There’s a cool, creepy old Twilight Zone episode called “Button, Button,” where a mysterious stranger arrives at the home of a suburban couple. He brings a box with him, and he tells the couple that if they’ll just push the button inside the box, they can have two hundred thousand bucks.
What’s the catch?
Well, if they press the button, someone they don’t know will die.
The rest of the episode focuses on them agonizing over the morally portentous decision, and you’ll have to watch it yourself to figure out what happens. (SPOILER: Okay, I’ll tell you. They don’t press the button, but the stranger gives them the cash anyway and takes the button away to give it to, and I quote, “someone they don’t know,” implying that if that someone presses the button, the couple will die. Moral of the Story: Don’t mess around with Twilight Zoners because they’re always creepy freaks.)
Anyway, let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose the same stranger offers you a different choice. If you press the button, you get a million dollars, but someone you don’t know… will get five million dollars. If you don’t press the button, neither of you get anything. Nobody dies, though. There’s no other catch. Nobody gets cursed or turned into a zombie or forced to eat haggis. The only catch is that somebody else will get five times more money than you will.
Guess what, folks. I’m all for pressing that button.
As I watch the weirdness surrounding this whole “Occupy Wall Street” movement, I really wonder if these angry people have any idea what they’re doing. They’re mad, which I get, so they want Wall Street to… what? Give them all their money? Well, then they’d be the rich jerks that would need to be occupied, wouldn’t they? No, not if it’s distributed equally.
Okay, then, how much do I get?
Well, dividing the billions up over 300 million American citizens, I might end up with a few hundred bucks in the bargain. Carve it up across the population of the world as a whole, and maybe I’ll get a nice dinner out of it. In the meantime, all the people who created that wealth are no longer hiring anyone, all of the banks that financed the businesses that made people rich are kaput, and everybody ends up out of a job.
That’s not a good button to press.
Please tell me where I’m wrong, but from where I’m sitting, rich people didn’t get their money by stealing it from me. I never had it, and the fact that they have it doesn’t mean I would get it if they didn’t. The fact that they have it also doesn’t mean that there’s no wealth out there for me to get. Wealth isn’t static – it grows and contracts along with the economy. If you confiscate all of it, you ended up killing the incentive to create it, which means you have less of it to redistribute.
Would it be nice if everyone were equally rich? Well, yes, in theory, but even then, there are problems. It would be nice if everyone had a billion dollars. But I would rather that 99% of people had twenty bucks and one guy had a billion dollars than have a scenario where 100% of the people have nothing. Equality is a great virtue, but it’s not the only virtue, and when zealots pursue it at the cost of all else, they lose sight of the reasons they were attracted to equality in the first place.
This is merely an observation, not a solution. As I get older, I realize that there is no utopian governmental system that can right all the wrongs of an imperfect world. Only God can do that, which is why I have more faith in Him than I do in Wall Street occupiers, Tea Partiers, or politicians of any stripe.