Did he do a billion dollars’ worth of work?

January 25, 2014 – 4:13 pm by John

In an article about Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's net worth surpassing $1 billion, David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, is quoted as saying, "Did she do a billion dollars' worth of work? I don’t know. She had the good fortune to land in the right place where her talents could really be applauded."

Kirkpatrick's comments incensed many, because how many male billionaires are doubted or questioned in that way? How many people say: Did that man do a billion dollars' worth of work, to amass such a fortune? This tweet by Alex Leo is a good representative example:

Insofar as the targets of their ire (which I'm sure include patriarchy in general or some such, and not just David Kirkpatrick) only question the worth of wealthy females in that way, they have a valid, important point.

My point in writing this post is different, however. My response to their outrage is that libertarians and anarchists severely doubt the deservedness of every billionaire's fortune and, in fact, the fortunes of many millionaires in business, industry, and politics. Our doubt as to the legitimacy of the fortunes of many large business owners, CEOs, and the like is practically a given. The illegitimacy of their fortunes is so understood that we hardly mention it explicitly. Instead, we tend to focus on the success of large corporations and other businesses when their success is owed in part to State interference in the economy. We assume as a matter of course that large businesses (and therefore their owners and executives) amassed such power and wealth through at least partially nefarious means, either by design (through lobbying and rent-seeking) or more indirectly (such as by incidentally benefiting from a regulation or barrier to entry, or by consciously taking advantage of regulations already on the books).

Libertarians and others who are opposed to the political-economic status quo take it as such an obvious given that thousands upon thousands of millionaires got rich by at least partially political (i.e., immoral and illegitimate) means that it's hard to find articles, blag posts, or discussions in which someone comes right out and says that too many millionaires and billionaires owe their fortunes to cronyism and didn't actually provide a million or a hundred million or a billion dollars' worth of value to other people. At least, I had a hard time finding many explicit, nicely phrased examples. But every time a columnist or blagger bemoans cronyism or corporatism or crony-capitalism, or points out how regulations are designed to help the rich and powerful and stamp out competition, we are making the case that some rich people and successful businesses are only so rich and successful because they are powerful and well connected, not because they have provided a great deal of value to other human beings, and that they have therefore not earned their wealth and power.

I did manage to find a few examples by searching Google and by scouring the depths of my memory for blag posts and discussions I had read years ago. Here are merely eight out of the tens of thousands of examples of libertarians or libertarian-leaning people decrying the ill-gotten and undeserved power and wealth of the modern power-elite. Note that whereas the main concern of mainstream feminism regarding the super-rich is that males and females be reviled or revered equally, the main concern of libertarianism regarding the wealthy is whether they have acquired their wealth justly (i.e., through the economic means).

The first half of "Corporations versus the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now" by Roderick T. Long nicely summarizes the major ways in which large corporations (and thus their owners and executives) succeed and make billions off of myriad State policies. It's a great, short, illuminating lesson on some basic tenets of libertarianism.

The 19th-century libertarian Victor Yarros contrasted his camp's theory of just property with that of Auberon Herbert, who thought that millionaires and landlords should be allowed to keep their present wealth even if it could be shown to have been unjustly acquired:

We, on the other hand, while insisting on the principle of private property, in wealth honestly obtained under the reign of liberty, do not think it either unjust or unwise to dispossess the landlords who have monopolized natural wealth by force and fraud. We hold that the poor and disinherited toilers would be justified in expropriating, not alone the landlords, who notoriously have no equitable titles to their lands, but all the financial lords and rulers, all the millionaires and very wealthy individuals. . . . Almost all possessors of great wealth enjoy neither what they nor their ancestors rightfully acquired....

Anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe said in an interview:

Every person, rich or poor, should be treated the same before the law. There are rich people, who are rich without having defrauded or stolen from anyone. They are rich, because they have worked hard, they have saved diligently, they have been productive, and they have shown entrepreneurial ingenuity, often for several family-generations. Such people should not only be left alone, but they should be praised as heroes. And there are rich people, mostly from the class of political leaders in control of the state-apparatus and from the state-connected elites of banking and big business, who are rich, because they have been directly engaged in, or indirectly benefitted from, confiscation, theft, trickery and fraud. Such people should not be left alone, but instead be condemned and despised as gangsters.

Mutualist-libertarian Kevin Carson wrote in the comments section of one of his articles,

And there's probably some fraction of income over $250k that was really earned through hard work and enterpreneurship.

If Obama's cutoff point were, say, extending the tax cuts for everyone below $5 million, that might be a bit less clearcut for me because at that level the probability that anyone made over that amount of money through non-political means approaches zero.

Charles Johnson has written, "I just want Sam Walton to get his cold, dead hands out of my pockets. The rest is all details, as far as I’m concerned," as well as, "The centrifugal tendency of markets: market anarchists see freed markets, under conditions of free competition, as tending to diffuse wealth and dissolve fortunes — with a centrifugal effect on incomes, property-titles, land, and access to capital — rather than concentrating it in the hands of a socioeconomic elite."

Bill Gates: Flip-Flopping IP Hypocrite by Stephan Kinsella:

Now that Gates has used state-granted IP monopolies to acquire billions of dollars that he can then use to be a bigshot philanthropist, he is all for patents (as my friend Rob Wicks says, Gates is “America’s wealthiest welfare queen”).

Libertarians Battle the Corporate State by James Ostrowski:

Recently, in Buffalo, it was announced that Geico, owned by Warren Buffett, would open a local office in exchange for $102 million in "inducements." All it took was a flunky of Buffett’s to put in a call to the Governor.
[...]
When I heard Geico was coming to town, I knew there must be a catch. Why would any company come to Buffalo where it and its employees would be fleeced by the local political class? And the answer is — when your owner is the second richest man on earth, he can manipulate the state’s corrupt political system — corporatism — and get a waiver from the state’s tax slave policies and crazy regulations.
[...]
The News has downplayed the $102 million in "inducements" to Geico: tax breaks, grants, and utility discounts. It’s all very complicated which means that politically-connected lawyers and law firms will earn huge fees putting it all on paper. Economic development bureaucrats — a class of people which would not exist in a free society — also will earn huge salaries administering all this legalized graft.
[...]
Let me get to the real heart of the matter, though, lest I be misunderstood. I hate taxes so please don’t misconstrue anything I say as believing that drastic tax relief is not needed. But here’s the $64,000 question. Why should Geico get tax breaks and not the rest of us? ...

There are reasons — nefarious ones — why our leaders choose special breaks over citizen-wide tax cuts. First, as in this case, it forces the businessmen to ask for help. That help always comes at a price: contributions, endorsements, and mugging for the cameras at ground-breaking time. That’s why you see politicians at all these openings.

Equally important, the politicians get to run these complex deals through their patronage apparatus — connected lawyers, real estate firms, development bureaucrats — all of whom make an enormous amount of money figuring out how the wired fat cats can avoid paying the taxes and complying with the regulations the rest of us are stuck with. The recipients of the patronage then kick back campaign contributions to the politicians, do free legal work, and form the backbone of their campaign organizations at re-election time.

Thus, the seemingly abstract principle of equal protection of the laws, if enforced, would have an immediate and tangible impact on cleaning up our corrupt political system. "Ideas have consequences."

The bottom line is that our corrupt political/economic system in Buffalo and elsewhere continues as it has for many years. The left thinks that system is capitalism. It isn’t, unless they view Mussolini as a capitalist. No, it’s corporatism or the corporate state, a marriage between big government and big business with big labor as a junior partner. The beneficiaries are of course big business, big government and big labor. Everyone else, that is, 85 percent of us, lose out big-time.

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