Are the folks trying to keep up with the Joneses in FMFP’s latest piece, greedy? In some sense, yes. They may desire things they do not need which might cause them to lose focus on more important aspects of life. But for the most part, I would classify those who desire a higher standard of living as people behaving naturally. Even more important, this natural desire for personal prosperity has led to greater levels of prosperity for all, as FMFP shows in his statistical analysis of the rising American standard of living. But what about those in our society who are much, much better off than us average folk? Are they more greedy than the rest? Less moral, less virtuous? Have a majority of them cheated or gamed the system to get to where they are?
I think not.
And now I encourage you to watch this two minute clip of economist Milton Friedman discuss ‘What is greed?‘.
Where indeed do you find those angels? I don’t begrudge others who have more money or possessions than me. A large majority of them earned their higher standard of living by hard work, smarts, ingenuity, risk taking, and likely some good fortune. Most of those who have acquired wealth in the millions of dollars in our society have done so by providing a service or good that others thought worth putting money toward. Should Steve Jobs of Apple feel ashamed that he made a fortune by bringing the world innovative new computer products? Should Hollywood producers apologize for making forms of entertainment that the American public wishes to view?
And what do these rich folks do with their wealth? They don’t keep it locked in a safe like Scrooge McDuck; they usually invest it in other companies that could use the capital or they put it in an investment bank that does the same. The world’s largest charity foundations would not exist without huge donations from our nation’s wealthiest individuals. From Rockefeller to Gates, our history is full of donors who through their efforts have made the world a better place. Amity Shlaes ‘Forgotten Man’ tells the story of Bill Wilson, who started Alcoholic Anonymous. Mr. Wilson did not create such an organization, that now has helped millions, out of thin air. He was just a recovered alcoholic who wrote a book about his story and how he got out from under the bottle. It took a $5,000 donation by millionaire John D. Rockefeller to get the program off the ground. Great inventions and progress do not just come from the sky, they come from innovators and risk takers who through well-placed and timed investments turn something small into something big.
I wish I had more money for myself and my family, but I don’t begrudge others who have more than I.