Living in Paris, of course I interact daily with French people, many of the Parisians. This important distinction is necessary because Parisians are French, but obviously not all French are Parisians. Parisians are a unique breed: they are separate and apart, not just from their fellow countrymen, but from anyone else on the planet.
In the way the dress. In the way they interact with each other. And in the way they see the world around them.
These distinctions are further magnified as you begin to categorize Parisians into smaller subsets, classifying them according to the arrondissement in which they live, their family background, their occupation (if they have one), and their political leanings.
It is this last label which presents wealthy, privileged Parisians in the least original light. They fall, predictably, into the same two groups that the affluent all over the world fit into: those who want to keep all of their wealth and privilege in house and let the masses fend for themselves; and those who are more inclined to support public programs to help the poor and working classes survive and thrive, even if it means paying more taxes.
I have met no one who’s sincerely ready to hand over their entire fortune and the comforts that come with it in order to make society ‘more equal’. Taxing the rich to excessive amounts never does any good in the long run. The causes of poverty and limited opportunity are complex, and higher taxes on the rich is only a partial solution at best. That said, most of the world’s billionaires do need to pay more in taxes, in my opinion. Charity is not enough. Trickle down economics is a farce.
My point is this: it’s easy for wealthy people to prescribe to the ‘merit’ theory: ‘If others only worked as hard as I have, they’d be rich, too!’ It is equally as easy for the less industrious to want a piece of a wealthy person’s pie, whether they have made a good effort to better their own lives or not. ‘We should all share!’ is the common refrain for those who have less.
The reality is that the world is a complex and often contradictory place. People get rich for many reasons. People stay poor for just as many reasons. Governments generally try to moderate the suffering of the poor by taxing those who earn. They also attempt to make sure that the social and economic environment is attractive to business. Governments need to collect taxes in order to function. Businesses generate revenues. Without revenues, no one survives. The trick, as I’ve said before, is in the balance and the execution.
The best thing we can do is advocate for social programs that educate and protect the less fortunate. A healthy, educated, and aspiring middle class is an invaluable asset: small businesses thrive, companies have a great robust talent pool to pull from, the social fabric is woven more tightly, the participants in a democracy can feel informed, enlightened, and empowered. Crazy behavior is moderated. Very few people feel hopeless.
We can’t fall for the ‘small government’ or ‘anti-regulation’ propaganda that is so often touted by ‘grass roots’ organizations. Corporations and the wealthy often fund these campaigns in order to decrease government oversight of their businesses and increase profits. (Profits, by the way, which are seldom if ever shared with their employees.)
The worst thing we can do is to think we can pull the drawbridge up behind us, huddle luxuriously in our gated communities, and think that those outside will never breach the castle walls. They will, and when they do, history shows us that the justice they seek is rarely sorted out neatly or peacefully.
So when it comes to which side of the coin Old Money should choose, let’s opt for the more charitable and the more enlightened side. Let’s see things from a broader perspective, with a longer timeline in view.
A better world awaits us if we do. Tyranny becomes more possible if we don’t.