Unpopular Liberal Opinion: The Rich Need to Exist
In a time where wealth inequality is one of the largest issues discussed in the national conversation, the top 1% are being vilified, and those with wealth are looked at with disgust by those without it, something needs to be said: We need the rich. That’s right, you read that correctly.
I consider myself a progressive liberal but one thing I may not have in common with a lot of other people who identify the same way is knowing that the rich have a place in our society. If you question the validity of this statement think about it this way: Our society is a capitalistic society. Capitalistic societies are based on the hope and promise that if you work hard enough and add value to your society you will personally benefit from that, and rightly so. Furthermore, if you do something so extraordinary that everyone values what you’ve done you benefit so greatly that you become one of the wealthiest people around. At this point some people may be saying “Well yeah, but capitalism is the problem!” Again, I beg to disagree. Capitalism was the single greatest economic structure ever thought up due to it taking into account that we are not just a society but a society of individuals. Capitalism emphasizes individual freedom and personal effort like no other structure had before. If you still disagree, look at the other option, namely, communism. Communism is based on the idea that everyone benefits equally from the efforts of the society as a whole, which, as most of us know, sounds great in theory but when you start to act it out or really even think about it you realize it’s a terrible idea! Firstly, if the idea were acted out perfectly a sense of contempt would begin to brew by those doing more work. This leads to two paths: The first is the one’s doing more work would start to demand more compensation. The other option is a dying of motivation because if doing more work doesn’t get you anything then why should you do it? And if the idea weren’t acted out perfectly? The government immediately assumes a greater power and you have a classist society just like you were trying to avoid by creating this system.
So why is it that capitalism is so vilified by so many people right now? There’s actually quite a simple answer that people like Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang have caught on to: we forgot to put safeguards in place. Democratic Socialism is an idea that has been getting a lot of attention since Bernie Sanders brought it to the forefront of the national discussion in 2016. Essentially Democratic Socialism is capitalism but with everyone’s necessities provided so no matter how wealthy certain people get no one lives a less than honorable life or even dies of starvation, thirst, or lack of healthcare. Andrew Yang is proposing a Universal Basic Income, or, as he puts it, capitalism where the starting point isn’t 0. Both of these ideas get at the core, and possibly the only issue, of how we currently run capitalism which is that when people become extremely successful it leaves less for others and starts to cut into even necessary resources. Is this the fault of the rich? Of course not! This was a failing of the way the system is currently set up.
One part of the argument against the wealthy does hold some validity though, this is something Bernie Sanders has famously said: Billionaires should not exist. While this may seem like the same claim as “The wealthy should not exist.”, when you start to think about how much money even $1 billion is, let alone $150 billion (*cough* Jeff Bezos *cough*), you start to realize that no one could ever spend that much money in their life, ever. Their children couldn’t even spend all of that money. If Jeff started his life with $150 billion he would have to spend over $5 million a day throughout an 80 year lifetime to get through it all. This is absolutely absurd. The solution to this problem is a different discussion, however, with ideas ranging from extremely high taxes to a greater moral pressure instilled in our society.
With these problems solved: We now have a society with some people who have worked hard, added some value to society, and are now living a nicer life because of their efforts. In addition, no one is hoarding or able to hoard so much wealth that people go without their necessities and/or don’t have opportunities to become successful. In other words, we’ve tackled the greatest social problems facing our society today. With these concerns out of the way, let’s look at why we should have the rich and what that does for a society. In a society like this, we have a true meritocracy, the idea that you live a better life based on your merit, or efforts. The value of this is the hope for a better life and a clear path to get there not clouded by the chance of which family or community you were born into or the more pressing need of needing to find food for tonight. The rich in a society like this are exactly as they should be, people who have added and continue to add value to society and they should be rewarded for that. In fact, we are the ones rewarding them by deeming their product or service valuable by paying for it! This just makes straight forward sense. So there are two main values here: One is the promise that hard-work will pay off. The second, perhaps less direct and obvious value, is that there are people who have proved themselves as good players, that can now achieve even greater feats, something that would be impossible without certain people having more access to resources and other means of influence. Afterall, shouldn’t those best equipped to make these strides be the ones doing this?
If we had a society where no one was wealthy we would be hard pressed to make progress and continue to make life better for everyone. The idea of a meritocracy isn’t just based on work but on adding value to a society. The role of the rich is exactly this, to add value to everyone’s life. The brilliance of a system like this is that there is constant motivation for everyone to create something of value because it has personal benefit. In other words, there is a motivation for everyone to do good and whether it be for good itself or for personal gain, good is coming from it. This reminds me of a concept in ancient chinese philosophy: De. Essentially “De” means that you are endowed with a certain quality that enables you to have power because you are good. What this ancient society eventually realized though is that nature doesn’t choose these people and something that we’ve figured out is that we need to make a way for people to prove that they deserve the power. Whether a supernatural quality or a proven value though, the idea is the same: Those who add value to society should have more ability to continue to do so and also life a good life.