From this week’s Radio Derb
Getting rich, right ways and wrong ways. So far as the morality of getting rich is concerned, I guess we all have our own rankings.
At the top of my rankings are citizens who get rich by figuring out how to manufacture some product better and cheaper than before, or by honestly, reliably providing some useful service to their fellow-citizens — and yes, I’d include entertainment services, movie stars and athletes. Let’s call this Rank One.
Next, Rank Two, would be people like Mitt Romney, who get rich by figuring out how to allocate capital to firms that are more likely to use it wisely and well, from firms that are less likely to do so.
Both these ranks consist of people who benefit us all, and deserve to get rich from having done so.
Below those top two ranks, in Rank Three I’d put people who inherit their wealth. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s good for society to have a leisure class of people who don’t have to worry about making a living, who can devote their time to charitable works, support of culture, and independent thinking. Not all of them do those things, to be sure; but enough of them do — especially in the U.S.A., where they feel they are expected to — to make inherited wealth a net positive for society.
At the bottom of that category, or in a category of its own just below it, Rank 3A, are lottery winners. You can think of this level as the moral zero of my scale. Above it are moral positives — those rankings I’ve been mentioning. Below it are moral negatives, styles of getting rich that should be deplored.
The first of these negative categories, Rank Four, is political entrepreneurs. You may remember that political scientist Burton Folsom distinguished between economic entrepreneurs — you build a better mousetrap — and political entrepreneurs — you make friends with powerful politicians and persuade them to give you the mousetrap monopoly.
Down below them — hey, at least they’re making mousetraps — down below them at Rank Five are people who get rich from politics alone, without producing any non-political goods or services. In a healthy society, politicians should leave office poorer than they came in, as was true of most of our presidents, and most other politicians in the Anglosphere, up to John F. Kennedy. There is nothing in the phrase “public service” to indicate that you should get rich from it. Politicians like Bill Clinton — who, if he lives another couple of decades, will likely become our first billionaire ex-President — are morally deplorable, in my opinion.
If you won’t take it from me, take it from my colleague Mark Steyn, writing in the December 31 paper issue of National Review, page 28, column two, paragraph two, quote: “Perhaps the most repellent feature of the political class that has served America so disastrously in recent decades is its shameless venality in parlaying ‘public service’ into a guarantee of an eternal snout at the trough,” end quote. Tell it, brother.
Down at Rank Six even below gold-digging politicians, though with a certain amount of overlap, are the criminal classes.
Now, where do we put Newt in these rankings? It’s not an easy call. The temptation for us Newtophobes is to put him at Rank Five, people who get rich just from being, or from having been, in politics.
That’s not really fair to Newt, though. He’s an energetic guy, has written several books, and has done a fair amount of commenting and lecturing. Hey, just like me! — so I guess I’m not in a position to call Newt some kind of a parasite.
There’s no doubt, though, that while pursuing those healthier enterprises, Newt has simultaneously had his snout firmly in the Washington trough this past 13 years. That $1.6 million he got from Freddie Mac is shameful, pure influence-peddling, like the $300 thousand Michelle Obama was paid by University of Chicago Hospitals for a position they didn’t even bother to refill after Michelle went to Washington. There’s way too much of this big-money influence-peddling in our country. It corrupts the whole political process. Newt’s health-care lobby may come under the same heading; it’s hard to get a grip on it.
So I’m putting Mitt Romney up in Rank Two, and for maximum fairness, I’ll have Newt Gingrich straddling Rank One and Rank Five, average Rank Three. Advantage Romney.
…I get a steady flow of emails from listeners asking plaintively, and sometimes angrily, what I have against Newt Gingrich.
That’s real easy. I can do it in one sentence: I’m a small-government guy while Newt’s a big-government guy. Even when he’s trying to sound conservative, if you just peek behind his words, you see a new bureaucracy, a new class of clients of the federal government, and a huge new spending program.