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Friday, January 23. 2015
On Having a Billion Dollars
I may have misinterpreted what Mr. Ma said, but his comment was something to the tune of "If you have a billion dollars, it's not just yours. It became yours because the people who gave it to you felt you would do better things with it than anyone else, like the government. This places a responsibility on the person with a billion dollars, and is why I will seek to do good with this money."
As I said, I may have not heard it precisely or interpreted it correctly. If I did, it is a view I agree with(although people didn't give him anything, they exchanged money for a product or service he provided which made everyone better off).
All told, I'd prefer to not have a billion dollars in wealth. Too much responsibility, too many headaches. People who amass fortunes like this, however, have made the world better and this is why I don't oppose or envy their wealth. As Ma intimated, they can do better with the money. This is one reason I enjoy watching shows like Shark Tank. Not only do I learn insights on how to manage a business, but I see wealth at work producing things people want or need.
People who believe the wealthy sit around pools drinking margaritas all day (I've had people say this to me) have no idea where wealth comes from or how it is made. Those people may exist, I'm certain they do. Their wealth, however, does not last as long as you'd think. Their money must be working at improving lives through exchange or production, somehow, for them to spend the rest of their lives poolside. Real wealth creators, however, are always doing good with their money, even if it's just managing their companies (which provide jobs, goods and services) or coming up with new ideas that people want or need.
I am reminded of two groups of people. One which earned money, and knew how to create it but not how to use it. Another which was given the money, and the headaches it caused.
By and large, I believe if you're smart enough to earn the money through productive or creative capacity, as Jack Ma did, you're likely to know what to do with it. If you lucked into it, you're unlikely to have a good idea of what to do without some professional help.
Then there is a third group I forgot to mention. Politicians. I believe they are more like lottery winners, though they believe they are producers. I see them as popularity contest winners who are handed a blank check and haven't a clue what to do.
Posted by Bulldog in Our Essays, The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 10:25 | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)
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Mr. Ma created consumer surplus. We should be thanking him for it. That he wants to leverage his wealth to benefit others is fine, but he's done quite a lot already.
I liked J.R. Simplot's philosophy.
He said that if you had $100,000, the American thing to do was to try and turn it into $200,000.
His point being that everyone benefits when you create and expand business.
I don't agree with Ma but I suspect our ends and sympathies intersect more than not. I don't so much believe that because one is successful, that his responsibility stems from the idea that people "gave" him money (rather than the government?). Rather than characterizing it as "giving" money to him, I would describe it like this (and I'm not sure he'd disagree so my disagreement with him may be semantic rather than actual):
Many people have benefited from his becoming a billionaire. People purchased goods and/or services from him at what they consider to be a better price than they could get elsewhere - enriching them. To run his business, he purchased goods and services from other companies whose value he considered to be better than others - helping to enrich them. He employed people in his company - which enriched them. By enriching all those people, he was enriched.
Separately, coming from a Christian point of view, I believe it is incumbent upon us to help those less fortunate and in doing so we actually help ourselves.
As Bulldog says, there are few rich people who sit around the pool drinking margaritas. If they don't at least put their money to work efficiently (which benefits others) they will not stay rich long.
As for politicians, Bulldog. I think you are being too kind. We agree that the probably believe they are producers, but the are also power hungry. At the very least, they crave the ability to direct other people's resources. They will call it a duty.
Reminds me of Andrew Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth
[url] http://carnegie.org/publications/search-publications/pub/272/ [/url]
Carnegie was remarkable - he started the benevolent foundation concept, and shamed Rockefeller and into doing the same.
Politicians are slime who are the exact opposite the carnegie-Ma fiduciary-for-society vision. They intentionally misuse public trust and power to enrich themselves and their friends through bribes, "campaign contributions", pass laws and regulations for buddies and give taxpayer money to relatives, buddies and cronies, at the expense of those who do not bribe them.
Sorry Bulldog, but I disagree with you in regards to the inferences and implications of Ma's statement "it's not just yours." I do agree with you that people voluntarily exchange their money for the (future) billionaire's goods or services because each is trading for something they value more than what they have. However, there is such thing as a slippery slope and the inference that I get from Ma's statement is that it is not just the choice of the billionaire to do "better" things with "his" money; it is his obligation.
In other words, it's not really his money as is "we all have the widgets you sold us, but the money we gave you in exchange is still ours and you must do with it things we deem to be appropriate (better)."
I'd like to have a billion as well.
With money comes power. That kind of money could make one a political player.
It's as if he thought people who bought things from him were entrusting him with their money in the expectation that he would use it in a way to please them.
It reminds me of something I once heard a client say about a lawyer who had been complaining to him how hard the legal work was. The client said, "You can either take my money, or you can complain to me. You can't do both."
When you buy something, the guy gives you something you thought was worth the money you gave him. After that, you have no more claims on him. What he does with the money is up to him. You want to control how the money is spent? You already did, and now your control is over. If you want to take control back, give the guy something he wants as much as the money. Then you can go spend the money on the homeless or whatever floats your boat.
Here is one way to massage it a bit and make the point more reasonable:
1. Making billions of dollars requires large, well functioning markets.
2. As such, the billionaire depends upon the existence and continued health of the larger market
3. Part of the responsibility to maintain this large cooperative network of reciprocity is to pay taxes which are proportionate to our fortunes.
This is an entirely appropriate justification of taxes and progressive taxes and is a reasonable impartial position to take behind a Rawlsian veil.
I am not saying this is his argument. It is the argument I would make though along with exit rights and opt out provisions to avoid the exploitation of the wealthy by the masses.
Bob Dylan recently quoted in an AARP magazine of all things(just posted over at Althouse):
"How can a person be happy if he has misfortune? Some wealthy billionaire who can buy 30 cars and maybe buy a sports team, is that guy happy? What then would make him happier? Does it make him happy giving his money away to foreign countries? Is there more contentment in that than in giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs? The government’s not going to create jobs. It doesn’t have to. People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it We don’t see that happening. We see crime and inner cities exploding with people who have nothing to do, turning to drink and drugs. They could all have work created for them by all these hotshot billionaires. For sure that would create lot of happiness. Now, I’m not saying they have to — I’m not talking about communism — but what do they do with their money? Do they use it in virtuous ways?... [T]here are a lot of things that are wrong in America, and especially in the inner cities, that they could solve. Those are dangerous grounds, and they don’t have to be. There are good people there, but they’ve been oppressed by lack of work. Those people can all be working at something. These multibillionaires can create industries right here in America. But no one can tell them what to do. God’s got to lead them."
I don't understand what people think the billionnaire is doing with his money, and why it's not at least as likely to "create jobs" as anything they'd like him to do with it. He's not hiding it in a mattress. Presumably he has it invested, or he spends it on goods and services. That's where jobs come from.
Did Mr Ma say that with an eye towards the Chinese government? They believe it yours until they want it or decide you don't need it anymore.
Currently listening to a history of China from BC to now. There doesn't seem to an idea of private property. Everything is the emperor's or the state or the people but not an individual. I'm only up 1000 AD and there doesn't seem to be much difference between then and now.