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Acton Notes - President's Message

Dear Friends,

The super rich, who by modern standards haven’t been around that long, often and tragically use their wealth to support socialist ideas. This has been true for a very long time, and even the ghastly failures of socialism have made very little difference in this trend. In fact, the rich are a main source for funding education that ends up undermining the capacity of society to grow wealthy.

The main culprit here is a lack of economic education. It is possible, but always regrettable, to be an enormously successful entrepreneur and still have little understanding of what makes economies function. Economic enlightenment and successful entrepreneurship are not all of a piece.

But what motivates the super rich to fund socialism? F.A. Hayek thought it is hubris at work. They come to believe that their successes are limitless, even to the point of believing that money can repeal economic law. Others have pointed to the role of guilt: the super rich believe that they must do something to expiate their supposed sin of taking more than their fair share—again a bad economic construct.

But there is another factor. The super rich have always sought to distinguish themselves in society. Once they could do that in the form of specialized consumption, but that is increasingly difficult. What is available only to the rich this year becomes available to everyone next year. So the longing for distinction must take other forms such as support of outlandish art, music, architecture, and ideology—anything that makes them seem different from the middle class.

The cure here is to understand that the rich themselves are not different from other people except in one respect: they are particularly successful at anticipating the material needs of the human population. They thereby profit from doing so. What do they owe in return? It’s my view that they should support education in the area of freedom and virtue—that they should turn their vast talents to supporting the cultural and educational foundation of a free society.

Luke’s Gospel notes, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”