Death of the Human Spirit

Perhaps the title is overdramatic – it caught your attention.

The human spirit, despite it’s flaws, is naturally strong, resilient; cunning, and intelligent; entrepreneurial; generally empathetic and benevolent; but assuredly self interested.  This is not a contradiction: benevolence and self interest co-exist quite naturally.  An example: when you do a favor for a friend, buy someone a gift, or perform a charitable act, that is benevolence.  But do you not also receive the satisfaction and the good feelings of performing such an act?  It’s not a matter of indifference, and if we felt bad about it, we wouldn’t do it at all.

Let us extend this to economics, which is directly connected to human well being.  The entrepreneur wants to make profit, and his reasons for doing so are mostly self interested.  If he creates a new business, a new product – a smartphone, for example – he does so primarily because he wants to make profit.  Very likely he would like to become rich.  In doing so, he has created a product or service that has benefited mankind as a whole.  The lives of billions have been made easier through the development of technology such as the smartphone; and numerous people are employed in the creation, manufacture, and continual development of that technology.  If that product was never developed, those opportunities might never have existed.

The man with the original idea very likely does care for other people, but in most cases it’s the promises of a payoff that motivates people to work.

This is all very obvious.

However, it is clear that these concepts have fallen into question.

I’m partially referring to the Green New Deal.  Let’s be clear, I don’t think it’s something that’s going to materialize in it’s current form.  The Democrat party isn’t quite sure what to do with it, and they’re clearly divided on the issue.  The Republican party, on the other hand, knows exactly what to do with it, and will hype up the fringe notions included within for political gain.

It will materialize, however.  You can’t bring out such a grandiose and sweeping plan and have it just be forgotten.  There will be a program.  It will be watered down, it will be a shadow of itself as it now exists, but it will happen.  Particularly the central tenants which have been a central tenant of the left for decades: taxation and redistribution.  Let’s look at this a little closer.

First: the wealthy.

By declaring high marginal tax rates we are essentially declaring a war on excess.  Profit, by definition, is excess.  It is this excess which far from being an injustice, is a mainspring for human development.  It was excess that allowed human beings to form more sophisticated societies at the dawn of our history.  In the same way, the entrepreneur uses the excess to develop his business and in doing, the prosperity of the economy.

The rich entrepreneur does not just sit on the profit he makes.  There is this prevailing notion that the rich in the United States hoard wealth and place a burden upon the working class in doing, but this is erroneous for two reasons:

  1. It assumes that wealth is limited.  As long as there are resources and matter to be converted into useful goods and services, to be given, in a word, value – wealth can be created infinitely.
  2. The businessman uses his excess to expand his own business, invest in others, or if he is particularly irresponsible, will spend carelessly.  In any event, it will lead to the encouragement of the economy.  If he expands his own business, more people will be employed.  If he invests in another, more people will be employed and new products will be created.  If he spends carelessly on luxury, that in a more indirect way encourages and keep folks in those industries employed.

I’ll admit that there are other ways of encouraging the economy; you can get a loan to start a business, or crowdfund new projects.  But both of those still rely on the same principle, just to a lesser extent: someone has excess money they put in the bank, or submit to your crowdfunding project.

It is clear then, that the rich serve a useful economic function.  We haven’t examined why there is the war against excess.  In order to do so, we should step away from economics and return to the original subject of the article.

The human spirit is naturally strong.  I don’t mean physical ability or intelligence, although it often goes hand in hand.  Strength means that you are prepared to take responsibility for your own life and work to improve it.

You’ll note that there is very little said about the excessive wealth held by the movie stars, the rappers, or the politicians.  The names that come up instead are the people like Bezos, who took the risk to invest in a company but also put the work in maneuvering it strategically to maximum profitability – no small feat.   A rap album?  A very minor feat.  There are two competing cultures: strong individualism and weak collectivism.

This weakness which is starting to spread like a bad rash is the individual resigning his responsibility to the collective.  He calls upon the power of the state to deliver him wealth and well being; he doesn’t attempt to effect it for himself.

When we consider the constant points about “equality,” “fairness,” “level playing field,” we are really saying that we want to diminish the initiative of the human spirit.  And once the culture is altered in this way, it is nearly impossible to recover.