Monday, 8 April 2013

What do you mean, ‘give back’?

Successful businessmen get virtually no praise for what they do in their day job, only when they give their money away.

This is called “giving back.”  It is, say Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, “One of the World's Most Impoverishing Commands”:

“Give back.” That’s the message sent to successful businessmen. You built a company? You made a lot of money? Fine. Now it’s time for you to use the money you’ve made to do some real good in the world.
    Apparently, creating our modern standard of living and our modern lifespan doesn’t count.
    Think of the history of America. Its transformation into the world’s leading economy took place during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Virtually every step forward, and every giant leap, was the product, not of philanthropic giving, but of profit-seeking.
    It started with energy, namely, James Watt’s steam engine. This invention, created and brought to market as part of a profit-making endeavor, was a game changer. As historian John Steele Gordon notes, “Until the coming of the steam engine, only human beings, draft animals, falling water, and windmills were available to do work.” But with the arrival of “the steam engine, many tasks that had been difficult (and therefore expensive) became easy (and therefore cheap). Many more tasks that had been impossible were within reach.”
    One central use of the new energy was transportation…

One successful and profitable industry led to another, from cheaper and more abundant energy, to cheaper and more abundant transportation, heating, housing, lighting, and food – and new means of communication and production and medical care.

The results are impossible to overstate. Businessmen seeking profits industrialized America. In the process they increased average incomes, raised the average American’s standard of living, decreased the number of hours he had to spend working, extended the average lifespan from 38 in 1850 to 66 a century later, and generally made life far safer and more pleasant.
    But even this understates business’s contribution. Philanthropy has done no small measure of good.. But most philanthropy is made possible by business and its profit-seeking.
    What makes the achievements of business all the more astonishing is that they did not require the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. Contrary to what we’re often taught—and to what’s implied by the notion that businessmen must “give back”—the fortunes of history’s great profit-seekers were not made by “taking” but by trade. American businessmen didn’t become rich at the expense of their customers or employees. Their fortunes were earned by raising their fellow traders’ standard of living…
    To point to the businessmen who continue to improve our lives and demand that they “give back” is a grave injustice. They haven’t taken anything in the first place. On the contrary, they make human life better off on a scale that is unprecedented in history.
    When individuals focus on making their own lives superlative under capitalism, the result is success, prosperity, and progress.
    The mystery is why profit-seekers receive so little admiration for their achievements—and virtually no moral credit.


  1. On a post at my blog, Premise Checking Chris Trotter: Mining, Protest, Indigenous Rights, Externalities, you'll see in the comments thread from this comment down (92 comments on that thread to date) you'll see this issue, and I bring it up here, with linkspam, sorry, because the cynical Left always bring up the issue of charity, as this commenter does, along with his studies of how the rich don't apparently 'give' enough. Yeah, they've done studies on it.

    I made the following points to his studies:

    'Giving' does not include taxes paid by the rich: that changes things substantially.

    Rich 'givers' still give far more in dollar terms (taxation aside!) than those on lower incomes, regardless.

    'Giving' does not include, importantly, per your piece, the amount businesspeople are reinvesting in their businesses out of income to better the lot of all of us through products, services, jobs.

    A bit OT, but I'm tired of this cynical BS from the Left about how a libertarian styled society will not work because there won't be enough charity. (They also never think about how if the free lunch of welfare is taken away and charity gives long term solutions, plus a prosperous market and changed paradigm in peoples' minds, there won't be the need of welfare/charity to the mathematically impossible levels the West has achieved now.)

    (You'll also note in that piece how I'm bringing my mind around uncomfortably to externalities. Searching, including NotPC, I'm having trouble finding information/research on externalities from point of view of the Austrians, free markets, et al?

    And well done on your blog ranking! I'm only about 17 years behind you now :) )

  2. Thanks Mark.

    RE Externalities: basically the idea, at best, is a poor substiute for property rights argued for (usually) by those either too timid to argue outright for property rights, or who know that the promotion of the invalid concept will help destroy the valid one. And at worst is just a tangled mess that would suggest my new flower bed imposes benefits on passersby that they should pay for--or, my new dairy imposes costs on other dairy owners that I should pay for.

    My suggestion: Download George Reisman's book from his site, "" and check the index for "Externalities doctrine, critique of. You could also get hold of Bruce (Bruce?) Simpson's book 'Markets Don't Fail,' which has a chapter on this nonsense.

  3. Sorry, munted that. Try this link: George Reisman's site.

    And I think it's *Brian* Simpson.

  4. Perfect. Thanks Peter. Will follow through on both sources.

  5. That's about the worst explanation of externalities I've ever seen. Reisman is very funny though. Solution of global warming? Why a bigger air conditioner, of course!

  6. What were the other explanations of externalities which too displeased you Judge Holden?

    Please contribute to my ongoing study. I am fascinated by leftist morons who have done the reading and remain fixated to fuckwittery.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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