I can’t resist commenting further about the TV chit chat between Michael Moore and Professor Robert Reich. A couple of things they said stuck in my craw.
One was that the wealthiest 400 people in the United States make more money than the poorest 150 million. Another was that the marginal tax rate peaked at 91% during the Eisenhower administration, which, they agreed was a time of great prosperity for the middle class. A third point was that household income in the United States has been on a downward trend for forty years.
I don’t know if they intended to infer that the prosperity was caused by the high taxes or whether they meant to say that the prosperity occurred in spite of the high taxes. In either case, it was pretty obvious that both gentlemen disapproved of the growing gap between the income of the wealthiest and the median income of the American people.
The professor was quite adamant that the goal of a good economic system ought to be traffic in money. A lot of money being made, and a lot of money being spent. The more is made and spent, the better off everybody is. That is the theory of stimulus. That is the economists’ argument in favor of entitlements, and government spending in general.
If that were true, it would follow that a government program giving every man, woman and child in the nation a fat paycheck of let’s say $10,000 per month would skyrocket the economy to an unheard of level of prosperity.
I don’t think so. In fact, I think that supermarkets would shortly be out of strawberries and lettuce and just about everything else.
Working is not just to get things for yourself. We all have the social obligation to contribute to the common welfare. In a free country, that social obligation is discharged freely and voluntarily by every person as they go about the business of seeking their own happiness.
The gap between the incomes at the top of the scale and the national median is interesting. Here’s a good example my son likes to tell: in 1969, when, as Chief Justice of Michigan, I was able to persuade the State Officers Compensation Commission to give the Justices a raise from $35,000 to $42,000 a year, a star baseball player on the Detroit Tigers by the name of Al Kaline was paid $88,000 annually. And he didn’t even have to work in the wintertime!
Today, the Michigan Supreme Court Justices are paid $165,000 a year. Miguel Cabrera makes $21,000,000. He doesn’t have to suit up in the winter either.
My $42,000 in 1969 would calculate to $271,949 in 2012. Kaline’s $88,000 would equal $569,798 in 2012.
In a free economy, what does this tell us?
Two things, I suppose. Franchise level third basemen are hard to come by and intelligent, public spirited lawyers are a dime a dozen.
I’m sure there are many explanations. I doubt that Mr. Moore and Professor Reich would agree, but there is the fact that the institution of marriage has been on a downturn. Household income goes down when there are fewer people in the household. And the DINKs (double income, no kids) don’t have to work as hard or fight for raises as hard as I did in 1969 with a wife and six children at home.
I never envied Kaline his $88K and I don’t envy Cabrera’s 21 mil.
The fat paychecks of ball players and stockbrokers are a function of people spending and investing their money the way they want to spend it and invest it.
Folks who make a lot of money and spend a lot of money are just priming the economic pump. Those who save money and invest it in enterprises that hire people and buy things are also priming the pump.
The amount of money a person or a corporation has is not the measure of social responsibility. Harvard University has a multi-billion dollar endowment. I don’t hear liberals complaining. The real stinkers are the folks who bury their coins in the yard. Jesus told a story about that, and he didn’t approve. The only thing worse than burying money in the yard is buying government bonds.
I’d be in favor of taxing those rascals big time.