Do you know why I’m not wealthy yet? I do.
It’s because I haven’t made the right decisions at some key times in my life. I’ve failed to take advantage of the right opportunities to provide enough value to other people that they would voluntarily pay me for it.
But, wait. The socialists of the world — now mainstream among Democratic Party politicians — tell us we’re not rich because the billionaires of the world are keeping all the money for themselves. Shouldn’t we make them give us some of their wealth?
Only the economically ignorant — such as socialists — could think this is true. And only the truly immoral could think the answer is to steal from some individuals to give to other individuals. To take money from a person against his will is theft, no matter how nicely you dress it up in dishonest “good intentions.”
It’s become fashionable lately to obsess about economic inequality, but this obsession is very misguided. As long as I have the chance to better my own life — through my ideas and my work — why would I care that some people have wealth that’s a thousand times (or a million times) what I have?
The only reason I would be concerned about someone having more than I have is if wealth were a zero-sum game. Since I am not ignorant enough to believe such a thing, I know that the wealth someone else creates has no bearing on whether I can make myself prosperous, too.
A “zero-sum game” is one in which there is a fixed amount of something which distributed among the players. For instance, if you were playing a game in which everyone competed for 100 tokens — and there were exactly 100 tokens in existence — every time someone else gained one token, someone else would have to lose one. Every time I gained a token, it would have to be taken from someone else.
That’s the ignorant assumption of socialists and progressives (and even a lot of people who think they’re conservatives). They see wealth as a fixed amount which is simply distributed among the people of a country or the world. They think that millionaire and billionaires have gotten wealthy by doing things which made other people poor.
But these ignorant people are mistaken.
Wealth is created and destroyed, depending on who provides value and who dissipates value. It’s really not complicated, but most people today choose to ignore some simple facts.
If I provide a service to someone, I am paid for my service. If I provide a service which has more value than the service provided by someone else, I will be paid more. It’s up to me to find services which other people want which I am willing to provide. I make the most money when I find the thing which provides the most value to other people.
I cannot get wealthy without providing some value (or perceived value) to other people. Otherwise, why would they pay me?
Since I’ve been working in real estate, I have had a front row seat for observing something interesting. What I’ve noticed is that sets of values tend to go together — and you can predict a lot about people’s financial destiny by paying attention to their values.
People who live for today and complain all the time about life not being fair tend to have nothing. These people believe the world owes them something and they believe they are smart to cheat others when they can get away with it. These people spend a lot of money on nice consumer goods — but they never have any money to invest in their own futures. They can’t pay their bills. And when it comes time for them to be evicted from a home when they can’t pay for it, they complain that it’s somebody else’s fault.
People who are constantly looking for ways to provide more value to others — and who believe they are responsible for themselves — tend to have very different outcomes. The smartest among them spend little (or nothing) on status symbols and nice consumer goods. They’re constantly looking for ways to live more frugally so they can invest more in their own futures. They are scrupulous about paying everything which they have agreed to pay, because they value their honor. If they do lose homes or businesses or fortunes, they accept the defeat with dignity and learn from their mistakes as they plot a way to recover.
There are obviously many other variations in people’s values. Some people come from upper class families and have lousy values, slowly squandering all that their families have made. (I could give you plenty of examples and you probably know people like this, too.) There are others who exist at a middle ground of barely having enough, never quite falling apart but never really rising above — always thinking life is unfair. This sort of person has no plan for life and is swept along by every economic current that comes along, good or bad. And there are other people who simply haven’t yet figured out how to create wealth.
The point is that some people get lucky and are born into the right families or happen to be paid for something completely out of reach to normal people, such as being a professional athlete or a movie star.
But for most of us, our values determine our financial destiny.
Socialists don’t want to hear this, because they see poor people as victims. They don’t understand that those who are poor can almost always better their prospects by changing their values and by providing more and better service to others. They prefer for government to steal money from productive people to hand it to poor people instead.
Socialists and progressives are completely oblivious to the well-known fact that unearned money is almost always squandered. They don’t understand that the same values which made someone poor to start with will make the person poor again even if you hand him a large chunk of money. (Research what happens to almost every lottery winner, if you don’t believe me.)
The thing which holds almost everybody back from becoming prosperous is their own values and habits, not the wealth of anybody else. But the politics and culture of envy are powerful in the world today.
Economic ignorance among politicians and the people around you is very dangerous. When politicians and voters believe that taking money from one group to give it to another is a cure for poverty, it’s a sure-fire plan for destroying wealth. When you take stored value from people who understand how to earn it and give it to people who have no understanding of earned value, the money will be squandered — and little or nothing will be left to show for it.
What’s even more dangerous is moral ignorance. It’s bad if you don’t understand economics well enough to predict what is going to happen when wealth is stolen from productive people. (Those people have far less incentive to be productive if they know their money will be stolen.) But the core issue that matters most is the moral one.
Even if you don’t understand economics, every child can understand why it’s wrong for someone to steal things from another person. A child also understands why it’s wrong for multiple people to gang up on those who have things they want.
If you can understand that it’s immoral to take someone’s money or property against his will — and if you can understand that it’s no more moral if an entire neighborhood gangs up on the richest family in the neighborhood to take their money — then you should be able to understand why that gang calling itself “the government” doesn’t make the theft moral.
Those who are productive have been willing to allow our money to be stolen for too long. What’s worse, we have allowed this theft to happen with our consent — because we were brainwashed as children to believe this theft was perfectly acceptable as long as the bullies call it “taxation.”
The truth is that the majority can control us — and can steal our money — but they can do it only with force. Those who favor these evil positions refuse to see the force and the threats behind their positions. We have to make it clear to them what their nice-sounding policy proposals really mean. Their evil policies are enforced at the barrel of a gun.
If you don’t believe me, ask yourself what would happen if you refused to pay what government demanded as taxation.
First, bureaucrats would send you threats of confiscating money from your bank accounts and threaten you with penalties. Let’s say you withdrew all your money from banks and kept it at your home.
Second, those bureaucrats would get this government’s own courts to rule that you must turn your money over, but what if you refused?
Third, armed men — police or some enforcement arm — would physically try to take what you refuse to turn over. They would call you a criminal for refusing to obey.
So all of these fancy words about helping others are ultimately backed up by physical force. You would eventually be shot or imprisoned if you tried to defend yourself and your property. Without this force or threat of force, taxes would not be paid.
And money which is taken from people against their will — through force or threat of force — is being stolen. Don’t ever forget that.
Is there any point at which you’re willing to say, “No, you can’t do this”? How far does evil have to push before you call theft and coercion by their proper names?
When you hear socialists and progressives saying that millionaires and billionaires are a moral issue, remember that they’re right — just not in the way they mean.
To allow men and women to use their own skills and values and time and effort to become wealthy is the most moral thing that any community can do. If many of those productive people want to give to others and try to teach them how they, too, can be come productive, that’s even better for everyone. But wealth-building is a moral issue. Any group which prevents people from growing their wealth through providing more and better value is immoral.
I’m not envious of billionaires. I’m not angry with millionaires. I’m very aware that some people get rich by luck or even by providing services which I see as wrong. That’s going to happen at times.
But more than anything else, I know that I’m responsible for my own financial destiny. I don’t want to bring billionaires down. I want opportunity for everyone. I want to become wealthy — by providing more and more value for others — so that I can be one of those billionaires myself.
Immoral people steal. Moral people grow wealth by voluntarily providing value for others, no matter what the angry and envious thugs scream to the rabble in the streets.