Let the Facts Speak
Contemporary thought holds it evident that wealth is a sign of personal virtue, of thrift and hard work. The terms ‘rich’ and ‘hardworking’ are interchangeable. Poor and lazy are synonymous too.
Such thought patterns lead to the questioning of the redistribution of wealth. If the rich work hard to accumulate their wealth, the others, who exist in a 9-to-5 world, have it easy. They enjoy the wealth of the rich through the progressive tax and benefits system.
This logic is skewed, however. While it is true that hard work can result in success, it is not a guarantee of it. A lot of people work hard, yet only 1% of the world’s population controls 99% of its wealth.
And the rich do not always work harder than the poor. A lot of people in lower income groups work hard all their lives. They are also known to be more susceptible to injuries in the workplace. Few business leaders would trade their extended office time working on a PC for a shorter stint on their feet all day behind a sales counter.
The myth of hard work is a self-perpetuating one. Who after all controls most of the media we read? And many of the rich seems to believe their own stories. Unable to accept any role privilege may have played in their lives.
The popular author Ayn Rand was one example.
With her success came illusions. She claimed to have never taken help from anyone, showcasing her own achievements as support for her philosophy that hard work breeds success. Rand, however, spent her first few months in the US supported by the loans she received from relatives, although she never paid them back.
She was also fortunate to get a break in Hollywood as a writer at a time the movie business was expanding. There were other writers, just as competent, that never got the same chances.
Often obsessed with the adulation their success brings it is not uncommon for the rich to spin their own fantasies of how they got there. Unpleasant episodes of their life are replaced with anecdotes that blend with the story they’ve created for themselves.
To believe in the illusion of competence over luck, you must completely ignore the factor of class. Yet studies report that the influence of family connections is a primary driver for success.
A recent Brooking Institution report reveals that a person born into a rich family without a college education is more likely to be successful than a person born into a poor family and having a college education. You are better off being born dumb, lazy and rich than you are smart, hardworking and poor.
The other word often confused with the rich is ‘productive’. But does a person’s wealth actually measure how productive he or she is? Look around your own place of work. Do the smartest and most skillful people always earn higher than the less skilful and lazier lot?
The world is not an ideal place, where talent is rewarded fairly.
Using wealth as a parameter to gauge social value is a fallacy. We know that a lawyer earning $500,000 does not always contribute more to society than a lawyer that earns $200,000. It is possible that the lawyer earning less does free work for the underprivileged. Is a top footballer a million times more productive than a nurse?
And if we gauge contribution to society by level of income only, why has the share of income of the top 1% of the rich risen from 8% to 24% over the last decade. Has the talent and competence of the elite grown in leaps and bounds? Or are there other factors at play?
To build wealth from scratch does need hard work. But it needs lots of other things too. The rich are neither more productive or better. Other things count for more. We should remind ourselves of that.