Bill Gates Should Be Morally Praised, Not for Giving Away His Wealth, but for Having Produced It
There is a grave injustice being committed with respect to the praise Bill Gates is receiving for his decision to give away his $100 billion fortune during his lifetime. Gates does not deserve moral credit for giving away his wealth--but for having produced it in the first place.
According to a spokesman for the Gates foundations, the Microsoft chairman considers Andrew Carnegie his role model in philanthropy. Gates has initiated a plan to give computers to 10,000 libraries, many of which are the same ones built originally by Carnegie.
But men such as Carnegie, Gates and others like them--John D. Rockefeller, James J. Hill, J. P. Morgan, et al.--are individuals who possess a rare virtue: the ability to create wealth on an enormous scale. They manufactured steel, produced oil, built railroads, established banks or designed software. Business giants like these dramatically solved the problem of production--the problem that plagued mankind throughout its history, and that still plagues the impoverished, non-capitalist nations of the world.
This productivity makes human life possible. It cannot be sufficiently stressed that business production is a life-giving activity. Bill Gates's fortune represents $100 billion of additional value that did not exist before--value that has made people $100 billion better off than they would have been without his efforts.
Bill Gates is a genius in his field. In the amount of firsthand thinking required, his creativity equals that of such artistic geniuses as Shakespeare and Michelangelo. The software created by Microsoft enhances the lives of millions of people who use it, directly or indirectly. Just think of all the amazing efficiencies you can achieve today with a computer that would not be possible without the work of Bill Gates. Just think of how the entire "information revolution"--spurred by innovators like Gates--is advancing our standard of living.
The point is not merely that wealth must be created before it can be distributed. There is a fundamental moral issue here: the individual's right to his own life. That is, Carnegie held that wealthy individuals had a "divine duty" to give away their money while they still lived. He concluded: "The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced." But why is it a "disgrace" to die with the money that one has earned? Why is it a "disgrace" to spend it on oneself--or to leave it to one's family? Philanthropists like Carnegie believe that people have a duty to sacrifice themselves for others. But if so, what has become of the individual's "inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?
The political right of an individual to his own life is an essential principle of liberty. And it rests on the moral rightness of acting to sustain one's own life, which includes generating the material wealth life requires. The only disgrace for a healthy individual is to live a parasitic, non-productive life--to be a bum or a wastrel or a cheat.
To redistribute wealth from those who have produced it to those who have not requires only envy and the pointing of a gun--whether by a thief armed with a weapon or a legislator armed with a bill. It is the creation of wealth that demands the virtue of honest, independent effort. It is the creation of wealth that deserves tribute. And those who do it superlatively, like an Andrew Carnegie or a Bill Gates, should be regarded--by anyone who holds human life as a value--as moral heroes.
This needs to be emphatically stated in our society, where the redistributor of wealth is routinely commended, while the creator of that wealth--and the victim of the redistributors--elicits only indifference or condemnation. But producing food, automobiles, houses, medicines, etc.--not giving them away--is what human life depends on. It is the ability to produce that deserves our attention and our admiration. We must revolutionize our ethical thinking: it is the wealth-creators, not the charity-dispensers, who deserve moral praise.
Whatever benefits come from the philanthropy of a Carnegie or a Gates are marginal. Our focus should be on the primary act of generating wealth. We must learn the importance of celebrating the virtue of productivity. Our future as a productive nation requires it.
Dr. Bernstein is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.