In Utopia, Thomas More argues that governments are a conspiracy of the rich to control the poor:
“Therefore I must say that, as I hope for mercy, I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out; first, that they may, without danger, preserve all that they have so ill-acquired, and then, that they may engage the poor to toil and labour for them at as low rates as possible, and oppress them as much as they please; and if they can but prevail to get these contrivances established by the show of public authority, which is considered as the representative of the whole people, then they are accounted laws…”
Although some argue that Utopia is a satire, I’m not concerned with whether More was serious; I’m concerned with whether he was right. Suppose that governments were a conspiracy of the rich. What would we expect to find?
1. Most government leaders would be rich
The average net worth of President George W. Bush’s cabinet falls between $9.3 and $27.3 million. In, The Audacity of Hope, Barrak Obama points out that most senators are already rich before they go into office.
2. Poor people’s crimes will carry greater punishments than rich people’s crimes
The punishment for theft over $400 is up to a year in prison in the US and in some states repeat offenses can get life imprisonment. In Canada, theft over $5000 gets you up to 10 years. In comparison, the criminal penalties for insider trading, which may involve stealing millions, is a fine of between $10 000 and $100 000. Why is it that if you steal $10 000 000 through insider trading, you have to pay a fine, but if you steal three cars, you can get life in prison?
3. Government would ignore the will of the poor
In response to allegations that most Americans are against the war, Dick Cheney said, “So?” I rest my case.
4. The rich would pay less taxes
It’s pretty bad when Warren Buffett (as in the billionaire) pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, there’s something really wrong.
5. Government will bailout the rich but not the poor.
As pointed out by Stephen Colbert, when rich people lost big money on BearStearns going bankrupt, the Fed stepped in to bail them out. When poor people lost their houses in the recent mortgage disaster, did anyone bail them out? No.
Assuming that government is a conspiracy of the rich allows us to make startling accurate predictions. However, Ptolemy’s model of the solar system can make the same claim, despite being totally ass backwards. None of this is conclusive, but it is thought provoking.