Business Economics Government Main United States

What Motivates Us to Work and Create

I recently read Mind the Gap, an essay by Paul Graham on wealth, industry, and incentives. It’s almost 5 years old now, but it seems timely as our nation appears to be on a road toward socialism.

Wealth is not money. Money is just a convenient way of trading one form of wealth for another. Wealth is the underlying stuff—the goods and services we buy….

Where does wealth come from? People make it. This was easier to grasp when most people lived on farms, and made many of the things they wanted with their own hands. Then you could see in the house, the herds, and the granary the wealth that each family created. It was obvious then too that the wealth of the world was not a fixed quantity that had to be shared out, like slices of a pie. If you wanted more wealth, you could make it.

This is just as true today, though few of us create wealth directly for ourselves…. Mostly we create wealth for other people in exchange for money, which we then trade for the forms of wealth we want.

If you suppress variations in income, whether by stealing private fortunes, as feudal rulers used to do, or by taxing them away, as some modern governments have done, the result always seems to be the same. Society as a whole ends up poorer.

You need rich people in your society not so much because in spending their money they create jobs, but because of what they have to do to get rich. I’m not talking about the trickle-down effect here. I’m not saying that if you let Henry Ford get rich, he’ll hire you as a waiter at his next party. I’m saying that he’ll make you a tractor to replace your horse. (Emphasis added.)

Similar ideas can be found in a monologue from Francisco d’Anconia, the wealthy mine owner in Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged.

“Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade—with reason, not force, as their final arbiter—it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability—and the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward.

“…you will see the rise of men of the double standard—the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money—the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law—men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims—then money becomes its creators’ avenger.

“When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed.

“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created….” (Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. pp. 411-14. Emphasis added.)

Main United States

Do you promise allegiance?

This week one of my Brazilian mission companions became a U.S. citizen. I attended his naturalization ceremony in downtown SLC, and though it wasn’t fancy, I found it to be a very patriotic event. Here’s how it went down:

“All rise”. Judge David Sam entered. United States District Court for the District of Utah was now in session. Girl scouts brought out the colors, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, and then we sang the National Anthem.

Then 189 persons from 54 countries rose and repeated the following oath:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” (via. see also.)

These 189 foreign-born persons were now American citizens, “just as American,” in Judge Sam’s words, “as any direct descendent of the Founding Fathers.”

Judge Sam let several people in the group stand and offer a few remarks about becoming U.S. citizens. A man from Mexico stood and said how thankful he was for economic opportunities, freedom of religion, and schools. A Muslim woman from Bosnia said she was thankful to be able to practice her religion and wear a veil (hijab). A man from Peru said “we can do anything here” and “we must love this country.” An El Salvadorian said “this is a promised land for everybody.” And a Venezuelan said “I’ve been American at heart for a long time.”

Judge Sam said his own parents were immigrants from Romania, saving and sacrificing to come to America. They changed their last name to Sam (like Uncle Sam) on arrival. Judge Sam then told the new citizens:

I am your servant. It is my duty and responsibility to see that you are treated equally. One of my favorite comments was from a Somalian man a few years ago. He said “If I were to become a German citizen, I’d still never be German. If I were to become a Russian citizen, I’d still never be Russian. But today I am an American.”

Freedom isn’t free. It will slip away if we don’t protect it. It needs to be protected by all who enjoy it. Let freedom ring in your life. Understand the blessings of freedom. Be law-abiding, God-fearing citizens. God bless the U.S. and all of you.

New citizens renounce allegiance to their country of birth and promise to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. If you were born in the United States, you don’t take the formal oath. But do you promise the same?