Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Peter Buffet: A Real Life Ivy Starnes?

Don Watkins over at Voices for Reason recently highlighted a New York Times op-ed by Peter Buffet, the son of investing giant Warren Buffet. It's title: The Charitable-Industrial Complex. I read it, and it is undiluted egalitarian collectivism. Buffet's twin premises: Wealth is a fixed tribal product, and the accumulation of wealth by one necessarily comes at the expense of everyone else. The problem, as he identifies it: "Lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few." His solution: "Give back"—not as an act of actual charity, i.e., good will—but (apparently) as a means of creating an egalitarian society of equal grinding poverty.

If you don't believe me, then explain this statement:

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff). 

What is "greater prosperity" without more stuff? Your guess is as good as mine. Whatever it is, he says:

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

It's not more charity we need:

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market.  

The path to "greater prosperity for all" lies in mutually beneficial free trade, as the history of free market capitalism over the past 200+ years proves. The development toward one vast global market has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. What would replace it once the structures and systems that created it are shattered? 

"I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism." What is humanism without the social system of individual liberty, deluted and shackled by statism though it is? Again, your guess is as good as mine. 

Buffet's call is not the usual for more charity, which he explicitly states he "hates." "(C)haritable acts," he asserts, creates "a perpetual poverty machine." This is what he means by a "charitable-industrial complex"—"it sounds [heroic] to 'give back.' It’s what I would call 'conscience laundering' — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity."

Does this mean no one should have more than they "need?" What amount of wealth do people need? Apparently, no more than the most dirt poor person on the planet, since "Greater prosperity," remember, doesn't mean "more stuff." What will happen to the economy when no one can accumulate enough to save and invest? But that requires knowledge of economics and capitalism, of which Buffet apparently has none. Besides, Buffet isn't concerned with "stuff," so who needs investment capital?

Is Buffet's worldview beginning to sound familiar? I'll come back to that question.

Buffet says:

I HAD spent much of my life writing music for commercials, film and television and knew little about the world of philanthropy as practiced by the very wealthy until what I call the big bang happened in 2006. That year, my father, Warren Buffett, made good on his commitment to give nearly all of his accumulated wealth back to society.

Peter Buffet claims his father as his moral mentor. I have great respect for Warren Buffet's investment genius—and zero for his perverted morals.

What is meant by "give back to society?" "Society" is made up of individuals, and only individuals possess the qualities of character that lead to wealth production. Wealth is not something that just happens to be here, to be grabbed by individuals fighting over a fixed amount of the stuff. Wealth is created by individuals through production and trade. Wealth is not a fixed "pie," whereby one person's wealth is obtained at the expense of smaller slices for others. Wealth is a constantly growing quantity created by individuals, not at others' expense, but by the mutual enrichment that is trade. That's how capitalism creates a steady rise in the general standard of living.

How is it determined who deserves how much wealth? That is determined objectively by the market—i.e., the cumulative buy and sell decisions of every productive individual. When a person produces a product or service to trade in the market, the wealth he accumulates depends on the value of his work product as determined by whoever chooses to pay him for it. The more value others place on the product or service and/or the more people who willingly pay for it, the more wealthy he (and his investors, if any) becomes. This is true of not just goods but skills and labor, as well. The money one receives for his work product—whether as a businessman, service provider, worker, investor, etc.—is an objective, market-based measure of the amount of value he has created for others. It is not produced at the expense of people who did not produce it, but by mutually self-interested trade with other productive people. There is no member of society to have to "give back" to (leaving aside people who literally did help one along the way, as with someone who paid for one's education).

So what does it mean to say one must in effect atone for his wealth-producing success by giving back to society? It means turning over what one has earned to those who didn't. It is the glorification of the unearned, whereby everyone owes his earned wealth to anyone who has less. It is the elevation of parasitism to the status of a moral absolute, to which productive individuals must be sacrificed and enslaved to the very extent they are productive.

Do not confuse the "give back" principle with genuine philanthropy. Genuine philanthropy is motivated by good will and generosity and one's own values. There is no good will or benevolence in stripping one's fellow man of the moral claim to his own wealth; of instilling in him the sense of unearned guilt associated with claiming that his success came at the expense of "destroying lives and communities"; of denying him the admiration and thanks he deserves for his productive achievements. "Give back" is a vicious doctrine—but not merely because it is a declaration against the idea that one has a moral right to what he has earned by his own efforts. The truth is much worse; it is an attempt to obliterate the very concept that anyone actually earns and creates wealth. "Give back" is an inverted moral premise created by and for parasites, for the express purpose of enslaving the productive, self-responsible members of society. "Give back" is an offshoot of altruism, the moral base of socialism.

Yes, many of the rich are selling average folks out, but not in the way the Left would have us believe. It's the rich like the Buffets who are selling us down the road to socialist tyranny and poverty, by disconnecting—in people's minds—the conceptual link between wealth and the productive work of individuals.

So, back to the question: Is Buffet's worldview beginning to sound familiar? It does to me. Marxian communism—from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. 

And since Buffet believes that "Foundation dollars should be the best 'risk capital' out there"; and given that Buffet already runs a foundation created and funded for him by his father; and considering that Buffet apparently believes that everyone should give away all wealth above what he needs; and understanding that Buffet hates charity—who would be the collector of all of that wealth that society is to collect? Why, those foundations, whose job it will be to "shatter current structures and systems" to clear the way for "something built from the ground up"—something governed by the "new code."  

Does Peter Buffet remind you of anyone?

Buffet brings to my mind the Atlas Shrugged character Ivy Starnes, the vicious heiress to the Starnes Twentieth Century Motor Company fortune who presided over the transition of the operation of the once-profitable manufacturer to the noble Marxist ideal:

She really didn't care for material wealth. The alms she got was no bigger than ours, and she went about in scuffed, flat-healed shoes and shirtwaists—just to show how selfless she was. She was our Director of Distribution. She was the lady in charge of our needs. She was the one who held us by the throat. 

The Ivy Starneses of the world—with their utopian dreams and delusions of unearned greatness—have brought enough misery to mankind. We don't need Peter Buffet's newest incarnation of her. We need advocates of laissez-faire capitalism and its ethical base, a new code of morality, rational egoism. 

Related Reading:

Review—Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America by Mark R. Levine

From Middle Class to Welfare Class

The Nauseating Assault on the "the Rich"

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