Enemy egalitarian wealth redistributionists are soundly defeated on three separate intellectual battlefronts. Any one of the three would be enough for victory, but all three ensure that current wealth owners, without a doubt, are safely secure from political tyranny:
- Wealth redistribution is rationally and morally wrong
- Even if you believe leftist’s lies, redistribution will not work – it’s impossible to seize actual wealth (as opposed to the fruits of wealth)
- Even if lawmakers are deceived and try it anyway, it will severely harm the poor – the very people redistributionists claim they want to help – while leaving the rich unscathed.
A defense of capitalism along these lines is found in Chapter 17 of George Gilder’s book Knowledge and Power – The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It is Revolutionizing Our World (2013). He first defines the inequality problem – Why, on a planet full of poverty and deprivation, should a tiny minority be allowed to control all the wealth? He then explores the traditional answers followed by his justifications based on information theory. Let’s take a George Gilder fly-by over the three battle lines preventing our enemies in the war of ideas from confiscating private wealth.
Traditional critics of capitalism center around 1) fairness; and 2) the character of capitalists (i.e. accusations of greed). Fairness is argued to be a concern because perceived unfairness produces unhappiness with all its social detriments. But to focus just on happiness is to presume that leisured happiness is the goal of human life, when in fact, human advancement, productivity, wealth creation and wealth preservation are also goals. To focus on greed depicts human economic activity as simply trading greed for wealth – in this hedonistic worldview, humans become machines ruled by the pursuit of pleasure, manifested by their quest for material goods and sensual satisfaction.
Capitalists are attacked as greedy, wallowing in their underserved wealth. But the observed behavior of successful entrepreneurs is not greedy fat cats. The “idle rich” is a myth. Entrepreneurs, to the contrary, exhibit discipline, self-control, hard work and austerity. Their actual behavior (with limited exceptions) is far from greedy. Gilder argues that the truly greedy ones are socialists because they have such an appetite for confiscating unearned wealth and power. He writes that socialism is a conspiracy of the greedy to exploit the productive. The laziest way to gain unearned wealth is to persuade the State to take it away from others for redistribution. Next week, the Estate Planning War Chest continues our flight over the first battlefront – moral justifications for concentrated wealth – and then moves on to the second one – the impossibility of seizing actual wealth.
In 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill signed The Atlantic Charter setting forth British and U.S. societal objectives for a post-World War II world. It unfortunately seemed to legitimize the view that freedom from want and freedom from fear are part of the definition of the word liberty. I wrote about this on 11/24/15 while discussing the famous Norman Rockwell painting Freedom From Want of a family serving turkey at Thanksgiving.
Freedom from want is not liberty; the confusion and “debate” persists to this day. Insecurity and poverty are not violations of freedom even though many try and argue otherwise. Isaiah Berlin’s (1909-1997) essay Two Concepts of Liberty draws a sharp distinction between Negative Liberty (freedom from coercion) and Positive Liberty (freedom to fulfill your potential). Berlin notes that negative and positive liberty are not merely two distinct kinds of liberty; they are rival, incompatible interpretations of a single political ideal. You have to pick one – you can’t have both definitions of liberty, if one is correct, the other is false.
Dahrendorf wrote – It’s not a helpful debate because nothing is gained by a confusion of terms. Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture or human happiness or quiet conscience. The notion of positive liberty is rhetorical deception – designed to disguise underlying value conflicts. Leftist thinkers tried to hijack philosophy in order to advance their agenda to substitute collective control of resources for individual liberty. Positive liberty attempts to conflate and impose goals from some thinkers who believe that we “should” rationally desire equality as a justification for political tyranny.
It’s not a straight forward intellectual fight. The debate is illusory because those who argue for positive liberty hide the ball – they are disingenuous and dishonest about the meaning of the word liberty in their attempt to re-define the concept for purposes of pursuing their values and political ends. But as Erasmus said to Martin Luther 500 hundred years ago – it is not necessary to fight with an enemy in front from whom you have incautiously received a wound in the back. Our Estate Planning War Chest need not engage in the dispute. We’re in the business of securing personal health, wealth and wisdom – we’re not in the business of treacherously attempting to convince a gullible, feeble minded general public that they rationally and morally deserve free stuff from a Government empowered to confiscate and then redistribute wealth.
It becomes more evident the harder hypocritical leftist elites try to push their agenda. Victor Davis Hanson of National Review writes:
Inequality cannot be remedied by legislation. The multitude of factors that contribute to it — chance, luck, circumstances of birth, innate talent, familial upbringing, human nature itself, and the forces of bias, self-interest, nepotism, and tribalism — require totalitarian remedies. History shows us that attempts to enforce equal results usually result in war or genocide. The more fervently progressives seek to redistribute income, or use diversity quotas to ensure proportional representation in hiring and admissions, or suspend constitutional free speech and due process to suppress individualism and heterodoxy, the more likely that progressivism’s affluent adherents will risk being exposed…
Mainstream writers today are ignorant of, or more likely, purposely ignore or even try to hide the powerful ideas of historical thinkers on the bitter conflict between freedom and equality – because it doesn’t fit with their equality bias. You can’t prefer both freedom and equality – emphasizing one necessarily deemphasizes the other.
Politicians whine about wealth inequality but don’t address grave concerns about trying to reverse it from thinkers like Friedrich Hayek, Alex Tocqueville and Milton Friedman, to name just a few. Tocqueville said “for equality their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, and invincible; they call for equality in freedom; if they cannot obtain that, they call for equality in slavery.” Friedman said “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. Equality is less important than freedom because human equality is unnatural and would have to be coercively and violently imposed, thereby destroying freedom. You cannot favor them both. You have to choose – and freedom wins, hands down.
Even an amateur thinker can see the literary battle landscape littered with demolished arguments that equality is superior and should be preferred to liberty. It’s not even close. For over 100 years writers have critically examined the conflicting relationship between egalitarianism and freedom and almost all came down on the side of freedom. Some didn’t, like John Rawls (1921-2002), in his book A Theory of Justice (1971), which considered equality the moral benchmark for society. Obama is a big John Rawls fan. But Rawls’ ideas were quickly counter punched by the philosopher Robert Nozick (1938-2002) in his book Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974), which pointed out that in order to maintain equality in society a coercive central planner would have to constantly interfere with personal choices.
In addition to the many thinkers already discussed here, sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf (1929-2009) pulled together devastating critiques against collectivist egalitarian wrong ideas. Here’s a great essay on freedom from him: http://www.lyfindia.org/pdf/dahrendorf.pdf
His cogent clarity of thought on the matter is striking.
Dahrendorf understood that freedom is never permanently won. We must constantly fight for individual freedom against coercion from others in a battle that never ends. Fortunately, the intellectual weapons that defend liberty are many and strong. And I’m a happy warrior, parading those cognitive armaments out here weekly on the Estate Planning War Chest.
Schopenhauer cites Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) (the “great professor of happiness”) who divides the needs of mankind into three classes (1) natural and necessary needs, that if not satisfied produce pain (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) which can easily be satisfied; (2) natural but unnecessary needs, such as gratification of the senses (physical and mental stimulation), which are a bit harder to satisfy; and (3) unnatural and unnecessary needs, the need for luxury, prodigality, show and splendor, which never comes to an end and is difficult (expensive) to satisfy. It’s a waste of time and energy to unduly pursue this third class “need”.
Wealth satisfies needs and is a blessing to be respected and appreciated. It should be used responsibly and regarded as a bulwark against future challenges and misfortunes. Wealth should never be seen as leave to get whatever pleasures one can out of this world. And it’s unwise to spend all of one’s earnings because valuable skills and talents can be exhausted or become antiquated, having been good only under a special conjunction of circumstances which has passed. The rags to riches to rags story is so common because most people do not handle wealth prudently. Shakespeare gave us the adage in Henry VI – beggars mounted run their horse to death.
Wealth is emancipation, rendering us master of our own time and powers, enabling us every morning to say this day is my own. Schopenhauer writes that wealth reaches its utmost value when it falls to the individual endowed with mental powers of a high order – doubly endowed by fate with both wealth and intelligence, enabling one to accomplish “what no other could achieve, by producing some work which contributes to the general good, and redounds to the honor of humanity at large. Another again, may use his wealth to further philanthropic schemes, and make himself well-deserving of his fellow-men. But a man who does none of these things, who does not even try to do them, who never attempts to study thoroughly some one branch of knowledge so that he may at least do what he can toward promoting it – such a one, born as he is into riches, is a mere idler and thief of time, a contemptible fellow.”
There is consolation from Voltaire, who said: We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them in cringing to contemptible rascals. But alas!, Schopenhauer writes, “let me observe by the way, that contemptible rascal is an attribute which may be predicted of an abominable number of people”. Don’t worry about them! Focus on cultivating your talent and faculties and be sure to have an Estate Planning War Chest full of knowledge and wealth because, as the Roman poet Juvenal put it, it is difficult to rise if your poverty is greater than your talent.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), observed that the fundamental differences (blessings) among humans are of 3 distinct classes:
- What a person is – personality, temperament, moral character, physical strength and intelligence
- What a person has – property and possessions
- How a person stands – position, his place in the estimation of others
Blessings of class #1 are clearly more important than those is class #s 2-3. Compared to genuine personal greatness in mind and heart, what a person has or how they are viewed is not as vital. Schopenhauer recognized that humans vary enormously in their “blessings”. He was anti-egalitarian in acknowledging that we are all very different, highly unequal in qualitative and moral aspects. It’s brutal to admit – but some people are clearly superior and some people are obviously inferior on many different levels that matter. But we live in an age of delusional denial of this fact – the media, politicians and academia repeatedly assert that everyone is equal and has the same merit and human value – it’s just not true. We all have equal human dignity but our skills, moral sense and intelligence vary wildly. What a person is, not what a person has or how they are viewed, is the key blessing.
Health outweighs all other blessings – a healthy beggar is happier than an ailing king. But beyond physical health, mental and moral strength elevates some humans. Schopenhauer writes: “A quiet and cheerful temperament, happy in the enjoyment of a perfectly sound physique, and intellect clear, lively, penetrating and seeing things as they are, a moderate and gentle will, and therefore a good conscience – these are privileges which no rank or wealth can make up for or replace. For what a man is in himself, what accompanies him when he is alone, what no one can give or take away, is obviously more essential to him than everything he has in the way of possession, or even what he may be in the eyes of the world. An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, while no amount or diversity of social pleasure, theatres, excursions and amusements, can ward off boredom from a dullard.”
Our blessings are valuable and not just the key #1 blessing of what we are. What we have is also important and it’s really the root subject of this Blog. On 9/13/16 I quoted Schopenhauer “People are often reproached for wishing for money above all things… but it is natural and even inevitable for people to love that which…is ready to turn itself into whatever object their wandering wishes or manifold desires may for the moment fix upon. Money alone is absolutely good, because it is not only a concrete satisfaction of one need in particular; it is an abstract satisfaction of all.”
Since the blessings of the first order decidedly outweigh the other two, it is a wiser aim to pursue the maintenance of our health and cultivation of our faculties, than at amassing wealth. BUT wealth cannot be ignored. Next week the Estate Planning War Chest delves further into the non-key blessing of personal financial wealth.
This weekly Blog is now 3 years old! Gandhi believed that “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, and your values become your destiny”. Some habits are bad…. but some habits are good and enriching – regular physical training, quality time with friends and family, musical or artistic pursuits and the persistent study of a branch of knowledge. I’m not a professional philosopher or economist, but as an attorney repeatedly delving into those disciplines, I probe for insight – deeper understanding of controversial, multi-disciplinary issues concerning personal wealth; and what better person to do it than a lawyer of moderate, not genius, intelligence who studies the ideas of historical geniuses?
William James (1842-1910) in his seminal book Principles of Psychology (1890) wrote:
Attention can be wandering and unfixed. It is probable that genius tends actually to prevent a man from acquiring habits of voluntary attention, and that moderate intellectual endowments are the soil in which we may best expect, here as elsewhere, the virtues of the will, strictly so called, to thrive. But, whether the attention comes by grace of genius or by dint of will, the longer one does attend to a topic the more mastery of it one has. And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character and will.
Decades in the future, imagine an all-powerful, superior intelligence considering whether or not to rearrange how wealth is distributed among humans on Earth. This Blog argues vehemently that my clients’, friends’ and family’s wealth should be preserved, left intact, not confiscated and redistributed – for a variety of good and convincing reasons. Reasons explored here weekly; like freedom to cultivate and develop our own blessings, without Government interference; to not have the good things in life doled out by a tutelary State. Socialism is intellectually and morally flawed – it can never work and it’s the only real alternative to free market capitalism. Next week, we explore the genius, Arthur Schopenhauer’s, ideas on personal wealth.
The United States was founded on the philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704) – natural law and inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. Founders like John Adams (1738-1823) purposely built into our country Constitutional protection of private property rights from the tyranny of mob rule democracy. He warned that without safeguards, “The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all of their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them”.
Thinkers from James Madison (1751-1836) to F. A. Hayek (1899-1992) understand that property is a fundamental, profound thing to which we attach great value and have a right. It’s more than possessions or money; it’s our faculties, beliefs and profession. Government’s primary purpose is to ensure private property rights. True liberty cannot exist without individual property rights – only the distorted notion of liberty, where the individual is contorted and subsumed by the collective. We exposed the folly and sinister nature of collectivism, hawked by philosophers from Rousseau to Marx, on this blog and also hailed the intellectual and economic triumph of individualism.
Modern progressive attempts to re-design society into an engineered utopia are doomed and dangerous. Liberty is impossible if the Government’s goal is economic egalitarianism – people will always be different. Forcing equality is immoral, irrational and impractical. But there appears to be a current, worrisome break from our Founders’ principles and Constitutional limits on Government power. We were clearly warned of the danger of undiluted democracy, by Alexis De Tocqueville (1805–1859) and free market advocates like Milton Friedman (1912-2006), that economic liberty is indispensable to political freedom.
Fortunately, great historical thinkers gave us the foundational principles on which freedom, happiness and prosperity will always be based. They are not going away despite recent attacks. Mark R. Levin in his book Rediscovering Americanism (2017) points out that these principles are being undermined and ridiculed by today’s academia, media and politicians who “reject history’s lessons and instead are absorbed with their own conceit and aggrandizement in the relentless pursuit of a diabolical project, the final outcome of which is an oppression of mind and soul…. Once the poison of jealousy, contempt, and even hatred enters the bloodstream of the body politic, a dark foreboding bleakness will begin to cover society…”
Secure tightly the cognitive, moral and financial clasps of your War Chest. This is a nasty war of ideas. Our Estate Planning War Chest is a bastion of liberty and private property rights – inseparable concepts.