According to the Dominion Post this week, John Todd, the head of New Zealand’s wealthiest family, thinks the rich have a moral responsibility to help others.
It’s an admirable notion, but I think he’s wrong.
Provided the rich have acquired their wealth by honest, lawful means, I don’t see that they have any moral obligation to anyone. People who build up successful businesses are already performing a public service by providing useful goods and services, creating jobs and generating prosperity. They shouldn’t feel compelled to do any more than that.
Neither should they be taxed at a higher rate than others. The justification for the progressive taxation system has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with pragmatism. The wealthy are taxed at a higher rate not because they deserve to be, but because they can afford it and are therefore considered fair game.
If the rich choose to spread their wealth around, as members of the Todd family have done (possibly influenced by their Catholicism), that’s another matter entirely.
We could do with a stronger philanthropic tradition in New Zealand. There are many benevolent wealthy people operating below the public radar, but the welfare state tends to suppress philanthropic instincts because everyone assumes the government will take care of everything.