Someone who has 50 billion dollars and keeps it for himself isn’t really interested in the “common good.” You don’t need 50 billion unless you are trying to control the society. And that’s not looking out for the common good.
Andrew Carnegie was once the richest man in the world. Coming as a dirt poor kid from Scotland to the U.S., by the 1880s he’d built an empire in steel — and then gave it all away: $60 million to fund a system of 1,689 public libraries across the country.
Andrew Carnegie built wealth but then gave it away in something that would help society. He was after the “common good.” And he had descendants to whom he could have given his money.
Are there people like Carnegie today? Yes, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates. But Mark Zuckerberg? No. He tucks it all away in his own LLC so that he can invest and do what he wants to keep power.
That’s the problem with money. Yes, it’s an easier way to exchange goods and services. But it’s also a good way to corrupt the society. If one really looks at money carefully, it doesn’t really help the common good unless those who own the money are driven to use it that way – like Carnegie.
So who should control the money if there is to be “common good”? The obvious answer is: the people who are supposed to benefit from the common good. If you leave the money in the hands of the Zuckerbergs, you get an oligarchy. If you transfer it all into the hands of government officials, you probably get corruption, as the officials find ways to use it for personal purposes. You can get the money from the Zuckerbergs by means of a wealth tax, which reduces the amount of money in the private hands. But how to make sure that it is used for the “common good”?
Put it in the hands of people who have proven themselves to be honorable and just. There are such people, you only need to find them. Just as Carnegie was driven by his internal thinking to give away his money, there are people for whom honesty and honor are a top priority. There should be a small number of them who guard the money, and there should be a separate small number of them who oversee the first group. These people should devise plans on how to spend the money for the “common good.” Free healthcare, free education through college and graduate school, eliminating student debt, finding ways to increase public transportation and reducing private automobiles, reducing crime, reducing violence, increasing gender and racial equality, increasing low-income housing. In other words – increasing the good things in society, and making enjoyment of those good things “common.”
I was sitting in chair overlooking the interior courtyard of Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende. I could see a few of the employees of the Bellas Artes, the most obvious one of which was the man mowing the lawns and raking the leaves. There were others: mostly security guards, who stood around doing little. There were a few people in the ticket office and some other workers. I kept looking at the gardener. It seemed obvious to me that he must be the lowest paid worker in the place, even though he was working hard. And who would be the highest-paid? No doubt the head of the organization. And I’m sure there were financial people, legal people, management people. All would be paid more than the gardener.
But why should the guards, who just stand around, be paid more than the gardener? Why should the head of the organization be paid excessively more than the gardener? A cashier at McDonald’s earns $1 while the CEO earns $74. Does this make sense? Certainly, it wouldn’t if most of the expenses of life provide through a program that increases the common good. If the cashier earns $17,000 a year, why should the CEO earn more than $200,000? Does the CEO really need $1.850 million a year? And let’s not forget that this is just the base salary for the CEO. The McDonald’s CEO actually takes home $21.8 million. The average McDonald’s worker takes home $7,000 annually.
I don’t doubt that the CEO is worth many times more than the average worker. But how much more? And what, pray tell, is the CEO going to do with all that money? I’m sure that he is not going to be a Carnegie and contribute it to the common good.
I admire Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They seem to be the honest and honorable people. They have proposed a wealth tax which would begin evening the wealth throughout the society. Not to the extent that I have proposed above – but it would be a beginning. Right now, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett own nearly $350 billion in assets. The bottom 50% of Americans collectively own $250,000 billion. Does this make sense? Why does this promote the common good? And if there is no common good, as Robert Reich says, “there is no society.”