The State of Envy
America has had a love-hate relationship with wealth since Andrew Jackson kicked John Quincy Adams and the "corrupt aristocrats of the East" out of the White House, inviting the D.C. area rabble to celebrate his "common man" inaugural with a party so raucous that it nearly destroyed the interior of the nation's Executive Mansion.
Our country and indeed our Constitution celebrate the ideal of individual liberty with the added notion that with hard work, there is no barrier to success. And, in accord with this formula, the property that results from that success is protected from arbitrary government seizure. It is a way of life that has made our nation the most universally prosperous on Earth.
But in the midst of great wealth, in a country where even the "poor" have cellphones, cars and color televisions, politicians like to profit from the natural desire of man to covet his neighbor's possessions. It was this theme that permeated the president's State of the Union address this past week.
Historically, Barack Obama is not alone. Democrat William Jennings Bryan demanded that the government "free silver" so it could be used to equalize the lack of wealth found in the Midwest with the comparative great wealth of the East. Like Obama, Bryan wanted to create more money, an inflated currency, so it could be distributed more widely.
The "Progressives" and "Populists" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were, in this sense little different than liberals today: Inflate and "progressively" tax the currency, reducing its value, to the detriment of those who, in the opinion of the government, have too much of it.
In other words, while Obama might claim that his State of the Union address was filled with new ideas and new initiatives, the truth is that it contained nothing new and was replete with ideas that the nation discussed and, in the end, rejected for centuries.
What is even more disquieting is the hypocrisy with which liberals like Obama have dealt with wealth.
When Franklin Roosevelt entertained his first lady at Hyde Park, N.Y., or his mistress at Warm Springs, Ga., it was "elegant." It was just as elegant when Jackie Kennedy patronized the opera. But when Republican Nelson Rockefeller became vice president or Nancy Reagan wore a designer dress, that wealth needed a thorough investigation.
So, too, is the plight of Mitt Romney, whose wealth is probably less than that of the Kennedy family, but whose success even some Republicans use for populist "red meat."
The fact is that the American economy has a manufacturing and jobs problem. Even the president recognized that. We need to manufacture and sell more steel, more software and more industrial goods.
But our steel industry was not created by government; it was created by entrepreneurs like Andrew Carnegie. Our oil fields were not developed by Congress; they were developed by individuals like John Rockefeller.
Even our car industry was not a creature of government. It was made successful by the likes of not only Henry Ford, but also Mitt's father, George Romney, who created American Motors. This was the company that later rescued America's Jeep from obscurity.
No government subsidy was ever found in the garage of Steve Jobs. Microsoft Windows was not a federal program. It was the entrepreneur, uninhibited by government, that established our nation's prosperity. But Obama showed little understanding of that in his speech this past week.
None of us know whether Mitt Romney will ever become president or even a Republican nominee. He faces challenging competition from other very able candidates. But without his wealth and entrepreneurial spirit, no one at Staples, Domino's Pizza or Sports Authority would have a job.
We all might want "free silver," but the truth is that the only ways to get it are to tax it, borrow it, or earn it. If we tax it away from those who earn it, they will see no reason to continue their efforts. If we borrow it, eventually we will run out of "silver" to pay it back.
Indeed, the only road to wealth is to "do it the old-fashioned way - earn it." And we should neither criticize those who do earn wealth nor destroy their efforts to do it. If we do such, the evil is not within the wealth of the wealthy, but within our own envy.
Robert M. Levy is chairman of the Moore County Republican party. Contact him at Law52@prodigy.net.
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