Class struggle rhetoric obscures the truth
By Michael M. Bates
There they go again. White House aspirants, themselves extremely rich, attack the wealthy using the customary us versus them framework.
Former Senator John Edwards' 2004 stump speech about two Americas, one for the rich and the other for everyone else, was dusted off for last month's announcement that he's trying for the top spot this time around. He declared his candidacy in New Orleans, he said, "because no place better demonstrates the two Americas I've talked about for a long time."
Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton spoke to a business conference organized by Jesse Jackson, her husband's "spiritual counselor" during the Lewinsky saga. Despite her own $8 million book deal and the $9.5 million in speaking fees Bill earned in 2002, she vented her antipathy for the wealthy:
"It is not rich Americans who have made this country great. It is hard-working Americans who have worked hard to lift themselves and their children up."
Why does this need to be an either/or proposition? It's true that average Janes and Joes have significantly contributed to what the United States has become. It's equally accurate to say that individuals from the ranks of the reviled rich have helped to make us what we are as a people.
Class struggle warriors habitually portray the affluent as ruthless robber barons, gouging and exploiting everyone in their path. In this view, the rich became rich at the expense of the poor.
Wrote economist Ludwig von Mises in "The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality":
"The riches of the rich are not the cause of the poverty of anybody. The process that makes some people rich is, on the contrary, the corollary of the process that improves many peoples' want satisfaction. The entrepreneurs, the capitalists and the technologists prosper as far as they succeed in best supplying the consumers."
Thomas Edison's inventions revolutionized the way we live and made him rich. He lit the world and claimed while he was perfecting his incandescent bulb that "we will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."
It had indeed become a motorcar for the great multitude. And Henry Ford acquired incredible wealth by giving people, including the average Janes and Joes, what they wanted.
Lots of liberals loathe Wal-Mart. Its founder, Sam Walton, left a fortune estimated to be around $100 billion. How'd he do that? Primarily by offering his customers merchandise they wanted at prices they could afford.
Ray Kroc had a background in sales and formulated the huge success story known as McDonalds. People wanted casual restaurants, clean, family friendly ones that served inexpensive food quickly. Sophisticates may speak with disdain about what they deem junk food, but millions of Americans – and soon the rest of the world – made Ray Kroc's fortune for him.
Satisfying customers isn't the sole contribution of the rich. Even those who aren't entrepreneurs, inventors or innovators benefit society. Their investments help strengthen the economy and create jobs and goods and services. Moreover, many are extraordinarily philanthropic, giving billions of dollars to a wide variety of charitable, humanitarian and research activities.
I'm not rich and, at this stage of my life, the likelihood I will be is about the same as Jaclyn Smith calling me up for a date. Still, I have to recognize that rich folks have done a lot for this country.
Mrs. Clinton's snide denial of that obvious fact is a disservice to her fellow millionaires.
This Mike Bates column appeared in the January 18, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.