After I was critical of the tactics used by striking union members against Verizon, I received several responses to the effect that vandalism and violence are justified because Verizon makes too much profit, and its executives make too much money.
One correspondent denounced Americans for “finding it preferable to attack union workers who earn two or three times what non-union workers are paid, instead of asking how corporate executives can justify receiving two or three hundred times what their employees receive.” She went on to criticize Verizon executive Ivan Seidenberg’s $18 million annual compensation package.
That sure is a lot of money, so I guess cutting fiber optic lines and stealing electronic equipment is justified. I know some young people in Britain who would enthusiastically agree. The BBC recorded an interview with two giggling teenage girls who explained, “It’s the rich people who have got all the businesses. That’s why all this is happening, because of the rich people. We’re showing the rich we do what we want.”
If you’ve been following the British riots at all, you’ve noticed the targets of looting and robbery have not been exclusively “rich people,” by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps we could avoid confusion, both in America and England, by setting up a Ministry of Making Too Much, to declare the exact point at which increasing wealth completely erases the rights of an individual.
The Ministry will need a large staff and lots of funding, because it’s got a big job ahead of it. There are many nuances that must be ironed out. For example, if we’re supposed to despise companies for their profits and executive compensation, are we also allowed to ask about the income of labor unions, and how much their top people are pulling down in salary and benefits? How much the president of the Communications Workers of America make, and how does it compare to the salary of the average CWA worker… or non-union Verizon employee? Is that relationship too much, or just right?
If Verizon is a bully because it makes tons of money and is not sufficiently willing to “share” it with union workers, and further uses its wealth to resist their efforts at compelling submission through a strike, then how are we to describe the relationship between union management and workers? How easy would it be for an unhappy CWA member to withhold his dues, or leave the union? What would the Verizon workforce have to do, if a large number of them wanted to dismiss the union entirely? How do they go about “de-organizing,” if they feel the union’s behavior is ruining their future?
Will the Ministry of Making Too Much also have power over politicians? They make handsome salaries, plus benefits that can put the lifestyle of a public-sector billionaire to shame. A few terms in office all but guarantees a rich career of speaking, writing, consulting, and lobbying.
What about entertainers and star athletes? They make many times the wages of low-level workers in the film or sports industries. Top stars rake in tens of millions for a single movie. Is that too much? Why don’t the class-warfare types tell us to hate big Hollywood stars, with the intensity reserved for corporate executives who earn far less per year?
I hope the Ministry of Making Too Much is careful to factor lifetime earnings into its decrees. Americans are very mobile between income brackets. People emerge from poverty to make good. Entrepreneurs can see their fortunes wiped out by bad investments or market reversals. Older people tend to be wealthier, even if their young lives were difficult. Today’s fortunes were accumulated through years of long hours and difficult sacrifices. We’re going to need a lot of bureaucrats at the Ministry to handle all these individual cases!
We’ll also need the Ministry to devise a clear set of individual rights surrendered at each income level. We’ve already established the precedent that profitable corporations must submit to union demands without resistance. Will rich and powerful unions be forced to accept the demands of struggling companies with equal humility?
As for individuals, our progressive tax system already enshrines the notion that property rights are not enjoyed equally by all citizens – a “millionaire” who makes $200,000 per year is less entitled to his money than someone who makes $50,000 per year. We just need to make things a bit more “progressive,” and we can finally achieve social justice, as the British looters have done.
It’s a shame America’s founders didn’t realize that private property rights were such a fantastically complicated idea. They should have written down some guidelines for us, so we’d know how to deal with it. Instead, simmering envy congeals into class hatred, and distills incredible amounts of political power. Much of the job-killing complexity of the American tax system is justified entirely on the grounds that it punishes the rich, even when it is demonstrated that lower rates and a simpler system would provide the government with more revenue.
Since all the smart people inside the Beltway assure us that moving back to a system of greater economic liberty is impossible, maybe it’s time we went the other way, and created a powerful bureaucracy staffed by selfless public servants to strictly codify envy. At least we wouldn’t have to wait for Presidential speeches, rowdy union demonstrations, and riots to find out who we’re supposed to hate.
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