Friday, June 30, 2017

Obligations of the Wealthy

What obligations do capitalists have to their society? Any? Or is it only the money?

Consider somebody who works for a living. Family. Wife and children. Hard worker. Maybe overtime. He has time and resources to look after his own affairs. But does he have time to look at the bigger picture? And even if he had the time, would he have the opportunity. Would he have the education?

Probably not. Indeed, in most cases, a person cannot look after larger interests than his own. Yet, each person is as dependent on this bigger picture as he is of his job. Indeed, one of the people he is most dependent on is his boss. His boss can make his job miserable or pleasant. He can fire him, in some places without any cause at all. Just so, his boss is dependent on his own boss, and his boss on his boss. And so on, up to the very wealthy and very powerful. And even the self employed, even the small business owner is dependent on those richer and more powerful than he is in society. After all, they are able to spend vast sums of money, and alter the government and the allocation of resources. Any one of these powerful could destroy him, the worker, the self employed, the small business man, purely incidentally, without thought, or regard. One has only to look at the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of down towns destroyed by Walmart, or the thousands of desolate factories, to know this is true.

We are all dependent on what goes on beyond our horizons. And we look to other people, those above us, those around us, to keep track of what those things are. We have to.

This dependency is a socially necessary thing. Society could not exist without it. A worker who was more concerned with the affairs across the planet simply could not give enough attention to be able to manage his own life. The same for the small business man. He must attend to his business, his community, the people he buys from and sells to. He doesn’t really have the time to spend a lot of it worrying about the larger issues.

And of course there are other dependencies. We are dependent on the behavior of our neighbors, on the politicians who are expected to serve us, on the people who provide the public services in our community. Society is a web of dependencies. So the question is: Do these dependencies carry any obligation beyond the purely economic? Do they carry a moral obligation?

And what do we mean by moral obligation? From “The Free Dictionary:” we have: MORAL OBLIGATION. A duty which one owes, and which he ought to perform, but which he is not legally bound to fulfill.

Now some of these dependencies are equal exchanges. I depend on my neighbors, and my neighbors depend on me. The sense of ‘duty which one owes,’ seems clear in these cases. It is not so clear in cases of hierarchy. Does a boss owe his employee anything besides his salary? Is not the entire value for both parties of the relationship summed up in the exchange of labor for money? Is not the employee compensated in his wages for all the factors of his employment including, say, the fact that he can be fired at will? If we believe this, then be believe that not only is the labor market efficient, but that it is just. But if we believe a particular market is just, how can we believe that the same market, tilted by external forces, is also just? Is the market produced by a monopoly just? And employment, we have a market defined not only by an asymmetry of needs, as are all markets, but by an asymmetry of information. Can the employee negotiate a premium on not only on what he doesn’t know, but what he doesn’t know he doesn’t know? Not only can he not negotiate such a premium, but it is unreasonable to expect him to. And even were he to, he would be in competition with those who would not demand such a premium.

The point here there is that there is a gap, which cannot be remedied by formal debt and application of law.

And what about the relationship between the wealthy and the rest of us. Let us first admit the obvious. They pretty much control the economy. That is, our welfare, the welfare of the society is dependent on their actions. Even if this were not completely the case, it is very much so. By their actions, should they choose, they can do enormous damage to society.

I am not claiming conspiracy. I merely claim a similar response to similar motivations. There was no conspiracy to outsourcing, nor is there to robotization, but damage was done, though some would say the benefits to society more than compensated for it.

But who got compensated? Did the workers who lost their jobs to outsourcing gain any share of the increased profits enjoyed by those companies who sent their jobs overseas? Were they owed any? Did the companies who fired these workers for greater profit elsewhere have any obligation to these workers, or society in general? Or just to enjoy their increased profits, to divide among the wealthy shareholders?

So do the wealthy owe the rest of us anything? It need not be a matter of owing. A parent has obligation to his offspring. But it is not a matter of debt. And in a very real sense we count on the wealthy to take care of us, to manage the economy for the benefit of us all. Why should society allow them to have and retain wealth, if it were not to the benefit of the rest of society? If the wealthy have no obligation, then they have no obligation to act to society’s benefit. They have no obligation not to inflict damage on the rest of society. So if inflicting damage on society profits them, then we should expect them to do so.

Unless they indeed have a moral obligation to the society which supports them.

1 comment:

  1. I think it was Nick Hanauer who said the rich should consider increased taxes say to fund a Universal Basic Income as "guillotine insurance".