Guest speaker John Tamny: The Wonders of Inequality

3.24.2017 Article, BB&T Center, Capitalism, General, School News, Undergraduate Business

By Stephanie Skordas, Sr. Associate Director, Communications

“We are a nation of immigrants, a nation of risk takers who crossed oceans or borders to come to the United States,” said John Tamny, editor of RealClearMarkets, Forbes columnist, and published author. “The U.S. is probably the most inequal country in the world, but people are still trying to come here. That’s because inequality is a spur to creativity and opportunity.”

Tamny spoke to an audience of 120 students, faculty, and staff members in Annenberg Auditorium in Carswell Hall on March 23. It was sponsored by the WFU School of Business BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism. His argument is that the pervading view of the wealth gap is misguided. Instead of taxing the wealthy at a higher level to redistribute wealth, Tamny suggests giving the super-rich more access to their capital.

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According to Tamny, when millionaires and billionaires have control of their money, they are more likely to invest in banks, the stock market, or venture capital. And when that happens, the spending gets passed along to other Americans. “Economic history is very clear. What the rich enjoy now, we will all enjoy in the future,” he said.

It’s an idea he explored in his 2015 book Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downtown Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You about Economics. In it, he uses James to illustrate free trade. He made the same point in the lecture, pointing out that James’ position as the best basketball player in the NBA means he is inequal, but that his celebrity, skills, and talents enhance the NBA instead of diminishing it.

“Is anyone at Wake Forest worse off because Arnold Palmer became the worldwide face of golf? He never touched the inside of a commercial flight for the last 30 years of his life,” Tamny said. “Is anyone at Wake Forest hurt by Webb Simpson winning the U.S. Open? Or Tim Duncan’s basketball wins? No. In fact, I’d argue that their status has benefited you and Wake Forest.”

Matthew Phillips, the Center’s director, said the intentionally provocative title and rhetorical position of the lecture offer attendees the opportunity to rethink basic assumptions and how they impact our understanding. “That’s the point of life in a university,” he said.

“Students in the ‘Why Business?’ course and others who explore political economy find that thinkers often fall into two camps: those who want to end poverty and those who want to end inequality,” said Phillips. “Tamny’s passionate argument in favor of inequality shines a light on that essential debate in ways that will help students more fully engage with the full spectrum of thought they’ve been introduced to in their coursework.”

“We’ve been studying the work of Adam Smith, John Locke, and others all semester,” said Tori Smith (’20), who hopes to study in the School of Business. “John Tamny is reinforcing ideas they wrote about in the books we’re using. It’s great to come here and reinforce your studies in real life.”