I recently toured the Biltmore estate, one of my bucket list goals. It did not disappoint and as ostentatious as it was in its time, a lot of good has come from it.
The point of what you will read here is that wealth is not bad, that inequality is not the problem it is made out to be and that private enterprise and wealth creates opportunities and a great deal of sustainable good. And after you read this post, you might want to read this article.
In the late 1800s George W Vanderbilt inherited about $240 million (2018 value) before there were income or estate taxes. So what did he do with his wealth?
For one thing he built the largest house in America, Biltmore in Asheville, NC has 250 rooms, took six years to complete and employed over 1,000 workers. He bought out many farmers to buy the land he needed, land that had been depleted by over farming. He relocated and helped grown an entire black town. He built up a village and added a dairy farm and much more. And then he landscaped the property adding over 100,000 trees. Today that town still benefits greatly from the existence of this major historic attraction.
Vanderbilt was a philanthropist including helping the black community in the Asheville area even paying for one man to become a doctor. He was an innovator in forestry and started a forestry school. After the federal income tax was installed and after his death, his wife sold 97,000 acres of forest to the federal government for $5 an acre thereby forming the core of a new national forest.
Working at Biltmore in the 1890s and early 1900s was a prized job as Vanderbilt paid at New York wage rates. He employed 30 full-time house staff.
Today, the Biltmore is still run by the descendants of George Vanderbilt. The Biltmore Companies employ over 2,400 people who maintain the 8,000 acres of the Biltmore Estate, hotels, winery, restaurants and shops. A 2012 economic study of the area concluded that the Biltmore organization was responsible for the presence of 4,440 jobs in the Asheville area, paying $139 million in wages, generating $238 million in value added, and remitting $27 million in state and local taxes.
By today’s standards of the political left, Vanderbilt should have been heavily taxed on his income and wealth because he represents the epitome of inequality. If you inherited $240 million today, about $92 million would immediately be confiscated by the federal government.
Do you think that $92 million would have created the value and benefits the Biltmore companies have created over the last 123 years?
Our goal should not be equality, but equality of opportunity. Government’s job is to provide incentives for work, to prevent artificial obstacles to opportunity and to provide an educational system and training that enhances the value of every worker. We need to build up, not tear down. We need to help create independence and responsibility and self-sufficiency, not measure success by growing the portion of citizens who rely on government programs.