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.”
For example, Kelli Richards, CEO of The All-Access Group, in a 2017 Inc. article stated that “companies and individuals who [have] done well financially [are] honor-bound to look around and philanthropically offer a helping hand to those who weren't as fortunate—to honor the greater good.”
While it is certainly praiseworthy for entrepreneurs and successful individuals to engage in philanthropy, the idea that successful innovators need to “give back” to honor 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 us of something that must be returned. This could not be further from the truth.
In a capitalist society with the rule of law where individual rights are secured, wealth or success is not taken, it is 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. 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.
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, it’s to the wrong people, it’s serving the wrong sort of greater good, and of course the complaint that it’s not being given to me.
This 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 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. 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 recognize the immense value that Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk 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.