This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Donna Martinez, Carolina Journal Radio Co-Host and Right Angles blogger.
RALEIGH — You’d think they want to snatch your firstborn. I’m talking about the ugly portrait that’s been painted of risktakers, innovators, and venture capitalists by politicians, pundits, and the Occupy movement. Over the past few months, these anti-free market voices have turned the virtues of ingenuity and hard work into the vices of greed and avarice.
Even worse than the destructive rhetoric is that a good-sized chunk of the public swallows the story and joins in the bashing. This despite the fact that people from around the world spend their life savings — and in some instances, lose their lives — trying to reach the country that offers such immense opportunity and social and economic mobility.
While the complainers revel in the politics of envy and gleefully demonize producers because — heaven forbid — they’ve earned wealth and the status that comes with it, I won’t shy from praising the millionaires whose success makes life better, safer, and easier.
Let’s start with venture capitalists. You don’t have to look far to find the immense impact venture capital plays in launching cutting-edge enterprises in our state. Read about it for yourself on the website of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, an organization praised by progressives as critical to our economic future. The center touts its mission this way: “to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina through support of biotechnology research, business, education, and strategic policy statewide.”
To that end, the center lists multiple venture capital firms based in, or with a regional office in, Raleigh, Durham, or Research Triangle Park, as well as several angel investor organizations. Both categories of funders are defined as providing “seed and growth funding for biotechnology companies.” Which industries are among those supported by these funding sources? Health care, biopharmaceuticals, information technology, medical devices, and — the favorite of progressives — green technologies.
I challenge capitalism’s critics to ask employees of the firms these venture capitalists have nurtured if their funders are villains. Ask the employees if they prefer that the so-called 1 percent stay on the sidelines and refuse to help bring innovative products and services to the marketplace. Ask the employees how their careers and families would be faring without the infusion of capital into their employers’ coffers. We are better off today because wealthy investors and donors risk their capital.
I suggest the anti-capitalists also ask the family of skier Elyse Saugstad about the role a risktaker played in her life. Ask her family how thankful they are that a creative German forest ranger turned a 1970s accident that nearly took his life into the original idea for an avalanche air bag. Saugstad credits the innovation for saving her life last month when she was caught in a Washington avalanche. Said Saugstad: “I believe my partial burial and survival was on account of the inflation of my ABS Avalanche Airbag Backpack.”
We are safer today because wealthy people have helped designers of safety products and services transform their imaginative ideas from a sketch on a napkin to a successful product in the marketplace. These dreamers and their funders should be applauded for their success, not derided for the wealth that accompanies it.
But what if America’s wealthy choose simply to bank their money and leave the risktaking to others? Do they deserve scorn for living the good life not everyone has achieved? Of course not.
They’re making our lives easier just by paying their federal income taxes. IRS data for federal income tax returns filed in 2009 show 235,413 filers had adjusted gross income of $1 million or more. These men and women paid $177.5 billion in federal taxes. That’s 20 percent of total federal income taxes paid, while they earned just 10 percent of total adjusted gross income. Meanwhile, 151 million Americans — nearly half of all U.S. households — paid no federal income tax in 2009.
Whether the wealthy contribute to society by investing in businesses, funding the development of new technology, or paying taxes, they should be respected for their role in our economy. Calling them names and contending they don’t pay their “fair share” ignores facts. But it sure makes for good leftist politics.