Tyler Cowen has a thoughtful answer to the question, “Does wealth equal power?” (Of course, the obvious answer is “Yes, it equals power over material things but no, it doesn’t equal power over other things. It might give one power over other things, that doesn’t mean it equals power.” But I think everyone understands the questioner to mean, “Does wealth give power?”)

There’s little in his response that I would disagree with and one thing I strongly agree with and want to expand on. Tyler writes:

Wealth does protect you from the depredations of others, such as being treated very badly by the police or legal system. In this defensive sense wealth can give you a good deal of power.

Here’s what I said in a 2003 episode of “Uncommon Knowledge” when I was arguing with Arianna Huffington:

Well, I think I actually have a better example for you [Arianna] of what you are saying, okay [I know, I know, I sound like some guy on The Simpsons], and that is the drug war. In the drug war, most of the people who go to prison for often very minor offenses are poor people because they can’t afford to defend themselves. And if you look, the children of politicians and the children–like Al Gore’s kids for example and Richard Shelby’s kids from Alabama, his son who was caught smuggling cocaine–they get very light sentences, they don’t even get sentences, they just get let off and other people go to prison for the rest of their life when they’re twenty years old for doing the same thing. So I absolutely agree that there are just these huge inequalities in the way the rules are applied, but my solution is so different from yours. My solution is to get the government out of most of these things so that these won’t be issues. Some person can have marijuana and use marijuana and not get thrown in prison because it’s legal.

UPDATE: Commenter Lewis points out below that I was wrong about Senator Richard Shelby’s son. He was caught with hashish, not cocaine. I won’t change the quote from the TV show, of course, because that is what I said. But thanks, Lewis, for your correction. For other examples of politicians’ kids getting off lightly, see here. If you go to that site, you’ll notice that many of the examples are from one investigative journalist, James Bovard, who, in my opinion, is one of the best investigative journalists out there.