Monday, 6 September 2021

“Giving back” really is a terrible phrase

The phrase “give back” is as common as it wrong. It implies that something was taken in the first place. It paints the successful entrepreneur as a taker who through their success has deprived us of something that must be returned. Even worse, as philosopher Stephen Hicks explains, "the phrase also denies the benevolence of the giver. If you are only giving back what is rightfully someone else’s, then you do not deserve any special praise for your action. Your benevolence need not be acknowledged or honoured."
Jacob Hibbard picks apart the nonsense in this guest post.

Why People Should Stop Saying CEOs Have a Duty to 'Give Back' to Society

by Jacob Hibberd

It is not uncommon for successful businessmen, entrepreneurs, and celebrities to talk about what they are doing to “give back” to society or how they feel a need to “give back.”

Kelli Richards for example, CEO of The All-Access Group, maintained in a 2017 Inc. article  that “companies and individuals who [have] done well financially [are] honour-bound to look around and philanthropically offer a helping hand to those who weren't as fortunate—to honour the greater good.”

While it is can sometimes be praiseworthy for entrepreneurs and successful individuals to engage in non-sacrificial philanthropy, the idea that successful innovators need to “give back” in order to honour the "greater good" is faulty and ultimately immoral.

First, the phrase “give back” implies that something was taken in the first place. It paints the successful entrepreneur as a taker who, through their success, has deprived the rest of us of something that must be returned. This could not be further from the truth.

Jeff Bezos isn’t roaming the country with his brute squad demanding your business or your life. No taking has occurred that would require “giving back” as compensation. Instead, innovators and entrepreneurs— including the derided billionaire class—are creating immense value for us, not only by providing goods and services, but also by creating jobs that allow us to earn a living. 

In a capitalist society with the rule of law where individual rights are secured, wealth or success is not taken, it is produced, earned, and voluntarily given through mutually beneficial trade. Innovators create products and provide services that we, the consumers, value more than the dollars in our pockets and enter into voluntary transactions to acquire. The idea that the resulting wealth, peacefully acquired, comes with it a demand to "give back" is as wrong as it is insulting to producers.

The concepts of the duty to “give back” and serving the “greater good” also lead to greater resentment in society and ultimately lead to immoral policies. When we embrace the idea that the successful have a duty to “give back” to us and serve an amorphous “greater good,” we begin to resent the innovators when they do not “give back” in the ways that we want them to. It’s too little, people say; or, it’s to the wrong people; or, it’s serving the wrong sort of greater good -- and of course the complaint that it’s not being given to me.

This resentment festers until we turn to our common agent, the government, and demand that it uses force to take the wealth of the successful and “give it back” in the way that "we" judge best, serving our vision of the “greater good,” violating the rights of the successful and perverting the government from its proper role.

Societies built on resentment and the plundering of the successful in the name of the “greater good” implode. If you want to see it in real time, look at what’s happening to California now. Innovators are fleeing due to burdensome regulations and taxes.

So instead of demanding that entrepreneurs and innovators “give back,” and resenting them when they don’t use their wealth the way we like, let’s strive to have some gratitude.

Let’s recognise the immense value that Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk (in his non-grifting mode) have created for us and society. They give us a greater quality of life when they create the next Amazon, the next smartphone, or open the next factory that creates thousands of jobs. They don’t need to be forced to help society. They are already helping.
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Jacob Hibbard is the Grassroots Director for Americans for Prosperity Utah and a first year law student at Brigham Young University. His op-ed first appeared at the Foundation for Economic Education. It has been lightly edited.
[Hat tip to Stephen Hicks for the link and post title.]

1 comment:

  1. It can be a loaded phrase, particularly when used by those demanding free stuff from others. But Kelli Richards aside perhaps, I'm not convinced most businessmen or entrepreneurs who use it intend that meaning, or feel guilty for their success. I think they're just operating from a mindset of abundance due to their success, they recognise that others have contributed to it, and are happy to share some of that success - beyond what they're contractually obliged to provide.


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