The myth of excessive wealth

I sent the following letter concerning wealth to the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, on February 15, but it was never printed:

Sam Smith’s February 15 column was illogical and economically ignorant. He begins by declaring that the federal government spends too much. His only solution to this problem: increase taxes on the wealthy. Low taxation does not water the root of our growing federal deficit–excessive spending is its true life-source. Over the past twenty years, federal spending has tripled. Because no level of taxation can keep up with this exuberant trend, the only realistic solution is to stop the government’s spending spree.

Smith then points his wayward cannon at the “excessively” wealthy, blasting the likes of Lane Kiffin, an easy target in this media market. It is a contradiction in terms to speak of “excessive wealth”; there is no such thing. An individual who gains wealth through productivity or capital investment, regardless of selfishness, benefits everyone else in the process, by meeting the demands of consumers. Moreover, the initial investment of wealthy consumers eventually allows even the poor to enjoy life’s luxuries. If there were no one “excessively” wealthy enough to buy the first television sets, the first computers, or the first cellular phones, then inventors would have toiled fruitlessly, and no reinvestment into their innovations would have taken place. Without the “excessively” wealthy purchasing high-dollar goods, we would not know many of the technologies we enjoy cheaply today.

Smith echoes many of my professors, who complain that the football coach earns too much money. This is in truth a lament over the rights of individuals to consume freely; it assumes that people who choose to watch football are somehow guilty of injustice. To the professor of this mindset, I offer a promise: When you attract 100,000 people to pay $50 a head to sit through one of your lectures, the University of Tennessee will kindly add a zero or two to the amount on your paycheck.

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Assassinating suspects undermines justice

My following letter about assassinating terrorists appeared in the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, on March 5, 2010:

In light of the publication of a secret Israeli assassination in Dubai, Treston Wheat committed his Feb. 25 waste of ink to glorifying assassination, which he deems necessary to the fight against terrorism. Even if this were true, assassinations are illegal under domestic and international law, so he condones lawbreaking. While ignoring all moral and legal questions, Wheat boldly assumes that assassination can stop terrorism. It cannot, and one could argue that the assassination of suspected terrorists increases the strength and legitimacy of the terrorists’ cause, while undermining our claim on liberty and justice.

As a Jew and a staunch advocate of freedom, due process and the rule of law, I am often disappointed by the Israeli government’s tactics and policies. I am equally disappointed by self-proclaimed followers of Christ like Wheat, who defend government policies that are immoral, expedient, unnecessary and antagonistic to everything Jesus taught. The philosophical innovation of Judaism was the recognition of human freedom; to this, Christianity added the common brotherhood of all men. These Western religious tenets, freedom and brotherhood, have been abandoned by the current Israeli coalition and its supporters. Do I support Israel? Yes, but only an Israel that recognizes all its inhabitants as free and equal under the law, and one need not look far into Israel’s laws to discover that it does not. I hold every other nation to the same standard.

The United States itself participates in secret assassinations more often than we know. The targets of these assassinations are suspects. They are innocent until proven guilty. They are the accused, and in a free and just society, the accused have rights. Our CIA is not all bad, but it is often involved in a lot of mischief offensive to our idea of justice. Recently, ABC News released agency recordings of a small plane being shot down over Peru, with the aid of our CIA. The plane was suspected of smuggling drugs, but was actually carrying an American missionary family, all of whom were killed by the machine gun fire of Peruvian fighter jets. These deaths are a consequence of the notion that it is okay to murder suspects without the benefit of a trial, or even evidence presented against them. Even if the plane had been carrying drugs and smugglers, since when is capital punishment, executed in secrecy without trial, the proper punishment for this crime? Or any other crime, for that matter? This practice destroys 800 years of our legal traditions dating back to the Magna Carta. Now we are told by the CIA that it considers itself obliged to assassinate American citizens, on secret evidence, in order to protect us from threats. The power given to the U.S. president by our passive acceptance of this practice is definitively totalitarian. It is a real threat to essential human liberties.

Terrorism works, and the more brutal the physical force opposing it, the more quickly it strengthens and spreads. The true “War on Terror” is a battle of ideas and politics, because terrorists are inspired by ideas and political grievances. I prefer destroying the dark tree of terrorism at its root — not picking off one prickly leaf at a time, as several grow back in its place. To do this, we must ask ourselves what the root cause of terrorism is and address that cause. If we have not properly answered that question, and the answer to it is well-publicized by its perpetrators, we cannot begin to address the terrorist threat.

Wheat’s disapproval of the recent Mossad assassination stems from its sloppiness, not its intent. The trouble with the Israeli government’s policy of murdering suspected criminals, Wheat has so amorally asserted, is that the crime was eventually caught on film. The real trouble is that assassination is murder with impunity. It is always unjust. If a person is evil enough to “deserve” assassination, certainly that person is evil enough to stand trial for his crimes.

Alex Winston

Senior in political science