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If you have amassed a great fortune don't you also have to shoulder greater responsibility? and if you then ask responsibility to whom I would say to society in general and your fellow citizen/man to be specific. After all, success in business doesn't occur in a vacuum and always depends on the community to some extent. People like Michael Bloomberg or George Lucas know that they would not be where they are today without some pretty significant assistance from others.

asked Dec 25 '10 at 06:36

Fareed's gravatar image


edited Dec 26 '10 at 14:39

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Not just responsiblity to whom, but to do what? The question needs a little further explanation of what the intended meaning of "responsibility" is, especially if the intended meaning involves sacrificing oneself to or for others in some way, or doing more for others than merely abiding by contractual agreements or other on-going trading relationships. The issue of how the wealth was obtained can be significant, also, especially if the wealth was obtained improperly in any manner by Objectivist standards of rational productiveness and trade.

I cringe when I hear of someone like Bill Gates engaging in major philanthropy projects with his wife, or Mark Zuckerberg saying that he's going to "give back" 50% or more of his billions by the time he dies. Such wealth could be put to so much better use if those who earn it would be a little more consistently egoistic about it, rationally so. I suppose one could classify that as "responsibility" to see that the wealth one chooses not to use for personal enjoyment is well utilized for further profit-seeking investments. Think of the additional employment that could generate, too, although that would not be the primary goal or moral justification.

(Dec 25 '10 at 21:00) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

I will attempt to explain further. I completely agree that we don't owe nobody nothing, that when we make an honest buck it is ours but I believe that society is much benefited from the generosity of the "haves." Don't get me wrong, this generosity is best given within the context of shrewd investment rather than "governmental liberality" but I feel a not-inconsequential push to bless others with the blessings that have been poured out on me.

(Dec 26 '10 at 01:26) Fareed Fareed's gravatar image

So you don't believe you have earned your blessings? You don't believe that the community also benefited in this system? I guess that is why you feel the need to bless others. Or perhaps you are confusing blessing others, or "giving back", with simply being grateful and respecting the work of others that helped lead to your success.

(May 13 '11 at 12:17) Marnee Dearman ♦ Marnee%20Dearman's gravatar image

The way I hear this expressed is that no rich person could have been rich without roads, sewers, electricity and that an amorphous "society" provided him with these basic tools. Without them, he would have to create every road, dig every sewer. Thus he implicitly "owes" society for the "blessings" they "gave" him. This is like the Christian premise of original sin. No one can escape the premise and thus is tainted. The question is: was the rich person ever given the chance to trade with sewer makers or road builders or did "society" give him a gift and then hold him hostage to it?

(May 13 '11 at 12:24) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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I want to answer the "no man is an island" premise within this question. That wealth is due to "assistance" and "...depends on the community to some extent..." express the premise I am addressing.

The philosophical error behind this premise is the opposite of the delightful adage, "Everyone profits from profit." The premise of the question, which might best be called a Marxist premise, is that the amassing of wealth occurs at somebody's expense.

Wealth, even on the huge scale we see today, is created. It isn't taken, accumulated, skimmed, or scammed from people. It comes into one man's hands because he put that much value into the hands of other people. The value he put in their hands enriches them just as the twenties they give him in return enriches him. After each transaction, he was richer by the money he received, though poorer by the product he traded, and they were poorer by the money they traded, but richer by the product they received. He profited because he priced his product somewhat above what it cost to make. They profited because they valued the product somewhat above what they paid for it.

His product, due to his inventiveness and intelligent design and management, and due to his effort and the risk he was willing to take, equalled all the money he made on it. It equals, one may argue, more than all the money he made on it, because people freely preferred it to the cash.

It is true that such large-scale transactions could not occur without a civilization in which men could produce and trade. Does that mean the "community" in which he lived and traded helped him become rich? No. That community, and the extremely valuable law and order of the political system "contributed" to the productiveness of each and every person alive. It contributed to all of them, equally. Additionally, it should be recognized that he contributed to the community, and was as much a part of it and deserving of credit for it as anyone else. He is not outside it and beholden to it.

If the assistance of others which our wealthy man received was a matter of luck or favors or charity, nobody except the individuals who gave those favors and/or charity deserves any "response" from him, and that would be between the men and women personally involved.

The question was about the so-called responsibility to "give back." But everything was given back in each transaction that took place. The same question is posed as being a "debt to society" and the question becomes this: doesn't great wealth involve a correspondingly debt to society? Isn't the measure of one's wealth the measure of one's debt? But debt is the last thing wealth implies. And, because debt is the last thing that wealth implies, the answer to this question is a resounding, pure, and absolute: No.

answered Dec 26 '10 at 18:33

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Dec 26 '10 at 20:23

The word in your question that is not acceptable in this context is "responsible". When one earns value, one is accountable for investing that value into something that is perceived as being of greater value. For example, an entrepreneur might invest in expanding the factory that created products leading to the wealth. That is certainly a moral and valuable use of wealth. The same entrepreneur might decide that the wealth would be best used by purchasing a billion dollar yacht. Many might question the wisdom of that investment, however, the entrepreneur is fully entitled to invest wealth where desired.

Some wealthy entrepreneurs have invested some of their wealth in charitable enterprises. Their reasons for that investment are their own, not ours. If they see increased value from those investments, then the investment is moral and reasonable. If, on the other hand, they make the investment for purely altruistic reasons (i.e., sacrificing their own value for others' value), than the investment is immoral. Mr. Gates has made huge investments of his wealth in recent years. One result of this investment is major decrease in the prevalence of malaria. If Mr Gates finds value from helping to eradicate this scourge, then he is gaining much from his investment. Ideas, you mention how many might have been employed had he expanded investments in factories or other enterprises. I suspect that at least as many if not more jobs will come out of the investments in education and disease control coming out of the Gates investments.

Bottom line, if you make charitable investments, do so out of a desire for value not for altruistic or "feel good" reasons.

answered Dec 26 '10 at 10:05

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦

edited Dec 26 '10 at 10:06

I answered this question in a recent episode of my Rationally Selfish Webcast. An audio recording of my response is available as a podcast here: NoodleCast #78: Live Rationally Selfish Webcast. The discussion of this question runs from 1:00:09 to 1:03:29.

My Answer, In Brief: The person who has amassed much wealth has done so by offering people much-valued products and services in voluntary trades. He does not become the keeper of humanity thereby. For my full answer, listen to the podcast!

To catch all the Rationally Selfish Podcasts, subscribe to the podcast feeds in iTunes in enhanced M4A format (RSS) or standard MP3 format (RSS). Or better yet, join Greg Perkins and me for the live Rationally Selfish Webcast on Sundays at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET.

answered May 20 '11 at 18:59

Diana%20Hsieh's gravatar image

Diana Hsieh ♦

edited May 23 '11 at 15:41

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Asked: Dec 25 '10 at 06:36

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Last updated: May 23 '11 at 15:41