The CEO of Amazon.com, billionaire Jeff Bezos, reportedly earns more than $275 million per DAY. (He has other business interests too, like the Washington Post). Publication of his salary has prompted many social media posts—laments, criticisms, righteous indignation, and only rarely admiration.
One post caught my eye: “If Bezos only made only $700, what could we do with the other $13,859,300 every hour?”
My answer surprised many readers: “The world would be poorer by $13,859,300 every hour.”
Here’s why. Bezos’ increase in wealth does not come at the cost of others. On the contrary, his wealth comes by providing at least as much (and probably more) value to others. Only tyrants, governments, and robbers can get wealthy by providing no gains to others—they do it by force. Bezos forces nobody to give him money; he must entice them by delivering more value in return. Bezos creates wealth. Put Bezos out of business, and his wealth creation ends—the world is poorer for it.
Then come follow-up posts from social justice warriors: “What about his workers? Many of them earn only a few dollars per hour.” But, does Bezos force anyone to work for him? No. Would his workers be better off if Bezos is out of business? No. Bezos “takes” no money out of the system. He ADDS value to our economic system, including his workers’ lives.
It’s absolutely true how workers add value too. However, Amazon workers are not slaves or hostages; they voluntarily choose Amazon for employment for pay. The value they add is why he pays them, and they agree to it, and even apply and interview to be one of his lucky workers.
Sadly, if social justice warriors (SJWs) had their way, they would regulate, tax, and appropriate wealth away from Mr. Bezos. They argue it is for the good of others—as if they are somehow enlightened enough to know what’s best for others. Their sloppy thinking is misguided and immoral. It is always greedy to look upon others’ wealth and assume you know better uses for it. There is nothing moral, noble, or charitable in taking money from some to give to others. Such faux charity is properly called theft.
What’s worse is such “charity” would be taking away wealth and productive capabilities from one of the most prolific entrepreneurs and producers our world has ever seen. The SJW’s hostilities toward Bezos would hurt production, kill jobs, hurt customers, and make the world worse off. Redistribution is, by definition, unproductive. In this case, it would be destructive as well.
Finally, the social justice warriors claim: “When Walmart and Amazon put every local competitor out of business, then…people are pretty much forced to work for them or starve and be homeless.”
Think about this, go back 40 years. You might have said the exact same thing above with “Sears” and “K-Mart” in place of Walmart and Amazon. You might have even argued they should be regulated to prevent monopoly. You would have been (and are now) dead wrong. Monopolies accrue when we curtail competition. If you’re worried about Walmart and Amazon, then reduce taxes and ease regulations so they face the full brunt of the next efficient startup to come along. Stop fretting over market doomsdays, which never materialize.
In short, let’s stop looking at others and think somehow we know better for them, others, and indeed, the world. Nobody is that smart. Miraculously though, markets and the opportunity to achieve Bezos-like success inspire many to work, innovate, and strive for the American dream. If successful, their efforts benefit themselves, their workers, their customers, and all of society. Markets do the billions of amazing good deeds our do-gooders continually fail to accomplish.
Free your mind, free the markets; prosperity ensues.
Ron is a professor of economics at BYU-Idaho and an Idaho state representative (LD.34). He specializes in applied microeconomics, public economics, quantitative methods, the economics of education, poverty economics, and public choice. He has been teaching for nearly 30 years, beginning at the University of Connecticut, Ohio University-Eastern, and the last 19 years at BYU-Idaho.