Rich ideas

Thomas Sowell

5/10/2005 12:00:00 AM - Thomas Sowell

Recently a friend described a meeting with a nasty-tempered leftist who was from a rich family. Unfortunately, there are a lot of leftists who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth -- and, instead of being grateful, are venomous against American society.
Conversely, there are people like yours truly who were born on the other end of the economic scale and think this is a great country. No one has really explained either of these phenomena.

 Maybe a painful confrontation with the facts of life early on makes it harder in later years to get all worked up over abstract issues that seem to preoccupy the left.

 Once you have ever had to go hungry, it is hard to get worked up over the fact that some people can only afford pizza while others can afford caviar. Once you have ever had to walk to work from Harlem to a factory south of the Brooklyn Bridge, the difference between driving a Honda and driving a Lexus seems kind of petty as well.

 Would a poverty-stricken peasant in Bangladesh find the difference between the average American's standard of living and that of a millionaire to be something to get excited about? If he had a choice between a certainty of getting the first and one chance in two of getting the second, would he take the risk to go for a million bucks? I doubt it.

 The general public has never been as worked up about "income distribution" as the left has. Nor is this due to any deeper understanding on the left. On the contrary, liberals and other leftists have constantly misconceived the issue.

 Differences between people in different income brackets tell you absolutely nothing about who those people are or how long they have been in those brackets. Most Americans who are in the bottom 20 percent in income at one point in their lives are in the top 20 percent at some other point.

 They usually start at the bottom and work their way up, with a few blips up and down along the way. The more affluent the country becomes, the less those transient statistical differences really matter, except to those with the money, the leisure, and the inclination to adopt indignation as a way of life.

 Environmentalism is another of the playgrounds of the affluent and the wealthy. "Nature" is wonderful when you can look out on it from your luxury cabin in the woods or from your upscale digs at the shore.

 Roughing it in the wild is great when you know that, if something goes wrong, a helicopter can come in and lift you to safety or to a hospital, as the case may be. This is what might be called artificial nature or the illusion of nature.

 Real nature can be pretty ugly, as the pioneers discovered, and as the bleached bones of their animals or themselves on the old trails can attest. Even in more recent times, anyone who has had to get up on cold mornings, all winter long, to start a fire in the fireplace to heat the house is unlikely to regard it as a romantic experience.

 It's romantic if you are doing it for a little while, by choice, knowing that it is only a matter of time before you return to your home with central heating, provided by the oil that you don't want drilled for off shore or in Alaska, or by the coal that you deplore seeing mined anywhere.

 Personally, it has only been within the past few years that I have been able to enjoy starting a fire in the fireplace -- in my centrally heated home -- because it reminded me too much of when I was a kid down South and a fireplace was all we had to try to keep warm in the winter.

 Of all the romantic self-indulgences of the affluent and the wealthy, few are more ridiculous than their passion to "save" farmland. This country has no shortage of farmland or of food.

 One of our biggest problems is over-eating and, even so, there are huge agricultural surpluses that cost the taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Yet the greenies with lots of green are pushing for laws and policies to prevent farmers from selling their land to people who want to build houses on it.

 Would it be worth it to be rich if it also meant being so foolish? I doubt it.