Social justice advocates argue that it is “society’s” duty to eliminate pain and inequality wherever and whenever it exists. What is interesting is that I have never met Mr. Society.  Society is composed of individuals.

What the social justice advocates really mean is that the government should redistribute wealth from rich individuals to lower-income and middle-income individuals.

In my classes, I use the example of my orthopedic surgeon friend and my neurosurgeon friend who earn very high incomes from their private practices — and from other business opportunities presented to them because of their expertise. I would love to earn what they do, but, as I say to my students, if I ruin an economics lecture, big deal! The worst that happens is that students get bored. When my surgeon friends make a mistake, their patients are permanently affected or they die!

So it shouldn’t be surprising that people are willing to pay a lot more to make sure those surgeons do their jobs well. And because surgery requires rare and difficult-to-learn skills, it shouldn’t be surprising that few people can become surgeons to compete in that market and bring the prices down. (In a world without government price-fixing and other interventions in health care, surgeons might earn less or more money than they do now, but I bet they’d still earn more than I do!)

So I have no problem with surgeons being paid more than me. It’s not immoral for them to earn a high income — they should be proud of it!

Political redistribution

What is immoral is for the government to punish individuals like my friends, who have worked hard to become surgeons — or to punish individuals who became successful entrepreneurs and started businesses that made them wealthy. When someone works hard and their input even makes our lives better, why is it fair for politicians to begin taking money from them to redistribute it?

I worked hard to get a PhD in economics and I make a good salary as an economics professor. I also earn additional income from teaching more classes than required and from various speaking engagements. Why should my work efforts and the opportunities presented to me be penalized by the government?

When entrepreneurs become millionaires or billionaires it’s usually because they created a product or service that is useful or desired by others. Unless the entrepreneurs start getting crony privileges from the government, they can’t forcibly take money from their customers.

When a businessman or businesswoman makes a dollar, the world is better off because someone voluntarily traded their money for the good or service the business provides — it’s a win-win situation.

When a businessman or businesswoman makes a dollar, the world is better off.

Unfortunately, most of my students have been influenced by “progressive” high school teachers and professors. They come to my classroom with the belief that the businessperson “took” money from their customers and that they should feel ashamed for having so much money and such a big house or numerous fancy cars.

I try to balance my students’ education by arguing that perhaps businesspeople and entrepreneurs should be praised, and that “profit” is not a bad word.

Of course, I also make it clear that a supporter of true free enterprise believes it is immoral for the government to give subsidies to government organizations or to give specific corporations special protection. If a business cannot survive without government help, it deserves to die.

Financially successful individuals do not have an economic moral duty toward others. In fact, using higher taxes to punish surgeons or those in other fields who make very high salaries or business profits could discourage young people from pursuing these essential, challenging careers. That would lead to society having fewer excellent and talented surgeons and businesspeople.

I am not arguing that individuals should not help others, but that they should not be forced to do so through coercion by the government. Being charitable and giving away even a portion of one’s earnings should be an individual choice.

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This article was originally published in January 2018

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.