Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Rise of the Non-Working Rich (is the Death of the Republic)

Robert Reich (The Rise of the Non-Working Rich):
... [W]e’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history.

The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.
The chief objection we here from the Right is: The person who earned the fortune has the right to determine what is done with it. It's theirs to do with as they please.

On the surface, this is a compelling argument, because there's truth in it. Those of us without immense fortunes certainly understand the desire to protect what we have and do the best we can by our progeny.

However, this asserted Right to Pass On Vast Fortunes to Create Unfair Advantage for Children Who Were Born on Third Base is problematic for a democratic society that believes in some degree of meritocracy, equality of opportunity, and social safety net. It assumes that the right to control wealth is absolute and illimitable.

It is not.

We are a wealthy enough society to provide a minimum degree of security and quality of life to every citizen. We can, and should, have a floor under which we should not let any citizen fall. This necessarily entails a system of taxation -- a mix of progressive taxation on income and tax on capital being the fairest mode -- which ensures the wealth of our society is put to that purpose.

Likewise, our national security and the infrastructure of the nation simply can't be funded by the charitable whims of plutocrats. To live in a civil society, every member must be willing to pay for the cost of its maintenance. Allowing wealth to accumulate in families, passing un-taxed from generation to generation undermines the American principles of promoting the general welfare, establishing justice, and insuring domestic tranquility. Those are the core American values, the guidelines spelled out in the Preamble which the rest of the Constitution is designed to support.

Every floor entails a ceiling; every minimum, a maximum. Without guardrails, we're at risk of careening off the cliff. Would-be plutocrats would do well to remember extreme inequality requires more and more brutally repressive measures over time to prevent those who produce wealth benefiting from the fruits of their labor. The more repressive the society, the more pressure put on the bottom levels of a society by the top, the bigger and bloodier the conflict when the peasants decide they've had enough.

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