A Modest Proposal (with apologies to Bishop Swift)

Those who decry the concentration of wealth in this country usually express this in terms of the net worth of the one-percenters compared to the rest of us. But there is another way of looking at it that I believe is more informative. And this alternative perspective leads to my modest proposal for remediation of this societal ill.

Most wealth is connected to real estate. The real wealth of a community expressed in those terms directly impacts the life of residents in tangible ways, through education opportunities, health resources, food quality, safety and general amenities. So consider the following.

New York City is only 305 square miles, representing a tiny 0.008% of the total land in the U.S. Yet its housing value makes up about 5% of the total value of all U.S. real estate. It is worth more than the total housing in all but four states. The housing in the Upper East Side alone, which is less than one square mile, is worth more than all the housing in New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming and Alaska combined.

It isn’t just New York. Half of the total property value in the U.S. is concentrated in just five states: California, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania. The rich are geographically concentrated and the rest of the country simply feels, in a sense, deprived. And indeed they are. They don’t get the benefits they might derive by living in the same communities as the rich. This isn’t simple envy; it is essentially like living in an entirely different country. Some of the angst currently displayed in our political season is related to this disconnection.

Spread the Wealth

So, how about this remedy instead of the confiscatory tax policies championed by Bernie Sanders and his ilk: forced migration of the rich to distribute them more equitably across the nation. This might be compared to our experiment with school busing years ago. That failed for a variety of reasons but mainly because the recipient communities were opposed. But who would oppose having a few billionaires in their midst to swell local tax rolls and to use their influence to upgrade the community to their standards.

Of course the one-percenters wouldn’t like this, but surely they would prefer it to being taxed harshly and uniformly condemned by their fellow citizens. One objection might be that the wealthy congregate for reasons other than the pleasure of each other’s company. They do so to facilitate their common business enterprises. However, in this digitally connected world, physical proximity no longer means what it once did. This is a small sacrifice for the common good, and the larger benefits should be quick and significant.

We shall call this “The Spread the Wealthy Program.”