Just the other day at work, I overheard a short conversation between two co-workers discussing the price of gasoline. All of the usual complaints and concerns were voiced. “I remember when gas was only 99 cents a gallon.” “I spend half of my paycheck on gas each week.” “This four dollars a gallon stuff is outrageous and we need to do something about it.” The solution these two men came up with, however, is what really caught my attention. “I just saw on the news that the CEO of some gas company makes 68 million dollars a year–That’s more than one million dollars a week while we’re barely surviving.” Of course, I thought, let’s blame the millionaire for all of our problems. How novel. I was unable to interject into the conversation, so I will have to settle for responding via this writing and come to the defense of our millionaire friend.
I can certainly understand where these men were coming from in their frustration with high gas prices. It does seem immoral at first glance when the average American is struggling just to make ends meet while some wealthy people are making more money than entire countries. However, that view is entirely too short-sighted. Long-term ramifications must be a factor in any decision we make as a society. Taking money from the millionaire CEO of a gas company to help lower gas prices for poor Americans is a very tantalizing idea, but let us examine the implications of this course of action.
When it comes to wealthy people, one of the most common misconceptions is that they sit on their fortunes and horde them. While this may be the case with certain individuals, it is assuredly the exception to the rule. Look at the lavish mansions and luxury vehicles that most millionaires own. Who built those mansions and vehicles? The average American. The millionaire who buys these things is de facto spreading his wealth by providing jobs for home builders, construction workers, lumber yards, painters, plumbers, carpenters, designers, architects, welders, factory workers, salesmen, and other members of the workforce. At the very company this conversation about high gas prices took place, the majority of the customers are wealthy people. These two short-sighted men were advocating for the elimination of their customer base and thus their very job.
Wealthy people can also spread their wealth in another way. Rather than simply providing jobs through buying things, wealthy people are the ones who actually create the businesses which employ the average American. Wealthy people are in the best possible position to take risks and start new businesses. It can take many years for a middle class person to start their own business on a small scale and build it up enough to employ many people. When a wealthy person is starting a business, however, this entire process is done away with. They already possess the capital necessary to create and grow their business. Wealthy people are a breeding ground for the new businesses which employ Americans. Wealthy people are sharing and spreading their wealth.
There are also a few statistics to present which undermine the idea of taking money from this millionaire CEO in order to lower gas prices. In 2013, the national average for a gallon of gas was $3.49, and we spent roughly $469,439,900,000 on gas during the entire year. If we were to subtract the entire $68,000,000 salary of the CEO of “some gas company”, the average price of gasoline per gallon would fall all the way down to $3.489 per gallon. That’s it. If we seized this man’s entire salary, we would be paying $.001 less per gallon. And at what cost!? If this millionaire were to start one small business with his money, he could provide steady jobs which enable thousands and thousands of Americans to support their families for years to come. Or he could lower gas prices by one tenth of one penny per gallon. The choice isn’t a hard one.
The worst part of taking money from this millionaire, though, actually has nothing to do with economics. It is rather a question of morality. Do we really want to live in a society that punishes success? The CEO of this gas company didn’t have his fortune fall in his lap. The vast majority of millionaires are first generation millionaires. The average American understands how hard it is to make money these days, and thus should view any wealthy person as an example to be held up for admiration and emulation. Instead we find ourselves in a society filled with envy. Success is no longer appreciated–it is envied. When is the last time a millionaire complained about the wealth disparity between himself and his billionaire neighbor? The complaints only arise from the unsuccessful crowd. Ours is a society filled with envy.
Unfortunately the circumstances prevented me from saying any of this to the two co-workers. I doubt my words would have carried much weight, as anyone who makes such a claim is obviously more concerned with emotions rather than logic. I often wonder where our envious attitude toward success will take this society. Those at the bottom who complain of inequality are advocating national disaster. At our current pace Americans will soon have wealth equality, but it will be equality in poverty. Any society which defames success will not be successful. This is easily understood when logic is employed. Start thinking, Americans, and realize that successful people need to be praised and emulated rather than envied. In the words of the brilliant Mrs. Thatcher, “The spirit of envy can destroy. It can never build.”