The postulation that wealth is zero sum, meaning that whatever wealth I have has been gained at the expense of others, in effect total global wealth is finite but is inequitably distributed. This argument rests on the assumption that wealth cannot be created and wealth can be defined and quantified. I submit that this is a fallacious argument.
First wealth can be defined in many ways such as the value of knowledge, a great many friends, honors, respect, or many other abstractions where the “wealth” is self determined or determined arbitrarily by others. This type of wealth is not finite and can be both created and destroyed. Therefore, for any meaningful argument wealth must be defined in terms of tangible goods such as gold, money, art, land, etc. But the postulation is that wealth is zero sum meaning that it is finite when it is obvious that the world’s available wealth today is far greater than it was a hundred years ago. But the professor / philosopher avoids this inconsistency by stating that his zero sum argument only applies to the moment and cannot be viewed in any historical context. But this refutes his argument that wealth cannot be created because global wealth has increased and he acknowledges this. This reduces his argument to the total global wealth is finite at any given moment, which is true at that moment, but in the next moment new wealth can be created e.g. a gold strike, oil strike, new invention, etc. The professor / philosopher acknowledges this but then moves to the more abstract view of wealth common to those who argue that wealth can only be gained at the expense of others – hence that wealth is finite.
The argument then becomes increasingly doctrinaire as he attacks – without noting – capitalism. He argues as follows:
“Material wealth obviously originated in the creation/origin of the universe (that is where the stuff comes from). Once we had the earth and people, people could start acquiring material goods like land and resources. These resources can be made more valuable by the addition of labor, thus creating wealth. They can also be made more valuable by other means, such as creating scarcity and controlling pricing. These material goods can be acquired in various ways, fair and foul. The classic method is, of course, conquest.”
How this argument supports a zero sum conclusion is beyond me because it demonstrates how wealth can be created and shared yielding a wealthier population overall. The actual argument appears to be the inequity of some people being wealthier than others based on the assumption that unethical and even illegal means were used to accumulate that wealth. He leaves no room for wealth accumulation via fair means. But his argument has ceased being the creation of wealth but instead has shifted to the sharing of wealth.
At this point the argument shifts to the abstraction of money “the pieces of paper” whose value is commonly agreed to but his real argument doesn’t appear to be the creation of wealth but how that wealth is created.
“Monetary wealth is obviously a social construct: we made up the financial game and the “creation” of wealth depends on the sort of game being played at any given time. For example, some folks “created” wealth by clever repackaging of toxic assets. Other people “create” wealth by working and investing their money (which is supposed to give them more money). In many ways, this is “fictional” wealth in that we are literally just making this stuff up and its value depends entirely on how far we are willing to all play make-believe. Yes, I play the game-it is a convenient way to handle exchanges in some ways. But, I always remember that it is just a game we are playing (I work, I get some paper, I hand the paper to someone and they give me an apple).”
The point being made here is a little fuzzy to me because everyone knows that paper money is an abstraction whose value is set by common agreement and backed by the government. The creation of wealth followed the same rules when commerce depended entirely on gold and silver currency. It appears that he is simply opposed to how wealth is created and how it is inequitably distributed. But he concludes his argument that wealth is finite by arguing that currency (paper) is finite because printing more doesn’t create wealth but results in inflation. That is true but then at a stroke he reduces wealth to how much money you have and since that is finite wealth is finite and zero sum. That is ridiculous of course because tangible wealth can be created in many ways and the currency is simply a method of measuring the wealth created.
In my opinion this entire argument illogical and rests on false assumptions. And when the argument is reduced to its core it appears that it is anti-capitalism and the unequal distribution of wealth.