Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

Praise the Rich
by Michael E. Marotta

[Portions of this paper originally were written as assignments for "Introduction to Sociology" (SOC100) at Washentaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Michigan, June 2006.  Work was based on “Upper Class Power” by Harold E. Kerbo in Sociological Footprints: Introductory Readings in Sociology by Leonard Cargan and Jeanne H. Ballantine, Thompson Learning (2002), which was based on Who Rules America by G. William Domhoff (1998, 2002) McGraw-Hill. http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/, which was based on The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills 1956 Oxford University Press.]

The wealthy are easy targets.  Our culture -- and perhaps every culture on Earth -- condemns the rich.  If this is not intuitively obvious, then use a search engine on these phrases:

  • wealthy people are good
  • philosopher who praised the rich
  • praising the wealthy
 Then, take the opposite phrasing.  It is not just that "condemned the rich" garners more hits.  It is that the results are topically usefully, lexically correct.  When you search for phrases that connect synonyms for "wealth" with synonyms for "good" the results are less meaningful. 
Happily, I was rewarded with a essay on "Life and Work of Al-Busiri."  A Berber poet of the 600s AH, who worked in upper Egypt.  "In his poetry, he praised the wealthy and the powerful of his country and that earned him money and prestige. ... He, for example, praised the mayor of al-Mahala, a town in South-East of Cairo, and the mayor paid him a monthly salary."  http://www.ifeas.uni-mainz.de/SwaFo/SF11waMutiso.pdf  Since praising the rich seems like work that pays well, it is hard to understand why there is not more of it.

In All Things Considered, G. K. Chesterton, has an essay, "The Worship of the Wealthy" which, of course, delivers the opposite message. 
"There has crept, I notice, into our literature and journalism a new way of flattering the wealthy and the great. In more straightforward times flattery itself was more straight-forward; falsehood itself was more true. A poor man wishing to please a rich man simply said that he was the wisest, bravest, tallest, strongest, most benevolent and most beautiful of mankind; and as even the rich man probably knew that he wasn't that, the thing did the less harm. ...  Those who praise Mr. Carnegie do not say that he is as wise as Solomon and as brave as Mars ... The journalists who write about Mr. Pierpont Morgan do not say that he is as beautiful as Apollo; I wish they did. What they do is to take the rich man's superficial life and manner, clothes, hobbies, love of cats, dislike of doctors, or what not; and then with the assistance of this realism make the man out to be a prophet and a saviour of his kind, whereas he is merely a private and stupid man who happens to like cats or to dislike doctors." 
Now, that kind of writing is easier to find than Sufi poems about Egyptian mayors.  What happened to those journalistic eulogies praising Carnegie and Morgan?  Enter the phrase "virtues of pierpont morgan" and see how many hits are lexically significant.  G. K. Chesterton (and "All Things Considered") are much easier to find.  I have to ask: "Why?"

The marketplace is the sum of many millions of individual choices. You like Burger King.  She likes MacDonald’s.  They go to Pizza Hut.  We are members of the Ann Arbor Food Co-op – and we are.  My wife and I are members of the local food co-op.  Our choice does not prevent the choices of other people for their preferences in the marketplace.  Commerce is true equality. 
The rich are forced – to invert a cliché – to “do good by doing well.”  In other words, everyone’s money is the same color – we cannot tell who owns which dollar.  As invested as the rich are, the poor are just as tied to the economy.  “Widows and orphans” hold insurance policies and retirement funds. As directors of corporations, the wealthy can do nothing for themselves that they must not do as well for everyone else.  

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the rich pay more than their fair share of taxes.

Effective Federal Tax Rates and Shares Under Current Tax Law
Income Category
Highest Quintile
Top 10 Percent

Top 5 Percent

Top 1 Percent

The richest people in America pay the most taxes.  The broadest middle class (2nd, 3rd, and 4th Quintiles) comprise 60% of the population, but pay only  50% of the taxes.  If we drop the lowest and second lowest, the middle-middle class 20% of the population pays only 15% of the taxes.  The richest  people in America pay more than their fair share.  The rest of us are slackers. 

If we grant the sociologist's claim that the rich control the government -- and where is the surprise in that? -- then we have to ask why they tax themselves.  They do so because they have a culture that teaches noblesse oblige.  They believe that they have a duty to society to pay a little more so that everyone else will benefit a little more, making the world a better  place.  In addition to taxes, of course, they contribute to charity.  In  2001, the United Nations raised money to fight AIDS.  Canada pledged $90 million and Sweden $60 million -- and Bill Gates $100 million.  In 1997, Ted  Turner gave $1 billion to the United Nations, without strings, apparently.
"Year after year, Americans are among the most generous people, per capita, in the world. During 2004, U.S. NGOs donated at least $6.8 billion to developing countries. Since comprehensive data on private giving are limited, estimating the total level of donations by private charities is difficult. The Hudson Institute, an independent organization, placed the value of total U.S. private assistance in 2004 at approximately $24.2 billion."  (2004 figures from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/66060.htm)  The Hudson Institute report figure of $24 billion was for "remittances" (actual cash) while TOTAL charitable giving in the USA for 2004 was $71 billion.  Following the December 30, 2004, tsunami, Amazon.Com set up a "Red Cross click" that drew $4 million from Amazon customers. 
 The examples are  endless.  We Americans in general -- and the rich in particular -- are very  nice people.  It is wrong excoriate our benefactors.

This goes beyond social activism.  It is a matter of social learning ("upbringing") that in a restaurant, if a middle class or working class person gets a dirty fork, they find someone to blame -- usually the waitress.  The middle class person expects service: after all, they are paying for a clean fork. The lower class person gets to exercise precious social capital in taking the upper hand.  However, the person of inherited wealth says, "Excuse me, miss, but I dropped my fork, could I have another?"  If presented with a dirty glass, the upper class person says they accidentally put too much sugar in their ice tea and could I have another and yes I will pay for both.  The wealthiest Americans are raised to be nice, regardless of how other people earn a living by sneering at them.
Furthermore, this reveals a fundamental, inherent contradiction in academia, generally, and sociology in particular.  Sociologists claim the importance of a "sociological perspective." It is "ethnocentricism" to measure people from another culture against one's own norms, when in fact we should apply "cultural relativism."  Consider a typical case, the PBS Show, NOW with Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio.  On December 3, 2003, they interviewed New York state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer was presented as a brave crusader, unafraid to challenge large corporations that were supposedly "cheating" people with "fraudulent" practices.  (http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/spitzer.html)  Where, I ask, was the "cultural relativism" in this condemnation of Wall Street? Why do we not admit that big business has its own cultural norms, and, however strange they seem to us, those values serve the needs of that society?

If we accept the premises of altruism, the rich are above blame.  They pay more than their fair share of taxes.  When they give to charity, they eclipse government contributions, They seem to be doing all that is morally mandated.  Yet, we heap abuse on them, easily, and without fear of retribution.  The reason why is specifically that they, too, have accepted the morality of altruism.  They ought to reject it -- as should every honest person. 

If you are proud of the fact that you work for your money, then you should recognize that whether the rich choose to donate to charity or not, to support the UN or NGOs or museums or not, is their choice.  It is their money.  It is not for us to decide what to with their money.  It belongs to them by right. If not, then (to borrow a phrase from Ayn Rand), we sacrifice the underdog to the underdoggier.  Someone decides that you do not need two pairs of shoes, or two shirts, or two belts.  Absurd? Think again.  Most people in the world have less than you do.  If you would take from those who are richer, then how can you complain when you are robbed by those who are poorer?

In fact, the truly poor have no designs on you.  Generally speaking, truly poor people are about as gracious and generous as the truly rich.  They are also about as politically conservative. The people you have to watch out for are the college professors and government officials who take your money for the privilege of speaking on behalf of the poor who never asked for their representation.  Those academics and bureaucrats can be defeated, by denying them their initial premise: praise the rich.
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