Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Owing Society

We do not owe society anything.

If I borrow something from you, I owe it back to you. The idea that you owe something to "society" means that you borrowed something from that society. But what can that even mean?

The idea that the rich owe society something stems from the belief that economics is a zero sum game. It's not. The wealth creators do not borrow anything, but are creating value. Thus, they contribute to society. It would be like borrowing $10 from me, then insisting that I owe you $5. We do not hear anyone speaking about how novelists owe society anything for the novels they write. Why not? Because it becomes obvious nonsense. The novelist does not take anything out of society that requires any pay back -- but they do produce something that contributes to the society.

The fact of the matter is that one cannot owe society anything. One can owe particular people. So there is also a problem in anthropomorphizing society and treating it as teleological. From this perspective, saying someone owes society is just plain speaking nonsense.
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