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Who Creates Wealth?

By Jonathan Rowe and David Bollier / The Missing Sector

Who Creates Wealth?

Is the valuable game-winning ball yours to keep if you were merely the last to touch it? / Tage Olsin

Jonathan Rowe and David Bollier raise some really good thought-provoking questions in this article about economics, ‘the market’, and its insidious creep into every aspect of our lives. They ask, “Is everything for sale?” It touches on the need to create boundaries on the market’s “relentless creep”.

The part I particularly wanted to draw attention to was the last section, “Who creates wealth?” It begins with this account:

In 2004, a reserve first baseman for the Boston Red Sox sullied the sweet moment of the team’s first World Series victory in 85 years, when he claimed ownership of the ball he used to make the last out. It was a sad commentary on a grabby age; and it raised a couple of crucial questions: Who exactly created the monetary value of that ball (which could fetch millions), and why should the person who just happened to be holding it at the end of the game be entitled to all its value?

It goes on to explore this question and point out that most value in society is not created by a mere business owner or entrepreneur, but through the social interactions of the community around them and which they are a part of.

Once we acknowledge the social component of economic value, then discussion of financial return and social policy take a new turn. Taxation, for example, no longer is a matter of “redistributing” someone else’s income, or wealth, but rather of restoring a portion of it to the rightful owners. The acknowledgment of social co-production also dissolves the myth of the heroic individual businessman or woman. Individuals do great things; but as Warren Buffet—who knows something about making money—has pointed out, none do it alone.

So there it is again: this idea that flies in the face of the ‘taxation is theft’ crowd, and those who characterize any sort of public spending as ‘theft’. The real question is: Is it theft, or is it merely a restoration of a portion that should never have been taken?

In the case of private property, does someone really have the right to deprive everyone else of its utility by claiming it as their own? It’s only fair that some of the value lost to the rest of society by the private seizure of this resource should be re-claimed through some sort of taxing scheme at the very least. Not only is it ‘fair’ but it’s arguably in the self-interest of the taxed property owner to comply with the tax lest the value of his/her investment be diminished due to a faltering society around them. After all, there is no honor in being ruler of a nation of beggars, and there’s little value in occupying a mansion in the midst of a slum.