Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Castles in Spain

[posted by Callimachus]

In a mythical land, a very rich man decides "Poverty is the great moral issue of our century," and he runs for president based on that message.

His essential problem is that his program expects the poor to 1. recognize themselves as hopelessly poor and 2. identify the federal government as the paternal institution that will lead them out of it because they can't do it themselves. That tends not to be how people in this mythical land think of themselves or their world.

But the thing his critics most concentrate on is not this, but his own wealth. Which is odd because his critics are often able to articulate the argument that the best way to make everyone less poor also allows some people to become extremely, obscenely rich. And that if you simply transfer wealth from the rich to the poor, the poor get no better. Like Dolly Levi, they know "Money is like manure," you have to spread it around in a way that makes things grow.

Like, if the rich man has a chance to build a small, modest house he might spend $80,000 and that will make 100 working people somewhat richer -- from the filing clerk at the deeds office to the bricklayer to the subcontractor who provides the cement mixer. But if he builds a big honking mansion, he might spend millions and make 1,000 working people somewhat richer. Or if he gets a $20 Cost Cutters haircut and tips $2, that's $2 in some stylist's pocket. But if he spends hundreds on his hair ... you get the idea.