I was recently talking to a relative about a friend of mine who has been very successful in business.
“And I’m sure he deserves every penny.” The relative said in a snide way.
“Well, in this case I think absolutely.” I said
“The relative looked at me and said, “I’m just as smart as him. Where are my millions? In fact I’m probably smarter, why should this guy be so rich?”
“Why should one’s level of intelligence determine one’s level of wealth?” (which it often does) I asked.
“Because that’s what’s fair. The smartest people should run things and should be paid more.”
“But what if what one has to offer, even if one is very bright, is not valuable to society at large? Should one be paid more than a stupid guy who has a skill which is in demand?”
“It depends.” My relative replied. “Why should a plumber make more than a teacher? That’s criminal.”
“Why is that criminal? Very few teachers can fix a leak in my basement, and none of them will come out to my house on the weekend. I’m willing to pay quite a lot to get the leak in my basement to stop.”
“But teachers teach our children. Plumbers spend their time elbow deep in shit.”
“Exactly,” I said. “This is why I am willing to pay him and why my plumber is probably not as stupid as you think.”
And then it struck me why so many (and it is a distinct subset) of obviously smart people rail against capitalism. They are jealous. They feel wronged by life. They want the trappings of wealth and don’t understand why despite their genius these trappings have eluded them. After all many of them went to the right schools, checked all the right boxes in life, yet the material success which is their birthright is in the hands of so many who clearly don’t deserve it. How can this be?
Some gains are very ill gotten to be sure and we spend day in and day out examining and identifying these instances. But I am not talking about these instances here. I am talking about how some folks resent entirely legitimate wealth or social status.
Many people succeed because they possess intelligence, a bulldog mentality to plow through adversity, and the ability to learn from their failures. Many successful people are very good at managing fear and opportunity also. They know when to play a hand, or when not to. They usually learn this the hard way. And perhaps most importantly many successful people are willing to do what others are not willing to do.
I find that many smart anti-capitalists are averse to breaking from the pack. They don’t want to do what others won’t do. There is comfort in the collective. Those who break from the collective are to be looked at with suspicion. Don’t they know that they could get hurt? And indeed these rogues often do. But for some there is just no other way to exist. Boundaries must be pushed, ideas challenged. The collective for them is not warm and comforting, it is stifling. And if it wasn’t for them society would never go anywhere at all.
I’m not just talking about tech company superstars, I’m talking about Mr. Plumber too. Somewhere along the way Mr. Plumber decided to buy a truck and put his logo on the side. He took a risk, but he knew he had a skill which was in demand, so he went for it. Now he has a nice house which is paid off and a business which he will one day sell to pay for his retirement. (He doesn’t have a pension.)
Yet some still resent his success even though they’d never in a million years stick their hands down a toilet.