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A commentator in another thread pronounced what is now the title of this discussion. To what extent is it true that the rich achieved their wealth by means of productive endeavor?

Please begin your response by first defining what "productive endeavor" means to you.

Edited by Jon Southall
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To produce is to cause something to be by your own effort and action. Obviously there are those who are rich who did not obtain their wealth by "their own effort". Inheritance is an example.

There's really only one way to assess this: you look at rich people, and you figure out if land got them there. You could try doing a rigorous study, but that's not the place to start. The place t

Maybe we should just begin with the question: What must one do to obtain land and make it one's own property?  Unless we know what you, Jon, thinks must be done with or to land before it qualifies as

A commentator in another thread pronounced what is now the title of this discussion. To what extent is it true that the rich achieved their wealth by means of productive endeavor?

Please begin your response by first defining what "productive endeavor" means to you.

 

Endeavor is to attempt or do something i.e. spend effort to achieve something.  Productive ... well something which produces something is productive.  I don't see an enigma with a straightforward reading of "productive endeavor".

 

 

Plasmatic has a great point. I agree and think the more correct pronouncement is:

 

That wealth of the rich which was "achieved" by definition is the wealth which was produced by their efforts: i.e. productive endeavor.

 

So wealth which is given as a gift is not achieved, but wealth which is traded is achieved.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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Well, to clarify, the poster in the other thread wasn't merely asserting that "the rich" got their money honestly and through hard work, but rather he asserted that the mere fact of their wealth is such a general benefit to society that they should not have to pay a corresponding amount of fees to protect their greater wealth and property.

 

The answer is not a simple value or even a simple formula--it depends on the context.

 

I'm not sure this is a good question to ask in any case (i.e. what good would the answer do you?).

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To what extent is it true that the rich achieved their wealth by means of productive endeavor?

Do you mean rich as in "top 10-15%" ? Would your typical medical specialist or well-established dentist or orthodontist be"rich"? 

 

Or do you mean super-rich, say Top 100 in the Forbes list? If the latter, then a starting point would be to take a list like this one and see how you evaluate the top (say) 20.

 

In addition, in the other thread you said "not necessarily". That really goes without saying. Nobody would argue that every rich person got his money through hard work: the obvious case is heirs; but, we can comfortably assume the group classified as "rich" have their fair share of crooks, like the rest of the population.

Edited by softwareNerd
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That was a hasty remark, from the framework of the "utopian" civilization. As has already been pointed out, this overlooks inheritance, gifts, etc. The deeper gist is that wealth is produced by the producers, which got lost in the transmission.

Edited by dream_weaver
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That was a hasty remark, from the framework of the "utopian" civilization. As has already been pointed out, this overlooks inheritance, gifts, etc. The deeper gist is that wealth is produced by the producers, which got lost in the transmission.

 

Wealth had to be produced originally... a producer's endeavors were required.  This is very close to a definition of what wealth is, no? 

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Wealth had to be produced originally... a producer's endeavors were required.  This is very close to a definition of what wealth is, no? 

I think so. I did a search on some of your earlier posts, but could not find the one I'm thinking of that was looking to reduce the concept of money. Ultimately, this is my reduction, but one that is not easily connected step by step. Money is a complex concept. Trade, wealth, value, and time are a few of the concepts that redound within it.

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Wealth had to be produced originally... a producer's endeavors were required.  This is very close to a definition of what wealth is, no? 

I don't think "produced" is the right -- or perhaps the only -- word that should be used, because it doesn't take into account natural advantages such as dependable/favorable weather, or large deposits of elements that just happened to be laying around.

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I don't think "produced" is the right -- or perhaps the only -- word that should be used, because it doesn't take into account natural advantages such as dependable/favorable weather, or large deposits of elements that just happened to be laying around.

 

If the "deposits" are truly abundant always in space and time it would not qualify as wealth as its value would be greatly diluted in proportion to its abundance and/or ease of access.

 

If the "deposits" are rare, in space or time, yes there is a factor "sheer chance" which comes into it.  BUT to be at the right place at the right time, systematically, does require some effort.  I concede (odd word to see in this forum huh?) that sheer chance can play a role in making a random person wealthy... if say they find a diamond sticking out of a cliff when they were only going for a picnic. This however is the rare exception.

 

Wealth is almost always a result of production but sometimes (thanks Jaskn) it can, by sheer chance (on the rare occasion) come into the hands of an unsuspecting individual directly from nature with little to no effort.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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I concede (odd word to see in this forum huh?)[...]

Ha

 

I was thinking more along the lines of, "Wealth is resources employed, or with a recognized potential of being employed." The entirety of the universe is potentially "wealth," but never becomes so until a human recognizes and employs parts of it for specific uses, in a specific context. For example, that crude oil is junk kerosene waste until someone figures out how to use it better, and then it becomes wealth in our modern context. Maybe later it will again become junk once a new human context has a new set of humans using a new, better portion of the universe.

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The answer is not a simple value or even a simple formula--it depends on the context.

In the context of businesses making money, it should be about streamlining the processes, identifying value added steps and eliminating those which do not, or finding a better solution to implement in its place.

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Thanks for comments so far. If I can respond to a few:

Plasmatic, I agree with you but what is your answer to the question: "to what extent is it true that the rich achieved their wealth by means of productive endeavor." This also applies to Strictly Logical's comments. Not all wealth is achieved by means of productive endeavor, but some is given through inheritance, or taken by means that are not moral. What is the balance?

Crow I find the question can be insightful as to the degree of objectivity within this forum. For example, some might for ideological reasons believe the rich are wealthy because they worked hard - whilst this will be true in cases it is not true in all cases, and perhaps there is a tendency to inflate the number of cases where it is true within this forum. I want to gain some insight into thinking on this and to encourage reflection and learning leading to a more reasonable community - this benefits us all I would hope.

Snerd - same point as Plasmatic and SL - I was interested in the perceived extent. By rich/wealthy this is notoriously debatable in terms of finding a definition. The layperson's definition would probably be that a person is rich if they are financially secure and can obtain more material comforts and necessities than the majority of other people within a society - probably the top 1% in terms of financial wealth. We can run with that. My personal definition is that a person is rich to the extent they can dedicate their time to the rational pursuit what makes them happiest. I can clarify that if needed.

Strictly Logical asks:

"Wealth had to be produced originally... a producer's endeavors were required. This is very close to a definition of what wealth is, no? "

Well I'd say yes, but many Objectivists here class Land as part of their wealth but it was not produced. What say you?

JASKN wrote: "I don't think "produced" is the right -- or perhaps the only -- word that should be used, because it doesn't take into account natural advantages such as dependable/favorable weather, or large deposits of elements that just happened to be laying around"

I'd say that it takes a mind to know what to do with those elements and without one which can find a purpose for them, they are valueless. The same with weather - what is favorable? If you are a wind farm owner, very windy weather might be favorable to you, but otherwise it might be a nuisance etc.

Spiral Architect - if you were to divide the wealthy into those four categories - what % would each have?

Would it be:

1. 30%

2. 30%

3. 30%

4. 10%

That would be an interesting answer to the question actually.

Edited by Jon Southall
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Snerd - same point as Plasmatic and SL...

The bulk of the 1% is made up of senior corporate executives (not C-suite, but below), doctors, lawyers. The bulk of these got there because they went to some good college, studied for years and did well in exams, etc. As a group, their parents were of above average wealth and education, However, they are not wealthy because they have a portion of that wealth, but because of the cultural background they "inherited". They still had to get the grades and so on. (Even if fewer people from poorer families made it to those ranks, if you look at the key ingredient those poorer folk have in common, it is their culture and attitude toward work, education, etc.)

You'll need to decide whether that classifies as "hard/productive work". If it does, the bulk of the 1% clearly got there because of productive work. 

 

Well I'd say yes, but many Objectivists here class Land as part of their wealth but it was not produced. What say you?

The land the rich owned was typically got by exchanging some non-land value. Inherited land is not the basis for the wealth of the top 10% of Americans, and even less for the top 1%.
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Crow I find the question can be insightful as to the degree of objectivity within this forum. For example, some might for ideological reasons believe the rich are wealthy because they worked hard - whilst this will be true in cases it is not true in all cases, and perhaps there is a tendency to inflate the number of cases where it is true within this forum. I want to gain some insight into thinking on this and to encourage reflection and learning leading to a more reasonable community - this benefits us all I would hope.

 

Fair enough. I guess it depends on the context. In the context of politics and law, the only thing that matters is that you obtained your wealth morally and legally. There's nothing immoral about receiving inheritance or any other sort of dumb luck. That is why I wondered why you'd care about the answer to this question.

 

But you are right, people can get careless, epistemologically speaking. People should be equal before the law, no matter how super-cool/uncool we think they are as a person. People with more money (however they legally obtained it) should not be treated any differently than people with less money, in principle (i.e. everybody should pay taxes according to their own use of government services however big/small that may be).

 

I think you are (all) expanding on my shortly-made point as well: that wealth and worth (personal moral worth) is an extremely complicated, context-driven thing.

 

In that sense we're saying exactly the same thing: you can't talk about this point in a quick soundbite, and making blanket statements is bad...

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Spiral Architect - if you were to divide the wealthy into those four categories - what % would each have?

Would it be:

1. 30%

2. 30%

3. 30%

4. 10%

That would be an interesting answer to the question actually.

 

I hate to punt it but you really have to define each first.  For example if you treat the Government's massive wealth redistribution program then that number would go up alarmingly (especially if you include taxes).

 

But I agree it's a question to ponder as not only would it be telling but if you could get a rough guess by by country or even historical period it could be another measure of freedom (aka the freedom index).  

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Snerd:

"The land the rich owned was typically got by exchanging some non-land value."

Exchanged it with whom?

"Inherited land is not the basis for the wealth of the top 10% of Americans, and even less for the top 1%."

What is your means of assessing and concluding that?

Edited by Jon Southall
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What is your means of assessing and concluding that?

There's really only one way to assess this: you look at rich people, and you figure out if land got them there. You could try doing a rigorous study, but that's not the place to start.

The place to start is to look at the world around you. You probably know a few people who are fairly rich, even if not super-rich; and, you probably know of a few more. Ask yourself how they got their wealth: to the best of your knowledge.

The next place is to look further afield. Look at something like the Forbes list of richest folk. Did Gates, Walton, Ellison, Carlos Slim, Buffett or Bloomberg build their billions primarily because of an inherited land-holding?

 

if this cursory survey indicates that wealth is not key, and no other evidence is offered to show that it is, then there is zero reason to believe it is. A seemingly logical argument about why land ought to be key is not worth the paper it is written on, if the evidence shows the opposite.

 

Now, doing this type of survey, you will probably find that there are some countries --  still at a "developing country" stage -- where inherited land explains the wealth of a certain segment of the population. However, what you will find -- even in these countries -- is that these people are not the richest, as a group. Rather, the group with the most wealth is the one who had guns and gangs and simply took over other people's land and mineral resources.

 

So, the ball is in your court to offer at least some cursory evidence -- not "pure" argument, but cursory evidence -- that inherited land explains a significant share of current wealth, particularly in a modern country.

Edited by softwareNerd
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Spiral Architect, thanks for your comment. As you introduced the four categories, would you mind sharing your definitions with us?

 

Create Wealth:  I create or add vale.  

 

This would be classical entrepreneurship.  Invention, innovation, efficiency, etc.  I either create a new product, I improve a product quality or cost wise, or through trade improvements.  

 

Example: I invent a new corn crop, I create more corn with the same land, or reduce my costs to create the same corn.  

 

 

 

Trade:  This would be a fair and equal exchange of value.  

 

Example: I give you my labor to harvest your corn and you pay me to do it.

 

 

 

Charity: I voluntarily give value for nothing material in return

 

This is the hard one since you can give value and it's due to values like friendship or goodwill which is hard to quantify.  For the sake of argument that is why I'm restricting it to receiving nothing material in exchange which make it a trade.  

 

Example: Farmer donates corn to local food kitchen or you your time to help farmer work on his house. 

 

 

 

Theft: Value is taken without permission of the owner. 

 

This is everything from outright theft on the street, fraud, or other  forms of seizure without your consent.  

 

Example: Someone sneaks onto the farmers land and takes corn, the Government taxes his income, etc. 

 

 

 

 

As a complete aside:  Following this model the Theft percentage goes up to over 50%.  That is alarming indeed.  

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