By Kevin Meyer
At the risk of creating another firestorm from the paranoid lemmings who blindly equate asking a question with being in denial, I came across another article that those of us with wider, thinking minds might consider. Thankfully on a different subject.
We hear a lot these days that those with more – or too much in the opinion of some – should "give back." Of course they are thinking purely in financial terms without understanding the larger picture. And I should add that there are many circumstances where my opinion does not align with the premise of the article. More on that later. The relation to lean and manufacturing? The dramatic improvement in productivity. Well, sort of. Maybe I'm simply interested in the subject.
Andy Kessler has a great column diving into how many people, and companies, have already given back – before they've been asked to give back more. Read it, then reconsider the so-called evil of wealth.
Wilson Greatbatch, 92, died this week a wealthy man. Investing $2,000 of his own money way back in 1958 and tending a garden to feed his family, Greatbatch invented the pacemaker. He licensed it to Medtronic, a company now valued at $36 billion that sells and continues to improve pacemakers and defibrillators. Greatbatch did his part to improve society, create wealth and increase, quite literally, our standard of living. But apparently that's not enough.
I'm directly involved in the pacemaker and overall medical device manufacturing industry, so Mr. Greatbatch creates a bit of a personal connection.
Steve Jobs gets taken to task for his lack of visible charitable giving—"no hospital wing or an academic building with his name on it," wrote the New York Times's Andrew Ross Sorkin recently. Never mind how much more productive and wealthy we all are because of Apple. Jeez. The old "I already gave at the office" has never rung truer.
Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin have saved all of us hundreds of billions of hours of research and driving around, far more value than their $20 billion each in wealth. They can give to whatever alternate energy project they want and it won't match the wealth they have already created for me and you.
Of course some would argue that those nouveau rich dudes that created Angry Birds pretty much destroyed that Google-inspired productivity gain. I'm convinced that game is a drug, which is why I went cold turkey and took it off the iPad.
Yes these guys are ridiculously wealthy. Far more than they could ever spend. Sure flyng around on private 767s looks a bit austentatious. But look what they gave us. Shouldn't that be rewarded?
I'm all for charity. I give, but those who collect it and spend it need to appreciate both where the money comes from in the first place and that they can never match the power of free enterprise to improve lives. Never.
Sorry, but the egg comes first. The welfare state doesn't exist without productive businesses and workers to pay for it. Yes, we need bridge builders, park rangers and even a few postal workers, but our economic policies need to encourage wealth-creating productive industries, not crush them with the burden of an unproductive state.
Bingo. I know several very wealthy people. They put everything on the line, sometimes multiple times intersperced with incredible failures, to create their wealth. They gave up decades of even comfortable living to take a wild chance on creating something new. That's why I don't begrudge them their wealth in the slightest. Instead I admire their perseverance and guts.
This is also where I beg to differ a bit from the article. There are those that created incredible products that have enriched our lives… and thereby driven more dollars into the tax coffers to spend on programs that enrich lives in different ways. But perhaps along the lines of the creators of Angry Birds, although that's a bit unfair, there are those that have become enriched without creating. The offspring of wealth-creators who simply rest on their wealth without creating. The CEOs that destroy rather than build… sometimes over and over again… and still get hefty severance packages. Those financial middlemen who siphon off capital in exchange for… I'm not sure what. We could come up with a decent list of those less scrupulous types.
Two groups. One deserves the wealth, the other, quite frankly, doesn't. One adds value, the other simply sucks potential value-creating capital out of society.
So how do we change the discussion from "give back more… and more…" to "let's reward improvement and creation"? Wealth itself is not evil – but it can be.
Just as we chastise those that simply live off of entitlements and handouts, we should find fault with those that don't leverage capital resources for social good. And just as we should applaud and reward success with worthy endeavors instead of asking them to "give back more," we should support and promote those at the other end of the wealth spectrum that are trying to improve themselves and others in their own way.
It's not as simple as just saying "give back more" or "we've given enough."