The Right Coast

February 11, 2004
Eat the Rich Part 2
By Tom Smith

You may have missed this little tidbit in the New York Times and if you did, lucky you. If there was some way to take half of Mr. Koch's obscene collection of stuff and use the money to, say, pay for decent educations for a few thousand poor kids, who could be against it? I guess that makes me some sort of consequentialist. The problem is, if the State of California took the money for use on education, they would use it to pay for workshops for teachers on how to teach workshops to teachers on the principles of workshops, held at Palm Springs. Or if Gray Davis were still governor, he would probably just give it his friends. Then there is the whole trickle down thing. The luxury tax on yachts of some years back succeeded in putting a lot of honest carpenters and other true craftsmen out of work.

While I don't make a fetish out of equality as do, in my opinion, many on the left, I fully recognize the evil in some having way too much while others have not nearly enough. The devil is in the alternatives. Our wonderful public school system here in San Diego county manages to spend $17,000 per student, as much or more as the most exclusive private schools in town, and still do an impressively awful job. I have run various thought experiments by myself -- what if there were some secret SWAT team that would swoop down on the Koch's of the world and steal a few millions of baubles for feeding and clothing the poor? Would that be a good thing? You could not do it more than a few times before the rich would invest more in security, keep more money in vaults, and then there is still the unemployed yacht carpenter problem. It's easy to see that to control for this behavior, you would have to start regulating behavior more, and pretty soon you're living in a place with far too little liberty, not even counting the danger your do-gooders will go bad. I don't see what would be wrong, however, with not glorifying the rich, unless it's for good works. The New York Times and other cultural institutions just undermine social solidarity by valorizing some creep who has to buy everything in sight.