Forbes Columnist Demands More Perks for the One Percent

Chris LehmannSeptember 17, 2013

Enough with the mindless demonization of our overclass! Forbes columnist Harry Binswanger – whose terse mission statement is to “defend laissez-faire capitalism, using Ayn Rand’s Objectivism” – has taken time out from his busy defense of insider trading and denials of global warming schedule to boldly assert what the pusillanimous culture of collectivism dare not admit: We don’t do enough to show our gratitude to the one percent.

Oh sure, the nation’s plutocrats might have claimed ninety five percent of all the economic growth kicked up in the Obama years. They still purchase legislators and regulatory favors in bulk. Best of all, they continue to elude any criminal liability for running the global economy into the abyss – and continue to turn handsome profits into the bargain. Still, though, something rankles – the heartless and perverse expectation that our financial masters of the universe should “give something back to the community.” And this, dear reader, is the outrage that Henry Binswanger – a proud former associate of Ayn Rand and our demented former head of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan – is out to set right.

Yes, the innocuous-sounding call for financial titans to give back to the community may ring out like the chorus of a Whitney Houston song. But, in reality, Binswanger explains, it conceals a dark and sinister world of expropriating Marxist menace. To begin with, there is no such thing as “the community” – as Lady Thatcher famously announced, the whole conceit of “society” is just a tricked-out liberal myth, designed to separate you from the rightful proceeds of your own heroic economic genius. Binswanger explains:

The “community” never gave anyone anything. The “community,” the “society,” the “nation” is just a number of interacting individuals, not a mystical entity floating in a cloud above them. And when some individual person–a parent, a teacher, a customer–”gives” something to someone else, it is not an act of charity, but a trade for value received in return.

So you thought your mum was acting out of some mystical, selfless impulse when she clothed, fed, and otherwise outfitted you with the mores and customs of our civilization? Or that your teachers were animated by some high-minded eyewash about turning you into an informed and responsible citizen? Guess again, you sniveling little statist guttersnipe! Like every other rational actor in this, the best of all possible market orders, every authority figure in your world was out to seize the main chance:

It was from love–not charity–that your mother fed you, bought clothes for you, paid for your education, gave you presents on your birthday. It was for value received that your teachers worked day in and day out to instruct you. In commercial transactions, customers buy a product not to provide alms to the business, but because they want the product or service–want it for their own personal benefit and enjoyment.

And this, as the Gospel of St. Rand instructs us at such fulsome length, is the cardinal virtue of selfishness from which all good things flow. So how about, instead of demanding still more sacrifices from our wealth-creating betters, we garland them with some more material and cultural rewards, hmm? Would it kill you to bow down and acknowledge your benefactors, for God’s sake?

Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind. (Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created.)

You have to admit that “St. Blankfein” has a mighty alluring ring–much more so than “Fabulous Fab.” (Though, in fairness, I’m not really seeing Warren Buffet in your typical Lady GaGa get-up.)

Still, why stop there? If we’re going to hand out full-on tax holidays and craft new spiritual honorifics for our financial masters, why not go ahead and worship them outright? Our crisis-wracked nation then wouldn’t have to endure such rank offenses against the natural order as JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon losing out on the top job at Treasury, thanks to something as inconsequential as the London Whale trade – just think if, instead, he had risen up in a righteous cloud of fury to deliver the Leviathan soliloquy from the final chapter in the Book of Job. And wouldn’t Larry Summers still have the inside track on Greenspan’s old job if he were trailing a pillar of fire in his wake? We need hardly add, in this vastly improved spiritual dispensation, that Donald Trump would be emperor-for-life, emblazoning the nation’s currency with his own divine image. Just do us a favor, and give us some advance warning before Ragnorak begins in earnest.


Chris Lehmann is senior editor at The Baffler.

Chris Lehmann is editor in chief of The Baffler and author of Rich People Things. His latest book, The Money Cult, is out now from Melville House.