Thursday, March 15, 2012

From each according to his ability, to each according to what he can get

A CNN blog recently printed an interesting fact:

For more perspective on their wealth, compare [China's National People's Congress'] six dozen richest members to U.S. politicians. This group earned more than the net worth of the six hundred top politicians and lawmakers of the United States.

That includes President Barack Obama, his Cabinet, the 535 members of Congress, along with nine members of the Supreme Court. Their average declared net worth in 2010 was just $4.8 billion - a pittance compared to the NPC’s $90 billion

This is especially remarkable because Communism was supposed to reduce the disparity of wealth, and China remains (in a political sense) a Communist country.

There are two possible explanations.

First, China's market economy is a relatively new one. Disparities in wealth can be expected when a few people figure out a capitalist economy before everyone else does. Presumably these income disparities will decrease over time.

Second, China and the United States have different ideas on government service. In China, government service is a noble calling. In the United States, most people - myself included - would rather be a businessperson than a politician. Perhaps we can get successful businesspeople to serve on advisory boards, but there are very few CEOs and company chairs who will actually run for political office. Can you imagine Bill Gates seeking the Congressional seat that his former employee Suzan DelBene (whom I've mentioned before) is seeking? No way - for Gates, joining the government would be a significant loss of power.
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