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Friday, May 23, 2014

Plunder in the 21st Century

Wealth inequality is a hot topic, and Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the 21st Century is driving a lot of the buzz. Piketty argues that inequality, a byproduct of the shortfalls of capitalism, must be dealt with through government intervention and progressive taxation to preserve democracy and prevent oligarchy. 

While many conservatives and libertarians have shot holes through Piketty’s research and arguments, George C. Leef took a different approach in his recent Forbes article—he attacked Piketty’s philosophy:

Legal plunder appeals to envious and resentful people who want to see the successful pulled down and their wealth redistributed to themselves. It also appeals to politicians who can take advantage of those character flaws, telling people, “Put us in power and we will level the unjust wealth disparities in society.” Piketty’s book thus dovetails with Barack Obama’s “They didn’t build that!” rallying cry to his base and reinforces the cancerous idea that it is a proper function of government to make sure that no one gets “too rich.”

While Piketty blames the wealthy for the disintegration of democratic values, Leef places the criticism where it really belongs:

Piketty frets that unless we have national, indeed global wealth redistribution, the rich will become excessively powerful. Now, it’s true that wealthy people sometimes try to buy themselves governmental favors and often succeed. The solution to that problem, however, is not to tax away everyone’s wealth, most of which is used, as I argued above, for beneficial things. The solution is to get rid of those features of government that allow people (rich or not) to obtain favors from the state.

Back during the McCarthy era, when our big national obsession wasn’t over inequality but over communists in government, the great libertarian writer Frank Chodorov quipped, “If you’re worried about communists in government jobs, get rid of the government jobs.” That same thinking should apply here. If you’re worried about rich people using their wealth to push the levers of government power, get rid of those levers.

The next time you hear someone praising Piketty’s work, consider sharing Leef’s article. Readers may just find that Piketty’s “solutions” cause even more destruction. 

  • The Freeman is the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education and one of the oldest and most respected journals of liberty in America. For more than 50 years it has uncompromisingly defended the ideals of the free society.