Progressives are more interested in scapegoating the wealthy than they are in relieving poverty.
What’s with the New York Times and its Ken Griffin fetish?
Inside of a week, the Chicago hedge-fund manager who recently dropped $238 million on a 24,000-square-foot New York City penthouse has been featured in no fewer than three news articles. The purchase set the record for most expensive home sale in the U.S., so it’s certainly newsworthy. But does it warrant a 1,700-word front-page article? And a second thousand-word story the following day? That depends on if you share the editors’ progressive agenda.
The Gray Lady informs us that Mr. Griffin is worth around $10 billion, collects expensive art, and owns other pricey properties in the U.S. and abroad. A generous philanthropist, he’s given away nearly three times as much money as he spent on his new residence. But the paper also wants us to know that he “has declined to join other billionaires in a pact to donate a majority of their wealth to charity” and that “critics” consider him “especially tone deaf” for “spending so freely at a moment when populist movements are gaining momentum around the globe.” For good measure, we’re told that the penthouse has been constructed on the site of a former rent-stabilized building. Apparently, the reader is expected to blame New York’s affordable-housing troubles on Mr. Griffin and his ilk, not idiotic rent-control regulations that discourage developers from building middle-income apartments.
Suddenly, we’re not reading real-estate porn anymore. The Times has shoehorned Mr. Griffin into yet another rant about stingy billionaires, income inequality and the supposed need for tax increases to expand the welfare state. A separate article even compares him unfavorably with a previous generation’s ultrarich, “who had a prevailing sense that too much was distasteful.” Examples include Brooke Astor, who “lived, until her death, in an apartment on Park Avenue that was not in excess of 5,000 square feet,” and David and Peggy Rockefeller, who raised six kids in an Upper East Side townhouse that measured a mere 10,000 square feet. Actually, Astor died at 105 in one of her other residences, an 11,000-square-foot manor set on almost 65 acres in suburban Westchester County. And the Rockefeller estate, which is located nearby and occupies 3,500 acres of land, makes the Astor home look modest by comparison. Locals joke that “it’s what God would have built, if he had the money.”
How Ken Griffin and other wealthy people spend money is their business. But the left’s determination to confiscate more of those dollars to redistribute to people they deem worthier concerns everyone. In a free-market system, society’s most productive members tend to facilitate upward mobility for all of us, not just for themselves. And not only through their philanthropy.
Oil refining made the Rockefellers rich, but in the process, they made oil products much cheaper and thus more widely available to the poor. Prior to Standard Oil, whale oil and candles were a luxury that only the wealthy could afford. The rest had to go to bed early to save money, explains Burton Folsom, a professor of history at Hillsdale College. “By the 1870s, with the drop in the price of kerosene, middle- and working-class people all over the nation could afford the one cent an hour that it cost to light their homes at night. Working and reading became after-dark activities new to most Americans.”
Rockefeller got rich and America got more productive. Henry Ford did something similar in auto manufacturing, as did Sam Walton ofWalmart fame with respect to big-box discount stores. Bill Gates has done more for humanity creating his computer-software fortune than he will ever do giving it away through his foundation. Wealth creation plays a far bigger role than philanthropy or government transfer programs in improving our standard of living, something that those forever trying to “stick it to the rich” either don’t understand or choose to ignore out of political expedience.
Convinced that more affluent members of our society have succeeded at the expense of the poor, progressives are insisting that Democrats make income inequality a campaign theme in 2020. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says “there’s plenty of money in the world” but “it’s just in the wrong hands.” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supports a 70% top-marginal tax income tax rate and says “a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wants a 2% “wealth tax” on people with assets above $50 million.
History provides no evidence that Ken Griffin’s wealth is somehow responsible for poverty in the Deep South, or that wealth-transfer schemes help the poor. We’ll find out soon enough whether the Democrats’ class-warfare rhetoric can convince voters otherwise.
This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal
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