I am a capitalist. I believe in a system where people are rewarded for their hard work proportionately to those who work less hard. As a result, I generally respect wealth – honest wealth. I assume that wealth has been earned rather than given until proven otherwise.
Innocent until proven guilty.
I believe a society NEEDS to function with both CEOs and garbage men together, working as one, to maintain the society in which we live. We need folks doing all kinds of jobs – both skilled and otherwise, regardless of how fair or unfair it might be.
And as a natural result, some of us will earn way more money than our neighbors. It’s a very common trait of having options and the freedom to choose what we do with
It’s the same freedom we exercise when we decide whether to buy that $5 Starbucks coffee or just drink the free stuff at work.
As Michael Bolton from Office Space once said, “If that quiz worked [“What would you do if you had a million dollars?”], there would be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars”.
You got a point there, Michael.
Of course, my inherent belief in capitalism does not blind me to the plain fact that when people are forced to fend for themselves, there will be those who are left behind.
Sometimes, it’s their fault. Other times, it’s not. In the United States, we sometimes call these people “less fortunate“, a term that I have deep-seeded problems with. That might be a discussion for another day. But…
This is where the discussion of wealth and fairness gets a little messy.
Is it unfair to be wealthy?
You live in a ritzy part of town. Homes in your neighborhood sell for $1m and up. Every home comes with three acres of beautiful land that surrounds a lake, water gin-clear. You earn hundreds of thousands a year, drive a BMW and relax on a $6,000 leather couch, eat $10 bread and open the door each week for your cleaning woman.
Your cleaning woman lives on the other side of town in a small apartment that rents for $450 / month. She drives a 15-year old Corolla with bald tires and a heater that doesn’t work. She earns $50 a day, on average. She relaxes on her beat up and stained couch that she picked up for $25 at a garage sale – when she can.
Is this fair?
I believe that we live in one of the most opportunity-rich countries in the world. Privilege definitely exists, but I don’t believe privilege is necessarily commonplace, nor required to achieve amazing goals.
Economic disparities are neither fair nor unfair. Instead, it just is.
Societies have – and will always have – a disparity between those who are wealthy and those who aren’t. Those who work manual labor jobs and those who sit behind a desk in a climate-controlled office. Those who make it to the National Football League (NFL) and those who get cut from their high school team.
For everything to be “fair”, a controlling force must govern any and all play because nature, inherently, isn’t fair.
Economically, this might include salary caps like professional sports. What if doctors could never make more than $150,000 a year? What would that do to our system of healthcare? Would good doctors find a less stressful line of work, leaving a void to be filled by less qualified med student grads?
Would innovation and expertise suffer if we removed the monetary incentive to excel?
As you probably guessed by now, I believe it is fair to be wealthy. If you work hard (read: smart) and earn an honest living, I believe in wealth. Even super wealth. One of my former CEOs from the workforce lives in a $20 million estate in California. That rich, greedy bastard…right?
Maybe, but consider this:
But, I will still never be able to afford a $20m estate. Is that unfair?
Make no mistake about it – some people truly are “less fortunate” than others. Some people get sick and can no longer work. Others get hit by drunk drivers and spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs. Identity theft destroys unsuspecting lives. Though I believe in capitalism, I also know shit to happen.
It happens to everyone, and it always will.
Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes, it rains right after we wash our car. Other times, we systematically miss all 20 stop lights between the office and home.
Others are born with illnesses that we can’t shake. Or born into poverty-stricken cesspools of crime and disease.
It happens. It sucks. It totally sucks. But, that’s the reality of life. Perfection is unattainable.
Making things fair is impossible because no definition of “fairness” can possibly exist. What’s fair to one person is totally unfair to another. We fight a losing battle when we try to “level the playing field” because the playing field cannot be level. It cannot happen.
We can’t prevent any and all shit from happening in our society. We aren’t living in a clinical incubator meticulously controlled by white-coated scientists who read physics and chemistry books just for the hell of it and are hilariously inept in most social situations.
That’s life. Period. It’s also Economics 101.
We don’t have to like it, but the quicker that we accept it, the easier life will be. Thinking in terms of “fairness” is a one-way street to nowhere and ignores reality. Ignores economics. Ignores the way that societies naturally grow. And that’s the keyword: Natural.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in an incubator.
What’s the answer? Do we do nothing?
I believe that societies are only as strong as their inhabitants.
Strong populations can and do shape the society in which they live. Even within government, a public backlash against clearly unpopular legislation can turn tables (the “Border Wall”, anyone? Or, how about that “religious freedom” law?).
Societies are powerful creatures, and I believe in those things.
The people need to be the change that they believe in. More than standing on street corners yelling at passers by and holding a sign with [Social Issue Here] above their head. More than joining protests. More than arguing with friends and family about the newest “anti-discrimination” law over Facebook. That’s not getting involved.
Money talks. And, so does time. Your time.
Put your money where your mouth is. The Physician on Fire does just that. He slipped $100,000 to charity.
I also believe in volunteering. Giving your precious time in support of a cause makes the difference between change and, well, just a hastily-formulated protest. Work it. Believe it. Do whatever you can to help those around you who need help. Be the change you’re fighting for. Don’t wait for someone (or something) else to make things fair.
Because life isn’t fair. And, it never will be.
What say you? Do you believe that we can somehow make everything fair in society? Do you believe the disparity between wealth and poverty is…fair?
This post was originally published October 2017 but has been updated and revised using the Revise and Republish strategy.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.