Robert Lawson has a great post at Division of Labor exploring the relation between power, free markets, and government:
Let’s explore this point a bit by comparing the concentration of financial power in the hands of the 535 members of the United States Congress with the concentration of financial power of the 535 richest people in the United States.
According to Forbes, the 400 richest people had a combined net worth of $1.57 trillion. Let’s simply assume the next 135 richest people had the same net worth, though they surely didn’t, as the 400th person–$1.3 billion each. That brings our estimate of the combined net wealth of the richest 535 Americans to $1.75 trillion.
But wait, this is net worth, which is a stock, not income, which is a flow. So let’s figure the annual income flow from the ownership of $1.75 trillion to be 10% of that amount. (I don’t know if this number is high or low. On the one hand really rich folks probably are good at making high rates of return. On the other hand much of that $1.75 in net worth is likely to be speculative, consumptive, and/or illiquid assets like real estate, yachts, artwork, etc where the return is difficult to determine without selling the item. It turns out, you could double or triple this estimated return and still make the point I’m going to make.) Our estimate therefore is that the richest 535 Americans have about $175 billion (10% of $1.75 trillion) to spend on an annual basis.
Ok, let’s compare this group with the 535 members of the US Congress. According to the latest Economic Report of the President, the annual outlays of the federal government amounted to $2.73 trillion in fiscal year 2007.
So I estimate that the 535 members of the US Congress enjoy over 15 times the financial power of the 535 richest Americans.
But do note how charitable I am being here. Unlike the 535 richest Americans, the US Congress also reserves the right to regulate the hell out of practically ever aspect of our lives. Furthermore, unlilke the 535 richest Americans, who hardly know each other and who certainly never hold meetings to coordinate their decisions, the US Congress does in fact meet regularly to decide exactly how this vast financial power is to be spent. Furthermore, I have failed to say anything about the various state legislatures in the land who annually spend an additional $1.9 trillion.
Why do we worry so much about the supposed concentration of economic power in the hands of “the rich”, a group of strangers who don’t coordinate their actions in any way, but care so little about the vastly greater concentration of economic power in the hands of Congress?