Recently, someone in my Facebook network shared this meme:
I neglected to comment on it, because I know the guy is clueless, and I no longer have the time, energy, or even desire to debate these things with all the clueless masses on Facebook. But I did take a moment analyze it.
At first glance, the meme of course uses an incorrect—though increasingly accepted—definition of inequality—which is used to imply equality, i.e., “fairness.” The problem is, fair does not mean equal, it means just. Therefore, equality does not mean everyone has an equal amount, it means everyone is treated equally.
So there’s one overt flaw in the meme.
Moving on, I then focused on the next flaw in the meme—i.e., the word “have.” What this conveys it the idea that simply “having” wealth—or at least more wealth than someone else—is problematic. Or immoral. Or criminal. Or something.
Obviously, this is flawed, or even farcical thinking; the only way to prevent anyone having more wealth than anyone else is for everyone to have no wealth at all. To make such an absurd notion a reality, we’d have to resort back to living in caves and gathering berries and nuts for survival.
What they’ve done here is intentionally substitute the word “have” for the proper term, which if used would only serve to discredit the meme. As it stands, it’s just a meaningless meme, intended only to invoke a knee-jerk, emotional reaction, and push the creator’s agenda.
The proper term would need to convey how the wealth was accrued—not simply that it has been accrued; for the method by which it is accrued is what makes the accrual either moral or immoral, legitimate or criminal, or even evil.
So anyway, the meme was so blatantly ignorant, or intentionally deceptive, I ignored it.
But then, a few days later, I saw another similar meme being passed around, in which once again the wealthy were demonized simply for “having” more wealth than others, with no consideration whatsoever conveyed as to how they accrued their wealth.
And that’s when I noticed a discrepancy in these people’s thinking: they seem to be demonizing wealthy business owners, artists, inventors, etc. simply for becoming wealthy, with no consideration whatsoever as to how they became wealthy—by serving and benefiting humanity—and yet they don’t seem to mind the politicians and their cronies who become wealthy also, but in a very different way, a way which is actually harmful to humanity—including the very people who are demonizing legitimately wealthy people!
Upon noticing this discrepancy, I was then compelled to address the issue. Thus this article.
Entrepreneurs, business owners, inventors, artists, etc. accrue wealth by serving humanity. In a free market, people trade their money with them in exchange for their products or services, for the simple reason that they value the product or service more than they value the money they are exchanging for it. That means by making the exchange, making the purchase, they are actually increasing their own perceived wealth or value.
So when an entrepreneur, business owner, inventor, artist, etc. accrues great levels wealth, that’s a good indication that they’re serving, or improving the lives of, great numbers of people.
When someone produces a tablet computer, and billions of people want one because it will vastly increase their own productivity—much more so than the equivalent amount of cash on hand will—then the tablet producer will likely sell billions of them, and therefore accrue billions of dollars in wealth. And billions of people’s lives have been improved or at least positively impacted in the process.
Or, take it a step further: if someone invents a vaccine that prevents cancer, and everyone in the world wants it, then that person would likely sell billions of doses, and accrue billions in wealth—in exchange for vastly benefiting all of humanity.
On the other hand, when politicians and their cronies, or criminals, or scam artists and the like, accrue great levels of wealth, they’re doing so at the expense of great numbers of people. They are seizing, stealing, scamming, defrauding people of their wealth, in exchange for nothing, or empty or broken promises. Rather than serving people and benefiting humanity, they are actually harming people and are a detriment to humanity.
When people get paid for their work, and a big chunk of their paycheck is seized before they even see it; when people make a purchase, and a percentage of that purchase is added to the transaction, to be sent to an irrelevant third party; when any wealth is transferred, at gunpoint, from those who rightfully own it to those who don’t; when unbacked currency is printed, thus devaluing the currency in circulation, thereby secretly decreasing everyone’s wealth; when people are scammed or defrauded, and don’t receive what they are promised in exchange for their wealth—these are all immoral, illegitimate, criminal ways in which people accrue wealth. And millions, or even billions of people’s lives have been harmed or at least negatively impacted in the process.
So whenever politicians and their cronies, or criminals, or scam artists and the like, accrue great levels wealth, that means they’re doing so at the expense of great numbers of people, through theft, violence or threat of violence, deception, breach of contract, etc.
And there you have the difference; it’s not the accrual of wealth that is immoral, illegitimate, criminal, or evil; rather, it’s how that wealth was accrued that determines whether it is immoral, illegitimate, criminal, or evil.
In other words, all wealth is not created equal.
So next time you see a meme decrying the wealth of some people over that of others, don’t simply demonize those with the wealth; ask the only appropriate, relevant question: how did they become wealthy? By serving people through voluntary exchange, or by harming people through theft, violence, or fraud?
Then cast your judgement appropriately.
This graphic does an excellent job of illustrating this point: