Thomas Sowell

Perhaps it is one of the fruits of the "self-esteem" emphasis in our schools that so many people feel confident to voice strong convictions about things they know little or nothing about -- or, worse yet, are misinformed about.

One of the hardest things for anyone to be informed about is the value of someone else's productivity. Yet there are cries from all directions that some people are being paid "too much" and others "too little."

Who can possibly be better informed about the value of what someone else produces than those who use the goods or services that the person provides and pay for it with their own money?

Things are worth it or not worth it to particular individuals. What these things might be worth to somebody else is irrelevant.

People who think that they, or the government, ought to be deciding how much income people make are in effect saying that they know the value of people's output better than those who use that output and pay for it with their own money.

How did Bill Gates get his fortune? Not by someone deciding how much Bill Gates was worth to "society," but by innumerable people around the world deciding whether what Microsoft offered them was worth what Microsoft charged.

What all those sales added up to -- Microsoft's income and Gates' fortune -- nobody decided. Nor is there any reason why they should have, even aside from the fact that nobody is qualified to make such a decision.

We can each decide for ourselves whether what Microsoft offers is worth it to us. That is all we are competent to decide -- and only for ourselves individually, when spending our own money.

The idea that we should pool our collective ignorance and then decide how much it is "fair" for Gates or anybody else to earn in total income is as ridiculous as it is dangerous, for it means arming politicians with the arbitrary power to decide everyone's economic fate.

Do we want our own family's living standards to be at the mercy of politicians? Are we so eaten up with envy that we will risk that, in order to keep Gates from having "too much" money, paid by people who voluntarily bought Microsoft's products?

A recent campaign in California to sock the oil companies with bigger taxes hyped the fact that oil company profits were $78 billion.

That sounds like a lot of money. For that matter, $78 million would sound like a lot of money. If the truth be known, there was a time when just $78 would have seemed like a lot of money to me.

But so what? What do we know about the economics of the oil industry? How many billions did they invest to get that $78 billion in profits? And how many billions did they lose in their bad years?


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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