Six Things Rich People Don't Need to Stop Saying

on Monday, March 5, 2012

It is so viscerally frustrating to listen to intelligent men, with good hearts and intentions speak about money without understanding what wealth is, or where it comes from.

The following statement is wrong. It assumes that there is a limited amount of wealth in the world, and that we are all fighting for a piece of a fixed pie:

"It's like setting a jar of moonshine on the floor of a boxcar full of 10 hobos and saying, "Now fight for it!" Sure, in the bloody aftermath you can say to each of the losers, "Hey, you could have had it if you'd fought harder!" and that's true on an individual level. But not collectively -- you knew goddamned well that nine hobos weren't getting any hooch that night."

This reasoning is extremely common, but it is about as rational as claiming that not all backyard-gardeners can grow tomatoes (create wealth). Certainly all persons who are not handicapped (mentally or otherwise) are capable of growing some amount of vegetables, and gardeners who grow a huge amount are not harming their neighbors. They are helping their neighbors by bringing more food into the world, lowering the price of food; lowering the cost of living for everyone else.

The difference between tomato-growing and Wall-Street trading is only that most people do not understand why trading is useful to other people, but can easily see why farming is helpful to other people.

Further, most people don't understand what they mean by "rich." If they mean "more (or better) stuff than other people," then certainly not everyone can be rich. But if they mean "lots of stuff compared to five years ago," certainly everyone can accomplish that. It would be more accurate to say "anyone can create wealth; anyone can become wealthier over time." And that would certainly be a true statement.

"'You have your job because of a rich person.'
This is true, I suppose, if that rich person inherited their money and you are personally working for them as a gardener. But if you are working at a Toyota factory, your paycheck doesn't come from under the mattress of the owner of the company. That money came from lots and lots of regular Joes who bought Toyota cars. The guys in suits are just middlemen between the supply and the demand."

Our beloved author makes two errors here. First, he mistakenly seems to believe that Toyota cars fall from the sky; that multibillion dollar companies run themselves. Second, he fails to understand the value of a middleman. This is similar to claiming that a vendor at your farmer's market is just a guy in overalls acting as a middleman between you and mother nature; without him, after all, you could have just picked the tomatoes yourself! The reality is that creating wealth (tomatoes, cars) takes much more than hard work--it requires planning, intelligence, risk, and organization. The process of creating wealth is the process of organizing the world around you into something more valuable. The tomato-farmer creates food, literally from thin air, by tilling soil, applying fertilizer, keeping pests away, and so on. In the same way, the men and women that run the Toyota company organize metal, plastic, rubber and wood into beautiful machines that make our lives better.

" people don't make the world go around. It takes everybody."

It no more "takes everybody" to create wealth than it "takes everybody" to farm tomatoes in your backyard and walk to the farmer's market. It is easy to believe that because you were born into a world with "free" roads and schools, that all members of a society are indebted to its current and future members for providing these "gifts," for which everyone pays (primarily wealthy people pay). This is exactly the same logic as would be used in claiming that your children are forever indebted to a burglar who breaks into your home, steals half of your things, and uses the money to build a shitty school down the street (where half the kids don't learn to read), and threatens you so forcefully that you are compelled to enroll your children in his school and allow him to break into your home once a year for the rest of your life. Clearly, insisting that anyone owes the burglar a solid, and that no one would be educated without him, is a severely misguided idea.

"...the second part is this idea that asking the rich to pitch in is "punishing" them.
So, Rich Guy, let me explain this as calmly and logically as I can:
Are you fucking 6 years old? Do you still think mom made you clean up your room because she was mean? In the adult world, we get asked to do things because shit needs to get done. It has nothing to do with fairness, it has nothing to do with judging you. It has nothing to do with you at all. There's a whole world out there, with people who need helping and projects that need accomplishing.
You're only being asked to pitch in because you have the resources. You're not a tall person who us dwarfs are jealously trying to cut down to size. You're a tall person being asked to get something down from a very tall shelf because nobody else can fucking reach it."

So, you economically illiterate fuckwad, let me explain this to you as simply and plainly as I can. How many tomatoes do you think your hard working, tomato-growing-genius of a neighbor will grow next year if he knows that at harvest time,  all of the neighborhood's tomatoes will be annonomously dumped into a large bin, and rationed out equally to each neighbor according to their needs? Do you imagine that perhaps he might be the slightest bit encouraged to stop growing tomatoes at all? Asking him to reach something on a high shelf is very different than handcuffing all of the tall people and parading them around town, marching them into places with high shelves at gunpoint, yelling at them, and bemoaning their height as they perform these tasks. Further, using a tall-person and short-person analogy completely ignores the reality of wealth creation. Wealth does not fall from the sky. Your neighbor does not have a large tomato harvest because he is lucky, per se. And those extra tomatoes do nothing to harm anyone around him--quite the opposite--the more tomatoes he grows, the lower the price of his neighbors' food supply.

So to use a tall-man analogy is deviously misleading--it implies that wealthy men are rich only because they are lucky, and it implies that they are therefore obligated to help neighbors retrieve things from high places at gunpoint. Even if we use the tomato-farming analogy, a prolific farmer is no more obligated to help his neighbors at gunpoint than you are obligated to use all of your money to help starving kids in Africa. If you imagine that this sort of logic stops at international borders, or that African lives are worth less than those of your relatively wealthy neighbors, living in one of the richest nations on earth, I can't imagine why.

Wealthy men in your own country should be permitted the possibility of saving their tomato harvests for later, just as you are permitted to save your dollars and are not forced at gunpoint to send them all to Ethiopia to "get things from high places" for those less fortunate that yourself.

And finally, what do you think a productive tomato-farmer (wealthy person) is doing, exactly, as they labor to produce huge amounts of food for the neighborhood? Does that not count as getting shit done? Do we, in the adult world, do things, or do we "get asked" to do things? Does it somehow make more sense for your neighbor to dictate to you what he needs and demand that you do it? Does it somehow invalidate the prolific-grower's accomplishments (feeding the neighborhood) if he does not offer up all of his tomatoes free of charge? Is it so hard to see that the focused and productive work that generates useful things (cars, tomatoes), regardless of motivation, is supporting the greater good? Is it so hard to see how wealthy people automatically contribute to society? How they automatically, accidentally, and even soullessly contribute the the general welfare of everyone around them, even if their only motivation is a personal desire to retire and sail around the world for the rest of their lives? Is it not clear that if they have avoided polluting the environment or harming others, they have identified a need, and filled it?

"In other words, you don't "own" shit. The entire concept of owning anything, be it a hunk of land or a house or a fucking sandwich, exists purely because other people pay other armed men to protect it. Without society, all of your brave, individual talents and efforts won't buy you a bucket of farts."

Mr. Cracked actually manages to say something meaningful and correct here, but drops the ball with his last sentence. Yes, we don't actually own anything; the government effectively owns everything within its borders, if you really think about it , but that does not lead to the conclusion that "society" is the same thing as a military to protect our borders, police to enforce property laws, and courts settling disputes. The only things necessary for a civil society is exactly that -- peace and property rights. The rest of it is a bunch of hogwash, and if you're tempted to continue down this disgusting rabbit-hole, please do explain why your neighbors are obligated to treat you like a family member, so that you can buy Pop-Tarts and sugar water, but you are not obligated to pay any mind to the millions of starving children that suffer and die every day. Did you forget that 40% of the world lives on less than $2.00 per day, you greedy, ignorant asshole? If you are to claim that only Americans should be obligated to other Americans, why not continue, and claim that Texans should bear no obligation to Iowans, and still further, to demand that New Yorkers not be burdened with poor decisions made in Los Angeles?

You cannot have your cake and eat it too--if you support your own freedom to choose if you will attempt to help the miserable, starving, dying masses of the world... or buy another flat-screen TV for your man-cave, you must also logically conclude that we should all have the same freedom regardless of the location, or citizenship, or height, of suffering human beings.