The Atlas Network has an interesting video this week insisting on the morality of profit, especially in contrast with taxpayer-financed subsidies. The difference lies in the voluntary nature of the exchange between consumers and producers in the former and the lack thereof in the latter. The video starts with Atlas VP Tom Palmer objecting to the common characterization of wealthy philanthropists as “giving back” their wealth to society. Palmer uses Microsoft founder Bill Gates to pose the question — did Gates “take” from society in the first place, or did he add more value than he received?
Anyone who has dealt with “blue screens of death” might object to this particular example, but Palmer is correct. Gates, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple and any number of entrepreneurs in the computer industry, added almost immeasurable value to society by personalizing the computer and democratizing its power. Gates used a more open-source approach than Apple, which allowed for less central control of that expansion of power and value and allowed for more creativity.
Of course, Gates and Warren Buffet might feel rather fortunate to have lived in a free-market society where this kind of innovation and expertise gets rewarded, and the “giving back” aspect of their philanthropy can reasonably be taken as a more spiritual approach than one based out of guilt, as Palmer assumes in the video. However, given the class warfare routinely targeting those who add value — and jobs — to our society, Palmer’s approach works in this video quite well.