While I am not wealthy and not part of the now-infamous “one percent” (perhaps some day), I have known and worked with enough men and women who are to notice that many (almost all) tell me that above a certain threshold (measured in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars), gaining wealth is primarily about keeping score. It’s a game (although a deadly serious game), and a player’s score is measured in dollars (or millions of dollars, depending on the venue).
What if we encouraged this behavior by treating wealth the way we treat bass (the sport fish) — what if we created a culture that celebrated “catch and release” economics, so that after the scores were counted and the winners congratulated, the wealth was returned to the “reservoir” (perhaps with a set-aside for personal consumption)?
Bass tournaments long ago imposed catch-and-release rules on their participants, because that community realized that they were destroying the bass population in the waters they fished. Today, most of the men and women I know who are serious about fresh-water fishing practice catch and release (I like to fish, though I’m not nearly as serious as some). We do this because we love to fish, and we understand that this is the best way to ensure that we and our progeny can continue to enjoy our pastoral pastime.
Isn’t this an appealing metaphor for taxes? I don’t hate the wealthy, and I don’t see taxes as stealing from me or anybody else. Instead, I recognize that there is a limited amount of wealth in the country (and the world) and I think we need to find a sustainable way to maintain and expand it.
If we built a wealth-culture as committed to returning (through taxes) the wealth we harvest (after enjoying the game of collecting it) as bass fishermen (and fisherwomen) are to returning their catch at the end of the day, then I am convinced that all of us would live better lives — and the Bill Gates, Warren Buffetts, and Larry Ellisons of the world could still play and enjoy the game they are so accomplished at.
Full Disclosure: This appealing metaphor is the invention of my best friend, Chuck.