Thursday, August 9, 2012

On Greed

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

"When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor – your claim upon the energy of the men who produce.

I’ve had this "money speech" from Atlas Shrugged on the bulletin board over my desk for about a year now.  It's great, and I hope you'll hit the link and read all of it. 

There are three ways to get money:

1) Steal it.
2) Win it/Inherit it/Find it.
3) Swap something of value for it.

On the other hand, there are three things you can do with money:

1) Have it stolen from you/Lose it to taxes.
2) Give it away.
3) Swap something of value for it.

When we say that someone is greedy, we usually mean that he hangs on to more of his money or more of his “stuff” than we think a normal person would. He doesn’t give away much of it or swap much of it for other stuff.

But if the greedy man came by his money honestly, through methods #2 or #3, that means he either swapped something of value for the money, or someone else did (probably a parent) who wanted him to have the proceeds.

Webster defines “Greed” as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed”. Whether the following people have that selfish and excessive desire isn’t really known, but they do have far more than is needed. They lead off the Fortune 400 list of richest Americans. Here are the Top Ten:

10. Alice Walton | Worth: $20.9 billion (Wal-Mart)
9. Jim Walton | Worth: $21.1 billion (Wal-Mart)
8. Sheldon Adelson | Worth: $21.5 billion (Casinos)
7. George Soros | Worth: 22 billion (Hedge Funds)
6. Christy Walton | $24.5 billion (Wal-Mart)
4. David Koch | Worth: $25 billion (diversified)
4. Charles Koch | Worth: $25 billion (diversified)
3. Larry Ellison | Worth: $33 billion (Oracle)
2. Warren Buffet | Worth: $39 billion (Berkshire Hathaway)
1. Bill Gates | Worth: $59 billion (Microsoft)

I’m writing this on a computer that uses Microsoft programs, I just finished shipping four truckloads of display equipment to Wal-Mart, the facility I’m working in has leased 30,000 square feet of space to TTI (owned by Warren Buffett), and I read websites partially sponsored by the Koch brothers every week. (The Agitator, Cato, etc.) I have no idea what Larry Ellison does, but I’m sure that this laptop is a better machine as a result. George Soros is the only outlier, in that I can’t quite determine how he’s made my life better, other than donating vast sums of money for drug policy reform in the U.S.

Some of these people give away vast sums of their money. Others don’t.  But they didn't have to give away their money to enrich my life. 

By Webster’s definition, though, all of them still have enough money to be considered “greedy”. They’ve wound up with far, far more than anyone needs.

How did they do this happen? Did they steal it? No. Did they find it? No. Did the government give it to them after taking it from someone else? No.

They, or someone in their family, provided goods and services that were worth more than money. You and I voluntarily gave the Waltons, Bill Gates, and the Koch brothers some vast sums of money in exchange for stuff they provided – garden hoses, underwear, or groceries (in the case of the Waltons) software (in the case of Gates) or oil (in the case of Charles and David Koch).

They Ellisons, Gateses, Waltons and Kochs don’t need or want all of the stuff that their money will now buy. And they don’t want to sell their companies.

Bill Gates wrote computer programs that I’ve purchased. Millions of other people have swapped their money for his computer software.  But dammit, I can’t think of a single thing I could create that Bill Gates would want to buy from me.

I want what he’s got, and I want it badly. Bill Gates doesn’t want anything that I have.

Which one of us is greedy?  And which one of us does the world need more of? 


sth_txs said...

What is really annoying is that a couple of those the list are little more than crony capitalist and/or promote left wing BS.

If Warren really cared about the taxes us peons are paying, he would be discussing cutting government spending and abolishing or cutting said taxes. Or, just a write a check and shut up about it.

NickM said...

Oracle - they haven't improved your laptop per se. An analogy might be with your csr. A civil engineer doesn't make your car better but by building roads and bridges...

As to Gates at least most of his wealth is in MS shares, not cash.

Dr Ralph said...

Not to denigrate what Bill Gates accomplished, but for the record, in all likelihood you have *never* used software that Bill Gates wrote.

I don't know when you first put fingers to keyboard, but while Bill Gates may have been coding in 1976 when "Micro-Soft" (as it was originally named) was founded by him and Paul Allen, by 1980 he was running a business, not writing software. Incidentally, his biggest early deal came about when he made a deal with IBM to supply the operating system to their new line of "personal computers," in 1981. He purchased an operating system called 86-DOS (also known as QDOS - quick and dirty operating system) from Seattle Computer Products for $50,000 and rechristened it "PC-DOS." It later became known as MS-DOS. Its chief attraction to IBM was that it was a blatant rip-off of another better-known OS called CP/M, which IBM had tried to license but was unable to come to terms with the creator.

So while Bill Gates might be a brilliant businessman (with his share of successes and failures) don't make the mistake of thinking his success is because he's a brilliant programmer.

Larry Ellison, on the other hand, is the Prince of F**king Darkness. I work for a technology company, and we use the words "Oracle" and "gangsters" in sentences as often as you use the works "union" and "thugs." Oracle regularly buys companies that compete with it just so they can shutter them.

The rest of your post - let someone else comment on.