Too Wealthy for the Public Weal

A reader with (considering the question) the very appropriate name of Moore writes in to ask:

Economically and socially speaking, is there any amount of wealth that is ‘too much’?

Here’s the analogy: we have a right to bear arms. Nonetheless, I can’t own a fully-functioning tank, or an MX missile, or a nuclear bomb. And most of us (I presume – please correct me if I’m wrong) are OK with that. There’s a limit – someplace – to what it means to ‘bear arms’, and hunting rifles are within it and F-16s are beyond it.

Similarly, we have a right to property. Now we don’t often see someone who controls $10B as being as dangerous as someone with a squad of M-1 tanks, but my question is: why not? As someone who has spent years in the finance industry, that rich man, and what he is capable of, is every bit as scary and dangerous as somebody with a hundred fully automatic assault rifles, probably more. For if the guy with the assault rifles decides to, he (and 99 of his buddies) could take over a city kill some people, until the police, the national guard and the other armed citizens take them out. The guy with a few billion dollars, with a few of his buddies, can, say, bring down the economy in order to profit by having bought ‘insurance’ that only pays off if the economy collapses – and then get his people in the government to fund the payoff of his insurance. Millions of innocent people lose jobs, pensions and billions of dollars in the value of their holdings and we all inherit trillions in debt as a result of these moves. More or less – this is the ‘atomic bomb’ level. Something like this did just happen.

So – and this is a real question – in theory, would it be prudent to limit the size of personal fortunes at some very high level, say $250M? I understand that in practice this would disastrous unless our current government, and, indeed, our citizens were profoundly changed for the better.

I think of this as sort of the personal equivalent to ‘too big to fail’ – I think that any company that is too big to fail is too big to exist. It is extraordinarily difficult for even the most honest business to remain insulated against the problems of the giant corporations that have been bailed out.

My comment:

Your argument rests on the implicit assumption that the right to bear arms and the right to own property are both ‘rights’ and therefore if some reasonable restriction on the right to bear arms can be, without injustice, imposed if done wisely, likewise some restriction on the right to own property can be imposed if done wisely.

Like most argument, the argument follows if and only if the two rights are of the same kind and nature, such that what is reasonable for one is reasonable for another.

Yet a moment’s reflection will show this is not the case.

The right to free speech is a limited right, because certain types of speech, namely libel, or publishing the sailing times of ships in wartime, (1) do such harm and (2) do not serve the purpose free speech serves (to safeguard liberty).
On the other hand, the right to life is an unlimited right, because no man, merely by living, abridges the purpose of the right to life, or necessarily poses a threat to any other life.

Also, a limitation on freedom of speech which, in the case of libel, restricts a man to speak the truth (because the truth of a statement is in common law a defense against libel) or, in the case of publishing sailing times of warships to an enemy in wartime, restricts a man not to use his power of speech to aid and abet an enemy, such restrictions are no more than prohibitions a just man should welcome in any case. But a limitation on the right to life, saying that this man or that negro or this Jew or that unborn baby must not exercise his right to life, is to kill him. So the nature of the restriction is different.
Using the law to stop libel is not the same as using the law to commit infanticide and genocide.

In short, when discussing what, if any, restrictions can be placed justly on any right, the nature of the right must be discussed. We must say what the right is, what purpose it serves. Then say what the nature of the limitation is, and what purpose it serves.

Hence, in order for your argument to carry weight, you would have to identify what property is, and what the limitation on property is.

Property comes in two origins: it is the loot inherited from ancestors who conquered lands and enslaved natives, such as the landed gentry in England enjoy, or it is the fruit of labor admixed with property, which, in a free market, has its value to others measured by the money (gold) or paper substitute
(currency) other men are freely willing to trade for it in exchange.

Of the first origin of property, there is no need to speak. Either all property anciently seized from others is invalid, or the law must treat the owner at the time of the establishment of the state as legitimate. To do otherwise is war.

Of the second origin, it is readily seen that a limitation on ownership is an limitation on labor, and a limitation on the right to evaluate another man’s fruits of his labor, and exchange money or currency for it. It is, in fact, a limit on the right of a customer to buy that man’s goods or services, or a limitation on that man’s liberty to do what he wishes with his vital powers and his mortal lifespan on Earth.

Now, in all honesty, there are restrictions on the right to property, and they are, in common law, wise and just.

For example, if the King wishes to make a highway through your living room, the power of Eminent Domain grants His Majesty the right to compel the purchase. Nor do I think it is hard to tell the deference between uses of this power, in order to seize land for some public work, such as a fortress or post road, and abuses of this power, in order to seize land to give it to a shopping mall developer who is a crony of the County Commissioner. Unfortunately, such abuses are common these days.

Another example of the limitation of property is that no man can own property which is owed as taxes. The use here is a neutral tax for the purpose of raising public revenue; and abuse is confiscatory taxation, or sin tax, or some other tax used to manipulate the economy or to levy fines without due process of law. Unfortunately, such abuses are common these days.

A third example is the impounding of property or livestock used in a crime. The use is seizure for evidence or the make restitution. An abuse is to impound goods to fund police efforts, which, in effect, rewards them for looting the innocent. Unfortunately, such abuses are common these days.

But your argument here is that the ownership of property above a certain proportion or amount in and of itself poses a danger to the public weal. You invent an unlikely scenario of a man able to make money from the collapse of the economy uses that wealth somehow to create a collapse.

Look at history. All economic collapses have been caused, every single one, by the exact same economic phenomenon: government interference in the credit cycle, government devaluation of currency, government taxation. So, in reality, the best defense against the economic collapse you fear would be to restrict insofar as possible the right of the state to seize moneys and interfere with credit.
Which is the opposite of your hypothetical.

Look at real life. Who has so much money as you mention? Did they come by it honestly? Or did they come by it by bribing politicians and regulations to pass laws and regulations to abolish competition and reward them a monopoly?

If the second is more prevalent in history than the first, (and I assure you that even a cursory glance at history proves this beyond doubt) then the surest security against the economics collapse and the heaping up of unearned wealth is to abolish insofar as possible the state’s ability to micromanage the economy, or make regulations for frivolous or corrupt reasons, such as wage and price controls, pro-union regulation (which is the same as pro-thuggery regulation) and ecological scaremongering, and government created and granted monopolies.

So, excluding economies that collapse due to state meddling with the credit cycle (which, by the way, caused both the Great Depression in the 1930′s, the Dot Com bust in the 80′s, and the Housing Market Collapse of the Noughts) and excluded fortunes gained by Obama-style and Nazi-style crony capitalism, what are we left with?

We are left with a complete bugbear that has never existed in history and is so unlikely that to take legislative steps to forestall the danger would be worse than useless.

Honesty businessmen amassed great fortunes by producing some good or service that a large number of people wanted very badly, such as Ford producing cars, or Standard Oil producing cheap and easy ways, much cheaper than whale oil in kerosene lamps, to bring light and heat and cheer into every household, even the poorest. These benefactors of mankind rank equal with the most famous medical geniuses or generals who saved their nations in war in terms of the number of people they served, and the quality of life that was exalted.

Now, suppose you were a gold prospector living in a tent in the cold wasteland of the Old West, who, having struck gold by pure chance, takes up the lovely nugget and travels on mule back to the nearest town. This is a town which grew up at the mouth of a coal mine and the depot of a rail line, let us say, and the richest man in the country, Andrew Carnegie, owns both the coal mine and the rail line. Just for the sake of argument, let us suppose that he dug the mine himself with his bare hands, and laid the track of the rail line.

Entering the town, you discover that a new method has been invented by Carnegie to extract power from coal and distribute it through electrical wires to every house and cottage in the town, and also to power the trains. It is not perfect, for nothing in life is perfect, but it is so much better than the wind power used by sailing ships and the muscle power of horses to haul goods across the wasteland to Eastern factories and markets, that there is no comparison.

Got the picture? Is there anything Mr Carnegie has done wrong? Is there any danger to the public weal so far?

Now let us change the picture slightly, and say that these services are so very valuable, that Mr Carnegie controls the exact amount of money which the law you propose would forbid in the name of the public weal. Suppose it is one gazillion dollars to the penny. Carnegie wastes tens of thousands of accountants and money-counters on staff to make sure he is always one penny short of the dreaded amount which would run him afoul of the law. In other words, every in town is a customer of his, uses his powerhouse, or uses his rail line, or buys something from someone who does.

Here you are, a rich but dusty prospector. You stink, you want a bath. You thirst, you want whiskey. You hunger, you want food. You crave a fat cigar and a slender dance hall girl to sit on your lap. The purchase of all these commodities and services are legal (even the dance hall girl, provided she only perches on your knee, and you watch your hands).

Are you with me so far? Is there anything in this hypothetical which is slanted or untoward or absurd? Is it a legitimate question?

Okay, next: you walk into the bar. The whiskey was brought in on the train, and if you buy it, Mr Carnegie will earn five cents from the five dollars the bottle costs. The bartender, an employee of Carnegie, instructed not to allow his boss to run afoul of the law, must forbid you from buying his wares.

Likewise, the hot bath. The meter is connected to the power house, and Carnegie would get a penny if you filled up the tub. Likewise, if you turn on those newfangled electric lights which draw on the cheap and freely available power Mr Carnegie has created by the sweat of his brow. Likewise, everything else. Even the dance hall girl came here on one of his trains.

The only way Mr Carnegie can stay within the bounds of the law is by denying you goods and services that you want and crave and even need. The law fears his wealth, and the law makes him poorer than he otherwise would be. But, if his wealth is of the second kind, honestly earned, and not of the first kind, raped and looted, then the only way to make him poorer is to make your poorer.

So your nugget of gold is no good in this town, old man.

Let me repeat: your argument only makes sense if we, like Marxists, assume that all property is property of the first kind, all property is theft. When property is theft, the law can make the theft poorer and make his victim richer by taking the stolen goods and returning them to their true owner.

But that is not the case outside the hysterical madhouses of Marxist pseudophilosophy. In real life, property is of the second kind, the wealth gained by creation and by mutual trade for mutual benefit.

When property is honest, the law can make the creator of wealth poorer by making and only by making the customer and partners he serves and benefits poorer. That is the nature of the limitation we are discussing.

A final word: You use the analogy of a corporation being ‘too big to fail.’ You reason that bailouts of companies that are too big to fail are wrong, and in this you see clearly, for they are wrong.

But you then take an illogical leap when you assume that what makes the company too big to fail is the company’s bigness, that is, the company’s success. You then imply that in order to halt the evil of bailouts, we must halt the cause of bailouts, namely, the growth of successful companies.

The very opposite is the case.

It is not the growth of successful companies we must stop in order to serve the public weal. Indeed, we must encourage failure of failed business in order to minimize waste, and allow the natural flow of capital and assets away from wasteful and useless lines of enterprise toward rewarding lines of enterprise.

An enterprise only fails to retool and revise its business in the face of changed public demand for two reasons: incompetence and coercion. An incompetent enterprise is poorly run, and loses money. In the normal course of events, it would be sold to a more competent competitor.

The other reason is coercion.Unions, either through direct threat of violence or by means of laws which unjustly favor them, forces management to make economically unwise decisions, namely, ,to pay the Unions more in wages and benefits than their labor, in the eyes of the customers, is worth. It is a racket. The customer money would naturally flow elsewhere, unless laws and regulations prevent it. A company mired in economically foolish (or even suicidal) Union obligations is not allow to economize and retool and serve the customers as the customers wish.

The whaling industry, at one time, was America’s primary industry, employing countless sailors and whalers. Standard Oil found a method of refining and distributing petrol in such low prices, that whale oil needed for kerosene lamps fall out of demand. Had the whalers in those days been unionized, the union thugs would have bought a politician, and the politician would have busted up Standard Oil, and raised the price of oil to the customers, making them pay for whale oil which they did not want or need. Standard Oil would have been “too big to fail.”

What “too big to fail” really means is that Union parasites, upon killing the host upon whose blood they feed, turn to their bought politicians to force the taxpayers to transfuse their blood into the corpse and keep it alive for another season.

Such bailouts are merely a crime on a wide scale. In a sane and uncorrupted society, the union extortionists and their bought political henchmen would be hanged, and the newsmen who spread and tell the lies that justify and hide the crimes be horsewhipped.

There is no such thing as “too big to fail.” It is a lie, and a silly one. There is such a thing as “too much political corruption to fail.” That is what we are experiencing these days.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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70 Responses to Too Wealthy for the Public Weal

  1. Tom Simon says:

    The only way Mr Carnegie can stay within the bounds of the law is by denying you goods and services that you want and crave and even need. The law fears his wealth, and the law makes him poorer than he otherwise would be. But, if his wealth is of the second kind, honestly earned, and not of the first kind, raped and looted, then the only way to make him poorer is to make you poorer.

    So your nugget of gold is no good in this town, old man.

    Bingo. This exactly.

    If there were some point at which people could be legally forced to stop accumulating wealth, then neither the 2010 model Mac I am typing this comment on, nor the iPhone I have in my pocket, nor the iBook store where my own humble wares are offered for sale (among other places), would exist. You see, Steve Jobs already had ‘enough’ money before any of those things were invented. The only ways to prevent him from getting richer would be (1) to forbid Apple to grow beyond a certain size, which would mean vetoing any new product that might cause such growth, or (2) to confiscate Apple’s stock from its owners as soon as the market value of the company exceeded a certain amount.

    The late Mr. Jobs’ wealth did not make me any the poorer. On the contrary, his company built products that have made me significantly better off. As for his own wealth, after he returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he took a salary of $1 a year; all the rest of his income from Apple was in the form of stock options, which were of value only if he increased the value of the company by enough to make them worth exercising. He was spectacularly successful at doing so. Nine years ago, I talked my father into buying a little bit of Apple stock at $9.50 per share (adjusted for a subsequent stock split). Today that stock is worth over $500 per share, even after a massive drop in the price in recent months. My parents’ old age (and that of many others) would be considerably more penurious and uncertain if Mr. Jobs had been forbidden to create more wealth.

  2. This is an involved topic, and I think both Mr. Simon and Mr. Wright, while making many true and valuable points, are not quite addressing the concern I’ve attempted to raise. I’ll write more when I get a few minutes. But, up front:

    “forbidden to create more wealth” does not equal “forbidden to hold a personal fortune above a very high threshold X”. Right? Maybe it is not practically possible to make laws under which Steve Jobs is encouraged to create as much wealth as he wants, but must dispose of any of his personal fortune above $1B (to pick a number). But – and here’s the big issue for me – if there is a big enough risk to all of us that results from vast fortunes, could we not consider limiting such fortunes in the same way we limit the holding of advanced weaponry, even while acknowledging a right to bear arms?

    Clearly, I have failed to establish (if, indeed, it is true) that there exists a risk to all of us peculiar to large fortunes that could, in reality, be mitigated by limiting the size of those fortunes. Mr. Wright argues that I’m misplacing the cause – that it lies in corrupt political manipulations and intrigue, not in the money itself. And I would say that the personal ownership of 1,000 fully automatic assault rifles and a mountain of ammo is likewise no threat, and every bit as personally useful to the owner as the 2nd or 3rd billion is to the billionaire.

    But we get very suspicious of an individual who acquires vastly more firepower than he personally could ever use – what does he want it for? Is there any legitimate use he could put it to? If it were something else – cats, say – we’d just want him to keep it tidy and keep it to himself. But assault rifles?

    We could say – and I think this is what Mr. Wright would be in favor of – that what’s really needed is proper enforcement of good laws: if a dozen or so Goldman executives, both those working on Wall Street and those in Goldman’s White House branch office, were to be strung up from lamp posts as justice would requires (OK – locked up forever with Bruno and Vinny the Neck for roommates) then, OK, that would work.

    But just like enforcing the law on a man who owns a thousand assault rifles and a mountain of ammo presents some complications that might make such enforcement a little problematic, enforcing the law on people with effectively unlimited financial resources (and the political resources those financial resources buy) is likewise practically impossible.*

    Anyway, just because the situation is hopeless in practice doesn’t stop me from speculating on how to deal with it in theory. And capitalism is the worst economic system ever tried, except for all the others.

    *This is not theory – it is scandalous how little notice is taken that NO ONE from Goldman and other large firms is being prosecuted, or even investigated, AFAIK, for simultaneously selling mortgage backed securities as AAA-rated investments while placing a gigantic bet (the one we all made good via the AIG bailout) that those securities would fail. They were telling investors – like pension funds – that those securities were as good as gold while taking steps – out of sight of those investors – that only make sense if they were sure those securities would fail. No breach of fiduciary duty, here?

    • Gigalith says:

      The question is, perhaps, whether multibillion dollar fortunes are in and of themselves dangerous, or is it merely what they can purchase.

      If the government is run by impartial machines or conquering aliens then no fortune will be of any use to the rich man, being as he cannot buy power no matter how much he offers in exchange. He could hire the greatest human orators to plead futilely on his behalf, or build signs and hire protestors or rent printing presses and buy reporters to declaim the rightness of his cause, but he could not actually change the minds of the Alien Cyborgs from Space.

      Our present rulers are, of course, made up of neither silicon or extraterrestrial protoplasm, and are all too easily corrupted by this and that moneyed party. But is it necessarily the case that the human will must be so quickly swayed by greed?

      • This would seem to be an argument in favor of hereditary monarchy. They are less easily bribed than politicians who must run expensive campaigns to secure public office.

        • Robert Mitchell Jr says:

          Yes, which is why the future is filled with Space Princesses!

        • Gigalith says:

          I was not actually advocating rule by Robot And/Or Alien Overlords, though it is indeed true that monarchies are less corrupted by money.

          Montesquieu holds in the Spirit of Laws that sale of titles in a monarchy is not a practice obnoxious to the health of the state. In a monarchy, the power of the prince is not absolute, and indeed the power of lesser nobles helps keep it in check. Titles of nobility may be seen, in a modern metaphor, as corporate shares in the government, and as long as the royal family owns a controlling stake there is little danger in spreading the other shares around.

          On the other hand, a monarchy is motivated, also according to Montesquieu, by the pursuit of public honors and fame, a sentiment lacking in popular culture. The moderns seek infamy instead, which is not the same thing.

        • Sean Michael says:

          Dear Mr. Wright:

          That might well be true of the monarch himself. But, in constitutional monarchies like Spain and the UK, you still have politicians running expensive campaigns to attain office. In fact, there was a scandal a few years ago in the UK about the Labour party rewarding rich donors with life peerages. So, corruption still remains a problem in any political system.

          Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Ephirius says:

      “Maybe it is not practically possible to make laws under which Steve Jobs is encouraged to create as much wealth as he wants, but must dispose of any of his personal fortune above $1B (to pick a number). But – and here’s the big issue for me – if there is a big enough risk to all of us that results from vast fortunes, could we not consider limiting such fortunes in the same way we limit the holding of advanced weaponry, even while acknowledging a right to bear arms?”

      You are forgetting something here that is vitally important. Suppose it is true that vast amounts of wealth are dangerous as you suggest. What does that say about a government that can restrict wealth? All I see in your theory of capping people’s wealth is an opportunity to move the “danger” you see in wealth to a different group: politicians. However, you lose something in the process, and that is what the post above showed.

      So, if we assume that wealth is dangerous as you do:

      1. If we enact your policy, the danger still exists, but it has moved to politicians who wield the power (since they can control the money). You also lose out on all the things brought up in the post.

      2. If we reject your policy, the danger still exists, but we still have the incentives that the post discussed (consumers actually getting what they want or need).

      Why would you ever choose option 1? Option 2 is definitively better. But all of that is predicated on vast wealth being as dangerous as you suggest in the first place. I would instead think that, with laws enforced justly, wealth can be taken away from people who don’t deserve it by market forces, not the will of politicians or greedy folks without much money who vote for them.

    • You are not analyzing the source and nature of the rights, and not defining the nature of the restriction to be imposes on those rights.

      Freddie and Fannie are the ones that enabled Goldman Sachs to commit their fraud, and this was not due to the amount of money involved, it was due to the fact that Barney Frank and his cronies held and hold the reigns of power, distorted the laws and committed the fraud. Any investigation of Goldman Sach would lead immediately back to the most powerful movers and shakers of the Democrat Party. No investigator is going to investigate a crime he himself committed.

      It is not the amount of money. It is the injustice created when the state, and nameless bureaucrats and cronies and flunkies, are given arbitrary and unaccountable power over other people’s money in the name of (social justice) (race relations) (fill in meaningless interchangeable socialist buzzword here).

      • Seems this thought is getting the beat down it deserves. I’ll give up in a minute, but first, a couple more thoughts:

        - you are correct, of course, in pointing the finger at Barney Frank & Co. Apart from the appeal in seeing justice done, it would have been edifying to see how, exactly, the wheels turned: was it just investment banks spotting a huge profit to be had from Frank’s ideological tinkering, and grabbing it despite knowing that such a grab would crater the economy, or did they have a more active hand in shaping the legislation to their liking, to better pillage and plunder? One makes them shameless opportunists to be locked away forever; the second, traitors to be shot. But as you say – no investigation will ever take place (and there are plenty of Republicans up to their necks in there as well, so putting them in power would not have helped in this particular case).

        - corruption and treason (what else can it be called when elected officials betray their oaths of office?) sure seem to flourish where money flows freely.

        - I mainly wanted to explore the idea that wealth, in and of itself, is dangerous – as the Gospels teach – and was wondering if there comes a point where the danger is great enough to warrant a society to take some measures to mitigate it by limiting the amount of wealth a individual might control. I never imagined that such measures would be practical in the world we actually have, but was wondering if there was anything to the idea in itself. Because I think it matters what we think is the ideal, even if we can never get there.

        - I never said tax ‘excess’ wealth away. I was imagining a ‘you, the wealth holder may dispose of it however you like, as long as it ends up outside your control’ rule – yea, a fantasy along the lines of that old ‘democracy’ idea. I do agree that, given the choice between unlimited wealth in private hands versus confiscation of that wealth by the government, I’d leave it in private hands.

        - I do not understand your appeal to examine “the source and nature of the rights” in this case. The right to property is, according to Catholic teaching, something a man has insofar as he has the parallel duty to provide for himself and his family. It is not absolute, and can be surrendered, as monks and nuns often do. While it may be unwise to attempt to cap wealth due to the inevitable grab by the government, it is not on the face of it unjust if it does not prevent a man from caring for those under his care. This is the basis of my question: it’s clear, at least morally and theologically, that there’s no absolute right to property that exceeds by any conceivable measure what a man would need to fulfill his duties.

        - I’ve known personally an heir to a gigantic fortune who is very impressed by the great works his grandfather – who really seems to have been a good man, almost saintly – was able to do with his billions. He – the heir – assumed a rather feudal attitude towards others, wherein the gracious lord generously provides for his – what do you call them? Serfs and thralls seems overly harsh, but what’s the right word? I suppose such gracious works might shrink the camel sufficiently for a large enough needle, but it doesn’t make the camel and needle go away.

        Anyway, it’s unworkable in reality. It would be best to have strong laws enforced well and to make the strong – terrifying, actually – Scriptural warning against wealth ring in every street. But the rain falls on the just and unjust alike.

        • “I do not understand your appeal to examine “the source and nature of the rights” in this case. The right to property is, according to Catholic teaching, something a man has insofar as he has the parallel duty to provide for himself and his family. It is not absolute, and can be surrendered, as monks and nuns often do. While it may be unwise to attempt to cap wealth due to the inevitable grab by the government, it is not on the face of it unjust if it does not prevent a man from caring for those under his care. This is the basis of my question: it’s clear, at least morally and theologically, that there’s no absolute right to property that exceeds by any conceivable measure what a man would need to fulfill his duties. ”

          Sorry if I was unclear. I was referring here to an idea I explained in the original post.

          I am in no way positing an absolute right to wealth. I can list off the top of my head three or four very obvious limitations which are fair and their corresponding abuses which are unfair.

          I am asking what the nature of the right is. What is it, in reality, the plan you suggest would be limiting? It is not like the right to free speech and not like the right to life. It is something else.

          I might suggest it is the right to control one’s life time, or the fruit of one’s labor.

          I am asking you also to examine the nature of the threat. So far, we have mentioned two of them: the threat of corrupting politicians by means of money, and the threat (if it can be called that) of spending vast sums of money to ruin the economy.

          At least one other person mentioned in passing the threat (if it can be called that) of using the power to hire and fire people, to erect factories and railways in such a way as to bestow wealth on whole villages and towns or to deprive them of it.

          You and others have also alluded to the Christian threat to one’s own soul of the corruptive influence of money.

          As an attorney, one of the first things any court looks at when it debates whether a law is unconstitutional is whether or not a less restrictive means could be found by the lawmaker to achieve the end the law seeks, without imposing so much on the rights of the public.

          In other words, (1) what is it reasonable men fear from a great inequality of wealth and (2) is there a less restrictive or less dangerous way to address that danger without imposing on the right to own property itself?

          Are there ways to prevent the wealthy from corrupting politicians aside from forbidding the accumulation of wealth?

          Are there ways to stop the destruction of the economy aside from forbidding the accumulation of wealth?

          When I approach the question from this angle, I keep coming to the conclusion that it is the ABSENCE rather than the presence of the natural checks and balances of the free market which is responsible for amplifying the danger posed by the ultra-rich, or, in the case of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, of creating it altogether.

        • Robert Mitchell Jr says:

          In your first thought, you give a binary choice. I think that is an error here. You have written here about the dangers of “too much money”. The only real protection from TMM a “civilian” has is money of their own, yes? Then you have a third choice, to get as much money as you can, while you can, before everything comes crashing down. Congress is not as easily influenced as you might hope, witness the endless calls of the Democrats to raise taxes on the rich, the very same people who fund the Democratic party (there is a reason the Democrats do not share their fundraising records). Sometimes the only way to survive is to be the best pig you can be. Witness the “Air America” fiasco (The CIA “airline”, and only the crazed, paranoid companies who blackmailed the CIA for a piece of the action stayed in business). And, of course, not playing the game is rarely an option, witness the unholy mess that was WACO……..

          ” – corruption and treason (what else can it be called when elected officials betray their oaths of office?) sure seem to flourish where money flows freely.”. Can you give us an example where corruption and treason do not flourish in vastly greater amounts where the money does not flow without permission of the State? Political power, as opposed to money, cannot be counted or stored, giving rise to a “use it or lose it” mentality. Purge or be purged……

    • Tom Simon says:

      “forbidden to create more wealth” does not equal “forbidden to hold a personal fortune above a very high threshold X”. Right? Maybe it is not practically possible to make laws under which Steve Jobs is encouraged to create as much wealth as he wants, but must dispose of any of his personal fortune above $1B (to pick a number).

      Mr. Jobs took enormous risks to create that wealth. The iPod could have failed, the iPhone could have failed, the Mac could have failed, the iTunes Store could have failed, the App Store could have failed; and at the time when he took charge of Apple for the second time, the entire company was close to failing. If he was not allowed to gain any monetary benefit from running the company, why on earth should he take the monetary risk? Why should the shareholders? Why should anyone?

      But – and here’s the big issue for me – if there is a big enough risk to all of us that results from vast fortunes,

      There is no evidence — none — that there is such a risk. Marxist theory holds that such wealth is evil in itself, but does not explain why. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that vast fortunes — that is, large accumulations of capital — are necessary to a technologically advanced society.

      Example: My computer and yours each contain a microprocessor that was built in a tremendously advanced factory, and that factory cost billions of dollars to build — and will end up being scrapped as obsolete after a few years, because the state of technology is moving so rapidly. The Internet infrastructure between me and you, which makes it possible for us to communicate, cost hundreds of billions to build, not counting the entrepreneurship and sweat equity that went into inventing the basic protocols in the early days.

      If you think government can do the whole job, well, government only functions as well as it does because it can draw on the enormous taxable wealth created by private industry. The Soviet Union could not have created the Internet. At the time the IBM PC came out, the best the Soviets could do was to produce limited quantities, at high cost — for military use only — of a primitive 8-bit microprocessor, not even on a single chip, but spread across three. And they had to steal most of the technology to do that much: industrial espionage was one of the KGB’s most important functions. By stealing Western technology, they could stay within about 10 years of Western industry. Without it, they would have made no technological progress whatever.

      could we not consider limiting such fortunes in the same way we limit the holding of advanced weaponry, even while acknowledging a right to bear arms?

      It follows readily, from what I said above, that the cases are not remotely comparable. Advanced weaponry, or masses of simple weaponry, are good for only one thing: large-scale armed combat. Wealth is tremendously fungible; its uses are limited only by the accumulated output of human ingenuity. To use your example, a man with 1,000 assault rifles can do only one of two things with them: create a private army of 1,000 men, or sell the rifles. (In fact you will find there are men who own 1,000 assault rifles: they are either gun manufacturers or gun-store owners, and they are in business precisely to sell those weapons and not to use them.)

      A man with a billion dollars can build a relatively small factory, or a retail and apartment complex, or a small port facility, or many other things. He cannot build an auto plant, or a hydroelectric dam, or a modern IC-fabricating plant, or a chain of large discount stores, or bring a new aeroplane to market: all these activities require many billions of dollars in invested capital. So the billionaire’s second billion is often necessary, not only to his own business, but to society; whereas the gun-collector’s second thousand rifles are of no use to anyone unless he sells them to others.

  3. TheConductor says:

    There is such a thing as too much wealth, but there can be no specific number for it, because it is defined thusly: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

    So Mr. Wright is exactly right, in that it is not the place of any government to tell a man who much wealth he may or may not possess.

    What would produce a reasonable “restriction” on wealth? A robustly Christian society, in which the Gospel is held closely to the hearts of all of us, where the rich man freely gives of his bounty to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to comfort the elderly, in abiding love for his Savior and for his fellow man.

    • Mary says:

      A robustly Christian society would, being made of robustly Christian souls, have no troubles either with greed or with envy.

      Alas, it is not to be in this world.

    • Tom Simon says:

      There is such a thing as too much wealth, but there can be no specific number for it, because it is defined thusly: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

      Distinguo. There is such a thing as an amount of wealth that is perilous to the possessor’s own soul. That does not constitute a danger to society; and indeed society may benefit even while the rich man loses Heaven.

      This is precisely what Adam Smith was on about. He was no believer in either the benevolence or the spiritual goodness of the rich. From The Wealth of Nations:

      It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

    • Mary says:

      We are also assured in that very passage that with God, all things are possible.

  4. Laura says:

    I think there are several distinct issues here. First is the awareness that, if Steve has many orders of magnitude more money than Bob, he will (almost) necessarily have vast practical power over him. That is, he will be able to force Bob into humiliating, or even dangerous, situations without (much) risk of consequences for himself. This could be intentional, negligent or perhaps even unwitting on Steve’s part, but is nonetheless a major problem for Bob. I believe this is the “risk” that Joseph is referring to.

    The trouble is, a large part of the practical power Steve has is due to the fact that his money gives him access to (and sometimes outright bribery of) the government. So the solution proposed– giving the government even more arbitrary power to seize property– is merely taking a larger dose of the poison that is sickening us. There is no reason to think that the very same government that allowed the wholesale fraud to begin with will be fair and evenhanded in seizing the “excess wealth” so accumulated. What (few) successes we have had so far have been in insisting on the classic common law rights– such as the various “anti-Kelo” amendments that have been passed in many of the states.

    A separate issue is the accumulation of wealth past any reasonable ability to use it for the material needs of a person or family. This is a genuine issue for Christian morality– we are only to use material goods for their intended ends, not to mis-use them or to put ourselves into an occasion for sin; and we have a positive obligation to see to the well-being of our neighbors and give generously to good causes. But this is a PERSONAL obligation; the STATE cannot fulfill it in any case. As one example, we Christians are taught to pray to our Father, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That is a personal responsibility for mercy and charity; the state’s responsibility is to have well-functioning courts and bankruptcy procedures in place to provide a just and prudent economic framework for its citizens. The individual cannot fill the state’s role, and the state cannot fill the individual’s role.

    • First is the awareness that, if Steve has many orders of magnitude more money than Bob, he will (almost) necessarily have vast practical power over him. That is, he will be able to force Bob into humiliating, or even dangerous, situations without (much) risk of consequences for himself. This could be intentional, negligent or perhaps even unwitting on Steve’s part, but is nonetheless a major problem for Bob. I believe this is the “risk” that Joseph is referring to.

      But does this exist outside of the fever swamps of Marxist make-believe? Honestly, even during the early industrial revolution, factory jobs were safer than farm work. Women and children did the factory work because men could not be spared from the farm work and manual labor women and children physically could not do. So it was not only safer, but easier.

      The analysis of the essentially voluntary nature of economic exchanges by the metaphor of power and coercion is the central (and sole) metaphor of Marx. Once the metaphor is seen as misleading, indeed, as absurd propaganda, as if he likened noon to midnight, the entire Marxist scheme is exploded.

      So, no. The risks are imaginary, or, to be precise, the risk of statism if the state is granted powers (which of necessity must be arbitrary and intrusive) to regulate private property and its lawful use is so great, and the risk of embarrassment when “forced” to take a job from a very rich man is so much a greater risk that the cure — tyranny — is worse than the disease — freedom.

      The trouble is, a large part of the practical power Steve has is due to the fact that his money gives him access to (and sometimes outright bribery of) the government. So the solution proposed– giving the government even more arbitrary power to seize property– is merely taking a larger dose of the poison that is sickening us.

      Very well said.

      A separate issue is the accumulation of wealth past any reasonable ability to use it for the material needs of a person or family. This is a genuine issue for Christian morality

      I respectfully disagree, unless Christian morality forbids investment as a form of usury. If it allows investment, most of the wealth of the wealth does not end up being consumed as consumer goods, but ends upon invested as stock, allowing jobs to exist which otherwise would not. Adam Smith’s great discovery was that the ability to invest with confidence due to the civility and clearness of the laws of property was the boon which permitted some nations to prosper.

      But this is a PERSONAL obligation; the STATE cannot fulfill it in any case. As one example, we Christians are taught to pray to our Father, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That is a personal responsibility for mercy and charity; the state’s responsibility is to have well-functioning courts and bankruptcy procedures in place to provide a just and prudent economic framework for its citizens. The individual cannot fill the state’s role, and the state cannot fill the individual’s role.

      Bravo!

    • Tom Simon says:

      I think there are several distinct issues here. First is the awareness that, if Steve has many orders of magnitude more money than Bob, he will (almost) necessarily have vast practical power over him. That is, he will be able to force Bob into humiliating, or even dangerous, situations without (much) risk of consequences for himself.

      Many people have many orders of magnitude more than I, but no billionaire has ever been able to force me into any humiliating or dangerous situation. Only the government can do that, for that requires the application of brute force to remove all my alternatives.

  5. Alan Silverman says:

    If there is a finite amount of currency in circulation, and that amount does not change, then isn’t it the case that by definition, all exchange of currency is zero-sum? That is, if you gain an ounce of gold, it is only because someone else lost an ounce of gold?

    (I am not indicating by coercion; that person traded you an ounce of gold for an apple, say)

    • Ephirius says:

      Currency is zero-sum, but wealth is not, because wealth takes many forms. Currency just moves other forms of generated wealth from the producer to the consumer.

    • If there is a finite amount of currency in circulation, and that amount does not change, then isn’t it the case that by definition, all exchange of currency is zero-sum?

      I am astonished at the question. Are you making a joke? Please reread you Adam Smith.

      If exchanging an ounce of gold for a barrel of apples were a zero-sum game, such that one person lost and the other one won, why in the world would the loser agree to the exchange? Unless there is mutual benefit, there can be no mutual trade.

      The value of any good or service offered in trade is subjective. The gold is worth more to the farmer than the apples, for example, because he wishes to keep his value over time. The apples are worth more to the miner than the farmer, for example, because he wishes to bake a pie and eat it. If there are other farmers willing to give the miner more or better apples for less gold, or if there are other miners willing to give the farmer more or finer gold for fewer apples, then the farmer and the miner have certain reasonable limits on what they can ask or offer for trade before the other man goes elsewhere for a better deal. The long term tendency the gold swaps over every good and service in the market is what we call the price.

      It fluctuates according to changes in the buying habits of the buyers and sellers in the market. The price of umbrellas goes up when it rains, for example, because demand increases. The price of turkeys goes down after Thanksgiving, because demand drops.

      When an economy is expanding, the price of all goods and services drop because of the increased efficiency of mechanization and organization. A farmer who uses pesticides and modern methods of apple growing can offer more and better apples for less gold than farmers using more primitive methods, because they needs must employ more field hands. A similar thing happens to a farmer who can ship by rail as opposed to haul by cart to market.

      From time to time a gold currency suffers inflation if new gold mines open, and the amount of gold on the market goes up. This tends to drive prices up, because more gold coins per apple are now need to make the swap mutually beneficial. However, this is so rare in history, that its effects are negligible.

      To answer your question, even if the amount of gold in circulation remands the same, the amount of labor, in an expanding economy, does not remain the same. Each individual gram of a given fineness will simply be worth more and more as labor becomes more and more efficient. It is not a zero-sum game in terms of purchasing power.

      In a paper money economy, the state counterfeits money, printing up IOU’s which the subjects cannot redeem and which do not hold value over time like gold. The paper money is, in effect, a scheme to transfer wealth from creditors to debtors, to the defraud those far from the spigot of government largess for the benefit of those near the spigot. Since destroying the purchasing power leads to capital decumulation, this is a negative-sum game. The debtors take a loss, but the creditors take a greater loss, as the paper money gets more and more worthless. The end result is a crack-up bust of the whole economy, whereupon all the hidden losses become obvious, and general ruin is unleashed upon the world.

      • Alan Silverman says:

        I did not use the words “wealth”, “value”, or “worth” in my question. That was intentional. I was speaking quite literally about the currency itself.

        I do suspect a lot of people don’t necessarily realize a difference between currency and value, and I get the impression you are accusing me of such sloppy thinking.

      • Alan Silverman says:

        Anyways.

        Let us presume a situation where in a particular village, one person owns 90% of the gold, and the other thousand people have the remaining 10% split relatively equally.

        Let us also presume that those thousand people would have, absent government interference, a relatively stable free market: guns and butter and widgets and all that good stuff. The prices for things remain relatively constant, as there’s little to interfere or interrupt this ideal market.

        What happens when the one person with a bunch of gold decides to get involved in this economy? Does it overall help or hinder the other thousand people? What effect does the sudden influx of a lot of gold have?

        • Tom Simon says:

          If one person is hoarding 90% of the gold, then that gold is not currency, because it is not passing current. When you have the influx of gold, the hoarder temporarily becomes able to indulge in a lot of conspicuous consumption; but prices rise rapidly (with various associated dislocations) until they find a new equilibrium. After that the gold-hoarder is worse off than before, and everyone else is (on average) in the same position as before, or slightly better off due to the increased economic activity and risk-taking that can occur during the transition period.

          The history of Spain from the 16th to 18th centuries is instructive. When the Spanish acquired the gold mines of Mexico and Peru, they were, in effect, in the position of the man you describe in your hypothetical — though not to such an extreme, for Spain only controlled about two-thirds of the available gold and not 90%.

          • Mary says:

            It’s possible, in some situations, for everyone to be better off, permanantly. However, the situation is one in which trade was seriously hampered by the lack of a currency to enable trade. Poul Anderson did an amusing story once in which some fairy gold was given to a man as a reward. It vanished, of course, but before it did, it did a lot of good, enabling all sorts of characters to disencumber themselves of an unwanted asset and use the proceeds to buy what they really wanted. It even ended up back in the hands of the original man. Everyone was better off even then. If it had been real gold, it could have gone on faciliating trades like that.

            I doubt it would arise nowadays, but it’s a possible situation.

            • Tom Simon says:

              Indeed, something similar was partly responsible for the renaissance of the Byzantine Empire beginning in the ninth century — but it was copper, not gold, that was the magic metal. The emperor Theophilus, having won some victories over the Bulgars and Arabs, wanted to publicize his triumphs in a way that nobody in the empire could ignore. So he began minting the principal copper coin, the follis, at several times the previous rate, stamping the coins with the legend (translated from the Greek): ‘Theophilus Augustus, you conquer!’

              It turned out that during the disruptions of the previous two centuries, all kinds of useful business had ceased to be transacted because of the difficulty of making small change. The new follis allowed people to make small purchases in the marketplace without resorting to barter or having to keep elaborate tallies. A considerable increase in both the wealth and population of Byzantium dates from this period, and the evidence strongly suggests that the new follis was partly responsible.

    • Stephen J. says:

      All exchange of currency may be zero-sum in that situation; all exchange of wealth is not, because wealth assesses relative value rather than absolute price. If I’m willing to sell you an apple for a gold piece, and you’re willing to buy at that price, I want the gold more than the apple and you want the apple more than the gold, so at the end of the trade we are both wealthier than we were.

      Currency is only an exchange mechanism; it is essentially an agreed-upon system of enumeration of value. If the total sum of currency units in circulation were absolutely fixed, prices and wages would fluctuate enormously and rapidly with changes in the market value of commodities and services; this is, I believe, part of the reason fixed-standard currencies were abandoned, because it allowed more price/wage stability and thus made large-scale budgeting easier and more reliable for both governments and corporations.

      (It also facilitated large-scale credit leveraging of the kind without which the current crisis could not have happened, but there is no such thing as a beneficial capacity which cannot be abused for selfish ends.)

      However, I am not an economist by trade, so corrections or caveats to the above would greatly enhance its usefulness.

      • Tom Simon says:

        Actually, wage and price fluctuations are historically much less under gold-standard currencies than under fiat currencies. Commodities and services will change in market value no matter what currency system is employed. Fiat currencies add an additional source of instability, in that the issuing authority can increase or decrease the money supply at its own whim.

        Gold makes an inconvenient basis for a currency in many respects, but it has this one great advantage, the value of which is about to become painfully apparent to the whole world again, as the Gods of the Copybook Headings catch up once more with the marketplace: Neither politicians, nor central bankers, nor private banks, nor dictators, nor sharp Wall Street operators, can add or subtract one atom of gold from the amount existing on the earth. They cannot print (or erase) gold for their own private advantage, as they can paper dollars.

        • Stephen J. says:

          “Actually, wage and price fluctuations are historically much less under gold-standard currencies than under fiat currencies.”

          Interesting; I did not know that. But is a gold-standard currency the same as a fixed-total currency, in the context of this discussion?

          “Neither politicians, nor central bankers, nor private banks, nor dictators, nor sharp Wall Street operators, can add or subtract one atom of gold from the amount existing on the earth.”

          No — but new discoveries can add to the effective amount to which we have access, which is the reason gold rushes and hoarding were so economically disruptive. And even gold itself can change its value if different uses are discovered for it. (I am now having fun contemplating some James-Bondian type fantasy villain threatening to turn all the gold in the vaults of the Kingdoms of the Covenant to lead with a single massive spell, destroying the Kingdoms’ abilities to pay and arm the Legions and rendering them ripe for conquest by the Black League.)

          • Mary says:

            I remember D&D’s justification for its pricing schemes: a wildly inflated price scheme kept DM from facing the choice of eking out the treasure or watching the party be able to buy the world — and cause massive disruption to boot.

  6. Stephen J. says:

    The paralleling of wealth with arms indicates what, I think, is really being worried about: the concentration of means of social control in the hands of a minority, both in terms of an absolute level thereof and in terms of the justice of how that control is gained, maintained, and transferred.

    Wealth accumulated by honest trade and fed back into the economy is no more dangerous than a firearm in the hands of a skilled, sober and trustworthy operator: not at all, unless you deliberately set yourself against it in an unlawful manner. Wealth used to corrupt the rules of “honest trade,” such that those state-enforced rules now unjustly privilege one group over another in accumulating it, has exactly the same effect as a firearm in the hands of a bandit — theft — and is dangerous in the same manner that any parasite endangers its host; if it is “too successful” and kills the host, it too will die. (Ironically, it is unions far more than corporations that demonstrate this principle in action these days.)

    Now that said, a statistical case can probably be made that given the undeniable and statistically inevitable tendency of power to corrupt, certain levels of wealth can be statistically correlated with rising probabilities of corruption, such that those people in the true megamillionaire status caste might reasonably be expected to undergo exceptional scrutiny of their activities and relationships. But there’s a difference between being monitored more closely about how you use your wealth, for fear you may abuse it, and arbitrarily capping the amount of wealth any one person may have out of pre-emptive certainty they will abuse it. We have not yet gotten to the point where it is considered acceptable to punish someone for future actions we only anticipate them committing, thank God.

  7. The OFloinn says:

    In terms of the oppression of the many, it’s probably useful to make a distinction between wealth and power. We observed that in history most oppressors have been rich and powerful. But the question is then did they become powerful because they were rich or did they become rich because they were powerful. Historically, merchants, entrepreneurs, and peasants who accumulated a bit of wealth would become targets for confiscation by the king’s henchmen. Unsophisticated kings, like say barbarian conquerors, would swoop in and scoop up all the loot and impoverish the countries they ruled, much as a new parasite kills itself along with the host. More sophisticated kings might simply dip their beaks enough but not kill the host. They might even reward the hosts by granting them knighthoods or peerages or access to government contracts.

    • Stephen J. says:

      “But the question is then did they become powerful because they were rich or did they become rich because they were powerful.”

      I have to admit that to me this sounds like a bit of a chicken-egg question — though I’d be interested in hearing more about how it’s not, if I’m wrong in this impression.

      • The OFloinn says:

        We can observe that the Bonaparte family was not especially wealthy prior to Napoleon’s seizure of power. And Hitler had been a homeless street artist. The Mongols were not known for their wealth prior to their conquests. Neither was Bill Clinton wealthy prior to his election. Some, like U.S.Grant, died in poverty. LBJ became wealthy in the course of his government service.
        J.D.Rockefeller otoh, while immensely wealthy for a time, was eventually toppled as the demand for gasoline overtook the demand for kerosene, and Rockefeller’s Pennsylvania heavy, while suitable for making motor oil and kerosene for lamps, was not as well-suited for making gasoline as West Texas light.
        It is sometimes said that men of wealth can purchase men of power; but the men of power often have guns (or at least the police power), and the money transactions might from another perspective be seen not as a purchase but as protection money paid extorted in the traditional manner.

        • Sean Michael says:

          An analogy from Roman history occurred to me which I think makes the issues clearer. I have in mind the First Triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. The latter was apparently either the wealthiest or one of the wealthiest men in Rome. Yet it was not he, but Caesar and Pompey who were by far the most POWERFUL, because they commanded ARMIES. And it was Crassus’ attempt to balance this disparity between simple wealth and actual power by himself trying his hand at being an army commander which led to the Roman disaster at the Battle of Carrhae.

          So, no, I remain skeptical that merely being a wealthy man is necesarily a danger to the state. Nor do I advocate or support any attempts to use state power to arbitrarily define how wealthy a person can be.

          One last point, which I don’t think anyone else has mentioned. I believe the parrot shrieks I see so often from pols and in the media about how “little” the wealthy pay in taxes or how “powerful” they are is based on nothing but spite and envy. I believe many are envious of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs because they discovered or invented goods and services people desired so much that they became enormously wealthy.

          Sean M. Brooks

        • Dan says:

          Hitler had been a homeless street artist.

          Point of information: Hitler was rather proud of having made his money entirely honestly and above-board: from his royalties on sales of Mein Kampf. Of course, it was more-or-less expected that every family would own a copy; they were often given as wedding gifts after the Nazi Party came to power..

          The rest of Hitler’s public lifestyle came from the general perks that accrue to any head of government, and as far as I know he did not abuse them. IIRC he was quite proud of his personal frugality.

          • Tom Simon says:

            Point of information: Hitler always received money from the Nazi Party whenever he made a public political speech, and this income (unlike his royalties from Mein Kampf) was not reported to the income tax authorities. There are a lot of surviving letters and other documents from Nazi sources in the 1920s complaining, as William Shirer puts it in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, of ‘the high cost of Hitler’.

  8. Mary says:

    I idly observe that since the Constitution specifically authorizes letters of marque and reprisal, the Founding Father anticipiated that private hands could have any weapon of war they pleased.

    • I also note that at the time when it was written, farmers in America had not only the same firearms the best equipped military in the world had, namely, British muskets, in some respects the Kentucky rifle was superior. Although I believe townships owned cannon. I don’t know of cases where the cannons were privately owned.

      In any case, Stephen J’s question was not about the justice of limitations on the Second Amendment. He was using that only as an example or a springboard to show that most or all Constitutional or natural rights have limitations.

      • Gigalith says:

        If I may be forgiven for derailing the subject a bit, I note that even limiting, or not limiting, Second Amendment rights is theoretically difficult. Suppose we had the Shardblades (Almost-unstoppable six-foot magical swords) and Shardplate (The only thing that can stop Shardblades, near-invincle magical power armor) from Brandon Sanderson’s excellent THE WAY OF KINGS. Assume there are as many as in the book, sixty full sets or so, and we know neither how to make new ones or destroy them. Pretend we are the Founders, two hundred years ago. If we give that a modern Shardbearer would have as much power compared to a man with a musket as a multibillionaire has to the man with ten thousand dollars, what precisely are we going to do about it? If the ordinary man can own Shards, then how can the state possibly enforce the law, short of a minor civil war every time a Shardbearer disagrees with the Congress? If the state has sole title to every Shard, then how will the people possibly resist tyranny if the state turns on them?

        I am honestly wondering the question as I think it, myself.

        • Mary says:

          It’s the inability to create more that is both the prime source of danger and the chief unreality about them.

        • I have not read the book mentioned, but I notice that in our current society in real life, some people own guns and some do not. The cases where an unarmed man can fight an armed man on equal terms are so rare as to be prodigies. So the WAY OF KINGS analogy seems to be exactly the society in which we live. The armed man who can defeat the unarmed man you defeat by sending more armed men against him.

          If he is an invulnerable as Kal-El of Krypton when a Shardbearer defies the law, I might suggest taking a Conservative approach to the problem: the law gathers the posse, seizes (or burns) his house or his place of business, and take (or executes) his wife and children and parents if he does not surrender, or waits until he is asleep and rolls him into a pit whose sides are lined with slippery honey and releases the swarms of poisonous bees upon him while he drowns.

          I call this the conservative approach because we conservatives take the approach that a man is not an abstract unit isolated from reality, but is instead a member of a matrix of organic relationships reaching church, private associations, business associations, guilds, townships, community, family. The liberal and libertarian approach is to look at the state-and-individual as the only relationship worth talking about, and the liberals regard the state as nanny and the individual as subject; the libertarians regard the individual as sovereign citizen and the state as a contract made with other sovereign citizens for their mutual protection. Both dismiss the organic and natural relationships of man, especially and primarily marriage, which is the building block of society. Libertarians regard marriage as a type of long term contract for the services of a prostitute, and liberals regard marriage as the enemy, an oppression preventing orgies and perversions in which they hope for joy and happiness, as they regard all natural relationships and covenants. Libertarians ignore children, and liberals hate children.

          The approach to the question of how the state protects itself from powerful warlike individuals in its midst, or, in this specific case, protects itself from superheroes, is basically the opposite of the main conservative political question that forms the basis of all conservative thinking: namely, we are concerned not with the problem of the state being too weak to fend off subject who are disloyal; we are concerned with the problem of the state being too strong to allow subjects to be citizens, while being strong enough to deter foreign invasion and domestic insurrection.

          I will refer you to a philosopher who, albeit a proponent of absolute government, could have been a conservative thinker had he only applied his logic to the problem of limitations on government corruption and government power, namely, Thomas Hobbes. Since this problem was invisible to him, he, being an intellectual, was led by his logic down the slippery slope and the primrose path and the road paved with good intentions to that same hell of Plato’s Utopia that all intellectuals are led, who do not bring judgment to bear on their fond abstract imaginings.

          NATURE hath made men so equal in the faculties of the body and mind, as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. For, as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.

          Your WAY OF KINGS books basically posits a false to facts hypothetical, similar to the hysterical Marxist fear of the conspiracy of rich Jews to enslave and starve the wage earners, where single individuals have the power to claim benefits to themselves the community around them cannot match.

          It is deeply disturbing to me even to discuss this issue, particularly in the time and circumstances of the real world around us, and the events in the news. It is like men drowning in the icy seas after their ship is holed by an iceberg debating whether they are in danger of dying in the desert from heat prostration and dehydration.

          Our main problem in this world is not the danger posed by men who are manifestly superior in wealth or arms to other men. There are no such men.

          Our man danger is the danger posed by tyrants and demagogues who use egalitarian rhetoric to enact a permanent class of ‘nomenklatura’ or bureaucrats to microregulate our lives, our labor, our speech, our thoughts, all in the name of abolishing the utter imaginary danger of inequality between the utterly imaginary conspiracy of superior oppressors (White Christian Males who are Nazis and their allies the evil hook-nosed moneylending Jews) and the utterly imaginary oppressed class (Islamic victims of racism, black victims of racism, Spanish-speaking victims of racism, gay victims of homophobia, female victims of sexism, poor victims of classism, ugly victims of lookism, old victims of agism, victims, victims, victims.) There are such tyrants, they occupy all of China and the third world, and less violent versions of them occupy Europe and the Democrat Party in the United States.

          The mere fact that the bugaboo against whom all this imaginary hysteria is directed is a White Jewish Catholic Nazi Klansman does not deter the hysteria. Logic is not their strong point: they see no self contradiction in the ‘narrative’ of directing hatred against both Jews and Nazis, Catholics and Klansman. To the Left, these things are one thing.

          So, even if the hypothetical problem of how to deal with evil supermen among us or evil superrich among us were real, the greater problem would still be how to limit the size, power and scope of government to the smallest possible ambit consistent with maintaining public peace, weal, and good order.

          Having many evil superrich superman among us, if they were a private citizens, would be a minor problem or no problem at all, compared to having even one government with so much power that it can prevent the rise of the rich and powerful, because that is the government of tyranny, the absolute government, the government that will and must inevitable wreck the economy and usurp the liberty of his subjects.

          Living as we do in the fourth year of depression caused, not by the super rich, but by the government forcing banks to give loans to people who could not pay them back in the name of egalitarianism and race-equality, I think this is the more inappropriate possible time to bring up the idea of making the government even more powerful to prevent the rise of inequality.

          • Gigalith says:

            You misunderstand me. THE WAY OF KINGS is actually a book I believe you will find noble, such as the better parts of Gurren Lagann. There are heroes whose power comes from, literally, following the ideals of heroism, and the title refers not to how kings actually are, but how they ought to be. It is I who have brought the comparison to the Second Amendment, not Brandon Sanderson.

            But perhaps I should explain my overall thought. The life to right is absolute across all time and space, such that on Earth, on the Moon, on Alpha Centauri and everywhere else, murder is still wrong. If we were in Middle-Earth murder would be wrong just as much as if we were on Tatooine. Even if there was black magic powered by the death of the innocent, even if there was no way to even breathe without killing the innocent, intentional killing of another would remain wrong. This is the very principle of absolute rights, that they remain valid no matter what situation or justification can be brought against them.

            It is true that not all rights, absolute or not, make sense in every situation. Nomads would care little about the third amendment. Nevertheless, they have just the same rights against troops being billeted in their home if they ever decide to settle.

            Thus we may use Feanor refusing to surrender the Simarils to heal the Two Trees of Valinor as a useful scenario to discuss Eminent Domain, even if there are not three jewels containing the greatest and last light and beauty in the world. Even though such jewels cannot exist as the Two Trees do not, even though in the scenario in question Feanor did not even have the Simarils, though he knew it not, the question may still be fruitfully asked whether he had the right to refuse them.

            Thus, I am asking whether the Second Amendment is, even in theory, absolute with every possible arm and armor, or only up to a point. We may discard those weapons whose very creation or use is inherently immoral, such as the One Ring or bioengineered plagues, as crimes for other reasons beside power. We may also discard weapons that cannot exist even philosophically, like the Subtle Knife. My question is whether the vast armory of conceivable weaponry remaining is all licit, or only some of it, or if it depends on the situation.

            Is the right to bear arms absolute, absolute in theory but limited in practice, or limited in both theory and practice? I am asking entirely sincerely.

            To continue with the Shardbearer, true, the militia can in practice throw the quasi-invincible outlaw into the Pit of Bees and Assorted Suffering while he sleeps, and the Shards do not reach their theoretical potential. But, also in practice, what are they going to do with the Plate and Blade afterwards? Distribute them by raffle? Bury them? Give them to the government?

            Suppose the situation is the reverse, and ALIEN SPACE BATS gave a set of Shards to George Washington and his most trusted men. When they pass on, on to whom shall their unearthly weaponry pass? Their descendants? The state? Hand half to the people and keep the other half? If Britain with Redcoat Shardbearers attacks again, may the state draft civilian Shardbearers to fight back?

            I apologize if I am dragging this discussion into unproductive territory. Nevertheless, if we are to defend the Second Amendment against government encroachment, I would like to know what precisely it means.

            • Sean Michael says:

              Hi, Gigalith!

              Just a few nitpicks! First, Middle Earth IS our Earth, Tolkien’s legendarium merely being set in the remote past. And, Feanor was not ordered by the Valar to give up the Silmarils he had created, he was only asked to do so. So, the principle of eminent domain does not apply to his case.

              Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

              • Gigalith says:

                You are quite correct that the Valar did not demand the Simarils. It is merely the kind of situation in which Eminent Domain could, rightly or wrongly, conceivably be invoked (as it was not).

                • Sean Michael says:

                  Hi, Gigalith!

                  Then we are agreed, the principle of Eminent Domain could have been applied to Feanor and his Silmarils case, but was not. The Valar had been forbidden by Eru Iluvatar to use force and coercion on the Children of Iluvatar (elves and men).

                  And your comments about why murder remains a crime no matter where or when committed reminded me of what Aragorn said in Book III, Chapter 2 of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.”

                  Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

            • “Thus, I am asking whether the Second Amendment is, even in theory, absolute with every possible arm and armor, or only up to a point. “

              I misunderstood the question. A right is a moral imperative which creates in another party an obligation to do or to avoid specific acts. Such as, for example, a right of free speech prohibits the state from making a law administering the content of speech, or making certain utterances illegal.

              All rights are limited to their proper circumstances. Even the right to life is limited: the state can lawfully impress or draft a levy of militia, and force every able bodied man to bear arms against the enemy, and place him under military discipline, and this includes situations where a captain can command a soldier to stand in the breech before enemy cannonfire, a situation of certain death. The command is lawful even if the Captain shows extremely poor military prudence, or the act is reckless. However, a Captain cannot murder a soldier.

              Again, in order to understand a right and the limits of a right, it is necessary to examine the nature of the right.

              The right to bear arms was a prohibition placed on the Federal government by the Founders to forbid the state from disarming the people. While this matter has been surrounded by much specious debate, of time before memory the right to bear arms was consonant with liberty. It was to prevent the tyranny. The arms envisioned were those sufficient to mount a successful armed rebellion against the established state, that is, military grade weapons, not mere hunting or target shooting bits of sporting equipment. That such arms are also used for self protection goes without saying: a free man not only has a right, he has a moral duty to defend himself and his family from criminals. The state has an obligation to monitor such defense and pronounce such killings lawful or unlawful. It is not the duty of the state to protect you, or to protect your family. Even if it were such a duty, as a practical matter, it cannot do so.

              If we lived in a world where the state posed a smaller danger to the liberty of man, such a strong prohibition against disarming the citizens might not be necessary. Again, in a situation where the king or republic has just conquered a rebellious province or invaded and conquered an alien people and needs to secure his reign, disarming the conquered people may be both prudent and just, or forbidden them from assembling, and so on. I do not see the right to bear arms as being an absolute which exists in this and every imaginable universe, or applying to every form of weapon.

              With the coming of modern technology, weapons of vast powers of destruction are open to humanity. Even in a republic of free men, private ownership of an atomic bomb is problematical. As a general rule, I would suggest that every free man be allowed, and perhaps obligated, to own and drill in the use of arms equal to that carried by the police and by the infantry footsoldier, so that a credible threat against the government exists at all times, at least sufficient that the population cannot be governed against their will, even if the people cannot be armed with weapons sufficient to drive a standing army from the field.

              But, again, I suggest this is a matter of prudence, which would differ in different points in history, or in different worlds both real and imaginary, depending on the circumstances, and the careful judgment of different weights of danger, the one against the other, or different forms of authority.

              A situation in Middle Earth, for example, where the government is in the hands of supernatural beings with a natural right and duty to rule over mortal and lesser beings, is not a situation of a republic of free men who are justly suspicious that a Napoleon among them will seek to elevated himself imperially above his peers.

              • Gigalith says:

                Well spoken.

                Indeed, I consider now that choice of government may rest on precisely which rights may exist. Rather than a republic allowing a Second Amendment, perhaps it is the Second Amendment which allows the republic. A world where one man in ten thousand is ten thousand times stronger than his peers is perhaps a better place for an aristocracy than a true republic.

                It also occurs to me that, returning to the Shardbearers, this is precisely the situation that Federalism is supposed to prevent. Let the Federation have five sets and distribute the rest to the States. If the Federation grows uppity, let the States overthrow it. If a State grows tyrannical, let the state militia or the Federal Shardbearer Corps come to throw the rebels into the Abyss of Hymenopteran Despair.

              • Stephen J. says:

                “It is not the duty of the state to protect you, or to protect your family. Even if it were such a duty, as a practical matter, it cannot do so.”

                I have to admit that this assertion caught me by surprise. I had thought one of the only justifiable reasons for having a state at all was for organized mutual protection. If the state has no duty even to attempt to protect its citizens, why bother having one? What duties does it have to its citizens? (Or am I confusing State with Government, here, in trying to understand the point being made?)

                • We are talking about two different kinds of protection. The state exists to enforce law and order so as to secure the rights of man, to repel foreign invasion and to suppress domestic insurrection. To accomplish this, the state has a certain group of men commissioned to carry out what in olden times was called the King’s justice high and low, that is, to punish criminals in the name of the King, because the crime offends the peace.

                  In a republic this justice is done in the name of the people. Its basic purpose is to prevent the private justice of men retaliating against criminal gangs and families, because sad experience shows that fallen man cannot be trusted to enact reliable and predictable vengeance against wrongs done to him or his. No man is wise enough for this native conception of justice is sufficient to form a predictable sets of laws for all to follow, and no man is disinterested enough in his own wrong to weigh his own case objectively.

                  That is the purpose of the state.

                  What I said was that the police are not bodyguards. Policemen are not even liable, under American common law, to come to your aid to stop a crime being committed against you. (Warren v. District of Columbia (444 A.2d. 1, D.C. Ct. of Ap. 1981)

                  Hence, it is your responsibility to carry a firearm, and to brandish it to deter a crime against you, and, if you are in danger of life and limb, or the life or limb of an innocent third party is in danger, to kill the attacker. Check you local jurisdiction to see if you are in a ‘duty to retreat’ state or a ‘stand your ground’ state.

                  • Stephen J. says:

                    “Policemen are not even liable, under American common law, to come to your aid to stop a crime being committed against you.”

                    Well, I’m not American so the specifics of this answer will not apply to me personally, but I confess to further surprise to hear this. When you say they are not “liable”, is this merely meant to prevent citizens frivolously suing a police force or individual police officer for simply not happening to be near enough to observe and prevent an attempted criminal action? Or does it actually mean that a police officer, upon happening to observe a crime in progress, is legally entitled (i.e. immune from consequence) to do nothing at all if he simply doesn’t want to interfere?

                    (Don’t get me wrong, I can easily imagine situations where that’s exactly the right thing to do — letting a nonviolent robbery or criminal sale proceed, for example, for the sake of gathering evidence and following crooks to hideouts, etc. But I can also easily imagine situations where that discretion could be horribly abused, and it’s hard to grasp the idea that a cop has no duty to, e.g., try to save my butt if he sees me getting mugged in an alley.)

                    • Gigalith says:

                      As far as I know, it’s the latter. The police do not have a legal duty to prevent any particular crime, even if they can.

                      Among other reasons that you have mentioned, preventing a crime has a dire opportunity cost: there are a finite number of squad cars. If they prevent a robbery, they may allow a murder. In fact, if they had to prevent every crime, then gangs would have some of the members commit minor crimes to legally distract the police, and then have their greater number rob a bank.

                    • The police are under no duty to protect you. If they fail to protect you, you may not sue them. This is done both to prevent frivolous lawsuits, and because, as practical matter, the police could not act as your bodyguards even if they wanted to.

                      The cop is allowed to stand idly by buffing his fingernails while he sees you getting mugged in an ally. The duty is a moral one, because he is a man of character, not a duty that can be legally enforced by private lawsuit.

                      Let me give you the details of the seminal case:

                      Warren v. District of Columbia (444 A.2d. 1, D.C. Ct. of Ap. 1981)

                      In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 16, 1975, Carolyn Warren and Joan Taliaferro who shared a room on the third floor of their rooming house at 1112 Lamont Street Northwest in the District of Columbia, and Miriam Douglas, who shared a room on the second floor with her four-year-old daughter, were asleep. The women were awakened by the sound of the back door being broken down by two men later identified as Marvin Kent and James Morse. The men entered Douglas’ second floor room, where Kent forced Douglas to sodomize him and Morse raped her.

                      Warren and Taliaferro heard Douglas’ screams from the floor below. Warren telephoned the police, told the officer on duty that the house was being burglarized, and requested immediate assistance. The department employee told her to remain quiet and assured her that police assistance would be dispatched promptly.

                      Warren’s call was received at Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters at 0623 hours, and was recorded as a burglary-in-progress. At 0626, a call was dispatched to officers on the street as a “Code 2″ assignment, although calls of a crime in progress should be given priority and designated as “Code 1.” Four police cruisers responded to the broadcast; three to the Lamont Street address and one to another address to investigate a possible suspect. (This suggests that when they heard that there had been a burglary, the police must have felt that they had a promising lead on a culprit.)

                      Meanwhile, Warren and Taliaferro crawled from their window onto an adjoining roof and waited for the police to arrive. While there, they observed one policeman drive through the alley behind their house and proceed to the front of the residence without stopping, leaning out the window, or getting out of the car to check the back entrance of the house. A second officer apparently knocked on the door in front of the residence, but left when he received no answer. The three officers departed the scene at 0633, five minutes after they arrived.

                      Warren and Taliaferro crawled back inside their room. They again heard Douglas’ continuing screams; again called the police; told the officer that the intruders had entered the home, and requested immediate assistance. Once again, a police officer assured them that help was on the way. This second call was received at 0642 and recorded merely as “investigate the trouble;” it was never dispatched to any police officers.

                      Believing the police might be in the house, Warren and Taliaferro called down to Douglas, thereby alerting Kent to their presence. At knife point, Kent and Morse then forced all three women to accompany them to Kent’s apartment. For the next fourteen hours the captive women were raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon one another, and made to submit to the sexual demands of Kent and Morse.

                      The plaintiff sued the District of Columbia for negligence. The case was dismissed for failure to state a cause of action.

                      Other cases on point:

                      See also Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005). This is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled, 7–2, that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of a woman’s three children by her estranged husband.

                      See also Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Department 901 F.2d 696 (9th Cir. 1990). Balistreri, beaten and harassed by her estranged husband, alleged a “special relationship” existed between her and the Pacifica Police Department, to wit, they were duty-bound to protect her because there was a restraining order against her husband. The Court of Appeals, however, concluded that DeShaney limited the circumstances that would give rise to a “special relationship” to instances of custody. Because no such custody existed in Balistreri, the Pacifica Police had no duty to protect her, so when they failed to do so and she was injured they were not liable.

                      There are also statutes specifically holding the same, such as California’s Government Code, Sections 821, 845, and 846 which state, in part: “Neither a public entity or a public employee [may be sued] for failure to provide adequate police protection or service, failure to prevent the commission of crimes and failure to apprehend criminals.”

                      If the idea is hard to grasp, perhaps it is time for you to come to your senses, and go buy a gun.

                    • Stephen J. says:

                      Well, I’m Canadian, as I said before, so I’m not sure what the rules are up here, nor am I entitled to quite the same level of legal protection for owning a gun; and Toronto is a culture much less friendly to private-firearm ownership (as opposed to the prairie provinces). I have a phobia of loud noises that would make obtaining the operational skill I’d demand of myself problematic, in any event, and I also have an autistic eight-year-old son with an extremely curious and clever mind and little sense of personal danger, so I doubt I could convince my wife to allow a firearm in the apartment anyway unless it was so strongly secured as to render it almost certainly unavailable in the kind of crisis it would be intended to alleviate.

                      Under what circumstances can agents of the police, or police forces, be held responsible for wilful negligence or incompetence in the performance of their duty? I can understand the legal arguments prohibiting being sued or punished for mere failure in endeavours where success cannot be guaranteed, but surely there must be some way to legally differentiate between “failure despite best or reasonable efforts” and “failure due to no effort or unreasonably insufficient effort”?

                    • Under what circumstances can agents of the police, or police forces, be held responsible for wilful negligence or incompetence in the performance of their duty?

                      None. Is that not clear? You can vote politicians out of office if you do not like the way the police are doing their jobs. You cannot sue the policeman.

                      I also have an autistic son and no gun in my house. At least get a knife, or pepperspray, or something. You are obligated to protect your children. It is not a duty you can pass off to someone else.

                    • Tom Simon says:

                      Under what circumstances can agents of the police, or police forces, be held responsible for wilful negligence or incompetence in the performance of their duty?

                      In Canada, too: under no circumstances at all. They are agents of the Crown and have sovereign immunity when acting as such. (We have clung to the principle that the King is above the law as a dying drunkard clings to his last whisky bottle — and we did it for no better reason than to show that we were loyal British subjects, unlike those nasty Yankees. This is the definition of a Canadian: someone who will cut off his nose to spite an American’s face.)

          • Mary says:

            liberals regard marriage as the enemy, an oppression preventing orgies and perversions in which they hope for joy and happiness, as they regard all natural relationships and covenants.

            Nonsense! It’s the enemy because it minimizes the chances of the couple and their children becoming dependent on the Leviathan, and how then can they push them around like pieces on a chessboard?

      • Stephen J. says:

        I think that was Mr. (Mrs? Ms?) Moore, actually, making the original comparison between limiting arms and limiting wealth.

  9. Tom Simon says:

    Here, by the way, is a ghastly little thought-experiment, a story in point form:

    1. A well-meaning but stupid government decides that $1 billion is ‘enough’ money for anyone, and passes a law stating that if anyone owns or beneficially controls more than $1 billion in net worth (assets minus liabilities), the government shall confiscate the difference.

    2. A malicious and equally stupid government comes into power and decides to implement full-blown Marxian socialism, but for political reasons it cannot enact a law expropriating all property.

    3. The malicious government therefore prints money at hyperinflationary rates — the kind of rates seen in Weimar Germany, or post-WWII Hungary, or Zimbabwe in the last decade. Prices shoot sky-high and the currency collapses. A billion dollars will now buy a loaf of bread — if you’re careful and shop around.

    4. Since the existing law forbids anyone to own wealth over a billion dollars, the government is now fully legally justified in seizing everyone’s assets, down to and including loaves of bread. The entire wealth of the nation is confiscated and the people are left with nothing, save what the all-powerful State chooses to allow them to have.

    If you think step 5 can be anything but a bloodbath and a disaster, I advise you to read any of the following:

    The Great Terror, by Robert Conquest
    The Black Book of Communism, edited by Stéphane Courtois
    Koba the Dread, by Martin Amis
    The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Extra credit for watching the film The Killing Fields.

  10. Cambias says:

    In the early 19th century there were a LOT of cannon in private hands: most ships carried at least a signalling gun, and those trading in East Asia often mounted a substantial broadside. I remember reading that some plantation owners — particularly those whose lands were accessible by water — had a cannon or two for signaling and (presumably) antipiracy. And as far as I know there was no law forbidding it, just a general lack of desire to own something expensive and useless.

  11. Joseph M says:

    Thanks to everyone for the various thoughts expressed here. Conclusions:

    - Uncle!

    - I would do much better spending time I spend electronically flapping my gums in carefully reading the actual replies, especially Mr. Wright’s original reply. In my defense, it is only just now that I’ve had more than a couple minutes to look this over (but that didn’t shut me up – oops).

    - I was unclear in my own head what my main concern really is, and you all clarified it: I’m worried about the abuse of power, of which the abuse of wealth is but a subset. Therefore, in and of itself, limiting wealth, even theoretically in the best case, is like pushing on a balloon – the unaddressed corruption would just manifest somewhere else.

    - Still uncomfortable with considering vast wealth as if it’s just like me having $10 in my pocket, only more so – like the risk I run that I might buy cheap vodka, drink it, smash the bottle and threaten passer-byes with jagged glass is morally similar to getting drunk with the power that comes along with billions of dollars and funding a foundation to promote population control. About the only really good thing I’ve found in Hegel is his assertion that quantitative differences in the extreme are qualitative. Then again, there’s Hemingway’s quip in response to Fitzgerald’s ‘The rich are different from us.’ – ‘Yea, they have lots of money.’ But I’ve not thought this through enough.

    - The O’Floinn’s comments are especially to the point: Power and wealth, while clearly related, are not the same thing. Many a petty, focused, violent and unscrupulous man has gained power before gaining wealth.

    - To the accusation (gently made) that I sound like one of those ‘property is theft’ loonies, I plead ‘Californian’. The detox is going well, thank you, but I still get twitchy once in a while.

    Thanks again to all.

  12. Dystopia Max says:

    Great wealth is dangerous because it promotes a Darwinian mindset: The firstest cheapest mostest wins!

    For instance, the meatpacking industry used to be among the greatest union jobs in America. Riiiight up until the time one company discovered that there was little penalty to flouting US immigration law and busing large numbers of Mexicans to America to do the work for a great deal less (thanks to Mexico’s terrible fiscal policy, dollars were way, way, more valuable south of the border. The ~$7-$15 an hour a Mexican made was worth around $100 south of the border at the time, sadly the American workers weren’t far-sighted or multi-tongued or hard-headed enough to secure Mexican properties for themselves.)

    The other meatpacking companies, rather than, say, legally attacking this obvious cheating, decided to follow suit and import their own Mexicans. Various elaborations and innovations followed in the intervening decades, mostly the buying off of congressmen, the making of common cause with other businesses that employed low-skilled workers, the discovery that “the worse, the better” with employees, leading to the preferential employment of Indian hill tribes that spoke neither English nor Spanish, the fellow-traveling and massive enabling of the La Raza industry, the mysterious and continuous increase in drunk driving fatalities and gang violence in major cities, the abandonment of advanced farming equipment in fields due to the greater marginal utility of hordes of low-paid, low-skill labor, and of course, the arrival of MS-13, who rightly saw those vast pools of Mexicans as the perfect place for their sharks to swim…and bite.

    What exactly is the lawful competitor to do in that situation?

    WE MUST MAINTAIN AND INCREASE STOCKHOLDER VALUES…
    WE CAN’T ROCK THE BOAT RIGHT NOW…
    THEY’VE ALREADY BRIBED EVERYONE ON THE GOV’T ENFORCEMENT COMMITTEE THAT MATTERS…
    THE MEDIA WILL CALL US RACIST…
    THEY’RE POOR PEOPLE, AREN’T THEY?
    WE DON’T WANT TO BE LUMPED IN WITH THOSE OTHER UNIONS…

    Those and many calls like them have quelled the ‘decent’ thinking types, though a few noble holdouts remain.

    Myself, I would prefer to see the immediate summary execution of any corporation that was found to have employed illegals. (At minimum, of course! The current company CEOs and CFOs could doubtless be permanently retired at the same time.)

    For those in an evolutionary, make money now, total compartmentalization mindset will be stopped by nothing but immediate death when found on the wrong side of the law. This doesn’t mean that a large amount of wealth in private hands is necessarily evil. It does mean that the individuals and corporations who do have it need to be watched like hawks by men with guns who value something more than money. Likely this brings up inefficiencies, but so does turning America into Mexico El Norte.

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