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105 When to treat me like a cow
It’s a Wonderful Life
In this time of year, we watch George Bailey tell
old man Potter “People are just like cattle to you!” He refers to
exploitation of what Mr. Potter calls “a thrifty working class.”
How about that, being treated like cattle?
Sometimes I wish people could be treated
as well as cattle. Modern animal husbandry goes to great lengths
to live up to the age-old advertising slogan “from contented
cows.” They are fed carefully balanced food and milked whenever
they are ready, monitored and pampered for maximum milk
The contentment of the cow really does
matter. They have a rigid social (“pecking”) order as they file
out to, and return from, the pasture every day. Cows are rarely
violent, but they pack enough mass to be assertive in a quiet
manner. According to one report, if the farmer puts the lead bell
on the wrong cow, the regular lead cow’s milk production goes
down. Nature rewards enlightened management.
In my childhood, our cows were always
family pets that were treated gently. This was not exclusively to
increase their production. There was an exchange of contentment
as a cow placed her chin on my shoulder while I scratched her
neck. It was my idea of living close to the land. It represented
harmony with nature.
Would it be nice if all workers
everywhere were treated as well as my parents treated our dairy
cows? The cows were individuals. We never thought of them under
the generic term “cattle.” In
article 100, fortunate employees do not face demands; they
work under kindly anticipations.
Is it a wonderful job?
There are two teachings of the story: (1)
kindness applied to the work force improves productivity and (2)
an atmosphere of kindness is beneficial to the cow and to the
farmer. When we transfer the teaching to human resources, the
stakes and the rewards go even higher.
Article 100 describes in more detail the freely flowing work
model that groups labor and management into a single team working
for a common goal.
The pastoral peace described above
suffered a shock on December 11, 2020 when Robert Reich tweeted:
"America's billionaires could give everybody in the
country a $3,000 stimulus check and still be richer than they
were before the pandemic. If that doesn't convince you we
need a wealth tax, I don't know what will.” Pretty strident,
Many readers will ask, “What was wrong
with that? Isn’t it (morally) right?” Of course, it is meant to
point in the direction of healing. The problem lies in the
tone of the complaint. Billionaires might sense it as
rabble-rousing, stoking of discontent, and declaration of
hostility. The statement sounds combative, pitting parties
against each other. This blog repeatedly warns against the words
“fighting for something.”
Inheritance tax needs to be a tool, not a
fight. Protesting and demanding detract from purposeful,
voluntary consecration of funds. We are happier paying a tax we
see as a tool for progress.
In recent conversation,
Chuck Collins identified wealthy people, including Warren
Buffet, who applaud inheritance tax. Therefore, the tweet did
not destroy peace in society! If we listen to it in the
spirit in which it was given, it is a welcome, practical
suggestion. That is the tone of today’s article.
Some months ago, I started a draft called
“Protect our millionaires.” My point there was the valuable role
of people who understand wealth. I was urging us to benefit from,
not discourage, the skills of wealth builders. When we lay aside
criticism and jealousy, we appreciate what private people have to
contribute. That means they have it to contribute and they must
contribute. Taking both meanings together says, “what you have,
you must contribute.” Now we are making progress.
Mr. Collins is part of a praiseworthy
groundswell of people with the vision of a better world, one
where resources are constructively applied where they satisfy
needs. These people are starting to devote their management
skills to the most important issues facing us. He points out
explicitly that wealthy people improve their own lives when they
are in an orderly, peaceful society. When every worker is
performing like the well-maintained contented cow, the cumulative
reward flows to everyone. In a purely economic sense, this is the
union bumper sticker slogan, “The best customers for American
products are well-paid American workers.”
Article 103 points out that we cannot become more secure than
knowing how to share our resources.
I would be a phony to advise millionaires
how to succeed. They are the experts in administration and
distribution. In the above interview, Mr. Collins explicitly
acknowledges different approaches taken by intentional
benefactors: some undertake specific projects while others
transfer funds to organizations that choose projects. I agree
with him that each person needs to make an independent
determination. Likewise, I expect you, my reader, to ask the
questions: “What is my vision, what is the beneficiaries’ vision,
and what is the best combination thereof?”
Examples abound. Mr. Collins distributed
his fortune to charitable organizations and withdrew to a
hands-off position. This is an excellent way to avoid
overbearing, misdirected, and uninformed control. He acknowledged
the likelihood of later encountering a specific challenge to
which he would like to devote a fortune. In contrast, President
Carter chose specific health and housing goals and continued
personal involvement in developing them. Bill Gates chose foreign
and domestic projects and followed up on their progress.
That is really the same question we all
face in career choices, and I repeat the Feynman principle that
article 41: he maximized his utility by multiplying the need
for a task by his ability to perform it.
Articles 56 and
75 taught that gold is where you find it. The wealth that
improves this country must be allocated from where it currently
lies. There are several steps involved in transferring it,
not including the guillotine used in the French
Often beneficiary choice will do better
than government choice. Carol Roth
counters the “faster horses” argument which says that the
inventor knows better than the consuming public. Milton Friedman
told of a factory that was going to be able to pay workers more.
The workers got together and chose to have the plant air
conditioned instead. They evaluated their own needs and benefits.
Spreading benefits effectively requires well-designed discourse
where parties value each other’s expectations (articles 40 and 41).
Do you remember
Article 78? I ridiculed the job applicant who spells out a
list of demands. Do people realize that is what they are doing
when they tell millionaires how to apply their wealth? The above
section reminds me that the millionaires can figure it out much
better than I can. That responsibility resides with the
We have examined the how. To
identify the what, consider this:
- Resources including money will come from the wealthy because that
is where the resources now reside.
- Taxation is not the goal. The goal is optimized
application of resources. Collection is a variable
to be determined relative to the need.
- Rich people fulfill their responsibility best when they align
their skill with public goals. Those who sucked up all the money
must learn how to put it back where it belongs.
- The rest of us respect and honor the people of means who assure
that every individual secures the humans’ needs in abundance.
I steadfastly find the Paul in every Saul
6)—even before Saul realizes his own goodness. My testimony
contributes to a successful transformation from self-righteous to
righteous. Rich people sincerely reach for good outcomes. We
commission them to learn their craft for the universal good. They
have no joy in amassing selfish wealth at the expense of
I leave a parting thought: those whose
fundamental humans’ needs are being met do not need more money.
Bill Gates cannot eat more potatoes than I can afford.
Being For Others Blog copyright © 2020 Kent Busse
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