Wait! You May Not Need to Lop Off So Many Heads

The current U.S. population is about 318 million. Approximately 25 percent of these people are younger than 18 years of age, which leaves roughly 239 million adults. Of these, therefore, the 1% with the greatest incomes number about 2,390,000 persons. How many of these do you suppose possess extraordinary political clout?

My not-entirely-wild guess is perhaps 460,000 persons (300,000 at the county level only [that’s allowing roughly 1,000 per county on average], 150,000 at the state level only [that’s allowing roughly 3,000 per state on average], and 10,000 at the federal level). I’m certain that this overall estimate is on the high side of the truth, given any reasonable definition of “extraordinary political clout.”

Therefore, of the 1% of the adult population with the greatest incomes, fewer than 20% of them might conceivably be charged with using political clout to achieve their high standing on the income scale. My personal hunch is that the foregoing back-of-the-envelope estimates greatly overstate the number of people with extraordinary political clout. My better guess would be that such people amount to perhaps 10% of the so-called 1%—that is, to roughly 46,000 persons—at most.

So lighten up, envy fiends. And do bear in mind how many of the top earners are professional athletes, entertainers, successful doctors, lawyers, architects, scientists, engineers, software developers, and other professionals—hell, even some professors make it into the group—as well as owners and managers of medium-size businesses of various sorts; in short, members of a group with few politically powerful members. If you’re looking for plutocrats, you’ll need better aim than the present “Occupy” people purport to employ. You’ll need to aim not at the 1%, but at the 0.1%, and you’ll need to spread your fire, too, because most of them are nowhere near Washington, D.C. Good hunting.

While you are firing away, however, you might consider that your actual quarry—the genuine, honest-to-God plutocrats—may well not amount even to the 46,000 estimated above, but only to half that many, or even fewer. Moreover, many of these hated rulers of the universe are persons who, notwithstanding their use of state power to help enrich themselves, are sufficiently talented and driven that they would earn very high incomes even if stripped of their political clout. In sum, revolutionary Occupiers, do not set your guillotines to work too vigorously. You might just notice that after you have lopped off all the heads you consider unworthy of remaining attached to plutocratic bodies, the economy no longer works as well as it did before.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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