Dan Popp
By Dan Popp
July 29, 2010

Your money does not cause my poverty. Refusal to believe this is at the bottom of most bad economic thinking. — P.J. O'Rourke

LeBron James is, from what I can gather, a basketball player. A very good, and famous, and rich one. But this article is not about basketball. The only reason I even know about Mr. James is that he's from my area, and he recently left to play for Miami. This was a very big deal.

Before he announced his Decision (in a Cecil B. DeMille-length national broadcast), I saw billboards all over town designed to persuade him to stay. Kids and parents filled a nearby stadium for a rally to convince LeBron that no other fans could appreciate him like Cleveland fans. His team wooed him, the Chamber of Commerce prayed and fasted, the masses called talk shows.

My guess is that the other teams and cities bidding for the services of this young man did pretty much what we did — though perhaps with fewer tears, before and after. They showed him the money. They showed him their desperation disguised as love and respect. They showed him the opportunities he could have only there.

Astonishingly, despite our current national epidemic of blind rage toward the rich, it appears that millions of people understand that their lives would be better with LeBron James in their city.

It isn't just basketball fans that are loving or lamenting the Decision. It's hotel maids and potato-chip-truck drivers and skycaps. It's sign makers and sandwich makers and decision makers. It's messengers and manufacturers and municipal governments. It's hospitals and schools and charities. LeBron's potential impact on a region's economy is incalculable, at least by me. Being in the proximity of this multi-millionaire makes your life better. And common people understand that.

Recently I witnessed the flipside of our LeBron Gone catastrophe. I visited a mid-sized city just as it was about to open a new training facility for an NFL team. There were signs everywhere welcoming the team. The newspaper celebrated the coup of bringing the camp there. The whole place seemed to be focused on the benefits of having a few dozen rich men in town for what turns out to be a couple of weeks a year.

Now, someone may object that the cause of this mania isn't the rich men, but the economic activity surrounding them. But that artificially disconnects the rich from what makes them rich. Statistically, most American millionaires are like sports stars: they've garnered their own wealth by providing value for other people. Their economic boon to others is the cause; their own affluence is the effect.

At times of crisis like the ones I've mentioned — when LeBron leaves, or when the Chiefs come to practice — the Paul Krugmans of the world vanish, and for a brief moment everyone understands elementary economics. Your money does not cause my poverty; it causes my prosperity.

All we need to do is expand that lucid moment. It's a short step from saying, "My life is better if LeBron James lives here," to recognizing that "Millionaires improve my life."

If you were to ask a Cleveland cab driver whether LeBron James got rich by exploiting people (in other words, whether Karl Marx was right), the cabbie would probably laugh at you. "The only thing he exploited was his talent...and his opportunity to get out while the gettin' was good," the driver might quip. By playing well and helping his team win, it's hard to see how James could have made anyone else poor. Yet many multi-millionaires in other fields have "played by the rules" and brought all sorts of jobs and wealth and philanthropy to their regions, and the general consensus is that — in some unspecified way — they must have cheated.

Let's broaden our campaigns to keep not only our sports stars, but all our rich neighbors in the neighborhood. Let's not discriminate against white CEOs just because they can't jump. Instead of vilifying the rich and forcing them to justify their success, irrationally presuming that it must have come at the price of someone else's failure, let's embrace all those who bring value to our society.

If you're with me on this, please go to the nearest window, stick your head out, and shout:

Rich people, we're sorry. We've committed the sin of envy, the sin of covetousness, and the sin of slander. We have believed the lie and borne false witness against you. Forgive us for the nasty things we said. Please don't go. We want you here. We are all better off with mega-successful neighbors. We're going to tear down the "Keep Out" signs. We're going to stop robbing you of the rewards you've earned, confiscating your wealth as if you were convicted criminals. Please come and do what you do: increase the quality of life for all of us.

Of course I'm kidding. Long ago another James warned us not to show favoritism to the rich. Some of these folks are dangerous. Or maybe all of them are dangerous — just like fire, electricity, and nuclear energy.

But let's stay clear on the fact that our current war on the wealthy is a war on the well-being of everyone. It's telling value-producers like LeBron James to go away. It's a war on our future.

Of course upside-downers call that "progress."

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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