June 20, 1991
Programmes which start out with the fulminations against the Idle Rich will always fail. For nearly everyone wishes to be idle and rich. And more idleness and riches for everyone are precisely what the world needs.
The communist ethic "from each according to his ability; to each according to his need" has a nice ring to it. It's an interesting theory and in small communes, it has worked until the commune or its members died or the commune simply dissolved. It has worked only when the commune consisted of a group of people with a religious dedication to the principle.
In practice, attempts at applying that principle to a government or a group of heterogeneous people resulted in the acquisition of power and privilege by a few, as happened in the communist countries. These people were often skilled solely in the acquisition of power and little else --like most politicians. It takes much more than that to produce wealth which is a basis for the general welfare of a group of people.
In the past there has been a limit to how much wealth existed and it was rarely enough to go around. As a consequence we had extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Its usual manifestation was a ruling class and their slaves. Slavery was never restricted to people of color. The serfs of Europe in past centuries were slaves in every sense of the word, and the factory workers of the last century and the early part of this one were little else. Freedom is a meaningless word if you are only free to work for whatever someone is willing to pay you and under horrible condition --or starve.
In the capitalist world, things have progressed in a way that could never have been foreseen by either the economic or religious prophets of the past.
On analysis, the simple-minded portrayal of the poor as oppressed victims and the rich as oppressors just does not stand up under scrutiny. As any one could have predicted, there were people who acquired great wealth and did little with it other than to show others how wealthy they were. Some of the potentates of the Middle East are of that ilk. It is a matter of time before that wealth and the power that accompanies it will end up in other hands. The young person who uses his talent to acquire lots of money is likely to lose it if he doesn't know what to do with it.
Another group of the wealthy are people who realized early in the game, or were taught, that money alone does not bring happiness and that a good life involves some accomplishment. They grew their children up with a work ethic and a feeling of responsibility similar to that which characterized the more benevolent monarchs and leaders of the past.
Some people made important technological innovations that actually created wealth. Wealth used to be measured in land, which could only be acquired by occupying areas that were previously uninhabited by people, or taking it from others. The person who takes steel out of the ground and makes a tractor is actually creating wealth as does someone who makes a more efficient machine, a computer or a television set.
Who could have foreseen that the labor, formerly performed by slaves, would be done by mechanical devices which have no human feelings, do not suffer or, at least for now, do not reproduce.
My personal ethic is to respect those who contribute to society. The drone who inseminates a female and dies doesn't inspire any respect. When the offspring of the self-made man carries on the work, I respect him. If he leaves the work to others and wastes his life trying to spend an amount so great that it can't be spent, he is as worthless in my eyes as the skid-row bum. The only difference is that one looks like a bum and the other looks more like a penguin.
The radical stereotype that wealth goes with idleness is just plain not true. There are the hard-working productive rich and rich bums. There are hard-working poor and poor bums.
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