Monday, June 1, 2009


Last week the President took his wife on to a Broadway play, flying three planes from Washington to New York, taking a helicopter to Manhattan, and then shutting down traffic as he traveled by car to the theater. It was the kind of outing that even a very rich person would find it difficult to match.

Many of the Left are deeply concerned by the inequality that a market society generates. They seem to be unconcerned by the inequality that democracy, or any other form of government, generates. However, the inequality generated by the political system is greater than the inequality generated by the market. Bill Gates can do a lot of things that I cannot do. But what can he do that the President cannot do? Or senators and congressmen? A rich person can live luxuriously with a huge house, a private jet plane, and a big yacht. Those with political power can live luxuriously not because they personally own things but because they control publicly-owned resources, as the Obamas' trip to New York demonstrates. The rich can give away vast sums of money, but the amounts of money that those with political power can dispense is far greater. Those with political power can do most of the things that those with great wealth can do, and they can also do a variety of things that no amount of wealth allows. No rich person can tax others, or sentence them to jail or to death, or decree what behavior is permissible and what behavior is impermissible. Wealth requires the voluntary cooperation of others to be effective, whereas political power can rely on force and coercion.

Proposals to limit the inequality of the market almost always increase the role of political power, and thus increase the inequality due to the political structure. I do not understand why those who are so concerned with income or wealth inequality are not equally concerned about the inequality of power that is inherent in the political structure. (I also do not understand why they are not concerned about the inequality due to health, family, and natural ability, which also can dwarf income or wealth inequality.) Maybe it is because the political-caused inequality is not easily measured, whereas measuring and comparing different levels of income and wealth is easy.

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