Reflections on Wealth
One Myth of “Fiscal Conservatism.” — There is a vast difference between saying, on the one hand, that the free market is intrinsic to liberty, which it certainly is, and saying, on the other hand, that the free market is a cause and guarantor of liberty. The free market, i.e., unrestricted voluntarism in trade, causes wealth; but wealth does not cause or maintain the free market. We might go further, and observe that every practical good, as it reaches maturity, develops and drops the seeds of its own destruction. The great wealth production inherent in liberty may well be the seed of freedom’s demise, or perhaps the beautiful flower within which dark seeds are formed.
One Myth of “Needs.” — Socialist demagogues of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sort — rabble-rousers who are too naïvely power-hungry to consider how their words will come back to haunt them, like the pigs of Animal Farm — tend to appeal to their audiences by saying things like, “Nobody needs a billion dollars.” (They used to say “a million,” but inflation has priced populist bromides into silliness and rhetorical irrelevance.) In so speaking, they are attempting to work a sort of moral alchemy, converting the “common man’s” sin of envy into the virtue of righteousness. The problem is that in a relatively free society, this moral alchemy fails, because too many members of the progressive audience are themselves wealthy, or at least have realistic aspirations of soon joining the wealthy stratum of society, such that the envious origins of socialist rhetoric sound like a threat, rather than like the condescending demagoguery they are intended to be.
“Nobody needs X” only works as a rallying cry among people who neither have nor may realistically aspire to have X. This is why progressives in perennially poor nations dedicate themselves, against all evidence, to persuading the masses to harbor a little hope, whereas progressives in perennially wealthy nations dedicate themselves, against all evidence, to persuading the masses that hope is futile. In other words, in decrepit tyrannies, progressives try to strike an optimistic pose, whereas in vibrant advanced societies, progressives project a constant mood of forced, artificial bitterness. Their goals are the same, but the latter group sounds more like tyrants, i.e., people who despise other people’s happiness and wish to destroy it.