1. Economic disparity does not prevent self-reliance.
2. Loss of individual liberties creates barriers to self-reliance.
3. Increases in regulation, taxation, and government funding always lead to a loss of individual liberty.
4. Wealth creates a buffer to the loss of liberty.
5. The relative political power of the wealthy increases compared to the power of the poor, because of the loss of liberty.
6. Some wealthy seek to act as an unofficial ruling class by pushing increases in regulation, taxation, and funding, while posing as saviors of the poor.
It is a popular tenet of socialism and other ideologies that follow the Oppression Paradigm (http://wp.me/p1qldX-p) to blame the wealthy for many of the ills of our society and our world. Conspiracy theorists around the globe love to credit a wealthy elite with controlling the world’s money supply and, therefore, the governments of the world. Allow me to address one common aspect of these ideas: the political power of the wealthy.
What is wealth?
Wealth is a relative term. People in the United States with lower economic means may be considered closer to wealthy in some impoverished nations. Here, many are considered in poverty because they have less than those around them, rather than less than a majority of the world. As such, I will take the liberty of providing some definitions that may apply to any area of the earth. The number of those in poverty (and wealthy) would change drastically, if these definitions were applied.
Poor: The inability to obtain/provide for basic needs of food, warmth (shelter/clothing), and water.
Survival: The ability to obtain basic needs on a consistent basis, but no more.
Self-Sufficiency: The ability to obtain basic needs on a consistent basis, based on one’s own resources.
Prosperity: The presence of reliable resources to meet one’s needs on a consistent basis with enough left over to meet future needs.
Self-Reliance: Personal control and ownership over the resources to meet one’s own needs on a consistent basis, with enough left over to meet future needs.
With these definitions in mind, we might ask ourselves where poverty ends and where wealth begins. Certainly self-reliance could be identified as having wealth. Notice that this includes personal control and ownership. If a person is in debt, they cannot be considered an owner. They are still a borrower. As such, they have not yet achieved self-reliance. Those who are in debt may be considered prosperous, because they have what they need and can meet future needs, but if their debts are called due, this may remove their ability to provide for those needs. I would measure wealth by the surplus a person has above that which is necessary for survival. Many that we would consider wealthy may have personal control over resources, but not ownership (or vice versa) which leaves them in the area of prosperity.
The only true self-reliance would have to include private ownership of property which produces enough food to meet a person’s needs. It would also need to include the means to protect that property from theft or destruction. These conditions are increasingly rare in our western societies, where we give up the responsibility for our daily needs to the protection and production of other people in other areas. There are some benefits to this practice of specialization, but it necessarily reduces our self-reliance in favor of prosperity (we have more than we need, but do not have control over it).
There is no such thing as a zero-sum balance of power when it comes to economics. In other words: every person on this planet may become self-reliant. In addition, if one person possessed all of the gold in the world, every person on the planet could still be self-reliant. The real power is political and the balance tilts between individual and governmental liberty; or determining who has the power to make what decisions.
If you have made it this far, you are certainly wondering what all this (fascinating as I find it) has to do with an unofficial ruling class. This is where it starts. The self-reliant individual (and family) is the most independent and liberated person on the face of the planet. Free from debt and protected in his rights to maintain the necessities of life, this individual is able to withstand the economic turmoil that devastates so many nations. This liberty was understood by the Founding Fathers of the United States. For this reason, they created a simple, yet brilliant, system to protect each individual in his liberty and to provide for their collective defense. You may note that almost everyone was a farmer at that time. If they were a lawyer, they were also a farmer. If they were a doctor, they were also a farmer. Farmers, coincidentally, were also farmers. They were also all soldiers, but that is a topic for another post (https://principlephilosophy.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/militia/).
Regulations, taxation, and government funding all reduce the liberties enjoyed by EVERYONE in a society. These three things reduce liberty by increasing barriers to self-reliance. Regulations limit who can participate, how they can participate, when they can participate, and the reasons why they can participate. Our natural state of freedom means that any regulation results in a limitation on a freedom, which affects our ability to achieve self-reliance. Taxation is both a regulation and a direct decrease in resources which could otherwise be used to achieve self-reliance. Government funding is the most pernicious of the three. Because the funding must come from tax revenue, and tax is regulation, it naturally includes both of the other drains on liberty. In addition, by deciding where the money goes, the government has now gained decision-making ability where it did not previously exist. Whoever is spending the money has the right to decide how the money is spent and this rule has not been lost on any government program. Each program comes with strict and overbearing regulations.
Who does this loss of liberty affect the most? Those who have not already achieved self-reliance. When we are self-reliant, we are not as affected by the fluctuations in the economy, and economies are incredibly vulnerable to these changes in liberty. Eventually, changes in liberty can destroy self-reliance, but its first targets are those who are poor.
These changes may take the prosperous and make them poor, while those who were poor will find it increasingly difficult to obtain resources for survival. This point alone should discredit the basis of ideologies such as socialism. However, the next question is: Who (if anyone) is favored by this loss of liberty?
The prosperous and the self-reliant (as groups, not individuals) are the least affected by the loss of liberty. The greater access a person has to resources, the less affected he is by these changes. The poor have to spend increased attention and energy for obtaining the resources to meet their needs. Without resources to meet their needs, their attention is diverted and they lack resources to assert political influence. The needs are still met for the prosperous and self-reliant, although they may have fewer additional resources than before. The additional resources they do have allow them to direct their attention and some of their additional resources to political matters, if they so choose. The result here is a disparity in political power: The relative power of the “wealthy” becomes greater in relation to the power of the poor, even though there is a loss of actual power and freedom by both groups.
Note that this increase in political power does not assume that someone who is wealthy recognizes this power, desires this power, intends to use this power, or uses this power in a particular way. Although the power increases relative to the poor, it does not presuppose any evil intent by the prosperous or the self-reliant. In fact, I would argue that it is an innate desire in each person to become self-reliant.
There are many wealthy people who recognize this disparity and make use of the power which they have. I do not see this as wrong, in and of itself. The question is whether they use this power to increase or decrease the power disparity.
Remember, their wealth did not create the disparity. The increases in regulation, taxation, and funding created the political disparity. As such, those who advocate for further regulation, taxation, and funding are increasing their political power over other groups by creating barriers to self-reliance. The solution is increased individual liberty through laws and through self-reliance. This is the only process that puts people onto an equal playing field.
What socialism offers is a political and economic con game. The rich socialists claim that regulation, taxation, or government funding (usually for the poor, if not for everyone) is necessary to reduce the disparity in income (as though income disparity were the problem). The result is a decrease in liberty for everyone and a greater disparity in political power between the rich and the poor. So the poor sell their freedoms to the rich in an effort to abase the rich.