Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Advocating "Giving Back" Is Selfish and Greedy

An oft repeated meme, at least here in the USA, is the notion that rich people should "give back" to the community. If they don't choose to do so, instead opting to keep all of the wealth they "derived from the community", they are painted as selfish and greedy. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, the truth is exactly the opposite. To advocate that wealthy entrepreneurs "give back" is a glaring defiance of reality. So much so that the meme can only arise out of either sheer ignorance or cold-hearted selfishness and greed, or worse – an ugly desire to destroy innocent values.
The latest high-profile propagation of that selfish meme comes in the form of a smug one-liner carelessly dropped by Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, in a recent article published in the Los Angeles Times. In response to Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin's renunciation of US citizenship in favor of Singapore's more entrepreneur friendly environment, Ackerman quips: "Rather than paying back, he is moving on."
It is easy to understand how an unthinking individual falls prey to this meme. (After all, if the fallacy were obvious, the meme would cease to propagate.) The meme is best supported by the following rationale: "If someone is rich, those riches had to be gotten from the community (or country, in Saverin's case). Since the rich person has more money than the average person in the community in which he enriched himself, it follows that he took more from the community than he gave. Therefore, to be fair to those poor folks he skimmed off of, he should return a portion of it."
This rationale is faulty, because it conveniently overlooks how the rich person "got" his riches from "the community". There is a specific mechanism, or procedure, through which this occurred. It is a mistake to skip over this, and jump straight to the conclusion that the riches are somehow unearned.
Even more simpleminded rationales supporting this meme include: "The community enabled him to get rich, so it is only fair that he show appreciation by giving back" (this rationale was alluded to by Ackerman; in the article, he speaks of "the country that made their success possible"). "The rich got lucky, and ought to share with those less fortunate". And an especially presumptuous and unapologetic rationale, presented to me once by a former coworker, "No one needs that much money".
There are several things fundamentally wrong with each of these rationales. But let's get straight to the bottom of why the meme itself not only relies on a suspension of reality, but is grossly unfair, inhumane, selfish, and greedy.
In order for an entrepreneur to become wealthy, he or she has to do several things first – including putting personal hard earned savings or valuable credit rating on the line (what if the venture fails; most do, in fact), put in long hours with little or no initial reward, apply hard mental effort (work smart), be self-motivated and highly disciplined, etc.
All of this giving occurs before the entrepreneur even gets a product or service on the market. If he fails, he has nothing to show for all that he gave. (A point worth noting here is that virtually none of those who advocate "giving back" would even get past this stage – precisely because they are unwilling to give so much with no guarantee of getting anything back.) For the few who succeed in their efforts, and manage to become wealthy, they acquire every single dollar of that wealth by giving a product or service in order to receive that dollar. How, then, is there any duty to "give back"? How is such a concept even remotely fair? Simple: It is not.
The wealthy entrepreneur got that much richer than others in the community because he gave so much more than they did. Eduardo Saverin may have billions of dollars; but because of him, billions of his fellow human beings have Facebook, which is of such value to many of them that they would not want to go back to doing without. This is a voluntary, fair and equitable exchange. There simply is nothing for either party to "give back". It is a done deal.
Here is an idea: When you go to the local farmers market to stock up on fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables (which are essentially luxury items), do you give a portion of your purchases back to the market after paying for them? Why not? It is exactly the same concept. To say that entrepreneurs who earned their wealth by providing value to the community's inhabitants through voluntary exchange, should then "give back" to the community, is exactly the same as saying one should "give back" a portion of one's purchases to the farmers market, after paying for them.
There is fundamentally no difference whatsoever between the two scenarios.
Note that those who advocate "giving back", never specify who the actual individuals are who were "taken from", and thus should be "given back" to. No, it is a purely collectivist idea: Give back to "the community", or "the country", etc. This is why the analogy of the farmers market is only accurate if one envisions buying from individual vendors, but then "giving back" a portion of the purchases to "the market" – not individual vendors. Either way, the notion of "giving back" that which one has received through giving in the first place is beyond absurd.
In a purely capitalist exchange, there is always a give for every take, a win-win for all. The exchange cannot take place unless each party sees personal value in the exchange. Why would anyone wish to introduce an imbalance where such a fine balance exists? When the implications of the "give back" meme are followed through to the logical conclusion, it becomes clear that it is rooted in the most contemptible of human desires: Selfishness, greed, and above all - envy.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

When coming upon this article I found no debating “comments” I would like to see some, because there are fundamental reasons for giving and building to eradicate poverty. The main reason why so many feel left with so little after making one rich is because what the rich people offer and built on leaves them with nothing to build on themselves. Materials that are supposed to be good for the environment and the people are later found to be harmful, not properly tested and many are dying of manmade illnesses. What we the people have found is a long history pollution throughout cities, town and local neighborhoods, cancer causing agents; environmental waste and numerous illnesses due to chemical exposures, motion repetitive illnesses, long hours at work diminishing health, little pay, and high medical cost, Just to mention a few. The so call great products of exchange from ideas created by the rich have committed many atrocities during their adventure for capitalism which neither is observed here in this commentary. Nor are the slave factories in other countries where people earn so little they eat coca leaves to keep from hunger while others result to other methods’ of survival. No the riches gain are not all as pure as the driven show. The income does not afford them a good life as well as the rich it’s not an even exchange when their health, environment and towns are left with so many damages. There are so many other reasons why there is a demand for “giving back” and it’s not all about the money. What the people are also relating to is their health being undermined by exposure to so many harmful technologies, environmental poising, products that later become a health dilemma due to failure of proper research done in such a rush for the bottom line. Many products are made to be dependent on but with one stroke of God’s finger it can be all wiped away and the people will learn to do without. The exchange is not at all even or fair when the rich get richer and the poor just get poorer something is wrong. If the rich want to be rich solely without human concern then I say yes you are living accordingly and will weep for it in the end there will be no more to gain from and your poverty will be seen in your riches.

Anonymous said...

When coming upon this article I found no debating “comments” I would like to see some, because there are fundamental reasons for giving and building to eradicate poverty. The main reason why so many feel left with so little after making one rich is because what the rich people offer and built on leaves them with nothing to build on themselves. Materials that are supposed to be good for the environment and the people are later found to be harmful, not properly tested and many are dying of manmade illnesses. What we the people have found is a long history of pollution throughout cities, town and local neighborhoods, cancer causing agents; environmental waste and numerous illnesses due to chemical exposures, motion repetitive illnesses, long hours at work diminishing health, little pay, and high medical cost, Just to mention a few. The so call great products of exchange from ideas created by the rich have committed many atrocities during their adventure for capitalism which neither is observed here in this commentary (made in “Sound of Cannons” title: Advocating "Giving Back" Is Selfish and Greedy). Nor are the slave factories in other countries where people earn so little they eat coca leaves to keep from hunger while others result to other methods’ of survival. No the riches gain are not all as pure as the driven show. The income does not afford them a good life as well as the rich in the end of their lives they are rob of their savings, 401Ks fell out the bottom for many, banks charging fees for everything they can think of, oil and food prices gone beyond their wages but the oil companies and food manufactures are getting richer and the people are told it’s all your fault we the rich gave now you work with it. No it’s not an even exchange when their health, environment and towns are left with so many damages. There are so many other reasons why there is a demand for “giving back” and it’s not all about the money. What the people are also relating to is their health being undermined by exposure to so many harmful technologies, environmental poising, products that later become a health dilemma due to failure of proper research done in such a rush for the bottom line. Many products are made to be dependent on but with one stroke of God’s finger it can be all wiped away and the people will learn to do without. The exchange is not at all even or fair when the rich get richer and the poor just get poorer something is wrong. If the rich want to be rich solely without human concern then I say yes you are living accordingly and will weep for it in the end there will be no more to gain from and your poverty will be seen in your riches. DMD

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