The Rich are Always With Us

No matter how you set up your society, there are going to be some sorts of people who are better at running their lives in such a society, and they will naturally prosper more than those who do not possess their talents. There’s no way out of this reality; it’s like gravity.

Nor is it a problem that some people are bound to do better than others, and thus to wield more social power than others, any more than gravity is a problem. Indeed, it is one of the bases of social order, as gravity is a basis of causal order.

While differentials of prosperity are not inherently problematic, the way that people are sorted into greater or lesser prosperity may well be. The justice and goodness of the distribution of wealth in society depends crucially on how prosperity is generally achieved in the sort of society you have set up. If you set up your society so that the way to prosperity is by being a brutal gangster, you are going to have a lot of really expert brutal gangsters, and a lot of people trying their best to be brutal gangsters. If on the other hand you set things up so that the best way to be prosperous is to be beautiful and athletically talented, then you are going to have a lot of rich beautiful athletes around, and a lot of people trying to be beautiful athletes. If you make it so that prosperity is achieved by personal rectitude and enterprise, then you’ll have a lot of people trying to be virtuous and enterprising. And so forth.

14 thoughts on “The Rich are Always With Us

  1. Dear Kristor,

    It is strange you ended this interesting post even before you really started it. Or you wanted everybody to fill it out themselves?

    The interesting thing about the market society, capitalist society, whatever name we call it is that it claims that it does not decide what value, what kind of activity gets the prize but basically it leaves it to the distributed democracy of the market. The question is, even assuming it is true, we have the problem that modern people tend to think whatever people desire is automatically good for them. Of course conservatives are not going to agree with it, but the interesting part is, in exactly what ways does “mass man” as a customer tend to misunderstand what is good for him?

    Is it possible to determine a general tendency of error, a general direction, behind the hundreds of millions of USD thrown at pop and movie stars for example?

  2. Well…one flaw here is that someone or some people “sets up a society” in one manner or another for the “distribution” of wealth according to “justice and good”. Of course, this is a superficial and naive notion of how societies–not to mention civilizations–come to be. Wealth is created by somehow giving goods and services that enrich peoples lives to the point they are willing to pay for it. this mostly comes from agriculture, mining and manufacturing, and to a lesser extent services that support these primary activities, including high tech.This wealth can be stolen–and here we have the gangsters–or a potion can be given to cultural achievers–here we get the athletes, or perhaps artists. One most certainly cannot have for long true civilizations, which of course have economies as part of their foundations, that are based on either thievery or athletic ability. There are physical and moral limits–and orders–n the real world

    It is a strange construct to say “market societies” do not set value, for it is precisely the mechanisms of the market that set values, and markets are part of that society. Strickly speaking, there is really no such thing as a “capitalist” society, for capitalism is merely a resource management technique. There is in fact no such thing as a “market society”; there are societies that support freer markets than other societies, but this is hardly the sum of those societies.

    None of this is mysterious: human needs are in the end rational and predictable; capitalism , when nestled in a society that honors he rights of people in their individual and corporate existences, best gives economic liberty; when enough wealth is generated there wil be money to support beautiful athletes. There will always be gangster among us.

    FP tend to be somewhat megalomaniac about the abstraction thrown about here. You really are not in a position to decide if what people want is good for them, nor can you scarcely “Set up a socitey” to value one thing over another. You are not so vaunted above the rest of us. Mankind, modern or not, goes to market mostly to get what they need, not what they want. Only surplus wealth allows for greater want to be satified in anothing approaching a moral life.

    • 1. What does “FP” stand for?

      2. Yes, we are “in a position to decide if what people want is good for them.” If what they want is harmful to themselves and/or society, then it is bad for them. If what they want leads them closer to The Good, then it is good for them.

      3. Yes, we are not so vaunted above the rest of us. Even so, we can make judgments. See comment #2.

    • Let’s not confuse markets with capitalism. Markets are a resource allocation mechanism, capitalism is that specific kind of a market that is organized into large enterprises, usually owned by a few but worked by many people. This can be contrasted to a more Distributist, Chestertonian market, where with many small farmers, small shopkeepers the line of division between owners and laborers is much more diffuse.

      What I was always thinking is that the whole systems seems a bit like skewed towards the sovereignty of the customer and thus the joy of consumption, not the joy of production. Theoretically they should be equals, but practically vendors compete much, much more than customers do. This means our work will often be unenjoyably efficiency-oriented, and bring little happiness, and we compensate it by consumption, when we ourselves are customers “who is always right”.

      I am not sure why it happened so, why the power between customers and vendors so much in favor of customers and thus so much in favor of enjoyable consumption and not enjoyable production. The reason I am studying Distributism is precisely because maybe that could restore this balance – a world where we working for producing what and how customers want and working in a way that makes ourselves proud without the need to cut corners to undercut the competition’s prices is kind of balanced.

      • Yet, even were the ‘Distributionist’ scheme capable of furnishing the organizing principle of a society worth living in, the fact remains that the only way to achieve it, and the only way to “sustain” it once achieved, is via violent force and compulsion.

        How many murdered lives of human beings is ‘Distributionism’ worth?

    • Strickly speaking, there is really no such thing as a “capitalist” society, for capitalism is merely a resource management technique.

      I think another way to put that is that *all* societies — even the Communists, and even the Bushmen in the Kalihari — are inherently capitalistic. Some are just more rational and efficient about it than others.

      • Capitalism is the lever-and-fulcrum by which we use the work we are doing and have already done to multiply the result of that work. In effect, in specializing in the work we individually do and our work for the work of others, we “create time”; for all work is done in time, and the only resources that are absolutely limited are time (in which to do work) and work-done.

  3. Hattip is correct: no society is ever ‘set up’ with ideals of material distribution, justice, etc. – except in theory. In practice, societies grow organically.

    • When I spoke of “setting up your society,” it was a rhetorical device, not a substantive theoretical supposition. No one of us can be dictator of the world, obviously; so society is not of any particular one’s making. Thus I could have used the passive voice, and indeed that is how society is usually spoken of by everyone but conspiracy theorists.

      And yet, society “develops organically” by means of the moral decisions of individual persons. Each of us therefore bears some moral responsibility for the general social order; and this responsibility to the polis is inherent in our moral responsibility to God, to ourselves and to our families. Our effect upon our fellows comes along as a package deal with every decision we make.

      Thus a man who spends his life’s matter on immoral pursuits contributes to the promotion of an immoral society, that is organized around the service of those pursuits. If you are in the market for sex with prostitutes, you help establish prostitution by constituting yourself an extension of the demand side of that market; and the institutions of prostitution having been established at some considerable cost in social resources, prostitution is made thereby far more convenient for others to obtain. The marginal act of prostitution thenceforth occurs ever more efficiently.

      Contrariwise, a man who spends his life’s matter on the pursuit of holiness and righteousness cannot but contribute to a greater general sanctity and rectitude. A prevalence of such men will naturally result in the erection of sublime cathedrals and basilicas, the foundation of formidable religious hospitals, orphanages, schools and universities, of great seminaries, monasteries and abbeys, and the propagation of the instruments and techniques of the spiritual life – music, liturgy, theology, literature, and so forth.

      So much then for the notion of the victimless crime. The most basic harm of immorality is to the causal fabric of the world; a moment dedicated to wickedness cheats the whole world, and the whole of human society, of the goodness that might otherwise have been produced.

      Finally, it is excellence at procuring or producing the things that men generally esteem that confers upon a person the authority to guide society – i.e., wealth. This is obvious in men like Donald Trump or Tom Cruise. But such authority can be exerted also by severe ascetics, such as St. Stephen Stylites, St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Francis of Assisi, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

      Do you then want a certain sort of society? Live a life commensurate thereto. As a coherent economy, the world is malleable to your intent. There is of course no guarantee that you yourself will enjoy the realization of your aims, either for your own life or the world at large. Indeed, the odds are stacked heavily against your success – to think otherwise is the besetting Babelonian error of the gnostic utopian. But even if your own profit on the project of living according to your values is martyrdom, so that it would seem that the world had utterly repudiated those values, your inputs to the course of history cannot be wasted, and your deeds cannot but have steered things a bit closer to the ends you sought.

  4. It is possible to set up a smaller society within the larger one that largely shields its members from Darwinian capitalism. The first and most obvious example is the family. The family can be a crime family or it came be a family that teaches personal rectitude and enterprise and values truth and beauty.

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