Billionaires shouldn’t exist, according to a chorus of voices on the left, including Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, whose Radio 5 Live assertion went viral, US Senator and 2020 hopeful Bernie Saunders, and Democrat upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Their arguments differ somewhat, though the fundamental thrust is the same, i.e., how, in modern democratic societies, is it fair that billionaires exist when so many live in poverty? How can some be blessed with so much whilst others struggle to survive? And sure, anyone with a heart can’t help but feel some degree of discomfort when confronted with such jarring inequality. After all, the ability to recognise and react to perceived injustices is one of the very first things we, as humans, develop.
“Babies as young as 15 months perceived the difference between equal and unequal distribution of food”
Indeed, according to a report cited by ScienceDaily: “Babies as young as 15 months perceived the difference between equal and unequal distribution of food, and their awareness of equal rations was linked to their willingness to share a toy.” This finding probably comes as no surprise to parents who’ve likely witnessed this phenomenon first-hand. Clearly, the desire for fairness, or conversely, the aversion to unfairness – is something most (if not all) of us possess on an instinctual level.
🗣️“I don’t think anyone in this country should be a billionaire”
🎙️ “Why on earth shouldn’t people be able to be billionaires?”
— BBC Radio 5 Live (@bbc5live) October 31, 2019
Equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome
However, as adults, we would be wise not to confuse equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. It’s self-evident that people should be given equal opportunities and we, as a society, should never stop striving towards that goal. And to be clear, the playing field is not level. Some people, through absolutely no fault of their own, end up in bad circumstances. Lots of people, even. Life isn’t a level playing field and sadly it never will be. That said, when the conversation starts straying towards equality of outcome, it begins to sound a little too reminiscent of Maoism for our liking… These people must have an awful lot of faith in the benevolence of the state!
Here at Optimal Compliance we champion entrepreneurs because we understand that entrepreneurship is what drives innovation, fuels the economy, and, perhaps most importantly whilst on the subject of collectivism, creates jobs. And yes, a tiny percentage of entrepreneurs eventually go on to become billionaires. Of course, not all billionaires are self-made; but, apparently most are. According to 2018 data (see pie chart below), of the 2,604 billionaires in the world, 55.8% can be described as entirely self-made, 13.3% inherited their wealth and 30.9% are deemed to be a mix of the two. In this particular article, we are going to talk exclusively about self-made billionaires and whether or not it’s right that they are able to exist.
Life is unfair…
The obvious problem with the argument that billionaires shouldn’t exist is pretty simple. Who has the right to limit how much money a person or business can make and why would we want to? Now, to pretend that ambition, talent and luck is doled out in equal measures would of course be foolish. However, most come to terms with this fact at a fairly young age. Unfortunately, we can’t all be super models or sports stars or billionaire CEOs. That’s just a fact of life. Having said that, arguably the most significant common denominator when it comes to success and/or wealth isn’t ambition or talent or luck; it’s good old-fashioned elbow grease.
Hard work often leads to success, of varying degrees. And surely even the most fervent of lefties respect and value hard work. How could they not? So, if somebody works hard, makes a lot of money, and incidentally provides employment for many others, at what point are they deemed to have accrued too much wealth? Is it when they reach £1 billion? Or £100 million? Or simply more than they could spend in a lifetime, as was suggested (and applauded!) on one Guardian comment section, and which is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Who could possibly determine this and what would give them the right to do so?
Billionaires should not exist. https://t.co/hgR6CeFvLa
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 24, 2019
And that’s the key problem here. The only body that could, in theory, make billionaires extinct is the government, right? So, what these people are really suggesting is that the government should be able to decide on some arbitrary amount of money that one citizen or family is allowed to possess, and take (by force) any surplus that may be generated. If those who are clever or fortunate or hardworking enough to supersede this amount refuse to hand it over, they’ll be taken to court and eventually thrown in a cage. Very progressive.
There are two main flaws with this line of reasoning…
First of all, it’s unethical for a government or anybody else to determine how much money one person or one business is allowed to make. Simple. How anyone could argue otherwise is frankly beyond us. Billionaire businessmen or women pay massive amounts of tax (for the most part) and provide thousands if not tens of thousands of jobs. Not to mention most give loads to charity and have founded countless humanitarian projects.
Secondly, if we conceded that a billion was too much and the government should ensure that no billionaires exist, they wouldn’t put the money to good use. It would just get wasted. Look how they’ve handled Brexit thus far! Or read Squandered by David Craig about New Labour’s spending habits. Most striking is that in virtually every field of government involvement, whether it be health, education, welfare, crime, etc., New Labour spent much more money than its Conservative predecessors, yet many of the old problems remained, or worsened. It’s crazy how certain people can do nothing but complain about the government (no problem with that) and yet even still they want to give them more money and more power — how does that make any sense? Governments should have as little power as possible!
There’s this pervasive idea that you’ll see on Twitter and elsewhere that there is some sort of inherent nobility or virtue in poverty and, in all honesty, it’s pretty childish. As is the mirrored notion that those with money are somehow lacking in morality. There are good and bad people and some have money and some don’t. This seems obvious but when you read certain newspapers and speak to certain people, there is a definite feeling that those who’ve managed to become successful and, in doing so, have amassed wealth, must have cheated somehow and are somehow to blame for society’s ills. The two things are unrelated.
So yeah, it’s undeniably aesthetically and morally jarring that such vast economic inequality exists in the world, but let’s put our pitchforks down when it comes to billionaires. They are not to blame. Thanks for reading!