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 production.
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, isn’t it?
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 opens 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 revolution.
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 money.
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 (article 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 others.
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.