PAUL SOLMAN: Of all the cultures you’ve studied that have tried to deal with severe economic dislocations, what’s the marker of resiliency?
JARED DIAMOND: It seems to me that one of the predictors of a happy versus an unhappy outcome has to do with the role of the elite or the decision-makers or the politicians or the rich people within the society.
If the society is structured so that the decision-makers themselves suffer from the consequences of their decisions, then they’re motivated to make decisions that are good for the whole society, whereas if the decision-makers can make decisions that insulate themselves from the rest of society, then they’re likely to make decisions that are bad for the rest of society.
PAUL SOLMAN: Case in point, says Diamond, the place they call the city of New Orleans.
JARED DIAMOND: One could ask, why is it that, for 10 years, people around New Orleans dithered and they wouldn’t adopt these plans for a few hundred million dollars to build the dikes? And part of the reason is that there’s geographic segregation in New Orleans, where the rich people live on the higher ground and knew perfectly well that they were less exposed to problems from flooding.
PAUL SOLMAN: Compare that to the Netherlands, he says, where the system of dikes is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
JARED DIAMOND: There aren’t any mansions on top of the dikes. Everybody is living down below in the polders. And they know — the politicians and rich people know that, if the dikes failed, they would drown. [...]
PAUL SOLMAN: But to the extent that this economic dislocation affects the wealthy, that’s good?
JARED DIAMOND: I think I would like to see the rich suffer even more and — and the politicians suffer even more.
PAUL SOLMAN: Because it would be good for us?
JARED DIAMOND: Yes, because they would then be motivated to solve all of our problems, and they wouldn’t have the sense that, “It’ll be OK for us.”
This – along with the need for money – would be a very good reason to make the rich pay for everything. Also a good reason: because fuck them. But how to do it? There are arguments against raising the income tax, particularly during a recession – you should let the wealth trickle down, we shouldn’t do anything to discourage investment, because it’s “class warfare”. Fine. Bring back the Death Tax, except this time, bring it back at 100%.
People who become wealthy are certainly very lucky, but they also must have done something which some people consider very useful. Maybe they are good at business, or very smart, or they can hit a baseball very well, or whatever – I doubt anybody really deserves to make $1 million a year, no matter what they do, but obviously the wallets of America disagree with me here. But being born rich is not a useful skill, and anyway, most rich kids are huge douchebags (I speak here as an expert, having seen every Bad News Bears movie multiple times). Think about the rich kids in public life: George W. Bush, Jonah Goldberg, Bill Kristol, George Steinbrenner, Paris Hilton, etc. Dumb, angry, entitled, douchebags. So, when you think about it, taking away a burdensome inheritance and forcing them to deal with life’s problems like the rest of us is a kindness, and will help our nation’s fortunate sons and daughters be happier, more productive, and more connected to the lives and concerns of their fellow citizens. The nasty politics, the drug habits, the superior attitude – these are all signs of profound social and spiritual alienation. So while society would be taking away “their” money, they would be receiving something infinitely more valuable in return: LOVE. Because that’s what life is all about.
And also because fuck them.