Eat the Rich Now, Starve Later

There is one group that is not protected from hate-speech: the rich. Of the rich it is permissible, and in some circles de rigueur, to speak disparagingly or hatefully. This, I imagine, is because it is widely supposed that if you hate the rich you must love the poor, and love of the poor, at least in theory, is the highest virtue. Unfortunately hatred is a much stronger political emotion, and vastly more effective in practice, than love was, is or ever will be.

That the rich are not protected from hate-speech proves that the one thing that speech codes are not designed to reduce or prohibit is hatred: for it is a distinctly moot point whether race hatred, or hatred of the rich, has been responsible for the more mass murders in the past century or so. The crimes of egalitarianism have been enormous; and so denigration of the rich is as disreputable, permissible or impermissible, as the denigration of many other groups I could name.

But who are the rich, apart from those shallow and grasping people with more money than I? Even if one takes the 1 per cent figure that has recently become so popular, in the United States this amounts to 3 million people. In order to hate 3 million people you have somewhat to disregard their individual characteristics, unless you believe that being rich turns people identical to one another. Even among the very rich indeed, that is to say the 0.001 per cent, with a few of whom I have had a slight acquaintance, I have noticed marked differences of character. Recently, for example, I met a billionaire whom I detested not because of his wealth, but because of his patently insincere bonhomie and ingratiating manner, which translated into a repeated, and to me repulsive, pawing of his interlocutor, whoever it was. Moreover, his ideas about general topics were generally the opposite of mine; and he was not only decadent himself (though rumored to be shrewdly ruthless in business), but – what for me was far worse – was an ideologist of decadence.

However, I have met equally rich and successful businessmen who have pleased me as much as this man displeased me.

Nevertheless, to dislike the rich ex officio is, as I have mentioned, perfectly respectable. The best-known remark of the current President of France, François Hollande, was that he did not like the rich. Would he have said that he did not like Jews, Arabs, the poor, postmen, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, or any other group the defining characteristic of whose membership is not itself criminal? He wouldn’t even have dared, politically, to say that he didn’t like tramps, drug addicts or alcoholics.

Perhaps he believes, with Balzac, that behind every fortune lies a great crime; or alternatively that one man’s wealth is another man’s poverty. The zero-sum game model of an economy is, after all, a very common one of which it is not altogether easy, psychologically-speaking, to rid oneself. Who has never thought of fair shares, as if living in a modern economy were like attending a children’s party in which a cake was about to be cut for all the invited children?

And, of course, there have been economies in which one man’s wealth was another man’s poverty, in which plunder was the only means of enrichment. Even in economies such as ours, there are illicit means of enrichment that reduce the wealth of society as a whole. How far the financiers, for example, have enriched themselves to the detriment of everyone else is a matter of dispute; certainly the spectacle of the heads of failed banks emerging with large personal fortunes suggests that this is not just a figment of resentful imagination. Indeed, in my own country, Britain, a form of misappropriation of funds that, while not actually illegal, is certainly not honest has become quite general in both the private and the public sectors (and it has been one of the ‘achievements’ of the past governments to foster the dissociation of legality from honesty, and of illegality from dishonesty, such that people who behave disreputably defend their conduct by saying, correctly, ‘It’s not against the law,’ as if there were no more to be said).

But none of this justifies hatred of the rich per se. The decision of France’s richest citizen, said to be the fourth richest man in the world, Bernard Arnault, to take Belgian citizenship has ignited polemics in a country in which an apparently contradictory attachment to personal wealth and possessions on the one hand, and hatred of the rich on the other, is very marked. In France many people hate those richer than themselves who are the object of the hatred of those less rich than themselves.

An article in Le Monde by an historian and political scientist, Patrick Weil, on the day following the news about M. Arnault, breathes populist resentment of the rich. For such as he, high tax rates are never a problem, only those who try to avoid paying them.

It is rarely that an American social or economic policy receives much praise in Le Monde, but M. Weil says:

At least the rich American, if he gives up his nationality

[on deciding to reside elsewhere] has to pay a tax on his

fortune, known as an ‘exit tax.’

And he goes on to say:

Between 2008 and 2010, the number of Americans choosing

to abandon American nationality [for fiscal reasons] has

multiplied by six. This phenomenon is more and more

common among the Chinese, Russians and Indian, thanks

to the indifference of their great countries, thanks to which

they became rich.

This last phrase is, in my opinion, very revealing. It is perfectly true that no man becomes rich by his own totally unaided efforts, and that all his efforts take part in a particular social, legal, economic, political, cultural and national context. It is also true that some polities favor personal enrichment by means of cronyism, gangsterism, exploitation, clientelism and so forth.

But there is no recognition here, not the faintest glimmer of a recognition, that a man who creates a business by which he becomes rich might just be adding to the general wealth of the country in which he created it: that, for example, Henry Ford, in growing rich, impoverished no one and increased the wealth of his country. Wealth is not like a river that flows in one direction only.

François Guizot wanted the peasants to enrich themselves; François Hollande would like the rich to impoverish themselves

Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

About the Author

Comments

  1. libertarian jerry says

    Mr.Dalrymple’s essay is one of the best explanations of Class Warfare that I have ever read. Every point that Mr,Dalrymple makes I have been making in my essays and blogs for years. The only thing that I can add to the well made points of his article is that behind and underneath collectivism(socialism) is always two factors of human nature. One is envy and the other is covetousness.Mediocre people almost always express these two factors when they tear down successful and especially self made successful business people. As an aside,political demagogues ,especially although not totally of the Left,will exploit man’s natural tendency of envy and jealousy to advance and achieve their political agendas. Lenin,Hitler and Castro are three obvious examples of this tactic. In today’s America, Mr.Obama is notorious in his playing the zero sum game. When you listen to his rhetoric about how the “Rich” have to pay their “fair share” all he is saying is that people who work hard and are successful economically must be penalized. And,of course,the old socialist implication is that everything belongs to everybody, essentially no real property rights, and therefor wealth must be redistributed,at the point of a gun,and is somehow the moral and righteous thing to do is so far from the truth as to be a ridiculous joke.

  2. Louise says

    Interesting reference to Henry Ford.

    I wonder if the author approves of this:

    “In a Fordist system the worker is paid relatively high wages in order to buy in large quantity the products turned out in mass production.”

    Given his disparaging comments about the ‘greed’ and hyper-consumerism of his compatriots.

  3. Louise says

    “Henry Ford, in growing rich, impoverished no one and increased the wealth of his country”

    Really?

    Then what do you make of this:

    “At the Nuremberg Trials, Baldur von Schirach mentioned that The International Jew made a deep impression on him and his friends in their youth and influenced them in becoming antisemitic. He said: “… we saw in Henry Ford the representative of success, also the exponent of a progressive social policy. In the poverty-stricken and wretched Germany of the time, youth looked toward America, and apart from the great benefactor, Herbert Hoover, it was Henry Ford who to us represented America.”

    All in all, a pretty poor example to use.

    • Dave M. says

      Not at all. The point was that Henry Ford’s business exploits, not his political and moral ideology, created wealth, expanded the American economy and increased the size of the middle class. Also, the fact that you accept Baldur von Schirach’s excuse that “Henry Ford made me do it” is pretty poor. Actually, it is pathetic.

      • says

        In the name of Ford!

        I think maybe you need to conduct some research.

        For an alternative perspective on the long term impact of Ford on society you could read dystopian novel: Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’.

        The author of this piece? Essay? Column? has a starkly polarised worldview. One’s morality is not predicated solely on one’s wealth. If it is then maybe, as a nation, you should get rid of the plaque on Liberty Island and its poem, written by Emma Lazarus which includes the lines ‘With silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,/Send those, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’

  4. Sarah says

    Louise
    You spend your life stalking Dalrymple – a man who I doubt has the slightest inkling of your existence – around the Internet. On your deathbed, will you look back at your time on this earth and think, ‘I didn’t waste a second’, or will you think, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’
    I’m not sure whether to laugh at you or pity you. I think the former.

  5. Mike says

    Louise,
    Ford paid his workers well so that he would have low turnover. That they could thus afford to buy lots more stuff was a beneficial by-product of that sharing the wealth. Cheaper faster transportation for the masses made us all better off. Ford is a fine example of increasing wealth for everyone through entrepreneurial skill. What nonsense nonsequitor about Ford and anti-Semites: The point isn’t that he was a good person, it is simply that by creating wealth for himself he created a great deal of wealth for all of us.

  6. says

    Non-sequitur:

    ‘Henry Ford, in growing rich, impoverished no one and increased the wealth of his country. Wealth is not like a river that flows in one direction only.’

    Ford used his wealth to facilitate the spread of anti-semitism. Did that contribute to the wealth of his country? To the wealth of the world?

    I happen to agree with the good doctor that the assumption that the acquisition of ‘wealth’ somehow makes individuals immoral, ruthless and all of the other negative, connotations of wealth are often deeply unfair. There are many wealthy people who have enriched the world. One such example from his own home town: Birmingham would be The Cadbury Trust. This is why I asserted that Henry Ford was a poor example to use.

  7. Mike B says

    Louise,

    Yes, Henry Ford was accused of anti-semitism, but his record of producing wealth for others is unquestionable. His first autos cost something like $1,300. Within 5 years, they were down to $600. Other than computers, where else does this happen today? He also paid his workers great wages, and in reducing the cost of the car, he openly stated that he wanted his workers all to be able to own a car, should they choose. You could also use Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Alexander Graham Bell, all who got rich giving people what they wanted to buy. No coercion necessary, unlike government mandates.

  8. BooMushroom says

    Well said, sir. I would like to note for the other commenters here that Henry Ford making his wealth did not cause the antisemitism of which you speak.. Whether or not Ford was an anti-Semite or not, his work and business itself did not harm, it created great good, wealth for many, not just his employees and suppliers. That he later used that wealth in ways you may disapprove of is tangential and irrelevant to the thrust of the article.

    What Henry Ford represented was a man who had an idea, a vision, and through hard work, brought himself great wealth, and shared a portion of that wealth with the people who worked every day to help him create it.

  9. teapartydoc says

    Louise: the non-sequitur is yours. The fact that Ford was an anti-semite has nothing to do with the fact that his presence in America enriched many. I think Sarah is right. There’s some kind of fixation here.

  10. Louise says

    ‘Well said, sir. I would like to note for the other commenters here that Henry Ford making his wealth did not cause the antisemitism of which you speak.’

    what was he responsible for then? Reawakening it?

  11. Louise says

    Who defines what ‘hate speech’ is anyway? And who gave them control over language?

    I see that hate speech against Margaret Thatcher raises no protest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>