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Time, I fear, for another rant.
I’ll start with the assertion that work is not a right, it is a duty. Consider this: nothing of use exists without work. The most precious metal has no value until someone digs it out of the ground, someone else refines it, yet another shapes it into something desirable.
Consider, too, the most primitive form of human existence, the hunter-gatherers. Are hunting and gathering not forms of work? Maslow’s hierarchy of need places food and shelter at the bottom of the pyramid. They are the things without which we cannot survive. If you have a roof over your head and food in your belly, you have a duty to work, in order to recompense those whose work provided those things.
Why, then, are there people unable to find work? Is so much of the stuff we have in our pockets and our homes manufactured, if not entirely by machines, at least assisted by machines, to the extent that some can be relieved of the duty to work? The answer, of course, is ‘yes’. How, then, ought we to decide which of us should be so blessed?
Few would dispute that those who are still learning the things they need to know in order to be able to develop their full potential can have that duty deferred. It is no longer necessary, or even desirable, that our young should go to work, as they once did, as soon as they are out of diapers. At the other end of life, too, we can afford to permit those who have spent half a century, or more, working to take it easy for the few years remaining to them.
There are, too, some who, by misfortune, have been deprived of the physical or mental capacity to earn a just share of all that, collectively, the rest of us produce. And, finally, there are those whose education and training have fit them for a role that society already has well covered. They made a wrong choice when deciding what career path to follow. How are they to be enabled to fulfill their duty? Should we permit them to remain idle, or do we insist they continue in training, acquiring the skills for a role that does need to be filled?
Politics and Economics
Politics, and its ugly sister economics, are the tools we use to help us resolve these issues. We make laws, we collect taxes, we save, we invest in insurance policies and pension funds, in order to cover these contingencies as best we can.
I’ll leave my lecture about work there for a moment and move on to wealth – and the connection between the too. When I consider the Panama papers and the great disparity between the wealthiest few and the rest of us, it is not the monetary values that concern me. Nor is it the fact that those off-shore accounts are used to evade taxes. What concerns me is that all that wealth represents someone else’s work. And not just work already undertaken, but work yet to be done. The nominal owners of that wealth might have evaded paying tax, but I have no doubt that they have no intention of allowing those astronomical amounts of dollars or gold, or whatever temporary form such wealth takes, to lie idle. They intend to spend it or invest it – probably both – and that creates work.
Whether in the construction and operation of luxury yachts, million dollar limousines or new enterprises, these billionaires create opportunities for the rest of us to carry out our duty to work for what we have.
I find it strange that those who revile successful business operators are not equally repulsed by the millions ‘earned’ by sportsmen, rock stars and actors. What all of them have in common is that what they do satisfies a need or desire shared by millions of us. When each of us pays a relatively small sum to attend a football match or rock concert, or to buy the latest smart phone or tablet, those small sums add up to the millions that the sportsmen, artistes and entrepreneurs have at their disposal.
Private vs Public
It is a mantra of the political right that people are better at spending their own money than is the government. The question we need to ask, in relation to the Panama papers, is whether the tax that has been evaded would have created greater good if spent by the governments of the various states in which it was earned, than will be created when spent, or invested, by its ‘owners’. It is a question which brings me back to one I posed in an earlier rant about private and public provision of services.
It brings me, too, to another of my contributions to the atoz challenge, about the founder of the school I attended 60 years ago. In the first half of the nineteenth century his concern for the poor and indigent did not drive him to campaign for state intervention. Instead, he successfully implored the wealthy to provide the funding for orphanages, schools and hospitals. Philanthropy was then, and still is, the way those whose enterprise enabled them to accumulate wealth were able to ensure that those unable to work received a just share of what the rest produced.
In the past it was the Rowntrees, Cadburys and Guinesses. Carnegie, Nobel and Rockefeller also made many large endowments. Today it is the Gates Foundation, which includes Warren Buffet among its donees, and the Ford Foundation, among many others. Wikipedia has a list of philanthropists which includes business people, actors and rock stars.
Are you one of those who believes that wealth is evil and must be taken from the wealthy and given to the poor, or do you accept the principle of ‘trickle down’, by which the activities of the wealthy benefit us all in the long term?