But what if, rather than just a trickle, the reality is that a fountain of wealth flows from those with wealth -- i.e., capital -- already? Not because they're into sharing, though some are, as the recent news about the Gates/Buffet efforts to encourage world billionaires to increase their philanthropic efforts suggests. No, the reason is actually just the opposite -- the real wealth dispersed by rich capitalists is that which overflows from their efforts at making money rather than giving it away, efforts which are of course impeded by the various attempts to "spread the wealth around". In this post, "Bill Gates Gave at the Office", Mark J. Perry cites a 2004 paper by William D. Nordhaus, which summarizes itself as follows:
We conclude that only a minuscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers rather than captured by producers.It's not just Gates, in other words, and it doesn't depend on what you might think of Microsoft per se -- the real source of wealth in capitalist societies is just capitalist activity itself, with all its instability, its "creative destruction", its messy booms and busts. And if you need any further evidence that, over the long term, this results in a fountain rather than a trickle, take a look at the shape of the following graph, which is essentially a flat line until about 1700, and exponential thereafter:
Of course, Keynes was right, that in the long run we're all dead. But for most of us, that's not all that counts -- some think of the children. So here's a bit of counter-intuitive advice you could give to a young idealist starting out in life, and looking for the best way to benefit humanity as a whole: forget the Peace Corps or NGOs, and aspire instead to become a "robber baron", a la Rockefeller or Carnegie or Gates. You probably won't get that far, but in the process you stand a good chance of actually creating some real wealth, most of which will splash throughout our globalized economy to the benefit of everyone in varying degrees, including, especially, the poorest of the poor; and a portion of which -- but only a "miniscule fraction" -- you get to keep yourself.