To explain: We know Megan McArdle worships the rich. She sees herself as an authoritarian leader, one of the elite, and is unstinting in her support of their actions, no matter how venal, deadly, or just plain stupid. We also know she is not rich herself although she grew up surrounded by rich people, and therefore must be content with being a follower. If you are not rich but you support them you must justify this action to yourself; otherwise you're just some envious schmuck who watches E! to find out what kind of phone Paris Hilton is using. We also know from Stanley Milgrim that many people only need permission from an authority to do what they already want to do. And this morning, I hit paydirt.
Even those who think wealth is good (or at least harmless) often implicitly suggest that the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of moral goals are separate questions. They would do well to read Benjamin Friedman's The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. The author, a professor of political economy at Harvard, has written an economic tome that is accessible to the average reader without failing to offer something new to specialists as well: a compelling argument that rising incomes make us not just richer people, but better ones.
Economists have long known that what they call the “wealth effect” can stimulate spending: If people feel richer because the value of their home or stock portfolio has gone up, or because they think their income is likely to rise in the future, they will loosen up and spend more. Friedman suggests that people don’t merely become more willing to treat themselves to home entertainment systems and $4 cups of coffee as their wealth grows; they also become more generous to others. “With rising incomes,” he says, “more people become willing to donate time and money. And among those who do so, rising incomes also allow people to feel able to do more.”
But direct charity is only one of the ways we become more generous. Even more important is the tolerance that growing wealth brings for competition from others. There is a growing recognition that trade is a vastly more effective way to reduce global poverty than foreign aid; even Oxfam, a reliably left-wing nongovernmental organization, has jumped on the free trade bandwagon with a campaign against agricultural subsidies. Better still, trade benefits domestic consumers. Yet progress on that front is nearly impossible unless economic prosperity is rising fast enough to ease the fears of those who are threatened by a more open market.
Here's McArdle's justification for wealth worship: People with more money donate more money, and free trade helps the poor much more than actual, you know, help.
Damn! I feel like I've found the map to King Solomon's Mines, if his mines were huge, empty cavities filled with greed and vanity instead of gold and pearls.