The obsession with wealth inequality derives from the Marxists theory that the poor are poor because the rich exploit them. Sowell points out that this preoccupation with “disparities, “gaps” and “inequalities” is mostly from the intelligentsia (media, academics, politicians). The people whose lives are impacted by their agenda are just trying to survive and are made worse off by those ideas (as clearly demonstrated throughout history).
Emphasis on wealth “distribution” neglects or downplays the benefits of economic production. The Welfare State redistributes tangible output produced by some to others who produce little or none. But a society’s wealth is not tangible output; it’s the ability to produce that output (human capital).
Unearned wealth creates a disdainful attitude towards work and the development of skills, which requires effort, not a leisurely, luxurious, free spending lifestyle. When Spain raided South America of its gold, they became rich and could purchase the products of other nations, rather than produce themselves. When the gold was gone, Spain became a poor nation because it neglected its human capital. Sowell gives many other examples but the point is spreading human capital is more important than spreading the tangible fruits of human capital.
Spreading unearned wealth is not only economically bad, it’s also psychologically damaging. The development of human capital creates self-respect. No amount of free government money and make-believe “self-esteem” dispensed by college professors can substitute for earned self-respect from a hard day’s work. Let’s end our brief War Chest tour of Thomas Sowell’s thoughts with a couple of quotes; he writes:
What is truly reprehensible are attempts to pull down those who have achieved more, instead of facilitating the rise of those less fortunate who seek to rise through their own achievements. The idea that those who have less can be presumed to be victims of those who have more is an idea whose consequences have a worldwide history written in the blood of millions.
The history of ideas from Aristotle to Hayek is being ignored by a lot of supposedly smart people today. Sowell quotes historian Paul Johnson:
The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.