On my commute to work on Boston’s Southeast Expressway, there is a carpenter’s union building right next to the highway with a billboard. In addition to the usual pro-union messages, they occasionally have other sorts of political messages. One in particular caught my eye that claimed that a handful of billionaires held more wealth than 50% of the world’s population.
My immediate reaction was that this was another instance where we should talk about raising up those who live in poverty instead of railing against the few who have wealth.
Jeff Jacoby tackles the same subject in today’s Boston Globe when he calls out Oxfam’s executive director got up at the ultra-exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to proclaim that the eight richest men in the world hold as much wealth as half the world’s population and that 1 in 10 people live on less than $2 per day.
Of course, as Jacoby points out, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, it’s a tragedy that so many suffer on so little, but the glass is also half full: Three decades ago, the number was twice as large. Yes, we cut extreme poverty in the world by 50%.
Something else Jacoby points out is that in 2014, instead of 8 men having as much as half the world, it was 85. In 2015, it was 80. Last year, we were down to 62. Now it’s just eight. Are the super-rich getting poorer or are they poor getting richer? The latter, it seems. Never mind that those super-rich men—all of them very ideologically liberal, by the way—have long records of charitable giving. Bill Gates has given away more money than anyone in history (albeit, much to causes and charities I would disagree with).
But the underlying assumption from Oxfam and the carpenters union and other liberals, including the Occupy Wall Street movement (remember them?) is that wealth is a zero-sum proposition. If one person is wealthy, then they are keeping someone else from getting what they need. But that’s not how wealth works. Wealth is an elastic resource that grows and expands. It’s less like ore or oil and more like crops and animals: The more you have, the more you grow.
How many billions of people are employed by the companies these men founded and built or by companies that do a substantial amount of their business with them? How many billions of people have had their lives made better or easier by the goods or services their companies created or funded?
Indoctrination into Marxism
This kind of prejudice against some having wealth is a key element of Marxism and it’s running rampant these days, especially among younger people. I often see people younger than me declaring positions or upholding ideals that are straight from Karl Marx or any number of Socialist platforms. The problem is twofold: First, they have by-and-large grown up in a world without a large-scale example of the errors of Socialism. the Soviet Union has faded away and China is more a totalitarian capitalist state than a Communist country today. The various Latin American socialist experiments have either folded or are too insignificant to be noticed (although Venezuela would be a good negative example if the media would cover it).
Second, they are indoctrinated in this stuff throughout school. Whether in high school social studies or in college economics classes, Marxist/Socialist economic and class theory is rampant, which leads to much of the crazy entitlement mentality that results in trigger warnings and snowflake meltdowns when the world intrudes on their perfect academic bubble.
Yes, wealth for its own sake is wrong as is greed (Gordon Gekko notwithstanding), but wealth itself is morally neutral and in the hands of someone who recognizes his moral duty to his fellow man, it can be a great good.
So rather than bemoan those who have more than the poor, find ways to raise up the poor so we can all have a bit more of the wealth that makes life pleasant, rather than nasty, brutish and short.
- wealth: Graphicstock | Copyright by owner. Used with permission.