What came first, the wealthy or the building blocks of wealth? This is no idle “chicken or the egg” question. Major political players base real policies with serious impact on their own answer to the question. What if most of them are getting it wrong? What if getting it wrong could wreck the system and ransack wealth?
To get the answer, the GOP base are obviously looking at wealthy investors. Our tax-cutting crowd clearly thinks they’re the starting point. They say that getting more money to them will mean more jobs. The idea runs that investors bet their capital on starting or expanding a company that can then hire folks, thus jobs. This seems to pass for unquestionable truth among the “starve the beast” set. They figure that the more money the wealthy have the more they’ll put into creating jobs. Even leaving aside the question of whether they’d likely choose to invest their money elsewhere, the anti-tax set need to reconsider two questions: 1) Is that usually how jobs are made? and 2) Where’d the capital come from in the first place? These two questions are necessarily linked. You can’t explain where the capital came from without considering ways to make jobs without capital.
So where’d the first capital come from? Unless you think it was somehow handed over to man by divine intervention — capital raining down from heaven or appearing from nothing — it had to come from work. We can set aside the factor of inherited wealth, since somebody had to collect it in order to pass it down to lucky heirs. That first capital accumulating work — whatever it was — was collecting and/or making something that could be sold or traded. In short, it was a job. It may not have been a modern job, but close enough for our question. Somebody did some work. It may have been all on his own. Or the work may have been getting others to do things for him. But whatever it was, somebody did some work that produced a surplus. Perhaps that surplus was then — directly or through heirs — reinvested by getting other folks to do more work to produce more surplus. At root, the workers involved still created the surplus. The worker-created surplus was then used to spur more work to create more surplus. The job came first. The assets produced were just a product of the job that lets that job contribute to even more jobs. Get together a lot of surplus produced from a lot of jobs, and you’ve got wealth. Even if you then use that wealth to spur more work that creates more wealth, the wealth still didn’t create itself but rather came as the sum effect of the work … the jobs.
Ultimately, the idea that wealth comes from somebody investing in business is a myth. If I build a factory and hire 50 people to make widgets, I’m not going to get any return on my investment unless there are people who can be interested in widgets and have enough money to spend on my widgets. If my widgets aren’t essentials, those people will only have enough money to spend if they’re making a surplus beyond the cost of living. Even if the widgets are essential, folks who don’t have an income aren’t going to be buying many widgets. If I don’t have enough potential customers to break even, I’m not going to be employing those 50 widget makers for long. But if I have enough customers to make a profit, I’ll keep employing them. And if I have too many customers for them to keep up, I’ll hire more. Then who really created the wealth I reap from my factory? Sure, I made the factory investment that allowed me to sell widgets. But without the customers, that investment would have just been a foolish building that couldn’t support long term jobs. It’s the customers who really make the difference.
Jobs further wealth in two ways. Obviously there’s the surplus collected by the initial business owner. But there’s also the circulation of resources wherein the worker’s share of surplus is spent at other businesses. The worker’s paycheck allows him to be a customer contributing to other jobs that yield other surpluses for other business owners. The paychecks from those other jobs may in turn be spent at yet further businesses or even end up winding back to the initial business. Jobs have no choice but to create wealth, even when they fail to do so directly for a specific employer. Unless they’re inefficient jobs, they’ll create a surplus. And even if they’re inefficient jobs they’ll mean money for workers to spend at efficient businesses yielding surplus. The job just can’t hold itself back from contributing to the creation of wealth. Wealth, on the other hand, can sit idle. It can be stored in some valuable thing that’ll sit collecting dust. Sure, wealth may be further invested in jobs and help yield more wealth. But it can also hang on the sidelines for years or even centuries and do nothing productive.
Clearly it’s the job that creates the wealth. We can use that answer to figure out what to do to get our economy rolling again. We want wealth and jobs. We need to push the one that creates the other. If we change our tax structure to get more money to the wealthy, we’re just tinkering with accelerating redistribution of income to the rich who may just sit on it. That risks having it grind to a halt if too much money is removed from the system to just sit idly in the stockpiles of the wealthy. I’m all for building wealth, but not at the cost of having all the money locked down to the point where it no longer flows from business to business through employees and customers. Since wealth ultimately comes from jobs, those of us who want both more jobs and more wealth need to focus on jobs in order to get both. With more wealth, there doesn’t necessarily have to be more jobs. With more jobs, there will be more wealth.
Now we’ve got a situation where there isn’t enough demand for products and services to spur widespread hiring. Too many people don’t have enough money to spend. And unemployment causes much of that current lack. Private industry can’t fix the situation because it won’t make any sense for them to hire until there’s demand for products and services. There’s only one credible way out: govt must step in to fill the void. Govt must stop hiding their heads in the sand and pretending that we can count on the wealthy to hire out of the goodness of their hearts — without enough demand causing it to make sense as an investment — if we just help a bit more money stick in their accounts. Govt must stop laying off workers and start hiring so there will be more paychecks to spend on goods and services. And to do that, govt is going to have to start leveling with us and facing that we’ll have to rack up a future bill in order to make things work here and now … and for the future.