LETTER TO A STUDENT


The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. ~Daniel Webster

I received the following email from one of my former students, after he had been shown a propaganda film by one of his indoctrinators…er, professors. My response follows (both are slightly edited for clarity and privacy).

One of the things I have been constantly struggling to wrap my head around is social inequality. The wealthy are who are able but unfortunately not willing to help put this change in motion. The wealthy I refer to make up 1% of the population and yet have accumulated over 40% of the global financial wealth (as Jamie Johnson’s documentary enlightened me on). When I was a kid I dreamed of becoming wealthy; owning boats, fancy cars, and big houses. Now an unfortunate truth has come my way and I no longer dream of becoming wealthy for the same reasons. You need to be wealthy or an icon of the media in order to make a drastic but much needed change in society. As another average Joe of seven billion, I am struggling to find out a way to put myself in position to make a difference.

Dear One-of-My-Favorite-Students,

I am going to tell you some things that will go against the past 14 years of lies, half-truths, and propaganda you have received in the public school system and beyond. The truths I am about to share require logic, rather than emotion, to process them; I trust you are interested in the truth or you would not have contacted me, which also makes me confident that you can manage the information I am going to share.

One of the challenges we have with statistics is that while math is a pure science, how it is presented to us is not. What I mean is that a single statistic, or small group of them, can be a very misleading thing. It is only by understanding the conditions surrounding the statistics that we can put them in perspective. The history of world economics is not only necessary to perspective on poverty and wealth, but is vital for understanding what conditions create wealth and poverty. Of course, economics is inextricably tied to politics, so we must look at the political climate and the human behavior that produced these conditions. And, remember that there is often an agenda when such discussion occurs, so you must commit yourself to asking, "Is the person telling me this interested in more or less control of others?" As H.L. Mencken said, "The urge to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it."

Here are some facts that give the lie to the statistic you were given--not that the number itself is a lie, but the lack of context(and quite probably the political purpose in the way it was shared)effectively makes it so. One of the first challenges we have is we must define our terms, which can be difficult. What is wealth, and what is poverty? In 2008, the U.S. government considered a family of four earning $22,000 per year poor—and when that figure is calculated, it does not include the significant taxpayer assistance they receive (Medicaid, food stamps, etc.). Think of the number of countries where that would be considered rich. In America, those who are called “poor” would be envied by much of the world—most of our poor have microwaves, televisions, and air conditioning, and about half own a car (one-third own two cars). Yet they are discussed as the "poor," while the per capita income in Central Africa is $700, which shows you why defining these terms is not easy. And, we must also recognize that there are millions of us in America who are in some level of middle class, which is almost never discussed by people who want to demogogue wealth and poverty. But we must examine the middle class, and what conditions create a middle class, especially when people discuss the so-called "widening gap" between the rich and the poor—in countries that are not some form of socialism, that gap is filled with a middle class.

Poverty has always been the condition of most of humanity. Until the last two centuries, 88% of the world lived in "poverty;" now, that number is 20%. This drastic change did not come about by accident--it was the result of the introduction of true free market capitalism, a remarkable achievement of the representative Republic established by our Founding Fathers. Among many of the things we can thank these extraordinary men for, topping the list must be the blueprint for government that allowed people maximum liberty in which to succeed or fail, that created the conditions for spectacular success not only in our country, but in the world.

In terms of natural resources, Africa is the world's richest continent, with half the world's gold, most of its diamonds, almost all its cobalt, almost half the world's potential hydroelectric power, and millions of acres of untilled farmland (just to name a few—Africa abundant in natural resources). So why are so many Africans desperately poor? We need only look at their political conditions--of the 41 black African nations, only three allow people to vote and choose their own leaders. Only two allow freedom of expression and criticism of government. Ethnic genocide has killed millions of people, and slavery is still practiced in the Sudan and other areas. For a Central African banana picker to sell his produce abroad, he must get it to a ship headed to America or Europe; along the way he must get 38 different signatures (and present a bribe to each), so by the time he reaches the ship it will have taken more than 100 days. Do you see why it is impossible for him to improve his lot in life? It is not we who keep him in poverty—I might happily buy his bananas, but I will never have the opportunity, because of his own corrupt government and lack of liberty. This is true of every single poor nation in the world, so don't you believe for one minute that it is America that is somehow responsible for their poverty.

The only conditions that improve people's lives are economic and political liberty. Every single regulation costs money and limits growth, yet these same people who cry about the gap between rich and poor want to impose more regulation, or take from the productive and give to others. Did you know that the top 1% of earners pay 40% of the taxes in this country? Or that 80% of America's millionaires earned their wealth, rather than inherited it? And, even if that were not so, it is none of my business what someone else has, as long as he did not impose upon me to get it.

I have worked my whole life—I began babysitting when I was 12, and I entered the workforce two years later. There have been many years I did not take a vacation; there have been many things I have chosen not to buy; for years I went without health insurance (not health "care") because it was economically smarter (health insurance should not be a payment plan, but a buffer in unexpected or catastrophic situations); the same is true of my husband. We don't buy "luxury" cars, we buy cars that will last as long as possible (they are now eight and twelve years old, and we both want them to last another decade); we rarely go out to eat, and we are careful with our money. For both of us, there has never been a time we were not working, and we have made many sacrifices. Yet our current president believes we have made enough money, and we should be forced to give an even greater portion of what we earn to people who have not worked and sacrificed as we did.

Do you think that is incentive to expand our business, which would create jobs? Only a couple months ago, I turned down one of my colleagues at this university for a job because of the policies of this band of economic illiterates in the White House and Congress—I can't afford to hire anyone because of the endless regulations and taxes I face. Do you see how they are actually harming people and our country with their notions of "fairness"? Yet they persist, with the support of the ignorant. As Bertrand Russell said, “The trouble with the world is the stupid are cocksure, and the intelligent are full of doubt.” He forgot to add that the stupid are loud, as well.

The thing that these people will never admit is that prosperity is not a finite quantity---the world can sustain everyone "having"---but as the Bible says, "The poor will always be with us." Well, why is that? For one reason, there will always be tyranny---someone will always want to control others and tell others what they can and cannot do, what they can and cannot have. They will never say it is because they want power, and they may even tell themselves they are benevolent---but it is and they are not. Another reason is that not everyone is willing to help himself. Surely you know people who want the easy way, want something for nothing, want to cut corners---you witnessed it in our class last semester when some students decided they didn't want to do the work but would instead cheat. The dishonest will always be with us, too. But you know that the system in our class was not rigged---every person in that class had the opportunity to reach his own potential----but not everyone had the same potential. Some could earn A's, some could earn B's, etc., but no one was going to get a grade he did not earn. Thus it is with earning power in the world.

We must recognize that while the world can sustain everyone succeeding, not everyone wants the same thing (defines "success" the same way). We all make choices based upon our desires, our experiences, our learning histories--some of those choices will advance us economically, spiritually, intellectually, etc., and some will not. A nun has the security of her basic needs provided (by her church), but her focus is not on economic advancement---it is on her spiritual life. That is her choice (and note: she would probably be considered one of "the poor”), but it is not the choice of everyone. The only way any of us can reach our potential is to be given the liberty to do so.

You have a strong desire to achieve, and to use that achievement to help others. This is an admirable quality. If you really want this, you must work for maximum liberty for all, which means a return to a federal government bound by the Constitution, and state and local governments that do not try to regulate every aspect of our lives. Nothing else will work. The financial disaster looming before us is the result of decades of meddling government and corrupt lawmakers who gamed the system for themselves, their friends, and constituents who did not want a level playing field but instead sought an advantage. It was not a free market, it was not capitalism--it was a rigged system where some people were protected from the consequences of their choices, and the rest of us had to pay for it. We should be running these people out of town, and dismantling the web of regulations and taxes that handcuff individual potential and cripple our economy. And remember, any time someone bemoans "the poor" and says we must close that gap, they are really talking about disincentivizing success---the non-productive will have no reason to produce, and the productive will have every reason to stop.

I know I have given you a lot to think about, but here is one final thought: I have said to always ask, “Why is this person telling me this? Is it to make me more powerful, or less?” I want you to be powerful---when we are powerful, we can help others. No matter how hard you work, you will only reach your potential if you have the freedom to do so.Freedom is something you must fight for—there will always be someone who wants to boss you around and force you to live his vision—but freedom is something worth fighting for.

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~Shyla Lefever