“Giving Back” – Should I Concede To What Society Dictates?

Recently I was in a situation where a group of people was chatting at a social gathering. The topic of Rugby came up, and when asked what I thought of a recent game that had been played I admitted to not having watched it. When my incredulous group of mostly males asked why I responded that I’d been pretty busy with various business endeavors and rarely found time to watch such events anymore.

What followed blew my mind. One attendee turned to me and said, “You’re always working and making money you don’t even need, so when do you intend to start kicking back a little and giving something back?”

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and many more high-profile people are doing it, so it must be the honorable thing to do right?


Let’s start with the question posed to me first. What you’ll notice is that it’s a fully-loaded question. An assumption is made without any reason being given for such an assumption. The assumption is twofold. First, there is that I will “give back”, and it is only a question of when I will do so. The second is that I should “give back”.

Dealing with the first assumption; my answer to this particular gentleman was that I intend to work until I no longer find enjoyment in doing so. This, of course, has nothing to do with giving back, as I may decide to “give back” whether I work or quit working, and lie idly on a beach in Koh Samui rubbing coconut oil on my wife. This needs clearing up since there is an additional assumption made that I would wish to stop working, which is an incorrect assumption.

If I decide to stop “working and making money”, both clearly harmful and wasteful activities right up there with hurting small puppies, cruelty to children and causing global warming… uhh I mean climate change, then in actual fact I will be subtracting value from the world, and no longer adding value.

The assumption that one should “give back” actually has a preceding, unstated assumption that is at the core of this irrational thinking. This is that I must somehow be “taking away”. How else does one come to the conclusion that I should “give back”. I mean, give back what?

I’ve spent my entire adult life figuring out ways to provide goods and services to people that want them, and are willing to pay me for them. These people have come away with better lifestyles and experiences due to my “taking from society” than they would otherwise have.

I’ve Paid My Dues And I Decide How I Live My Life

Their value lies in what they create!

Where I have provided capital to a start-up business which could not find financing through traditional means, that same business today pays for the food, education, housing, schooling, medical care and lifestyle of 12 families. Maybe in order for me to “give back” I should first go and take back everything that I have done and then “give it back” to some charity so that they themselves can distribute that same money as they see fit. I wonder which action would result in a better outcome for mankind and more value creation.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts. Am I a selfish bastard or is this “giving back” a truly misguided principle that is pervasive in our society, and perpetuated by people ignorant of economic principles and psychology?


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. vik

    Rugby, eh?
    I’ll wager you were in NZ?

  2. BW

    If I was questioned about when I would be “giving back” to society, I would state, “But I haven’t taken anything”. Then there probably would be offered the accusation about having received so much from society, to which I would exclaim innocently, “Oh, but I didn’t I already help pay for that?”

    Anyway, those people who talk about giving back are obviously not counting as significant, or giving any weight of importance to, the value which a business interchange provides to the participants.

    I was just considering today what an interesting story it would be (in the way Ayn Rand got the idea for ‘Atlas Shrugged’) about a society where the innovative, productive, enterprising people “gave back” all their money, but quit their business completely. I expect the results would be like those people who win the lottery, but then blow it all away without discipline, ending up impoverished. And needing bail-outs, as there would be no on-going economic activity to sustain them.

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