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Why should the rich want to help the less fortunate?

Especially poor Americans, who are almost certainly already better off than the poor in developing countries.

This page originally posted 4-11-07;
last updated on or about 12-14-07

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This item is my edited e-mail reply to a reader who told me he has recently become one of the rich as defined in my page The super-rich, the 'plain' rich, the 'poorest' rich ...and everyone else. He said he generally agrees with me about the necessity of helping the poor, but also feels the masses often try to force the rich to pony up when they shouldn't. And that rich heirs likely do deserve the windfalls they receive.

He also wonders why the rich (by paying higher taxes, etc.) should help poor Americans, who are likely better off already than poor third worlders.

There's a bit more of course, as hinted at in my reply. But I took these points as the gist.

For privacy reasons I'm not including his email text or address, or full name.

Note that I am an American, and a member of the 99% of the American population who isn't rich.

Thanks Henry!

I must say upfront you're the first officially 'rich' person I've ever knowingly communicated with-- if you truly fit the criteria (a minimum of $400,000 a year income even if you don't do any work at all). Up to now when folks contacted me saying they fit the conditions, it ended up that they mostly expected to get there in the near future, and hadn't quite made it yet.

As for taxes...keep in mind our discussion here is necessarily made upon a contrived playing field, as currently America pours ungodly amounts of tax money into subsidizing the owners of various parts of the mammoth military-industrial complex, exactly as WWII Allies Supreme Commander and later Republican President Eisenhower warned us against. To try justifying this outrageous decades-long boondoggle, our leaders have repeatedly taken the country to war or proxy war with little or no provocation since the end of WWII (often the initiating spark turns out to be staged, and/or an outright lie). So untold thousands of lives have been needlessly wasted too along the way. And the potential productivity of the world likely stunted as well (leaving virtually all of us poorer today than we should be).

Anyway, if American military and intelligence spending was more in line with that of other developed nations, there'd be much less of a tax squeeze to discuss at all. So in a truly rational world, we'd address that problem before ever getting to the debate between individual opportunity and social responsibility.

From the research I cite on my web site, it appears the origins of most fortunes are at best unethical, and at worst criminal (or even genocidal). Yes, some of them entailed some hard work along the way-- but a large proportion of that work frequently consisted of Mafia-style gangland plotting and torturing and killing.

For instance, the royal families of Europe basically hail from the most prolific killers and thieves to ever stalk the continent. But everyone ignores that today. It's much more fun to gossip about princes and princesses and their castles.

Likewise, many American fortunes possess heinous roots.

So in those cases do you think the children of such folks should inherit those typically ever growing fortunes, generation after generation? Basically that's the same as saying if a serial killer got rich from his murder campaign, shouldn't his kids get to keep the money? Or that the descendents of high-ranking Nazis should get to share in the booty those guys stole during WWII.

You talk about the less fortunate trying to take by force from the rich what they could not get otherwise. But the truth is most of today's fortunes themselves were taken by force or deception from the lower class masses. Whether by the royal families of the Old World, or the Ken Lays (Enron, et al) of the New, the poorer folks typically had little choice in the thievery.

Sure, just by the randomness of nature, there has to be a handful of folks here and there who got rich without wholesale theft or injury to their fellow man. But the vast majority most decidedly did not. Even with the massive on-going attempts to keep it out of the public consciousness, that is still obvious from the information available today (I provide references on my site; and what I display is just a small sample of the whole in my possession).

But even for those few who came by their fortunes innocently, and by the sweat of their own brow, there's still plenty of reasons to give back to society and the less fortunate. For instance, here's a few plain selfish ones:

Getting the most bang for your buck

Some of the wealthiest people who ever lived made statements to the effect that they actually had far more money than required to maintain their preferred lifestyle:

"As H.L. Hunt (born 1889, died 1974) once said, "...for practical purposes, someone who has $200,000 a year is as well off as I am." William Henry Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor made similar statements concerning various amounts adjusted for inflation."

-- see reference list for this at How to get rich in America REFERENCE

So after you're set for life in your preferred style, the remainder of your money is basically useless to you. At least in terms of any direct benefit to you personally. But let's say you want to squeeze out the last bit of advantage you can, for your own good. The question is, how?

Well, if you don't mind investing for the long term, and deriving IN-direct benefits from your funds, there turns out to be quite a few juicy opportunities for you, of the 'helping-the-less-fortunate' variety.

For instance, even if I was fabulously wealthy, and could easily pay all the medical bills for my own friends and family out of my own pocket, I'd still also want to pay taxes for universal healthcare.


Because of how far more maladies are turning out to be infectious than we ever dreamed, only a few short years ago. Even some forms of cancer, insanity, obesity, and auto-immune diseases like diabetes are turning out to be contagious. So letting them run wild across the population puts everyone at increased risk, no matter their income.

And in the case of a natural epidemic (or full-blown bioweapon unleashed from a lab accident or terrorist act), a universal healthcare system would likely give us earlier warning than the patchwork system we presently possess, and greatly increase our chance to save ourselves with counter-measures.

(I list some older references for these items in The enormous hidden costs to society of 'right-wing' political governance REFERENCE but have collected tons of newer ones since that original writing, which I simply haven't had time to add to the page)

And universal healthcare would save us tax money down the road, too. Other developed countries which have it pay far less in total medical bills than we do, and are healthier overall stats-wise. Part of this stems from poor and middle-class mothers getting better prenatal care in those places, so children are born with fewer chronic problems to weigh them down (and everyone else, tax-wise) over a lifetime. Heck: it turns out the environmental well-being of your grandparents can actually dictate much of your own life-long quality of health!

"It may be that most or all the worst health ailments suffered by adults today can be laid at the door of the circumstances surrounding their development in the womb, and what sort of stress and nutritional environment their mother was exposed to at the time-- or even those each of their parents themselves faced in their own mothers' wombs. For this sort of thing frequently gets passed on to later generations.

It may well be that individual behavior doesn't play the controlling role in determining these conditions. Rather, the state of society and the environment themselves may dominate the outcome.

From these findings it would appear crucial to not only the health of today's populations, but that of unborn future generations, for both business and government to do their utmost to ensure a clean environment, legal justice, as much education as practical, and decent economic opportunities for all.

-- Theory Says Disease Tendencies Begin in Womb (washingtonpost.com) By Rob Stein; July 7, 2003; Page A04"

-- The enormous hidden costs to society of 'right-wing' political governance REFERENCE

And what of the sick poor in the third world? Is there any selfish reason for us to help them with medical care too? Yes.

For one thing, the poor of the third world are often in closer contact with wild flora and fauna than we in the developed nations, as well as the toxic detritus of world industry. That close contact makes the third world a breeding ground for new plagues/diseases, which could easily sweep the entire world within weeks of an outbreak.

But possessing their own robust local health infrastructure would greatly reduce the risk of any fresh epidemic arising there. As well as provide valuable new medical knowledge concerning the results of human exposure to pollutants and new contagions-- knowledge which is increasingly relevant to us first-worlders too, as we slowly saturate the globe with such poisons (including our own lands), and make it ever easier for epidemics to travel the world within hours via air travel and bioweapons development...

There's also good reason to educate third-worlders. For then they'd be better able to help us discover and exploit the many medical boons still to be discovered in their wild backyards. Natural shortcuts it could otherwise require trillions of dollars and thousands of man-years to reap through our present biotech methods. And some of this knowledge is far closer to acquiring than many realize: locked up in local herb and healing expertise of village elders. Awaiting only the properly educated native to obtain. Tantalyzingly close!

And yes, I don't mind paying taxes to pay for education, either. Being surrounded by idiots isn't only boring, frustrating, and unproductive: it's downright dangerous. Even for the rich. Maybe especially for the rich. For they have far more to lose than the rest of us, in many situations. And when you come right down to it, the rich are far more dependent upon the smarts and expertise of others, than the poor. Like how? Accountants, lawyers, cooks, maids, butlers, chauffuers, taxi drivers, auto mechanics, nannies, plumbers, electricians, groundskeepers, security guards, secretaries and assistants, personal shoppers, bodyguards, etc., all spring immediately to mind, as just some of the people many of the rich may depend upon virtually every day, but whom the poor must avoid like the plague (due to the expense). Sufficient incompetence on the part of any of these personnel could well cause irreparable damage of one sort or another to even the richest person on Earth.

When I hire somebody, I want the best smarts in them I can get. Not providing education for kids will eventually get me exactly the opposite of that.

And what about all the ongoing research and development to cure all those things which can ail even the richest of us as we get older? Does anyone want FEWER smart people working on that stuff? Or dumber people? The less we invest in education, the slower our pace of innovation will be across-the-board. Heck: since the rich typically get first crack at the newest medical advances (because such tends to be expensive) they actually have the most to lose from slowing down tech progress by restricting the educational opportunities for the masses!

We can't know-- none of us, rich or poor-- who or what exactly we're going to desperately need tomorrow-- or ten years from now.

-- You Can't Predict Who Will Change The World by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; 05.24.07; forbes.com

All we can do is encourage those willing to work towards laudable goals of every sort, in whatever ways we can.

Is free education up through college level for all starting to sound better than you thought? Turns out it's an old idea. Other developed nations-- which incidentally enjoy healthier populations today than America-- have already been doing this for a long time now. America though remains sitting in the corner wearing a dunce cap, where such free college and universal healthcare are concerned. Partly, no doubt, because many wealthy Americans fail to see what's in it for them.

Although we all (or most of us) are often frustrated in regards to figuring out exactly how civilization might best offer as much equality of opportunity and security to everyone, without unduly penalizing or hampering those individuals truly responsible for kicking off the generation of fabulous new sources of wealth in the first place (like the two young Steves responsible for starting Apple Computer, and thereby making personal computers a reality), as a species we seem to have some innate drive to seek out such a balance. To instinctively know the gist of what needs to be done, even if we can't yet grasp the details involved.

-- Natural Born Communists? Some economic game theory suggests we may be. by Ronald Bailey | April 20, 2007

There's also this:

"Either excessive wealth or poverty can lead to a greater tendency towards mental illness related suicide...but the wealthy person is a bit more likely to commit suicide than the poor one, under these conditions. So it would appear an increased redistribution of wealth from rich to poor would actually help reduce suicide rates among both groups.

-- Wealth Tied to Suicide Risk in the Mentally Ill; Reuters Health/Yahoo! Health Headlines; February 9 2001; citing British Medical Journal 2001;322:334-335

-- Poor less likely to commit suicide; Agence France-Presse; February 10, 2001; Nando Media/Nando Times; http://www.nandotimes.com

-- Greater suicide risk amongst rich people with mental illness; EurekAlert!; 8 FEBRUARY 2001; Contact: Emma Wilkinson; ewilkinson@bmj.com; 44-20-7383-6529; BMJ-British Medical Journal"

-- How to get rich in America REFERENCE

I can't know for sure, but that research regarding suicide may correlate somewhat with one of the odder aspects of my own experience.

Namely, lucid dreaming.

In my article Playing God I write about my experience with lucid dreaming, where I experienced something like being wealthy, I suppose: having total control of my dreams made my every wish come true there. But I got 'stuck' in that mode for a while, and soon couldn't stand it anymore. It seemed to ruin dreaming for me. So I had to stop it somehow. I know this may sound contradictory. Please read the article to see how it quickly became unbearable.

Both willful and accidental deaths by their own hand seem to afflict a surprisingly large percentage of the wealthy. Perhaps some are experiencing their own version of what I did in lucid dreaming. And so could find a remedy in giving up some portion of their power, just as I did. In other words, the rich might simply feel better and live easier by giving away some part of their fortune to worthy causes.

Sorry if I come off as a little aggressive here Henry. But my own research on these topics shocked me years back, and I really never have quite gotten over it.

Well, that's the best I've got off the top of my head. I hope there's something here you find useful in your deliberations.

And if you really are a good guy who's actually making his fortune against overwhelming odds out there, I wish you success beyond your wildest dreams! For we surely need more like you!

I'm hoping that someday soon an 'economic Einstein' will figure out some way to truly put the American Dream in reach of everyone who wants it badly enough, via an honest and productive conduit-- maybe through the internet, or some derivative of same. For there's so much human potential out there that's currently going to waste. If we could somehow turn that around and tap into it, I'm sure the world would fast become a better place for us all.

My own ideas in this regard can be found in the links below:

The ultimate breakfast manifesto OR How to make a scarcity out of scarcity

How to make money with your web site (self-employment)

Civilization's best defensive measures against war, terrorism, technological stagnation, and economic ruin

-- JR

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