Rangel Defends the Motives of the Rich

by Don Boudreaux on October 18, 2004

in Myths and Fallacies

Doug Bandow has a nice essay explaining the demerits of conscription.

In this essay, Doug mentions Rep. Charles Rangel’s recent agitation for a return to the draft. Last week I blogged on Rangel’s case – in particular, on his claim in the Wall Street Journal that offering higher pay and better benefits to recruits will not entice more upper- and middle-class people to enlist in the military. Rangel said: “Offering economic incentives to prospective recruits appeals only to people who need the money and opportunity.”

Rep. Rangel can’t really believe what he here asserts. Put aside the ambiguity of the meaning of the phrase “people who need the money and the opportunity”; the people Rangel has in mind, no doubt, are Americans who are poor (say, lower middle-class or below) in modern America.

Taken seriously, Rangel’s assertion implies that only poor people respond to material incentives – that only poor people are more likely to accept more challenging employment if the wages of such employment rise. More generally, Rangel’s assertion implies that economic incentives matter only to poor people. A corollary of Rangel’s assertion is that the less poor you are, the less likely you are to respond to economic incentives. Further, at some point, when you escape the category ‘poor,’ you no longer respond to economic incentives.

Rich people, then, in Rangel’s view, are not motivated by economic incentives. Rich people are never greedy or grasping in the material realm. Only poor people, in Rangel’s view, respond to economic incentives and, hence, have the capacity for material greed.

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