Why do some people become wealthy? And why do most people remain poor or struggling?
Socialists say it’s because a small group of people hoard most of the money. Despite the fact that his ideas have led to death and poverty for untold millions of people, some people today still preach the gospel of Karl Marx. They’re convinced of the fantasy that things will somehow be different if they’re the ones “redistributing wealth” to the masses.
If you listen to the pronouncements of the modern American political figures such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you hear the same tired rhetoric that would-be dictators have used ever since Marx. They tell us that everyone would have plenty — if they could just take money away from the evil wealthy class.
But Marx and his modern disciples completely misunderstand how wealth is created. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — for personal reasons, not political ones — but my thinking has left me disgusted that more and more people are joining this new crusade which will lead to poverty.
Socialists misunderstand what wealth is. They believe it’s a “zero-sum game.” They believe there is a fixed amount of wealth and that someone fair-minded simply needs to distribute it to everyone. But there is a fundamental flaw in their understanding of reality.
The truth is that there is an unlimited amount of potential wealth. Someone else being wealthy — even wealthy beyond my wildest dreams — doesn’t limit my own chances of creating more wealth. The same is true for you. We can get as wealthy as we choose to get — as wealthy as we dare to get — because we are the ones who determine how much service we are willing to render to others.
Those who do “just enough” to keep a job will never get ahead in life. They will never become wealthy. They will whine and complain that the world is mistreating them, but the truth is that they are not seeking to create value. Most such people are already being paid more than they deserve — and they cheat employers and customers every chance they get.
Wealth comes only through providing service to others.
If you provide just enough service to avoid being fired from a job, you’ll always have little. But if you constantly find ways to provide more and more service to others, you will get more and better opportunities for your future — if you’re doing things in a field for which you’re qualified.
What is wealth? It’s simply the accumulation of value that a person has been paid in exchange for services or goods which he’s voluntarily traded to someone else. If you find ways to be more valuable — to an employer or to a customer — you’re going to be in demand.
If you made contributions to an employer which go beyond what is expected in your job, your employer might or might not recognize that. If he does, you will be rewarded. If he doesn’t, you will be more valuable for another employer. Or you will gain the chance to go into business for yourself. The key, though, is how much value you provide.
If you are selling your services to customers directly — and you’re selling a service which other people genuinely want to buy — you will create more wealth for yourself by creating more value for your customers. You can charge more and more for your services if you’re finding ways to create more value for the people who are paying you.
But you have to provide the service first without worrying about whether you’re “doing too much” or might not be paid. Most people want to do just the opposite. They want to do as little as possible — and then they whine about how life is treating them unfairly. They don’t know that their accumulation of riches is limited by the limitations they put on the value they’re wiling to provide.
Those who continue to find ways to give more service to others will always be in demand.
Philosophies throughout history have noted this, but most people have chosen to ignore them. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Galatia, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” You’ve heard that all your life, but it’s not just some religious mumbo-jumbo. It’s a solid philosophical idea that has been echoed by many others.
It would take too long to analyze his essay here, but the 19th century American transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson argued that it was impossible to be cheated of what you deserve in the long run. In his essay called “Compensation,” Emerson argues that the Universe “keeps score,” so to speak, and that you will receive exactly what you have made yourself entitled to receive by your actions. He argues persuasively that this isn’t a principle which applies to the afterlife, but to the world today. I strongly suggest you read and understand this essay, even though too many modern thinkers ignore the central points he makes in the essay.
I came across a phrase a few days ago that really hit me hard. Earl Nightingale was an influential speaker and radio personality who lectured on the topic of success starting in the 1950s. I was listening to one of his old recordings when I heard him say, “We’re all self-made, but only the successful will admit it.”
Why did it hit my hard? Because I don’t like to admit that he’s right, of course.
I don’t like admitting that I haven’t done all that I should have done to create what I want for myself — and for the world around me. But because I understand the reality of wealth creation — and because I understand my own actions and failures at times — I know he’s right.
We can certainly find cases in which terrible luck has hit certain people. Some people have been injured in accidents they didn’t cause. Terrible illness has struck some people down. You can come up with all sorts of “edge cases” such as these.
You can also find the opposite. You can find people who have simply gotten lucky in some way or have been born into great wealth. And some people have become rich by stealing the money or cheating others. That’s certainly true of “edge cases” on the other end.
But for the vast majority of us — almost certainly including you and me — we are responsible for where we are. If we want to blame others — or if we want to blame the world for not wanting to buy the things which we would like to sell — we’re trying to shift the blame from where it belongs.
It’s my choice — and your choice — about what we do to provide value to others. We are responsible for choosing something we’re good at doing and which others want to buy from us. If we do that — and if we constantly try to figure out how to provide more value — we are going to become wealthy as long as we don’t spend everything we earn.
I’ve created my life as it exists today. You’ve created the life you have. Both of us have a responsibility to make the changes we need to make to fix the things that need to change. Nobody else is going to do that for us.
The politicians who preach socialism don’t understand human nature or economics. Even more importantly, they don’t understand morality — because providing value to others in exchange for what we need in this world is a moral imperative.
Stealing money from productive people to give it to others who aren’t productive is not only immoral, but it also won’t work, because you will eventually run out of wealthy people — and you will have destroyed all incentive to provide more service and create wealth.
I am a self-made man. You are a self-made man or woman. If you don’t like where you are in life, you have only yourself to blame.
The solution for every one of us is to take responsibility for what we’ve done and make the changes we want to make for our lives. Whether you need more money or more of something else, nobody is going to change that except you — by taking action to create what you want. It’s never too late.