May 02, 2007


Prof. Howard Gardner is Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education so it's really not appropriate to call the man a moron but one is left struggling for a better word when reading the tripe he wrote in Foreign Policy magazine who somehow thought that a paleolithic socialist screed was fit to be called one of "21 Solutions to Save the World".

There are two modest and generous ways to change this situation. First, no single person should be allowed annually to take home more than 100 times as much money as the average worker in a society earns in a year. If the average worker makes $40,000, the top compensated individual may keep $4 million a year. Any income in excess of that amount must be contributed to a charity or returned to the government, either as a general gift, or targeted to a specific line item (ranging from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the National Endowment for the Arts).

Second, no individual should be allowed to accumulate an estate more than 50 times the allowed annual income. Thus, no person would be permitted to pass on to his or her beneficiaries more than $200 million. Anything in excess must be contributed to charity or donated to the government.

To those who would scream “foul” to such limits on personal wealth, I would remind them that just 50 years ago, this proposal would have seemed reasonable, even generous. Our standards of “enough” have become irrationally greedy. Were these proposals enacted, I predict that they would be accepted with amazing speed, and individuals would wonder why they had not always been in effect.

Let's start with a fundamental truth. There is no actual standard, neither today nor 50 years ago called "enough wealth" in law. This is a fiction upon which the whole sad edifice of this piece is based on. While socialists have advocated such schemes their effects where they have been tried have been universally pernicious. The capable flee such regimes or slide into sloth once they have hit the societally permitted maximum and society loses the hard work and inventiveness that they otherwise would have contributed. A century ago, you might have some argument for trying it out, "just to see". But we've seen and the results all over the socialist bloc (both hard and soft) are disappointing, sometimes devastating.

Absent throughout this piece is any real examination of why wealth limitation for honestly earned income is a good thing. The closest he comes is a throwaway line that "it is as likely that there will be clear winners and losers, as that all will benefit from a market economy". This is simply not the case. You can certainly find societies where the rich rig the markets and it is impossible to get into the club because the politicians have been bought by the oligarchs. But this is not a market economy but rather one with fairly heavy state intervention in favor of the existing rich to the detriment of the hard working "would be rich" who are artificially kept in poverty.

Where such political market rigging is absent, inventiveness, hard work, and luck all play a role in a continual shrinking of the poor as they rise to the middle class and even become rich. Sloth, unimaginativeness, and luck also create downward mobility for the rich. Poor investments, a lack of diversification, simply not paying proper attention has led to the fall of many an obscenely rich family as fools and their money are soon parted.

This is a singularly poorly thought out essay and that it was written by such a prominent professor and published in such a prominent elite magazine makes me shudder. It is as if the elite were trying to talk itself out from the realization that socialism just doesn't work, that all the death and destruction of the marxian experiments meant nothing.

At heart there is some sort of unspoken moral case here, one that I see time and time again that concedes the moral ground to the socialist and (so far) only grudgingly recognizes capitalism for its practical effects at production efficiency. Regarding this situation, Rand was right that there must be a moral underpinning to capitalism for the system to be sustainable in the long term. I'm not a great fan of her particular take on how that morality should be but essays like this prove her point. Until people like Prof. Gardner are shamed not only for their practical economic illiteracy but also for their immorality this is just never going to end.

Shame on you, Prof. Gardner. You've not only written bad economics, but your position is inherently immoral. It is simply immoral to punish talent.

Posted by TMLutas at May 2, 2007 08:07 PM