Imaginary Letter from an Imaginary Billionaire

To whom it may concern:

I am a billionaire. To earn my wealth I assumed personal and financial risks. If I had failed and gone broke, no one would have felt sorry for me or bailed me out; nor would I have asked to be bailed out. I and my associates provided to the world superior material goods of higher value-for-money than comparably priced substitutes. We offered our products honestly and we charged what the market would bear; consumers purchased our goods wisely and gladly. Our incomes have been proportionate to our contribution to the economy.

Along the way enmity arose; some employees grew to dislike me, because I did not suffer incompetence, laziness or whining gladly. Making enemies goes with the territory of strong, competent leadership and insistence on reasonable standards of achievement. Those whose desired level of compensation far exceeded the value of their contribution did not last long in my organization. However, many people have worked with me for more than thirty years; many have warranted and received large incomes; as a rule every contributing employee earned more than he could have legitimately earned by working elsewhere. Though enemies arose, I have reason to believe that I earned much respect from most of my long-time colleagues.

As a youth, I didn’t know if I was poor or rich. I never thought about it. I and my siblings were blest with loving, hard-working parents, who provided three square meals each day and a home with good indoor plumbing and a good roof. I had a place to play football, basketball and baseball with neighborhood friends. I had a community with which to express my awe. I became educated by working hard on the readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic taught by the most important people in the world, dedicated teachers. Throughout my early years I was happy and content. Looking back, I was lower class, but very rich.

In an essay on pure macroeconomic dynamics – unadulterated by any psyche-based political ideology – the obscure Canadian polymath Bernard Lonergan has clearly demonstrated that, when an economy transitions from a surge in capital investment to a surge in consumer-goods production, the money not needed for one’s own present or future living should not be drained from the real economic circuits of production and sale into the secondary (second-hand) market for previously owned equities and bonds, where that money sits idle and without productive force. It should instead be kept circulating in the productive circuits for the stability and continuity of the healthy economy. Understanding this, I will first provide reserves for my retirement, for my children, and for my grandchildren’s education so that they may live as honorable, kind people and cooperative contributors to the economy. Then, as long as savings are not needed by my enterprise for wise investment, I will contribute all the after-tax income I don’t need to the productive and monetary circuits for goods and services for the timely benefit of society. And, by the way, my own personal needs – for things such as cereal, shirts, plumbing, wiring, and roof – are simple and inexpensive.

I will direct all my unused income expeditiously into the following types of activities and projects:

  • elementary education in readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic
  • the continuing education of pre-teens in reading, writing, diction, handwriting, arithmetic, and generally in putting pencil to paper to have learning get down into the brain
  • the education of teens in algebra, geometry, grammar, languages, arts, drafting, hands-on trades, effective doing and making, personal responsibility and self-reliance, and respect for others both young and old
  • the continuing education of adults – especially politicians, journalists, and academics – in history, Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics, science, objectivity, truth, the similarity of religion and political ideology, the overlap and commonalities of pure religion, culture, and politics, and the ever-present tribal instinct,
  • the promotion of lifelong learning
  • the construction of athletic fields and facilities and of neighborhood gardens
  • the construction of useful structures, whose design and engineering will be testaments to the genius and greatness of the human spirit
  • the institution of competitions and awards involving high achievement in mathematics, the physical sciences, languages and music
  • the support of veterans affairs
  • the uplifting of the impoverished
  • a clean environment
  • the improvement of community spirit

Of course, I could voluntarily give this unneeded after-tax income to the government either for the reduction of the accumulated national debt or for the current government deficit. However, I regret to say that the years have made me cynical; I have lost faith in officials whose paramount concern is their own reelection or reappointment unto fame and glory. And I do not have confidence in bureaucrats – whose expertise in industry and commerce is inversely related to their distance from the activities, which they regulate – to spend my money wisely on truly useful and beneficial current or longer-term projects. The world will be a better place for letting me with my expertise, gained on both the line of scrimmage and the coach’s tower of industry, decide how to spend money to improve the world. It will be government by the competent, not government by the plutocrats. It will be government by the enlightened philanthropist rather than squandering by bureaucrats on boondoggles and self-aggrandizement.

Also, if I were to donate the proceeds to a university, the managers of the endowment might, in understandable conformity to their mission to support the university’s purpose indefinitely into the future, salt it away rather than put the money to current use in accord with the current requirements of a capital-goods expansion phase or a consumer-goods expansion phase as systematically called for. I think it would be better for me to put the assets into a foundation which I control and which will channel income into the operative circuits as quickly as needed for the equilibrium and continuity of the process according to the requirements of the economic phase.

I will call the shots.

My wealth as a billionaire is static wealth, simply the measure of the value of the productive assets of which I have become owner-steward by taking risks and managing well. The Title of Ownership is not a flow of income. Still, this begs the question: Though wealth is merely static wealth, distinct from dynamic income flowing functionally within the operative circuits, still, why not go further and sell some of my static wealth and contribute the proceeds?

My answer is threefold: a Reason-Why-Not, a brief Nevertheless, and an Anyway. First, my inflow from sale of my static wealth and another’s outflow to purchase that same static wealth net to zero. A mere exchange of title to ownership does not produce a single widget. Second, I am reluctant to transfer the title of ownership of my assets to others who might abuse these assets or use them less wisely. The assets will of course continue to be owned by someone; it is just a matter of who will be the most responsible steward. There is good reason for me to remain as steward and send the intended purchaser elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is true that, by the sale of assets (progressively boosted in nominal value within the bubble created by the Central Bank and the fiscal deficits of the presidents and Congress), I could successfully extract money from the secondary market and direct the proceeds into the operative circuits, thus countering inflation and the reduction of purchasing power in the secondary market. I would thus be disinflating the secondary market to a level at which dividend rates might conform to functionally normative rates reflecting real risk and return. The pointless saving and the illusory wealth generated by the Central Bank’s quantitative flooding and the debasement of secondary market currency, as manifested by inflated indices, would be mitigated. But, I would add, it is not the responsibility of me alone to counteract the distortive behavior of others; rather all smart citizens should understand Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics and participate responsibly in the operative circuits. Third, anyway, I will judiciously sell some static wealth and direct the proceeds to the betterment of humankind.

I will direct 100% of my unneeded income plus, as the phase of the process requires, a significant portion of my static wealth to the benefit of society. I intend that all my money will recirculate at proper pace in the operative circuits for the maintenance of capital goods and the purchase of consumer goods; it will go into the wages and salaries of productive, deserving people – many of whom will be my relatively lower-paid coworkers – who, I hope, will spend appropriately.

I am torn between conspicuous donation and anonymous donation. Conspicuous donation moves one’s name from the header of a brokerage statement to the mantel over the entrance of a building. It demonstrates, to those who suffer from ressentiment and who resent authority, moxie, and talent, that responsible stewardship of great wealth by individuals is necessary and beneficial to the betterment of humankind. On the other hand, anonymous donation preserves privacy. In the end, I have decided that most of my money will be donated anonymously but with the stipulation that any project be dedicated to the honor of some quiet hero.

Personally, I do not need the esteem of the world. I was esteemed by loving parents, and I happened to be a pretty good athlete. So, I gained all the esteem I will ever need from a loving family, golden friendships with classmates and neighbors, and athletic competition. I’ve become inconspicuously famous myself to myself, and I’m my own friend and hero. I do not need my name on a building. I do not need the adulation, power and fame of public office. Such would not increase my sense of self worth one iota. Neither my wealth nor my corporate title constitute my identity. My identity is I as the husband of my wife, father of my children, brother to my siblings, son of my parents, neighbor to my neighbors, loyal friend to my boyhood friends, competent at my job, member of a flock who think and laugh as I do and who socialize as birds-of-a-feather “we,” though always careful to understand that it is an ecumenical we-and-they, not a divisive us-against-them.

Let wise philanthropy trump confiscatory taxation, bureaucratic bungling, and government waste. And let philanthropy be motivated solely by the understanding of its role in the macroeconomic process among the hierarchy of values. And let there be no giving simply to assuage one’s guilt or as an element of a calculated social or political hustle.

All I personally ask of the civil government is that its tax laws recognize and treat favorably all the good government that philanthropists effect by donating to worthwhile charities and worthwhile projects. Inasmuch as the principles of progress are light and liberty, let the government promote light and liberty, and let enlightened and free philanthropists do their part to promote progress.

I hope to make the world a better place; to contribute to the good of order; to make our nation a beacon unto the world of wisdom, knowledge, faith and fortitude; and to provide work to people who understand and appreciate a.) their social responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability, and b.) the thrill of energetic willing, producing, and doing for others.

Sincerely,