posted at 3:51 pm on October 6, 2009 by King Banaian
Suppose you asked, What are the ten counties in the US with the highest household income? Wikipedia collects that data for you. Which states would contain the most? You may be surprised to find out it’s not New York or California or Florida. It’s Maryland (Howard and Montgomery counties) and Virginia (Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington). As David Henderson notes, these are all counties around Washington DC, those where government employees live who “are in the privileged positions of regulators and granters of privilege.”
And what do they decry but “privilege”?
Once we start using the word “privilege” where what we really mean is “wealth,” we start applying this term to those who came by their wealth without special privilege–the Bill Gateses of the world, sure, but also the more-common successful businessmen or professionals who are earning a few million dollars a year down to a few hundred thousand dollars a year and who don’t show up on any “richest people” lists. The vast majority of people who get rich in even a semifree economy such as ours do so by producing goods and services that others value. But because the word “privilege” carries a negative connotation, when we call someone “privileged,” we are communicating, even if unintentionally, that this person came by his money dishonestly. And if you think that this is not a major issue, consider what President Obama’s first budget book, an official U.S. government publication, said about the highest-income people in the United States: “While middle-class families have been playing by the rules, living up to their responsibilities as neighbors and citizens, those at the commanding heights of our economy have not.”
There you have it. After decades of using the word “privilege” instead of “wealth,” we have the ultimate result: a government that is officially hostile to high-income people, whom it accuses, in a completely unsupported claim, of not “playing by the rules.”
Hayek in The Road to Serfdom noted that in a country with freedom for all to acquired private property, the Left’s calling the holding of property a privilege “is depriving the word privilege of all meaning.” (p. 82) We now see for what reason they deprive it.