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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Filthy lucre

Gary Jason – a writer I had not heard of before, has an interesting review about a book chronicling how filthy rich some prominent American leftists are. The usual collection of intellectual gargoyles are on show: Ralph Nader, Nancy Pelosi and Michael Moore. I must admit I was taken aback as to how much money Nader is worth, although that is probably my naivete. Jason asks the interesting question about how leftists who decry business are so easy with a life of affluence, and takes a stab at a few answers.

For example, I rather liked this paragraph:

I suspect that there is also a subtler phenomenon at work, one that I would call “warding off the evil eye.” I suspect that some successful people — here I have in mind certain businessmen who have become enormously rich — fear that the envious lower classes will possibly do them harm. Considering the long history of class warfare politics, this is not an irrational fear. To ward off envy, these captains of industry make a conspicuous show of being kind and caring, setting up foundations that prominently feature their names.

This sort of ground has been trodden a few times before. What intrigues me is why there are so few seriously, stinkingly, rich folk on the libertarian side of the street, so to speak. There are a few libertarian friends of mine with decent jobs, nice houses; some have inherited fairly serious money and do not have to work; but I don’t know any of our number who has the sort of wealth described in Jason’s book review. It is a paradox that celebrants of capitalism and market economics are often on their uppers, financially, in my experience, although my impressions are just that, impressions.

I guess it may be partly down to the fact that folk who are good at handling ideas and making arguments for this and that tend not to have the sort of skills to make pots of money. It may also be that, in today’s largely corporate world, being known as a holder of controversial ideas (such as legalising heroin, zero state welfare, etc) is not good for the prospects of a person trying to clamber up the corporate ladder. And if a person wants to create their own business, they tend not to have the time to ponder the Big Questions, write The Road To Serfdom or Atlas Shrugged.

Even so, it remains for me a bit of a puzzle why so few of us are not rolling in cash, given our views about the benefits of the marketplace.

On a related theme, I can recommend this article on why intellectuals often hate capitalism, by the late Harvard University professor, Robert Nozick, and this book, by Ludwig von Mises.

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30 comments to Filthy lucre

  • Walter E. Wallis

    Libertarians love capitalism too much to join in the perversion of capitalism that successfully jobs the government for preferential treatment and mini-monopolies.
    Our strength is as the strength of ten because our hearts are pure. That and $3.50 will get you a latte.

  • Good post. I must disagree it’s fear that drives the liberal elite to loathe capitalism. The names you mentioned are too arrogant and self-absorbed to have a healthy dose of fear. No, I believe it’s more guilt. They honestly feel guilty that they’ve done so well when others suffer and so strive to give it back — albeit in mostly symbolic and ineffective ways.

    As for libertarians and their lack of financial wealth, I believe that it is because libertarians not only have faith in markets, but have equal faith in personal liberty which allows us to enjoy a balance that is mutually exclusive with a pre-occupation with monetary wealth. I know that’s true for me. I am an adamant libertarian who forgoes opportunities to increase financial wealth in favor of the opportunities to spend time travelling with family and pursuing my wealth of liberty.

  • Jake

    I have been around a number of wealthy people and its money guiit that drives them to the left.

    First generation wealth normally does not have money guilt because they earned their money themselves. They also tend to be Republicans as they want other people to have the same opportunities to climb the economic ladder as they did.

    It’s the second and third generations that have a bad case of money guilt especially it they do not have the skills the founder of the fortune had. Most of them are self-loathing and think they do not deserve their wealth.
    Accordingly they feel that no one else deserves to be wealthy either.

    However, they all spend money like water and will do absolutely anything not to pay taxes.

  • Bernard W Joseph

    If at 77 years of age I am not the oldest reader here, then I am up there with a few. If I remember some of my history readings from many years ago, it seems to me that many of the people on the left came from backgrounds of wealth. Most notably, I think Karl Marx was one.

    Funny, eh?

    Aside about html: It’s not obscure at all. Many Mozilla, Mac, and Linux users believe that the words should stand on their own.

  • Quenton

    Socialism is just a modern-day version of Feudalism.

    Socialism only benefits those who are already rich so why is it such a suprise that the wealthy are it’s biggest champions? Much like the Feudal system of the middle ages Socialism desires only two classes of people; the masters, and the people that they lord over. In a Feudal system the apeasants trade all of their rights to a lord in exchange for protection and free hand-outs. Sounds pretty similar to western Europe’s current model really.

    A free market changed all of that. Now there was some strange new class of people called “the middle-class”. These unwashed peasants actually had the gaul to think they could eventually become one of the lords! Poppy-cock! Something must be done about it! This “captialist” system must be done away with as it allows the great unwashed to have silly things like “hopes” and “dreams”.

    Many libertarians have simply views their socialist enemies as crazy or illiterate people that don’t understand economics. Wrong. Socialists understand economics perfectly well, and they don’t like it. They simply have a plan that seeks to put them on top and everyone else beneath their heels. So the next time you can’t figure out why guys with loads of cash don’t want others to have the same you’ll at least understand their motivations.

    And there are plenty of libertarian people with money, they’re just too damn busy workingto make dozens of public appearances advertising their social-economic views.

  • There’s an old saying: The Republicans are the party of millionaires, but the Democrats are the party of billionaires.

  • Nick M

    And this is news to anybody? Anyone who has seen the Oscars for donkey’s years or the abysmal spectacle of Live8 (with it’s invitation only Platinum and Gold tickets, and the plebs at the back) has known this for years. I remember the Manic Street Preachers who are so full of Trot sentiment insisting on having exclusive “band only toilets” at Glastonbury. I remember Sting fecking around in the Amazon. He’s got a gorgeous pad in Oxfordshire. I’d kill to have that, well, kill Sting anyway…

    I don’t believe that the likes of these or Michael Moore feel ordinary emotions like guilt. They have such an inflated sense of their own importance that that their world-view has become utterly incommensurable with the world-view of practically everyone else.

    Libertarians rightly abhor these abominations. Our new “Liberal Elite” with their private jets and “fair-trade” coffee are the utter scum of the Earth.

  • Nick M

    It’s “gall”. A “gaul” was what Asterix was. And Obelix, and Dogmatix…

    It amused me.

    Well said. I love getting down and dirty with the HTML. I do design websites though. That may explain it.

  • Jacob

    Socialism is the prevailing creed or ideology nowadays. It is strongly preached, and taught and promoted in all schools, universities, books, media articles. It is everywhere.

    Most people are some kind of socialist or statist or outright communist, or “compassionate conservative” – which is a religious socialist.

    So, most celebrities and second generation millionaires, and filthy rich artists and rockers are not different from their more modest brethern, they just parrot the prevailing beliefs.

    Few millionaires are libertarian because few people in general are libertarian.

  • “Few millionaires are libertarian because few people in general are libertarian.”

    I can imagine that and also see how “democracy” – that is, control by the people – is better augmented by tearing down some of the institutions which keep them up, but those are not socialist in the least, in fact they are anti-socialist. That so few keep the faith once in power is merely a demonstration of the incredible pressures from vested interests experienced by those in power.

    To suggest that “Socialism only benefits those who are already rich” is already to be talking about something which is not Socialism. If you want to be taken seriously, I advise you to stop making such childish straw-men.

  • Uain

    I read that Karl Marx actually married into money, a “princess of Westphalia”. At a high culture party he was accosted by one of the elite as to his writings (rantings?) to which he was said to reply… ” by the time my theories are put into practice, we shall both be long gone”

    Actually, I believe many Libertarians become wealthy, but then in the parental desire to give their offspring a better life, deprive them of the formative experiences. Thus, their off-spring succumb to peer pressure at the elite schools and become witless liberals. For example, the elder of the Kennedy clan made his fortune as a bootlegger (a libertarian business venture?) during the early 1900’s. His son was an Ambassador and grandchildren were President and various Senators.

  • The Happy Rampager

    To suggest that “Socialism only benefits those who are already rich” is already to be talking about something which is not Socialism. If you want to be taken seriously, I advise you to stop making such childish straw-men.

    Quenton’s point was well explained. Yours isn’t, hence yours is unconvincing. If you want to be taken seriously, I advise you not to act like a pompous know-nothing who thinks meaningless statements like the above impress anybody.

  • veryretired

    I like most of what Quenton said, but let me add a couple of points.

    If someone becomes prominent because they are leftist, as in Nader, then they aren’t likely to abandon those positions just because they make some money.

    Since leftism is the accepted mode of thought in many areas of society, it is convenient to profess it, even if one’s own lifestyle contradicts many of the ideas.

    This latter discontinuity operates both ways. Many people who hold conventional ideas without much in the way of deep analysis may also function in ways more akin to libertarian principles without ever worrying too much about the discrepancy.

    Indeed, Rand makes a point that many people who are independent and creative in their work may also be conflicted because their moral codes tell them that their very success and monetary rewards are suspect and contaminated.

    I would imagine the number of people, regardless of how they self-identify, who actually function as free, rational, non-violent, self-motivated, productive members of the community, i.e., as if they were libertarian or classically liberal, is probably pretty high.

    A great many people thinking and acting with a certain amount of intellectual rigor and confidence is a prerequisite for the development of a multi-trillion dollar economy operating across an entire globe. If everyone were really the mindless sheep the collectivists claim them to be, such an achievement would not be possible.

  • One American academic (forgotten who) has noted that people whose economic status is rising tend to be rightish. Those whose is falling tend to be leftish. It’s not the absolute level, it’s the movement.
    Thus, for example, the early Kennedy who made all the dosh was rightist while the fourth generation, seeing both the fortune watered down through inheritance through the generations and also others becoming as or more wealthy (ie, the relative position is declining) are more leftish.

  • Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a rich guy, and he recommends The Fountainhead as good reading. Is he a libertarian? Individualist, for sure. Many of his statements seem to indicate a love of freedom.

    I totally agree on the guilt thing. Rich people esp. second generation rich people, are sympathetic towards Marxism.

    The real mystery is why so many working class people reject Marxism. You would think the proletariat would all be reading Das Kapital and wearing Che Guevara shirts. No such luck.

  • In academics, the leftists who fill up the top schools are also at the top of the publishing heap.

    Individually, they may deserve to be there intellectually, but they also crow constantly about the fairness of peer review. Peer review is a good system, but it is far from perfect, and one of the biggest problems is the lack of blindness at the editorial level of the journals.

  • Uain

    Tim Worstall-
    You bring up a fascinating point. Old Grandpa Kennedy’s fortune and properties were all his. Now the large extended family must vie for the prime weeks at the Cape Cod summer compound. I read that there is a family trust based in Guam that pays a (tax free) stipend to the family members. So old Fat Teddy gets in effect, a welfare payment from Grand Dad. Perhaps this concept of receiving some one else’s money also contributes to his ardent passion for such leftish concepts.

  • Nick M


    I think it’s simpler than that, it’s just creeping decadence.

    If you’re a celeb and left-wing you get invited to the top parties and things. It’s reverse McCarthyism. Life is easier if you go with the status quo. For Teddy K, it’s the same because he’s a celeb politico. If it wasn’t for his name where d’ya think he’d be now? He’d be a bum. As it is he is a bum, but a bum in the US Senate.

    My fav Kennedy quote comes from Old Joe. His congratulatory telegram to JFK read “I hope you only bought the votes you needed, because I’ll be damned if I’m paying for a landslide”.

  • That’s because libertarians are ivory towerists like Rand admitted to being.She brilliantly delineated pure capitalism in her writings but could no more have started a business empire than – I don’t know -J ohn Prescot.

    Yes, moneyed liberals seek to assuage their guilt of gilt by ostentatiously spouting socialist speak. Most haven’t earned their money in the market place anyway but have acquired it by using their political pull such as this present lot of statist bound apparatchicks.

  • Raw Data Complex

    What’s wrong with liberals having money? If you think so, perhaps you are not really in touch with American “liberalism,” which is really quite conservative. More importantly, why is a set of favored social policies to be worn with a hair shirt?

    As to why libertarians don’t have money? it’s obvious: they are pie-in-the-sky intellectuals who operate in the world of air abstractions and without a bit of commonsense. Their ideas about the correct organization of economic activity exemplify their ivory-tower mentality.

    Don’t get me wrong: I love you guys. You are extremely provocative and full of idea. But practical? Heh!

  • Johnathan – I think you answered your question in the same post. I’d wager that a number of the super rich are broadly libertarian, however they realise it’s not prudent to profess such leanings to all and sundry because of well-founded

    fear that the envious lower classes will possibly do them harm.

    I understand this perfectly. When I attempt to have a discussion about the principles of liberalism with – say – a socialist, their standard response is a face of dumbfounded horror, followed by “But what about *insert your special interest group here*?????” Imagine if I were a billionaire posing such questions. Safer to keep it under your hat and leave the ideological warfare to the wonks.

  • veryretired

    There is nothing more practical for the purpose of living as a human being than individual freedom, rights, and a legal construct which recognizes and protects them.

    If I were a ditch digger, I would still demand to read and speak as I wish, live as I see fit, and pursue those spiritual beliefs I find appropriate.

    Rights, liberties, human freedoms, and dignity are not some ivory tower fairy tale. They are the breath of life, the bread that nourishes the mind and soul, the foundation of a sense of honor worth defending to the death.

    Millions of people have literally thrown themselves into the sea, or across barbed wire, or tunnelled under concrete barriers to achieve the freedoms that libertarians and classical liberals, whom you so caually denigrate, strive to defend and protect intellectually and legally against the relentless drive of those whose sole desire is to eliminate those very troubling ideas.

    We have just emerged from a century in which oceans of blood were spilled by, and in opposition to, some of the most vicious, totalitarian ideologies the world has ever produced. It was not pie-in-the-sky that brought victory, but the cold, practical determination of free peoples that they would not live in darkness when they had already seen the light of day.

    Impractical? Heh!

  • Nick M

    Two thumbs up! Absolutely spot-on. I’ll just add something, though. In a libertation society the ditch-digger will probably be better off materially than he would be in a socialist society. Certainly he’d have a much greater chance to improve his lot and become something better.

    Much e-ink has been spilled on Samizdata along the lines of “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”, “The poor don’t vote against socialism”. Socialism cuts the throats of the poor. Perhaps more slowly, and certainly more insidiously than anything else. Socialism keeps the poor poor because it needs them. It needs them for no reason other than its own self-perpetuation. There can never be an eventual victory of the proletariat if they’re all middle-class and too concerned about their mortgages.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    What’s wrong with liberals having money? If you think so, perhaps you are not really in touch with American “liberalism,” which is really quite conservative. More importantly, why is a set of favored social policies to be worn with a hair shirt?

    What is wrong is that many of these people are hypocrits, denouncing capitalism and markets while making a juicy living out of it. That is why I take exception to the vast wealth of the Michael Moores and Ralph Naders. These people want to impose their collectivist visions on folk, so I tend to believe they make themselves a deserving target.

  • Uain

    Right-Oh! Johnathan!

    Nick M-
    Your quote from Old Joe sounds just like the old goat.
    That one’s a keeper!

  • Johnathan

    Uain, and right-ho! to you.

  • Nick M:

    “Two thumbs up! Absolutely spot-on. I’ll just add something, though. In a libertation society the ditch-digger will probably be better off materially than he would be in a socialist society. Certainly he’d have a much greater chance to improve his lot and become something better.”

    this was discussed at length in a fabulous thread at Jane Galt’s place. It is not quite true. What is probably easier to defend is that in a libertarian society, the ditch-digger will have a much greater chance of improving the lot of his children.

    But that is a minor niggle.


  • guy herbert

    1. To look at the opposite direction here, isn’t it true in almost everywhere real money is to be made or kept by exploiting political connections? In most places it is the only way to make real money. In others, even nominally free countries such as the US, making significant money makes one a potential political target.

    Whatever the private views of big businessmen they are unlikely to express libertarian ones. They need to keep their friends and may well have an investment in the system as it is. Businesses everywhere use the state to erect barriers to competition once they get big.

    2. You all neglect the question of character.

    Almost every entrepreneur I’ve ever met has been a gregarious status-seeker with absolutely no interest in moral or political questions. They are too busy making money, and a splash, to evolve anything but conventional views; and they are utterly pragmatic – whatever already exists they will use it. It is no wonder they get on with politicians.

    Almost every big-business executive who didn’t create the business himself got there by being an effective bureaucrat. Though they may be more reflective by nature, they are the product of a different, entirely anti-individualistic, selection pressure. It is no wonder they get on with statists.

  • “It may also be that, in today’s largely corporate world, being known as a holder of controversial ideas (such as legalising heroin, zero state welfare, etc) is not good for the prospects of a person trying to clamber up the corporate ladder.”

    That’s a BRILLIANT statment. Making big money is more about interpersonal relations than actual skills or knowledge, and libertarians lack the interpersonal relations needed to get really rich.

  • So Libertarians are the party of the poor then?