Off the teleprompter for a few seconds while stumping for financial reform recently in Illinois, President Obama had this to say about money, incomes and success: "Now, what we're doing, I want to be clear, we're not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that's fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you've made enough money."
No begrudging of success? That's what the left does — begrudge, envy and resent, robotically. That's what makes them leftists — and bitter. Sufficiently empowered, they've been more than willing more than once to kill millions of their fellow citizens who refused to admit to the guilt of individualism and independence, refused to obediently transfer their assets to a regime of organized looters.
Why would Obama even have the words "begrudge success" right there in front of his mind, ready for a quick ad-lib, if the begrudging of achievement wasn't an integral part of his mindset, a key motivator in his desire to grab wallets and redistribute wealth and income.
Obama did add a qualifier. There's no begrudging of success if it's "fairly earned." And who decides what's fair? Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got a $25 million signing bonus while the median annual salary last year for physicians practicing family medicine in the U.S. was $160,000? So 156 family doctors worked all year and their combined paychecks were slightly lower than Ben's signing bonus. Is the White House okay with that?
Should the central committee of White House czars decide how much of Ben's $25 million was due to the lucky inheritance of a good throwing arm and how much was "fairly earned" due to hard work?
And what'll they do about Lady Gaga earning more than General Motors?
More troubling than the "fairly earned" dilemma is the bloated cockiness of the "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money" remark, especially coming from a president who is explicitly on record as being in favor of redistributing America's incomes in a downward direction.
It was in October 2008 that candidate Obama, in another unscripted moment away from a teleprompter, told Joe the Plumber why he wanted to raise taxes on upper income households: "My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everyone," explained Obama. "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everyone."
So who decides when we've "made enough money"? Should we tell Julia Roberts not to make another movie, tell her she's "made enough"? And what about the stage hands and popcorn sellers who lose their jobs as a result?
Should the czars tell Tiger that he's way past that "certain point" when he's earned "enough," unless he wants to play for free or donate 100 percent of the winnings to the needs of the collective?
Should the government have told the owners of Pittsburgh-based 84 Lumber to stop at 83? At last count, the company had about 4,000 employees in 289 stores in 34 states. Some 200 stores ago, what if an overreaching government had decided that the owners of the lumber company already had "enough" cars, houses, jewelry and investments? What good would have come from putting a lid on the company's expansion, a lid on the owners' success, a lid on the hiring of thousands of new employees?
Rather than worrying about who has too much, President Obama should be thinking about what made the United States the most successful nation in human history, both in terms of economic prosperity and individual freedom. Hint: They're directly linked.
Instead of giving greater power to the central government, the power to decree, for instance, what we should drive, what we should eat, what we'll be permitted to hear and see, what income has been "fairly earned," and when at "a certain point" we've "made enough money," the founding philosophy of the United States called for a society based on an exactly opposite set of principles.
"Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread," warned Thomas Jefferson. It's a lesson that was tragically learned firsthand by millions of starving farmers in both China and the Soviet Union.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.
Ralph R. Reiland