Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Can't "Give Back" Unless You've First Taken It

"The Ritz-Carlton Give Back Getaways voluntourism program offers our guests an exceptional opportunity to combine volunteer work with travel and give back to the community in a way that is meaningful to them and to the lives of others."

"Have you taken something that doesn’t belong to you?  If so, by all means give it back! If, though, you’ve not taken anything that doesn’t belong to you, you possess nothing that you can give back.

Being a profitable corporation, you certainly possess something that you can give; and I genuinely applaud the generosity that prompts you, your employees, and your customers to give.  Please, though, unless your profits are the product of dishonest deals or theft, please drop the rhetoric of “giving back.”  

This sort of talk implies that you possess something that isn’t rightfully yours.  It fuels the common misapprehension that corporate profits are either ill-gotten gains or, at best, wealth subtracted from that of other persons. Your profits aren’t pirated booty; they’re legitimate earnings."

In a related editorial last summer Kim Dennis responded this way in the WSJ to the successful businessmen like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who often feel obligated to "give back":

"Successful entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists typically say they feel a responsibility to "give back" to society. But "giving back" implies they have taken something. What, exactly, have they taken? Yes, they have amassed great sums of wealth. But that wealth is the reward they have earned for investing their time and talent in creating products and services that others value. They haven't taken from society, but rather enriched us in ways that were previously unimaginable."


At 4/28/2011 5:46 PM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

The Gates family has been influenced by Andrew Carnegie's The Gospel of Wealth. "Giving back" is in many ways an endorsement of Mr. Carnegie's philosphy, which is much deeper than a few words.

I wonder what Don Boudreaux's thoughts are on The Gospel of Wealth.

At 4/28/2011 5:58 PM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

BTW, here is an essay that links Buffett and Gates to Andrew Carnegie's charitable philosophy.

At 4/28/2011 6:47 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...


"I wonder what Don Boudreaux's thoughts are on The Gospel of Wealth."

You can ask him yourself at cafe Hayek, the source of Prof. Perry's post.


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