The other day, I was playing on Instagram, my safe space of a social media platform. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is filled with pretty pictures, people I actually know, and mostly nonpolitical topics. But there in my inbox was a link from a friend to a slideshow post I’ve seen numerous versions of on other websites.
The first slide had a simple message: “BILLIONAIRES SHOULDN’T EXIST.” Sigh.
I scrolled through, and it was filled with the usual talking points: Billionaires hoard wealth, the wealth gap is increasing, there are more billionaires now than ever before, billionaires aren’t actually charitable, most billionaires inherited their money, billionaires pay less in taxes, and billionaires game the system.
Throughout history, the rich have always been an easy scapegoat. Is it greed, righteous indignation at a rigged system, or misplaced anger that makes the wealthy a target? I’d argue a little bit of each.
First, we must ask ourselves what people are really mad at here. Some obvious issues spring to mind: wage stagnation, high taxes, an unfair playing field, and an inability to achieve the financial status one deems they deserve. I’d actually agree with most leftists on the economic problems people are facing in America.
Billionaires aren’t to blame for these problems, though, at least not on their own. Let’s address the charges billionaires face.
There is no such thing as “hoarding wealth.” It seems that many people upset with our system don’t understand economics well enough to criticize it in the first place. There is not a finite pie of wealth in our country or in any other. Wealth is created, as evidenced by the fact that we now have more billionaires than ever before.
Contrary to anti-capitalist meme accounts, most billionaires did create their own fortunes. Furthermore, the growing number of billionaires is largely proof of innovation, an elevation in our living standards, and the opportunity afforded in our model. Most people don’t become this wealthy without providing a significant service to humanity.
Walmart, as one example, brought cheap products to rural locations across the nation and provided millions of people with access to services they would otherwise not have, from eye doctors to mental health therapists to mechanics. Microsoft put computers in average people’s homes and opened up the modern era of information. Few could argue their lives have not been made better by these companies and their founders.
It’s true that as a percentage of their wealth, most of these individuals are not all that charitable. Would I like to think I would be more generous with my fortunes were I in their shoes? Of course so. But I am not entitled to the fruits of their labor, and how someone chooses to direct their finances is entirely their business.
It is also a fantasy to think that billionaires can solve problems such as world hunger, homelessness, and global warming by simply throwing money at them. In case you haven’t noticed, our government has been throwing money at these problems for decades, and they have largely not improved. These issues require money, but more importantly, they require planning, creativity, removing governmental regulations and barriers, and community cooperation. No matter how wealthy, one person isn’t going to solve them.
Additionally, those who point to the wealth gap fail to point to any real problem at all. Someone having more money is not the reason you have less. Equality in outcomes is not an achievable reality, and it has led to mass deaths and misery when attempted. However, we should be concerned with equality in opportunities, and it is on this point where the true problem lies.
The economy has not been in a state of true capitalism for over a century. Our government is overrun with cronyism, an inherent attribute of governments the world over, and has inserted itself in the market time and again to benefit its friends. The game is rigged, and you should be mad.
There are excessive barriers to entrepreneurship in this country — far more than in countries such as Sweden that people mistakenly call “socialist.” Such policies are not free-market and make it a lot easier for a person who already has money to build wealth compared to someone who does not.
It gets worse, though. Federal, state, and local governments are all involved in a process known as corporate welfare. They take the tax dollars of everyday people and give them to wealthy business owners, either through direct cash handouts or through special tax exemptions. This means local business owners often fund their corporate competition, businesses with political connections do not fail or succeed based on their own merit, and competition is stymied.
The wealthy also often turn around and use their money to lobby effectively for bad laws that hurt their competitors and everyday people through further government intervention in the market — we call this protectionism. All of this is detestable, and we should demand reform.
There’s nothing fair or capitalistic about any of this. But the root cause of the problem is the government, and we should focus our ire on the actors who make this system possible. There should be lots of billionaires, and we should all have an equal shot at obtaining that status.
Hannah Cox (@HannahCox7) is a libertarian-conservative activist and a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog.