Eat the Rich Now, Starve Later

There is one group that is not protected from hate-speech: the rich. For the rich it is permissible, and in some circles de rigueur, to speak disparagingly or hatefully. This, I imagine, is because it is widely supposed that if you hate the rich you must love the poor, and love of the poor, at least in theory, is the highest virtue. Unfortunately hatred is a much stronger political emotion, and vastly more effective in practice, than love was, is or ever will be.

That the rich are not protected from hate-speech proves that the one thing that speech codes are not designed to reduce or prohibit is hatred: for it is a distinctly moot point whether race hatred, or hatred of the rich, has been responsible for the more mass murders in the past century or so. The crimes of egalitarianism have been enormous; and so denigration of the rich is as disreputable, permissible or impermissible, as the denigration of many other groups I could name.

But who are the rich, apart from those shallow and grasping people with more money than I? If one takes the 1 per cent figure that has recently become so popular, in the United States this amounts to 3 million people. In order to hate 3 million people you have somewhat to disregard their individual characteristics, unless you believe that being rich turns people identical to one another. Even among the very rich indeed, that is to say the 0.001 per cent, with a few of whom I have had a slight acquaintance, I have noticed marked differences of character. Recently, for example, I met a billionaire whom I detested not because of his wealth, but because of his patently insincere bonhomie and ingratiating manner, which translated into a repeated, and to me repulsive, pawing of his interlocutor, whoever it was. Moreover, his ideas about general topics were generally the opposite of mine; and he was not only decadent himself (though rumored to be shrewdly ruthless in business), but—what for me was far worse—was an ideologist of decadence.

However, I have met equally rich and successful businessmen who have pleased me as much as this man displeased me.

Nevertheless, to dislike the rich ex officio is, as I have mentioned, perfectly respectable. The best-known remark of the current President of France, François Hollande, was that he did not like the rich. Would he have said that he did not like Jews, Arabs, the poor, postmen, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, or any other group the defining characteristic of whose membership is not itself criminal? He wouldn’t even have dared, politically, to say that he didn’t like tramps, drug addicts or alcoholics.

Perhaps he believes, with Balzac, that behind every fortune lies a great crime; or alternatively that one man’s wealth is another man’s poverty. The zero-sum game model of an economy is, after all, a very common one of which it is not altogether easy, psychologically-speaking, to rid oneself. Who has never thought of fair shares, as if living in a modern economy were like attending a children’s party in which a cake was about to be cut for all the invited children?

And, of course, there have been economies in which one man’s wealth was another man’s poverty, in which plunder was the only means of enrichment. Even in economies such as ours, there are illicit means of enrichment that reduce the wealth of society as a whole. How far the financiers, for example, have enriched themselves to the detriment of everyone else is a matter of dispute; certainly the spectacle of the heads of failed banks emerging with large personal fortunes suggests that this is not just a figment of resentful imagination. Indeed, in my own country, Britain, a form of misappropriation of funds that, while not actually illegal, is certainly not honest has become quite general in both the private and the public sectors (and it has been one of the ‘achievements’ of the past governments to foster the dissociation of legality from honesty, and of illegality from dishonesty, such that people who behave disreputably defend their conduct by saying, correctly, ‘It’s not against the law,’ as if there were no more to be said).

But none of this justifies hatred of the rich per se. The decision of France’s richest citizen, said to be the fourth richest man in the world, Bernard Arnault, to take Belgian citizenship has ignited polemics in a country in which an apparently contradictory attachment to personal wealth and possessions on the one hand, and hatred of the rich on the other, is very marked. In France many people hate those richer than themselves who are the object of the hatred of those less rich than themselves.

An article in Le Monde by an historian and political scientist, Patrick Weil, on the day following the news about M. Arnault, breathes populist resentment of the rich. For such as he, high tax rates are never a problem, only those who try to avoid paying them.

It is rarely that an American social or economic policy receives much praise in Le Monde, but M. Weil says:

At least the rich American, if he gives up his nationality [on deciding to reside elsewhere] has to pay a tax on his fortune, known as an ‘exit tax.’

And he goes on to say:

Between 2008 and 2010, the number of Americans choosing to abandon American nationality [for fiscal reasons] has multiplied by six. This phenomenon is more and more common among the Chinese, Russians and Indians, thanks to the indifference of their great countries, thanks to which they became rich.

This last phrase is, in my opinion, very revealing. It is perfectly true that no man becomes rich by his own totally unaided efforts, and that all his efforts take part in a particular social, legal, economic, political, cultural and national context. It is also true that some polities favor personal enrichment by means of cronyism, gangsterism, exploitation, clientelism and so forth.

But there is no recognition here, not the faintest glimmer of a recognition, that a man who creates a business by which he becomes rich might just be adding to the general wealth of the country in which he created it: that, for example, Henry Ford, in growing rich, impoverished no one and increased the wealth of his country. Wealth is not like a river that flows in one direction only.

François Guizot wanted the peasants to enrich themselves; François Hollande would like the rich to impoverish themselves.

This column first appeared September 14, 2012 on the Liberty Law Blog sponsored by Liberty Fund and is reprinted with permission.

Theodore Dalrymple


Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

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  • publiusnj

    Hating “the rich” can work as a political approach only if “the rich” can be defined as so small a percent of the body politic as to appeal to practically everyone. In the case of 2012 US politics, the “occupiers” have done the Democrats a favor (whether agreed upon or not) in defining the rich as the “1%.” Thus, 99% of the populace are being assured that they won’t be hurt by the 2012 Democrats’ version of class warfare. But then, back in the late 60s, everyone was being assured that the Alternate Minimum Tax would only get the rich too.
    The Democrats’ stratagem is as old as the Roman Empire. That polity was ruled by the principle of “divide and conquer.” The Dems have managed to divide off several segments of the population , beginning with Southerners, Catholics, Jews, the Old and Labor and continuing on through blacks, feminist women, and more recently other newly defined minorities such as Hispanics and the entire LGBT community. (Query: if most Hispanics self-identify as “white” as the Census says they do, why are they different from other white immigrants other than that they were the latest to arrive? Answer: because the Democrat Party controlled the Congress and created a non-racial minority classification to divide Hispanics and eventually to conquer them as a reliable part of the Coalition). In fact, the only part of the nation that Dems have not gone after are “white Christian heterosexual men.”
    A funny thing has happened on the way to permanent power, though: cross-conflicts among coalition partners have cost the Coalition votes and whole blocs. For example, many Catholics became Reagan Democrats; the old are not satisfied with the pittance of Social Security and have actually gone out looking to make money in the stock market; and a large percentage of those pesky women have not seen the benefit of a war on men when so many of them are still married to them. So the Democrat party needs constantly to find other ways to get people to identify as part of a Democrat Base Group (the formerly taboo issue of “sexual identity” is the latest dichotomy to be exploited). Of all the Democrats recent essays, though, the 99% has been the most brilliant move, but it will work only if people accept the fiction that they are being hurt more by “the 1%” than by an all-encroaching govenment which seeks to control and apportion all the wealth of the nation as it sees fit not based on economics but on politics. IOW, as the author notes in his next-to-last paragraph, the 1% ploy is great so long as people ignore Economics.

  • bill

    Hate the rich? I think you are being disingenuous. Generally I do not believe people “hate”, the rich, but they do think that they should be required to give more of their wealth to the welfare of the nation than they presently do.

    • msmischief

      They do that because they hate, resent, and envy the rich.

      Besides, what sort of lunatic thinks handing money to the government is for “the welfare of their nation”?

    • Sabrina

      Once upon a time there was a notion of “noblesse oblige”…with nobility comes responsibity, but unfortunately that’s gone by the wayside along with the Golden Rule.

  • hombre111

    The Bible is very suspicious of the rich. Take Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus. In biblical culture, God spreads everything equally. A man gets rich only if he figures out how to take a way from others. Read John Pilch on the culture of the ancient Middle East.

    • Adam Baum

      “The Bible is very suspicious of the rich.”

      Last I checked the Bible was not “suspicious of the rich”, rather it was suspicious of man’s tendency to become enamored of temporal wealth to the point that it became a false god. The command that proscribes covetousness does not contain an exemption for those that covet on behalf of another.

      “A man gets rich only if he figures out how to take a way from others.”

      The kindest characterization of that statement that can be made is “poppycock”. You clearly lack any grounding in economics and the miracle of the market-that voluntary exchange betters the position of both parties. Would a doctor “take a way (sic) from you” when he treats your illness? Does the butcher “take a way” from you when he applies his skills to provide you meat? Does the baker “take a way” when he provides you with your bread?

      Your posts are bitter amalgams of envy, ignorance and superstition and no amount of pretense that you are an advocate on behalf of the poor can conceal that fact.

      • hombre111

        Get a biblical concordance, look up the word “rich,” and see how often they are cast in a negative light. I think of Jesus’ hard words: Woe to you rich, you have HAD your reward. Or, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Or, about another rich man, “You fool!” Amazing how many people want to take their chances before a judgment of God that will have to do with all eternity. Fortunately, a lingering last illness has a way of making us poor at last, at least in a spiritual way. Unfortunately for Americans, studies have shown that about half of us think like millionaires, with all those values so despised by the Lord.

        • J G

          So it is therefore okay to persecute the rich? How about we imprison them for the temerity of having made or inherited money? Let’s make it a crime since it is so evil. What do you say hombre?

          • hombre111

            Persecute the rich? Nah. It is God they have to worry about.

            • J G

              Yet you hate them and say they are evil. If you are right then they should be imprisoned or even executed. Don’t you have the courage of your convictions?

              • hombre111

                JG, that is right-wing, black or white thinking, with gives conservatives a lot more emotional power. Liberals give people a lot of lee-way. I pity the rich, because they often lock themselves into such a narrow world view. Now I do despise arch right-wingers. The word “despise” means look down on with great disdain. I have to work hard to remember their humanity in the middle of the ignorance they cling to in order to maintain their world view. I am sad because the Republican Party of Eisenhower and NIxon has become the Birthers and the Tea Party.

                • John200

                  This sounds like a stereotype(s). Can you name a person worthy of being despised? A rich person would be fine; an arch right winger would do almost as well; a birther would be OK; a despisable Tea Partier would be jolly, although the Tea Partiers of my acquaintance are pretty much like my superior self.

                  But do let us have a go at it.

                • Andres

                  I must say, you’re making awfully large generalizations. The birther movement has been fringe, at best, from the principles of the GOP, and the tea party movement just abhors the excessive taxation present in american politics all to fund an increasingly over-regulatory and uncontrollable government. Have you ever bothered to look up REAL republican economists? Try Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman.

        • John200

          Jesus is talking about poverty of spirit, which does not necessarily correspond to poverty in earthly terms. Poverty of spirit is for all, without regard to economic status. It does not require that you make yourself poor or give away all that you have, but that you live as if you had little.

          Hombre111, awhile back you said you are a priest. I found the claim unbelievable and did not pursue it. But now I will ask; are you really a priest? I am beginning to worry about you.

          • hombre111

            You are correct that the New Testament is not talking about poverty in earthly terms. See John Pelch in his discussions on the culture of the New Testament. But we are not talking about poor people. We are talking about rich people, and Jesus is really, really tough on them. I am amazed how many people line up to try to squeeze through the eye of that needle.
            Yep, I am a priest for 48 years. Lots of time to think about the Gospel and how it applies in our lives.

            • John200

              Dear Fr. Hombre,

              Glad to know you are a priest. “Father” is the highest honorific I know. I am going to retract my claws and I regret those I extended earlier.

              I found John Pilch and I see that he has some interesting points to make. Many contemporary people wonder why the Savior calls us sheep, or shoots on a vine, or seeds that have to die, or slaves. Is the Savior truly fed up with us??? And I have never seen myrrh, or nard, or…(you get the picture) in my life. So an explanation of these terms (and more) is welcome and needed.

              Second point: The thing with the math and physics is that some of our interlocutors think it is “fun,” in a perverted and mirthless sort of way, to deceive non-numerate people with dazzling “explanations” that violate the limited sense in which math and physics apply. And frankly, Father H., to get at a priest is even more “fun” than simply playing a trick on a member of the general public. The priest needs dignity to operate: these clods (sorry, I could not think of a better word) think he should not have it.

              It follows that you are a natural target for this sort. These authors have taken courses in higher math, but that does not mean that the higher math applies to the various arenas in which these authors play.

              Don’t buy it until you understand it, and that means, all of it. When a living, contemporary human being leaves you gazing up into the unknown, let me advise you: they intended to do so.

    • J G

      My father started with nothing. He became relatively wealthy. He did not take from anyone. He paid for what he needed and sold what he could. He employed many people who paid taxes and supported their families. It is folks like YOU who take away from others.

    • Sabrina

      That’s not strictly true. If you read Proverbs, there are plenty of references towards wise men and women being prosperous. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking about Prosperity doctrine, but there were indeed people in the Bible who were rich but did it through honest means. What about Joseph in Genesis? King David? The unnamed Virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, to name but a few?

  • LizEst

    Wow! And here I thought it was Catholicism and being a Catholic that was not protected from hate-speech.

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  • Proteios1

    This article misses the point that hate speech now means, you disagree with me or the even better, your values do not support mine. And the final ingredient to make it hate…it must be from the political left against the right.

    The whole term should just go away.

    I support family values and marriage (there is only one kind). There are those that would say I just committed a hate crime. I didn’t . The whole concept is stupid. And the rich need to stop whining so much. Tey get the money, they can put up with some sh@t and stop being such crybabies. Try being Catholic. It’s been safe for my entire life to criticie, condemn, misrepresent and call us hate filled bigots simply for our values.

  • Sabrina

    Very interesting article. There certainly does seem to be a fair amount of plutophobia out there. It was a mere 30 years ago when people worshipped at the altar of the “yuppie” and strove to attain the “lifestyles of the rich and famous”, but now people love to condemn the 1% (whether or not their earned it). I guarantee if those folks who are doing the hating won the lottery, they wouldn’t turn the money down. Moreover, they’d probably be just as self-indulgent as they judge the rich for being right now. The critics may ‘hate’ the wealthy, but they still crave all the trappings of wealth. As for me, I don’t begrudge the wealthy even though I’m far from rich. Snarling at the affluent among us certainly won’t add money to one’s wallet, and indeed it will more than likely make one more spiritually bankrupt to allow envy and avarice to enter the heart and take hold. There is a good reason why the Scriptures say “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Such “lust” of money can poison both rich and poor alike.

    • hombre111

      But in the end, we come to Jesus’ really harsh words. “Woe to you rich, you have HAD your reward.” and then there is the vision of a huge line of rich and would be rich trying to squeeze through the eye of that needle in order to enter the Kingdom of God. According to biblical scholars, Jesus was talking about a real needle. When people get rich or hope to be rich, their attitude about life changes.

  • Anders13

    Why over tax the rich and over regulate their businesses? Because the Washington money changers know that the poor cannot afford to buy tax or regulation loop holes.

  • Wealth is not like a river that flows in one direction only.

  • Robert

    It seems as if politics has been reduced entirely into a class war between rich and poor. There is no longer any mention of social issues or societal decline and social decay. The media becomes more violent and more offensive everyday with little consequences. And the only issue now prominent is the class war between rich and poor and the tax issues involved in it.

  • It so bothers me in an age of supposed reason how people just do not think logically. the real issues always get drowned in what I call “beating around the bush” speech. What people do is spend too much time and effort focusing on themes that polarize people, get them all pent up on feelings, that way logic is thrown to the wind. The issue has NOTHING to do with the rich or poor per say. It has to with how people make money.You do not need to be a rocket scientist to know that a person who starts a business and hires people that in his effort to gain wealth he happens to create jobs. In fact I used to be employed by a company that installed commercial phone systems for small businesses who were expanding and hiring more people. After the year 2000 we were busy helping them to downsize. The company I worked for went out of business because so many of the the small businesses disappeared. The honest hardworking small to medium businesses were what kept us working. Back in the day even large corporations paid well with good pension plans. Don’t tell me they were not getting wealthy. So it is way too obvious that the “rich ” per say had nothing to do with the problems at least in the past. It is just plain greed.Not to mention we live in a country where everything is for sale including politicians. They work together. The prime example being the pharmaceutical companies who sell their drugs to Canada for a fraction of what we pay for them. Then our government makes it illegal for us to purchase medication online from Canada. Years ago, a time many do not remember (or chose not to) Our government created laws (antitrust laws) to stop companies from growing so large that they might become predatory. The irony came during Clinton’s reign when Microsoft was being sued by the Government for the very thing the drug companies were doing and that was creating monopolies in order to jack up the drug prices. Obviously the Microsoft lawsuit was a smoke screen to hide what was going on. For years Insurance was both affordable and optional. It was considered as “catastrophic ” insurance. Insurance you had in case of dire emergencies. In those days the price of medication was affordable by all. Then the prices went up so far and so fast that with out insurance people could no longer afford that. Yes greed! Not necessarily the rich. Also the investment practices have changed. The corporations are now entities that resemble human beings. Entities that are incapable of feelings or conscience. Money is no longer made by hard work. Besides some of the rich have forgotten how they got that way. And that is the people who bought their products. Much of the new wealth involves investments where people are betting on anything. Even during 911 a lot of people got rich on that disaster. We soon forget how much trouble people got into by betting on sports teams but today money is made no matter what. And this is bound to back fire eventually when the market is flooded with products imported from overseas for people who have no jobs, who will not be able to afford them. More and more jobs are going overseas to cheap labor in poor countries. And last but not least how is it that the country is in a recession, people cannot find jobs but if you listen to the news the rich are not affected.The dept ceiling is out of control and where do they want to get the money? from the aged and the disabled. Do the rich want to help? NO !!. They talk about entitlements like we are a bunch of free loaders while they do want to pay taxes. And yet they still drive on the public highways and expect the police to protect them if some one were to come and try to steal their money.

    They call the poor lazy which is a joke because there would be a lot less poor if people had jobs. And guess what else ? They are buying all of the real estate and throwing the poor out of their homes. It goes by the fancy name “Gentrification”. Now the price of food is going up so fast as never before. Sure the price of “gadgets” is going down so it looks like there is not much inflation Eventually the poor will starve because they will not be able to eat. And you wonder why people complain?

  • Proteios

    People rarely hate the rich achievers (bill gate, the apple guy, innovators and inventors, etc.) but in great numbers seem to hate those children of entitlement or those who have but never worked to achieve those gains. Inherently, I think we do the same when we see coworkers, family, neighbors who reap great rewards, but never seemed to sow very much or do much work.

  • pbecke

    Well, well, Mr Dalrymple. Why don’t you ask yourself why, in her Magnificat, Our Lady expresses the very same antipathy, indeed, hostility towards the rich and love of the poor. ‘Love of the poor’, you state, ‘is, at least in theory, the highest virtue.

    Perhaps, you should re-acquaint yourself with both the Magnificat (no mention of the ‘lowly in spirit’, but a unmistakable reference to ‘good things’ [an asset portfolio for the poor?]), and the sole description of the Last Judgment in scripture, in which Jesus, God, himself, directly states that failure to give practical help to those in need, indeed, in need, not just of financial assistance.

    Yet the riches of the rich are most seminally the product of the unjust structures within unchecked capitalist society – the political threat to which, being the very thing you are whingeing about. True, hard work, not a supernatural virtue, is often also a factor, at least in those building up a business or workaholics, but a secondary one.

    ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart is.’ Ever heard those words, Mr Dalrymple? But what you will have the greatest difficulty in explaining away are the repeated references in the Old Testament, to the rich, in apposition to the wicked, the deceitful, the oppressive, the sharp-elbowed; and conversely, the poor (cf the Magnificat), as the virtuous man, the true Israel. So, in those Old Testament prophets, you’ve some more people to take to task about their expressions of ‘hatred’. You’ll be invoking rainbows next!

    Is it that you prefer a bird in the hand to a bird in the bush, preferring to have your ‘good things’ in this life, like the rich man in the parable of Lazarus? Note that Jesus does not accord such a personal thing as a name to the rich man, whom, by implication, he compares unfavourably with the street dogs. (I think you’d better give Jesus a good wigging, while you’re dealing with those old prophets).