- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

The truly rich don’t deserve all the political hype we hear; they’re only a tiny percentage of our population and not that important. According to recent U.S. Treasury statistics, the top 1 percent of income earners have an adjusted gross income that starts around $300,000.

While $300,000 or $400,000 a year is nothing to sneeze at, it’s a far cry from being rich; it’s not even yacht-and-Gulfstream-jet money. The truly rich Americans are those with assets like Bill Gates ($46 billion), Warren Buffett ($43 billion) and Paul Allen ($21 billion). All told, there are about 275 Americans in the billionaire club. Having just a couple million dollars in assets doesn’t merit much respect as riches.

The 99 percent plus of the rest of us can safely ignore the truly rich. We should focus on issues far more important to us rather than let politicians divert our attention by working us up over whether the rich pay their fair share and the so-called tax cuts for the rich. The reason we can ignore the rich is they have little or no power over our lives.

Even if Messrs. Gates, Buffett, Allen and the 272 other billionaires pooled their assets, what could they make you and me do? Could they force you to bus your kid to a school across town? Could they force you to abandon use of your property to provide an abode for some endangered species? Could they force you to wear a seat belt when you drive? Or could they force you into the government’s retirement program?

All by themselves, billionaires and millionaires have little power over us compared to the awesome power of politicians and midlevel government bureaucrats. This latter group can force us to do many things we otherwise would not.

“All by themselves” is the operative phrase. The rich can get power over us, but they must first spend their resources to get permission from our elected representatives to rip us off. Wealthy corporate executives can use their wealth and influence to get politicians to rig markets in their favor — like keeping out foreign sugar so they can charge us higher prices and earn more profits.

They can convince politicians to enact laws and regulations and create special privileges that benefit them and their allies at the expense of the rest of us. Donald Trump got politicians to use laws of eminent domain to throw Vera Coking, an elderly widow, out of her Atlantic City, N.J., home to make room for expansion of his casino. Had it not been for the D.C.-based Institute for Justice, Atlantic City officials would have done so.

We might be tempted to blame the rich. I say no. In the example of Donald Trump, had he privately tried to take Vera Coking’s house, he would have been arrested and sent to jail. He avoids that risk by getting politicians under the color of law to do the same thing. In this case, we should blame politicians much more than Donald Trump.

Finally, there’s one thing I truly don’t understand. America’s leftists, whether heads-full-of-mush college students and their professors, politicians, civil rights activists or union leaders, love to beat up on the rich. But they should explain something.

Why are so many of their heroes rich and super-rich? Most leftists, unionists and ex-flower children support John Kerry’s candidacy. It turns out if Mr. Kerry becomes president, he’ll be the richest president in U.S. history and his vice president a multimillionaire. Leftists also idolize and worship the Hollywood rich and other rich people in the sports and entertainment industries. I would like to know their criteria for which rich deserve our condemnation and which don’t.

As for me, I have nothing against rich people. In fact, I’ve been struggling most of my life to join them.

Walter E. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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