor immigrant and after leaving home at 18 became dirt poor, with no family support, I have also been fortunate as well as industrious enough to do reasonably well in my life. From the start it seemed to me that a chance such as I faced (namely, to make my way in the country of nearly every poor foreigner's dreams) demanded the best effort on my part, lest I blow it. Not that everything went smoothly but all in all I got nearly all I set out to obtain, including a superb education, a career that could be many people's envy, wonderful children, a great deal of travel, some of the best friends one could ask for, and at least a tolerable economic life that sustains me well enough albeit by no means in luxury.

What all this leads me to suggest is that clearly there are many who are far more prosperous than I, even if I doubt that too many have enjoyed the degree of happiness I have been fortunate to experience thus far. Still, I could easily benefit from having a good deal more money, pretty much like everyone else. Yet, I have never felt envy in my life. Somehow the sight of greater wealth on the part of others has never lead me to desire to exchange their lives for mine. Nor, especially, have I ever felt ill will toward those who are rich. On the contrary, I have been thoroughly pleased that the very rich are with us. And there are some good reasons for my pleasure with them, even if I can barely think of myself in their shoes.

For one, the rich remind me that if I wanted to aspire to be one of them, I would have a decent chance at it. I know some rich people and some of these started nearly as low if not lower on the economic ladder as I did. But they wanted to be well off and found a way to do this while also gaining satisfaction from their work. I know some people who are millionaires, a few who probably have a billion or so, and in each case I know that the way movies or sitcoms or pulp novels depict them is grossly inaccurate. None of these folks is mean or greedy or amoral, quite the opposite. I know that if I had wanted to concentrate my energies on securing wealth and great prosperity--e.g., by means of expertise in finance or corporate management--I could have given that a decent shot, with not too bad a chance at success.

Another reason I welcome the existence of the rich in our society--near enough to the lives of my family and friends to witness what their lives are like - is that without them we and millions of others would scarcely have a chance to occasional luxury, a taste of the finer aspects of nourishment, entertainment, decoration, art and culture in general.

Who but the rich sustain good restaurants? Who but the rich make fine porcelain or jazz clubs or beautiful rugs or fancy furniture, not to mention stunning architecture and enthralling theater possible? I cannot afford to support artists, musicians, actors, great chefs, and the other people who create and produce some of the marvelous features of our culture, nor can my equally middle level and poor income earning friends. But once in a blue moon we all manage to go to a great French restaurant, an art gallery, a neighborhood where fashionable estates are located, or a shopping center that features exquisite merchandise.

It is wonderful to go to an elegant mall such as those strewn about in the New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, and other areas of the country where these businesses can count on enough wealthy folks to sustain them. I, and others like me would not be able to support elegant ocean cruisers, superb automobiles, and great sports events such as Wimbledon or the America Cup. But there are those who can and I, for one, am extremely glad for that.

This is one of the reasons--although not the main one--for my distress about the kind of rich bashing that is so common in our culture. I find it disgusting how the envious among us would rather destroy the rich than witness the gap between their own modest economic status and that of the very wealthy. It is especially loathsome how so many American politicians, who ought to know better, gladly capitalize on this envy and persist on using the rich as a scapegoat of their own unwillingness to do the right thing, namely, concentrate on defending us from foreign and domestic aggressors and leave us be to fend for ourselves in peace, however much economic disparity this may generate--far less, incidentally, than is generated in societies where politicians try to even things out and run the country to the ground.

Of course, the first thing to be said about the rich is that they have every right to seek their kind of life, so long as they do this in peace. But there is also this point, namely, that their existence is of enormous benefit to the rest of us, not just in jobs and national wealth (especially in times when, unlike now, politicians haven't mucked things up) but in keeping culture at a level that is there for all of us to enjoy, to save up for a bit of luxury once in a while, even if we do not wish to live as some of them are, namely, in persistent pursuit of abundance.

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