I once got involved in trying to help a man improve the condition of his life. He and his family lived in the squalor of a dismal situation brought about by his own lifestyle choices. He fell into a substantial inheritance and used it to purchase a decent home. Conditions were right for him to make changes which would have changed his life forever. Sadly, less than a year later he was in just as bad of a situation as he was before.
I hear politicians talk occasionally about a “level playing field.” It seems that some believe we have been entrusted by our creator with the right to a level playing field. The Declaration does talk about our right to be able to pursue happiness. However, it does not say that others should be obligated to give us that happiness. People pursue happiness in different ways, and what constitutes happiness varies as well.
The reality of a “level playing field” does not make either logistical or long term sense. If you were to manipulate by some system all the water of the earth so that it covered every square inch of land at an equal depth, you might call it a level playing field. But as soon as you release the manipulation, all the water would return to its normal levels. If you distributed every dime of America’s GNP and divided it equally among all of its people, it might look like a level playing field. The winners would certainly outnumber the losers. But in time all the virtues and foibles of human nature, its resourcefulness, laziness, intelligence, greed, generosity, etc. would bring more money into certain people’s hands and less into others.’ Mark Twain’s quip, “I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position,” cutely shows a truth that explains why one person can invest and double his money while another can lose their lottery winnings in less than a year.
The promise of a level playing field does play well to anyone who gets excited about finding a fifty dollar bill blowing down the highway. Hey, who doesn’t enjoy receiving something for nothing? It also sounds like a compassionate thing to do for people, provided that it isn’t MY money that is being distributed to everyone else. But greed is greed, no matter the source or wealth. It may be tempting to expose the greed of millionaires who have enough money to buy their own private jet. Such people might think it a fine thing to manipulate the system so that no one would be wealthy enough to own a jet, but that might only put the rich man’s employees out of work but also would impact the family man who just lost his job at the jet making factory. If one aspect of greed is the desire to acquire money at the expense of others, it’s certainly clear that you don’t have to be wealthy to be greedy.
This impossibility of a level playing field is one which politicians can’t come right out and acknowledge, because ideas presented to get votes and ideas presented to deal with the reality of crunching numbers in a national economy are two different things, as most elected officials soon find out. It seems like the most prudent thing to do would be not to punish businesses or manipulate currency so we all have a bit more of the pie, but rather to enact policies and laws which will best serve the ones who have the wisdom, prudence, intelligence, and business acumen to know how to create capital and invest money. May those so entrusted bear their responsibility well.