Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is Wealth Zero Sum -- Revisited

There seems to be a whole group of people who view wealth not as an abstraction or even in terms of tangible goods, but solely in terms of “currency” with a sub-text regarding the inequities of wealth distribution. It is this idea that wealth should be shared and that all wealth has been gained at the expense of others, that seems to be the foundation of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement as well the anti-capitalism forces found in academia today. Even the academics and social philosophers admit that wealth can be created and destroyed so they restrict their arguments to currency – usually in dollars and Euros but the argument can be applied to any form of fiat currency. But perhaps the best illustration of this view of wealth is to use art as an example. For example many of Van Gogh’s paintings initially sold for tens of dollars and that same painting today is worth millions, but was wealth created? The value increased but not because of any tangible change, only the demand increased and even that value is not realized until the painting is resold at its greater value. This illustration can be applied to stocks, bonds, or virtually any form of investment. Certainly there was no creation of wealth only a change in demand and the value of the investment as a result of the demand. The point is that when a country prints more currency it is not creating more wealth until that currency is exchanged for some tangible gain or goods, but the law of supply and demand remains. So no wealth is created by increasing the supply of currency but that doesn’t mean that the sum of wealth is finite, it just means the supply may exceed the demand at that specific point in time. For some inexplicable reason some argue that wealth – in terms of currency – is zero sum because printing more money doesn’t create more wealth. Taken at face value that is probably true but only if the law of supply and demand is suspended or held static. That means the value of some tangible asset will be increased because the supply of currency has exceeded the demand – momentarily. Those that subscribe to this fallacious argument then claim the economic policies of a country allow for some to become very rich while some become poverty stricken. Of course this is the very foundation of capitalism because as an economic philosophy it allows for the unequal distribution of wealth. The unasked question of course is how did the rich become rich and how did the poor become poor. Furthermore, how is rich defined and how is poor defined. The reality is that some have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by capitalism while others have expected to be taken care of – by the government, which is the very foundation of socialism and communism. The argument then shifts to the belief – not fact – that the wealth being created in a capitalist society by entrepreneurs, employers, and individuals is not shared or returned to society as a whole. This is a fallacious argument because those individuals with the greatest wealth pay the most in taxes while those with the least wealth pay little or even no taxes at all. It is the taxes of the wealthiest that pay for defense, for roads, for environmental control, energy, and all of the services provided by the government. Does capitalism permit inequality in wealth? Certainly it does, but it also provides equal opportunity for the individual to become wealthy while those who choose not to take advantage of those opportunities remain at a lower income level. I submit that wealth is NOT zero sum and that wealth can be and is being created daily, but that wealth creation is not the result of an increased supply of currency. To equate global wealth in term of currency is a specious argument because the demand for currency is elastic. This means that the total global wealth will wax and wane determined by the law of supply and demand. Therefore, those arguments regarding the inequality of wealth distribution have nothing whatsoever to do with wealth being finite. They are simply a philosophy that believes that wealth should be shared through governmental force, even though this philosophy has failed in every instance that it has been tried. The result has universally been universal poverty for the masses and even greater privileges and wealth for the elites.

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