Milton Friedman Gets It: Poor Have More to Gain From Economic Advance than Rich

The lives of hundreds of millions of Americans today are better than the lives of royalty, nobility, and other “elites” just a few hundred years ago. We may not have as much gold and jewels, or as frilly clothing, but in terms of access to healthcare, food, information, material comforts, and products which increase the standard of living, we are living like royalty. So why would these monarchies and empires care about advancing society in terms of allowing millions of people access to what the Kings and Queens already had access to? Who does innovation, new products, new inventions, technical and economic advance really help: those who get rich from producing it, or the people who get to use these things, despite not being able to produce these things themselves? Milton Friedman best sums up this phenomenon.

“Industrial progress, mechanical improvement, all of the great wonders of the modern era have meant little to the wealthy.
The rich in ancient Greece would have benefited hardly at all from modern plumbing — running servants replaced running water.
Television and radio — the patricians of Rome could enjoy the leading musicians and actors in their home, could have the leading artists as domestic retainers.
Ready-to-wear clothing, supermarkets — all these and many other modern developments would have added little to their life.
They would have welcomed the improvements in transportation and in medicine, but for the rest, the great achievements of western capitalism have rebounded primarily to the benefit of the ordinary person.
These achievements have made available to the masses conveniences and amenities that were previously the exclusive prerogative of the rich and powerful.” –Milton Friedman

It will not benefit us to demonize and punish the productive rich and wealthy (as opposed to those whose wealth was confiscated from others by the government, and given to them because of political favors). The immediate “benefits” to society of taxing the productive rich are minuscule compared to what we have gotten from them. They have made food, clothing, transportation and shelter available to millions for a low cost, meaning it takes relatively little labor on our part to afford vast improvements in quality of life that was achieved through their labor. Their labor was rewarded with millions sometimes billions of dollars, but consider all that they have given society.

The Wright brothers never benefitted as much from the fruits of their invention as anyone who has flown in the past 50 years. All the collaborative efforts of those who gave us the internet were certainly monetized, yet billions on earth now have fingertip access to more information than anyone had ever had access to just 30 years ago. CEO’s are such effective organizers that we are outraged as consumers when our local grocery store runs out of one brand of one product one time. Do people realize that we only have access to these comforts and quality of life improvements because of individuals who put in the mental and physical labor to invent and organize?

The rich cannot possibly see a substantial increase in quality of life through a spreading high standard of living worldwide, but they can provide it. It is time we stop the jealous attacks and self righteous dissing of those with the expertise to organize industry, labor, and innovation. Left to their own devices, and not crippled by government confiscation of the fruits of their labor, the entire world could have already achieved a standard of living unthinkable in 2013. We could all be living like the 1%, but not if we kill the goose that lays the golden egg. We should be providing the best possible living conditions for that goose, because otherwise she will stop laying.

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