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The belief that wealth is obtained through hard work is fallacious  
By Mike Cuenca | March 20, 2004
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25

“For the love of money is the root of all evil” I Timothy 6:10

I don’t understand how people can believe that the wealthy should be allowed to continue to hoard even more than they already have—way more than they need for their health and survival—and that they should be able to accumulate these resources while others all over the world die and suffer because of a simple lack of food, water, housing, and health care. How can that be considered moral? How can it be seen as legitimate?

I fear that most people who make that argument and/or defend the hoarding of life-sustaining resources in the face of worldwide starvation, suffering, and sickness, don’t really understand what they’re arguing for and against.

Consider the reality of what we call “money.” Money is simply a symbolic replacement for actual, tangible, consumable or durable resources in which we place value. We substitute an official piece of paper or metal for what that paper or metal represents. For example, an ear of corn has value of it own—as a foodstuff. But in this modern world we don’t do business with ears of corn, we do business with a symbol that can be substituted for that ear of corn—money and all the variations of money: currency, stocks and bonds, precious minerals, etc.—which can then redeemed for that ear of corn or other resources.

Money, then, is the recognized and accepted “replacement” or “substitute” for all the valuable resources of the Earth: all food, clothing, and housing; all gold, silver and other minerals; all oil; all water; everything on Earth worth something to someone.

Here on Earth, those resources are finite. There is a limited supply of food, water, or plywood. There is a limited supply of acres of arable land. There is a limited supply of the hours of time available from farmers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and soldiers. Money represents the ability to access and/or obtain those resources. Consequently, when individuals hoard money, they’re truly hoarding resources that could be used to sustain life and/or maintain a quality of life. When individuals like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, the Bush and Saud families, and the descendants of Sam Walton hoard millions and billions of dollars worth of resources, they’re preventing many others from accessing those resources. In a very real sense, they’re starving millions of other people by gathering up and keeping as much of the world’s valuable resources as they can. They’re keeping adequate health care from millions of the Earth’s children. They’re keeping education, opportunity, and peace of mind from millions of humans.

Another hurtful belief is that wealth is accumulated solely through “hard work.” That’s completely fallacious. There are only 8,760 hours in a year and only 2,080 work hours in a normal 40-hour per week work year. That means that even the hardest, longest working human—even if they could work 24 hours per day—could only work 4.2 times harder than those who work a “normal” work load. It follows then, that if hard work was the exclusive factor in accumulating wealth, there should be a gap of only 4.2 percent between the earnings of the richest and poorest workers of the world.

And that belief also insults and degrades every hard working human on Earth who isn’t wealthy. Do those who spout this nonsense really believe that those poor, working humans who are slaving away in garment factories, or diamond mines, or brothels, or aircraft factories, or classrooms, are not really working as hard as they can? That’s rubbish.

Does anyone really believe that the several millions dollars Bill Gates’ money earned for him in interest—just in the last few hours—is solely the result of his hard work? He didn’t lift a finger to earn that interest. His accumulated money “worked” for him.

The reality is that wealth is accumulated through profit. Profit is obtained by buying something and then selling it for more than was paid. Profit from buying, selling, and lending money is the basis of capitalism.

If you put money in the bank, that bank will use your money to make a profit. They’ll take your money and the money of other people and they’ll lend or “rent” it to other people for a profit. They’ll charge those people a certain amount of money and they’ll give you a portion of that charge (interest). The same is true of less “pure” capitalist ventures. If you start a business and you earn more than the costs of doing that business, you earn a profit. Or if you “invest” your money in a business through partnership or through the stock market, you may earn a profit from that investment.

Wealth, then, is accumulated by those who have the most money to “rent” or “invest”. Conversely, those who need all of their income to meet their basic survival needs have no hope of obtaining any wealth—no matter how hard they work.

And what of the motivation for accumulating all this wealth? Who truly needs $100 billion in the bank? Who truly needs $1 million in the bank? Those who believe they do have that need would likely argue that they’re acting to protect the economic security of their families and descendants. But that rationalization ignores the many wealthy people who have no families or descendants—and it ignores the many millions of people right now who are dying of starvation and thirst and exposure. That rationalization would disappear if every human could be sure that their basic survival needs would be met, regardless of their family’s accumulated wealth. If we first meet the needs of all humans, before allowing people to accumulate wealth beyond those needs, we’d have a much saner and peaceful planet. And the truth is: most people who accumulate this kind of wealth are simply being greedy.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not arguing we shouldn’t have capitalism. I’m not arguing we shouldn’t have free enterprise. I am arguing that those who practice capitalism should feel responsible—or at least be held responsible—for the necessary support of the societies that make their accumulation of wealth possible in the first place.

We shouldn’t be elevating these greedy robber barons to heroic stature. We should be escorting them to a 12-step program for those who have no conscience. The sooner we label the unrestricted, unbridled, irresponsible accumulation of wealth what it really is—immoral—the sooner we can begin to heal our Earth and care for its needy.

 

 


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