I originally typed this as a long 2-part reply to another thread, but I feel it is a thorough and important enough explanation of some of my views on
philanthropy, wealth, and the gap between rich and poor that I've decided to dedicate it's own thread.
I hope this gives you something valuable to chew on or puts words to something you've felt for awhile. I hope this stimulates an open and productive
conversation truly getting to the bottom of these realities/issues.
Without further ado:
I am very wary of those who defend the economic "rights" of the rich and of giant corporations, as if they're a weak and/or oppressed minority.
However, the very fact that they are wildly rich/powerful/influential in such an unregulated country/world as ours fundamentally exempts them from
being an oppressed minority. Even in a heavily regulated/taxed world or country they're still kings.
When asking ourselves if the rich have truly earned
their wealth- First we must set aside the unrelated factors such as how these super-rich
achieved their wealth within
the market and also the philanthropy they subsequently engage in.
Of course in a direct/physical sense they earned their wealth, it happened, therefore it's true. However, in a more philosophical sense we can't be
sure that they legitimately
earned that amount of money. I've heard many excuses in my debates with people when they defend the
disproportionate wealth of others, for instance- they worked really hard for it, they earned it lawfully, they donate to good causes, they provide
desirable jobs/products/services, they created the idea and/or pioneered it effectively, etc. etc. And these sound all good and well if you simply
accept them as that. However, the way I think doesn't allow me NOT
to question this logic very deeply.
So, let's start with my favorite excuse for the hoarding of great wealth-
1) They worked really hard for it
First of all, this is an assumption, both on its face and in a relative sense. Most of the people who use this line of logic don't actually
whether or not a specific wealthy person or certain groups of wealthy people actually worked very hard for their wealth. This ignorance of
the very value of their claim inherently corrupts the strength of it. However, let's just say that the majority of wealthy people worked very hard
for their money. Now we have to ask ourselves, relative to whom? Did the wealthy CEO work harder than the janitor or floor workers of his company? Did
he/she expend more effort/energy? Does he work harder than [I]ANY[/I] poorer person? And if so, how much
harder did he work? If this CEO is
making 400 times the salary of an average worker in his employ yet he's not working any harder or even just 10 times harder than his average
employee, how is that proportionate and legitimate? The math simply doesn't add up, nor could it ever add up until the top salaries were
decreased/redistributed (unless the CEO was actually Superman). It's a fundamental and exponential increase of wealth up the economic ladder that
does not coincide with an equally
exponential rise in effort/energy or even necessarily the importance
of their tasks/responsibilities.
What about the impoverished mother/father working multiple jobs for most of their free time to support a family only to remain living in poverty,
paycheck to paycheck, never quite able to rise above it? What about the legions of workers underneath a CEO who are the gears that actually make an
idea come to life in the real world? Is their position seriously 400 times less important than the head honcho who runs things?
2) They earned it lawfully
Once again, there is an inherent ignorance in this argument that destabilizes it. How do we know for sure
that the wealthy have always walked
the straight and narrow, following the law at every turn to earn their wealth? Most of us don't or can't, even. If we take the hypothetical wealthy
person who earned their money 100% lawfully, then we must ask ourselves- did they still earn it morally/ethically? Anybody with a
political/philosophical mind realizes that the laws we enact are not always moral/ethical, nor do proper morals/ethics always follow from
laws/authority. Laws are many times based
on morals/ethics but not
vise versa. We must also realize that our system of laws is quite
imperfect, including unnecessary or counter-productive parts, loopholes, bureaucratic messes, corruption, authoritarianism,
holes/inconsistencies/weaknesses, etc. This is why a company like Wal-Mart or Exxon can get away with terrible things in a lawful manner, they have a
massive amount of legal defense at their side to push the boundaries of lawfulness beyond morals/ethics. We must also use systems-thinking to analyze
morals/ethics within the context of our systems from afar. That is to say- a business/venture may be legitimate within
our systems of laws,
markets, supply/demand, or culture, but that does not necessarily mean that they are legitimate in a scientific, holistic, or ultimate sense. For
instance, as a culture/system we accept the role that Wal-Mart or Exxon plays providing their products/services/jobs to society. Many of us shop at
Wal-Mart consuming the products within, most of us use petroleum, its byproducts, fuels, plastics, etc. that in large part is provided by Exxon and
companies like it. But there is a hidden cost to this consumption- environmental damage comes first, damage to local communities/cultures, corruption
of politics/government, mistreatment of customers/workers, ill-effects to health, oppressive policies foisted upon
customers/employees/communities/partners/etc., exploitation of non-renewable resources, false advertising/lies, pollutive commercialism/consumerism,
unfair/unstable monopolies, and so on and so forth. When assessing the legitimacy of these economic entities, whether they're people or
organizations, we MUST take into account a holistic view of what kinds of benefits they provide us stacked against the damage/suffering they cause.
There is also the larger issue of overall sustainability (primarily environmental).