Editor’s note: In this foresight, students discuss billionaires and wealth differences. Next week, we will ask: “Which responds to Covid’s trusted American colleges increasingly on distance learning, and once they are in place, it turns out that these distance learning courses are hard to stop. Is this step towards online courses for traditional university education a good trend? “ Students must click here to submit statements of less than 250 words by May 3rd. The best answers will be announced the same evening.
The real question to ask is not whether America’s overall inequality in wealth is rising, but whether living standards are improving across the board. And the answer to that is yes. Widespread technological advances have helped to improve the overall quality of life throughout the country. Phones, computers and e-commerce are such examples. Behind every influential technology are billionaires who played a crucial role in its development. We should consider their wealth as a small percentage of the total value that they helped create, with most of the profits being captured by consumers.
A cursory glance at the group of ultra-wealthy Americans reveals that much of their money was earned with profit through a combination of skill, hard work and drive. In 2021, reports showed that over 70% of the 400 richest men in the United States and 88% of millionaires are self-employed. We should see these enormous fortunes as the pinnacle of the American dream, not as phenomena to ridicule.
—Jeffrey Wolberg, Columbia University, Computer Science
Innovation creates value
Successful business moguls like Elon Musk are a fruit of American culture, not symptoms of its rot. The ability to build and succeed is an integral part of the American dream that has drawn people to this nation for generations and created one of the most competitive and inventive societies on earth. The billionaire technocrat and the mom-and-pop shop down the street are both created by this ideal.
While the degree to which Americans realize this dream varies widely, society must be careful not to confuse wealth with basic living standards. The economy is not zero sum, and the trade created by innovation creates value across socio-economic ranks.
Sir. Musk may be richer than Smaug, but the hundreds of thousands of jobs created by his companies, his revolutionary automotive and green technologies, and the prospect of commercialized space travel as a competitive industry contribute more to the rest of us than he could ever personally profit. One may also have found Henry Ford’s lavish wealth annoying when he first put cars on assembly lines in 1913, but it’s worth not having to commute by horse or bicycle.
Are the results reasonable or proportionate? No. And these tech moguls can have rattling personalities. But just as one must separate art from the artist, Americans should praise the rapid growth of our economy, even if we do not find ourselves personally invested in the people behind it.
—Nathan Biller, Colgate University, History and Political Science
This is nothing new
Contempt for extremely successful entrepreneurs is not surprising given the rise of redistribution ideology in some political corners. It is an increasingly common political trick to portray Elon Musk’s wealth as uniquely bad for the rest of us.
Thus, although billionaires’ acquisitions of media companies are nothing new, Mr Musk’s purchases of Twitter have been met with hysteria by some. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, and Laurene Powell Jobs owns the Atlantic, but blue-collar journalists claim Mr Musk’s acquisition is new and dangerous.
This country faced periods of enormous economic inequality in the 1920s and 1870s. Tycoons from that era, such as JP Morgan,
Washington Duke and Leland Stanford left a lasting mark on our society – their names are spread across prestigious universities, companies and museums. Wealth is nothing new. What is special about our time are the calls of the progressives to make billionaires succumb to their cultural control.
—Andrew Swanson, Hamilton College, Economics
Musk’s wealth is speculative
People have every right to mock the extreme wealth differences that exist in America today. It does not make sense for money to be hoarded by a few people while everyone else has to spend their lives making ends meet.
However, the general public does not understand the limits of Elon Musk’s wealth. He may well be worth hundreds of billions, but that wealth does not exist in a bank account. Much is speculative, based on the businesses he runs. From 2021, Tesla was valued higher than car manufacturers like Toyota or General Motors,
despite its lack of heritage and small market share. It is easy to imagine that this valuation could fall, which would drastically reduce Mr Musk’s fortune.
The average person would be outraged to see his wealth fall from factors beyond his control. Mr. Musk plays a game of speculation. Sometimes he makes promises that his companies do not keep, and the market eventually corrects rogue speculation. Mr. Musk happens to thrive on speculative wealth, while others prefer the stability of a bank account.
—Nicholas Hiser, Stanford University, Symbolic Systems
Click here to post a response to next week’s Future View.
Copyright © 2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8