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Friday, 12 June 2015

Self made fortune: How wealth is a colloboration, no matter how hard an individual works, even alone.

As in the previous post, I wanted to discuss the idea of wealth and how only society has enabled individuals to amass and protect it.
In most instances this is FAR too complex to even approach an explanation of in short form. The dependence of everyone on the systems we have developed over the vast expanse of human history if a marvel to an inquiring mind.
I will choose to pick my favourite example, as it is simple in the extreme and inarguably those that gain success with it have done all the work themselves.
I am talking, of course, of writing.
A best selling author will probably only make a modest sum, but occasionally a writer will hit the jackpot, finding fame and fortune.
The thing they sell to the masses is an idea. Perhaps an idea in long form, but it has no other value.
Now, this author that has achieved such success has earned it. They did the work and deserve the credit, but even still they rely on a system so heavily that whatever price they pay in tax is a small price for what they gained.
Let us begin with the direct help a writer will receive and likely pay for directly with a share of the "profit" or as a service.
  • The professional editing of the manuscript
  • The physical printing of the book
  • The promotion of the book
I don't think anyone will argue that the publishing houses are an integral part of a professional writer's success.
Now, some take a significant portion of the proceeds from selling books, but I do not imagine a single instance of self publishing working better in terms of audience reach (perhaps crowd funding would be more financially rewarding for many aspiring authors, but with less possibility for commercial success)
The book is a physical object, the production of it is reliant on so much infrastructure, labour and human invention that books were an object of immense value for most of human history; not something to jot down a yarn on for the general public. From growing the raw materials to making the paper and ink, to the manufacture of machinery need for this and for the printing... No one person could accomplish all of this, no matter how awesome their book.

But this is only the beginning.
It would take a very long time for a writer to deliver copies of their book to every buyer and so we have.
  • Transport of the books to retailers
  • The infrastructure allowing this transport
  • Safe storage of the books
  • Retail outlets that stock the book
  • advertisement of the book (related to the above promotion of the book, but not limited to it)
So, now this author, who is selling their raw intellectual property is reliant on all this in order to have made their fortune.
Except there is more.
Who exactly is the audience for this? It is almost certainly not written in a language created entirely by our hypothetical author? How is the author even receiving value for this idea of theirs? Did they emerge from the womb with such ideas fully formed as if by divine inspiration?
  • The education system (without which, there would be no audience)
  • Human culture (without which, the ideas would have no context)
  • Language (who would understand it if it didn't use some form of shared lexicon)
  • Communications networks (without this, the idea wouldn't spread to become popular)
  • Currency (how you get paid)
  • Law enforcement (how your stuff doesn't get nicked)
  • The courts (how you enforce contracts and ensure fair play)
In a very real sense without the systems in which we all live, the ideas of our author would have zero value. They would be worthless or nearly worthless.
Even this one VERY limited example is of such complexity that my short explanations barely do it justice. I'm shining a beam torch in a cavern.
Imagine how much more reliant on our systems other endeavours might be.

Always keep in mind that no man is an island.
Without society, without our communities, shared culture and even (*cue dramatic music*) the state, there would be no support to hold up the successful.
If the world operated best on "enlightened self interest" (an oft invoked excuse for selfishness) as the only way forward, why are the most dominant species ALWAYS communal? Why indeed do humans find the best success in groups? Could it be that cooperation and the altruism required to make it work is... pragmatic?
Put away the childish objectivist or self serving attitudes.
Realise that meritocracy, liberty and personal success are not antithetical to the principles of community, but that community serves those principles (or damn well should do)
Remember, those decrying the state and the payment of taxes are in a very real sense the most reliant on the things those taxes pay for.
Without "the state" a poor person remains poor; a rich person *becomes* poor.
Who should have the largest incentive, the largest responsibility, the largest share of the burden to preserve these systems?
History reveals that throughout all times until recently those with the greatest wealth realised they had the most to lose. Noblesse oblige was about true "enlightened self interest" as much as it was a moral imperative for those in power not to abuse their status.
In short, those that benefit most from the system should be footing the fucking bill, not finding excuses to put that burden on others.