Rebuilding Notre Dame
In the aftermath of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris, several billionaires have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild. For many people, this was a wonderful, generous gesture and a tribute to the human spirit nearly as wonderful as the building they are pledging to help rebuild. However, I have noticed more and more that there are others — those who cannot find anything but fault in anything a wealthy person does — who are complaining that if they have the money to pledge sums as lofty as $100 million to rebuild an old cathedral, they the had the money to give to the poor.
The choice is not either 1) rebuild Notre Dame or 2) feed the poor. Notre Dame will get rebuilt. The question is: by whom? If these billionaires had not promised portions of their vast wealth to rebuilding the cathedral, the money would have come from somewhere, most likely from a combination of the French government and the Catholic Church, both of whom are bound to contribute anyway. Also, we would expect the average Catholic — indeed, the average person across Europe and the United States — to make contributions. We will no doubt see all of these factors coming together to fund the rebuilding. I would personally prefer to see billionaires freely donating their own money than the average French taxpayer donating directly (and by force) through the French government.
Those complaining about the billionaires’ contributions surely know this to some extent. So why are they complaining? Their argument is that the billionaires ought to “give back” to society because of all they have ostensibly taken from it. However, the economy is not a zero sum game. Entrepreneurial billionaires did not make their money by taking it from poor people. The poor don’t have enough money to take from them and get rich. Entrepreneurial billionaires — like all entrepreneurs — only retain 2% of the value they create with their entrepreneurial activities. That’s right, only 2%. The rest is distributed through market forces across the globe. 98% of the wealth created by Bill Gates is in the global economy — not just through jobs he created directly, but by making people’s lives better with his products. Literally trillions of dollars of economic value have been created by Bill Gates, enjoyed by practically everyone across the globe. As wonderful as his philanthropic activities are as he tries to give…