One of the most common assumptions made today, by those on various rungs of the economic ladder, is that the rich get rich at the expense of the poor. For example, a man whose childcare benefits have been cut might look at the businessman driving his brand new Mercedes and wonder why his taxes haven’t gone up to compensate for a welfare shortfall. A woman working as a cleaner on a low wage in a huge office might resent the CEO whose toilets she cleans, figuring that one week’s salary for him is six months’ for her.
This perception of being used or exploited by those richer is totally wrong. It’s wrong because of the false assumption that some of us somehow have a claim on the wealth of others. But it’s also obviously false from an evidential or practical point of view:
Consider an office building, the headquarters for a large company. The company is owned by a businessman, the CEO. The company manufacturers a product and sells it. It does this to make money, because money is the means by which we sustain our lives. Necessary to this process is an import division (to acquire raw materials), a construction division (to make the product), and a distribution division (to ship the product out). But a business needs more than just this. It needs a Sales department to acquire and keep customers. It needs a Procurement department, to seek out good suppliers and acquire materials at competitive prices. Is that enough? No. Computers are an irreplaceable part of any modern business, from warehouse to office – so the company must create an IT department to setup and maintain the technology throughout the site. Is that enough? No. With so many employees, the company needs to establish codes of conduct, a forum to liaise with its staff, an independent body to hear disputes and define punishment protocols and many other tasks relating to worker welfare and management: it creates a Human Resources department.
But it doesn’t stop there. The desks, the chairs, the halls, the walls and the floors need to be cleaned, so the company creates cleaning jobs. It wants the area surrounding its offices to be presentable, tidy and safe – so it employs one or more groundsmen to maintain the site. But even this isn’t enough – the company wants to protect its assets and employees, so it creates a Security department and hires guards.
Imagine how many careers and livelihoods are supported by such a company, and by extension the lives of families and friends. Consider the other businesses and jobs kept alive by an employee who can afford to purchase that extra pint, that new TV, a mobile phone, or treat his family to a nice meal in a restaurant, or day-out at the zoo, or holiday. If that jobs wasn’t yours, it would be someone else’s – or wouldn’t exist at all. Businessmen don’t create jobs to be nice or because we need them, and to pretend that they do or should is naivety and begging of the highest order.
The important fact to remember is that wealth isn’t a game of Monopoly with finite notes, houses and hotels to be fought over – wealth is created. How? By production, which is essentially the primary activity of business qua business. If a CEO’s wages were cut (by say, having to pay more in tax to the government), that money wouldn’t magically find its way into your bank account. If footballers’ wages were capped, the average salary of a nurse or doctor would not magically increase. The income of high-earners does not come out of your savings account; it is not taken from the pot you’ve set aside for your child’s upbringing and they do not base their salary on what you bring home. In other words, the wealth of the rich is that which you couldn’t have any claim to in the first place. (Actually, the only way to get someone else’s wealth is by force; if you have to use force to get money, you could have had no legitimate right to it anyway.)
In fact, it is the businessmen that create jobs in the first place. Would the average man have invented the telephone, the light bulb, fast-food, the mobile phone, the internet, the cancer-fighting drug, the aeroplane, the sky-scraper, the electron-microscope? No. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to be a genius or work the wondrous every day of your life. But what you can do is take advantage of someone else’s creativity and effort by working for them and getting paid.
Consider a man who invents the ball-point pen. He creates a pen and sells the idea. He is 100% responsible for the innovation and effort and receives no more than what he can sell his creation for. The person who uses a ball-point pen however has committed precisely nothing in any form to the existence of the pen yet reaps all the benefits. As you move further away from the origin of production, the ratio of effort to benefit increases exponentially. For example, the janitor of a hospital has contributed nothing to the invention of X-Ray or MRI machines, nor did he have to attend medical school; he saves no lives and diagnoses nothing. But because the hospital exists, he has a job. The mere act of production by one man opens up opportunities for many other men who can trade as a result without any of the original effort required. And yet some think that the rich still owe them something? What more? What else? Isn’t this enough?
In reality, the rich owe the poor nothing. So should we be grateful that we have jobs? Yes, but not sycophantically. It is true that the hospital founder owes the janitor nothing – nothing more than paying him for a day’s work – and if he thinks about it, the janitor should be grateful he has a job. But at the top and the bottom or the corporate ladder the principle of interaction is the same: trade; a job was offered and accepted. You are paid for your service, and receive no more or less than this. The sooner some people stop asking for the unearned and claiming that the property and genius of others was somehow obtained at their expense, the sooner they’d be open to real and practical ways of increasing their worth to others, and thereby be paid more. Hell, they might even start their own business…