Political Compass #14: Many personal fortunes contribute nothing to society.

Many political debates here have included references to The Political Compass, which uses a set of 61 questions to assess one’s political orientation in terms of economic left/right and social libertarianism/authoritarianism (rather like the “Libertarian diamond” popular in the US).

And so, every so often I will begin a thread in which the premise for debate is one of the 61 questions. I will give which answer I chose and provide my justification and reasoning. Others are, of course, invited to do the same including those who wish to “question the question”, as it were. I will also suggest what I think is the “weighting” given to the various answers in terms of calculating the final orientation.

It would also be useful when posting in these threads to give your own “compass reading” in your first post, by convention giving the Economic value first. My own is
SentientMeat: Economic: -5.12, Social: -7.28, and so by the above convention my co-ordinates are (-5.12, -7.28). Please also indicate which option you ticked.

Now, I appreciate that there is often dissent regarding whether the assessment the test provides is valid, notably by US conservative posters, either because it is “left-biased” (??) or because some propositions are clearly slanted, ambiguous or self-contradictory. The site itself provides answers to these and other Frequently Asked Questions, and there is also a separate thread: Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading? Read these first and then, if you have an objection to the test in general, please post it there. If your objection is solely to the proposition in hand, post here. If your objection is to other propositions, please wait until I open a thread on them.

The above will be pasted in every new thread in order to introduce it properly, and I’ll try to let each one exhaust itself of useful input before starting the next. Without wanting to “hog the idea”, I would be grateful if others could refrain from starting similar threads. To date, the threads are:
Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading?
Political Compass #1: Globalisation, Humanity and OmniCorp.
#2: My country, right or wrong
#3: Pride in one’s country is foolish.
#4: Superior racial qualities.
#5: My enemy’s enemy is my friend.
#6: Justifying illegal military action.
#7: “Info-tainment” is a worrying trend.
#8: Class division vs. international division. (+ SentientMeat’s economic worldview)
#9: Inflation vs. unemployment.
#10: Corporate respect of the environment.
#11: From each according to his ability, to each according to need.
#12: Sad reflections in branded drinking water.
#13: Land should not be bought and sold.

*Proposition #14: * Many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society.

SentientMeat (-5.12, -7.28) ticks Agree.

For each such person given as an example, there are arguments that the creation of their personal fortune did somehow benefit their society, which is perhaps why I did not go so far as Strongly Agreeing. The stock market trader is facilitating investment in “useful” businesses and restricting it in “unappealing” ones, thus allowing the fittest to survive and grow in the Darwinian fire of commerce from whose ashes rises the phoenix of progress. The currency speculator effectively does the same with entire countries , again sloshing the money around the world with highly desirable fluidity. The property investor is encouraging useful building and improvement work. The accountant whose fortune is based on squirrelling his clients’ assets away from taxmen the world over is contributing to the financial well-being of, say, Belize or the Cayman Islands. Even the professional gambler provides the world with the spectacle of a high-stakes poker game, and is the buying of a single lottery ticket not a crude attempt to accrue a personal fortune based on “manipulating money”? Even then, that activity may be said to contribute overall, especially if a portion of the ticket price goes to charitable causes.

But of course, as with all games which are either zero-sum or small in their positive sum, the Game of Life necessitates losers as well as winners. If the trader is a winner, the losers are the poor hard-working sods who lose their livelihoods due to the poor judgment of their management. The same goes for winning speculators like George Soros, who helped put countless British losers out of work by betting heavily against the pound and causing the panicked government to push interest rates through the roof. The property investor may be making it too expensive for teachers and nurses to live in a particular area, to society’s detriment, or may be insensitive to cultural or environmental heritage. And in the case of the accountant, wealth has a curious way of sticking to the wealthy - I strongly doubt that the good which the money might have done to society had the accountant not been so clever in keeping it from the taxman would be in any way rivalled by it merely sitting in offshore bank, even allowing for the fact that the bank itself can release the funds for socially useful (or perhaps harmful) activity. (And if the bank is in another country it is hardly benefitting their society as such.)

Personal fortunes based on “money manipulation” are the way of the world; I can clearly see that such activity is the very heart upon which the market depends to pump money around the system. But at the same time I find the idea of “trickle down” illusory, since the wealthy appear to be able to keep their wealth from society quite easily. I feel intuitively (objective measurement being nigh impossible) that the actual contribution made to society by many money-manipulation fortunes, after accounting for the losses to society they entailed, would vary quite markedly. Many of them, I venture, would come out pretty much zero.

Jon the Geek (social -7.49, economic -2.88) ticks Agree… but I’m pretty sure I’ve changed my mind to Disagree. As SM pointed out, it’s hard to show that even the “obvious” people who would theoretically meet this proposition contribute SOMETHING. That makes the “many” part untrue, even if there are SOME personal fortunes are made by people who contribute nothing.


At least in Michigan (as of the last time I checked, about 7 years ago) and Texas (I haven’t done any nation-wide data gathering, let alone world-wide), the profits from the lottery go toward education. Everyone always harps on the lottery as a “tax on the poor at math,” but I consider it more of a voluntary tax to support education, which comes with a very very very slight chance of winning something in return. Sure, it’s basically tricking people into paying for education, but I’m okay with that.

(+5.25, -4.10): Agree

Sure, someone can amass a small fortune from basically gambling. While true, I don’t see a problem with it.

Texas’ lottery revenues go into the general coffers, not earmarked for education. It was correctly argued at the time the lottery was implemented that they expected lottery revenues to drop, and they didn’t want to have to fire teachers because people weren’t gambling as much.


“Simply manipulating money” is the give-away. Currency speculation, for example, serves the purpose of keeping exchange rates as close to their optimal level as possible. That’s a good thing, in a utilitarian sense, as it facilitates free trade. There was a discussion along these lines recently in a thread about the ethics of shorting a stock. Can’t remember the thread title, but I think we hashed through it pretty well.

But frankly, this is one of those questions where I want to say: Even if it were true, so what? I’m somewhat repulsed by the implicit assumption that the goodness of one’s actions depends on whether or not they “contribute to society”. Maybe the testers are just trying to elicit that exact response from libertarian types… Reading it, however, I’m more likely to sense that this is one of those questions that betrays the leftist slant of the test designers. I would also expect that attitude (“simply maninpulating money…”) to be more prevalent in Europe (where the test was designed) than in the US.

Ticks Disagree.

I’d like to see ANY example of a ‘personal fortune’ made that doesn’t contribute anything to society. Who has a personal fortune that doesn’t pay any taxes at all? That don’t buy any products or services (thus employing someone, somewhere)? They would basically have to be hemits who stuffed their mattress (which they made themselves) full of gold they mined themselves hiding out in a cave and eating only what food they could catch or grow on their own. Possible? Sure, maybe. But not very probable.

Agree with John on the worth of having a personal fortune being tied in somehow to the good of society. Hogwash.


p.s. I tried (finally) taking the OPs test. Unfortunately all too often I ran up against questions where there simply WAS no answer that suited me and I was forced to answer something I didn’t agree with as the lesser of two evils. I’d say at least half of the test boiled down to this for me. So, I don’t know how worthwhile the test even is, but my score, FWIW, was:

Economic Left/Right: 4.50
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.18


The continuing hijack:

From the Texas Statutes Government Code, Chapter 466: State Lottery:

The rest of the money, as far as I can tell, goes into running the lottery.

Apparently, between 1992 and 1997 it went to the General Revenue Fund, but since 1997 it’s been dedicated to the Foundation School Fund: http://www.txlottery.org/faq/moneygoes.cfm


And I liked this -

Anyone who participates in the free market is contributing to the efficient allocation of resources. Efficient allocation of resources aids productivity, which is the sole and only enabler of improvements in the human economic condition.

The designers of the test are missing the point in referring to “simply manipulating money”. Money is a marker. Marx described money as a descriptor of a social relation between people. It is representative of created value. Manipulating it means balancing, moment by moment, the needs of consumers (of all kinds) with the availability of resources. And, since resources exist and can be moved world-wide with greatest efficiency via money, “manipulating money” is not something to be derided or dismissed.


Your score was remarkably similar to mine. That’s probably not good. :slight_smile:

Supposedly the test designers wanted the questions to be “difficult” to answer. But I wonder why this question wasn’t phrased in a more direct fashion:

“Does those who have accumulated wealth have a responsibility to contribute something to society?”

or something along those lines.

Well, they probably wouldn’t have said “Does those who…” on the basis of grammar alone. Obviously: “Do those who…”

Well, thats unsurprising (to me at least) as generally I tend to agree with many of your positions, especially concerning the economy, free trade, etc. :cool:

There were some questions about ‘race’ especially that my answer would have been…what race?? I found most of the question awkward to answer, especially with the choices (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree). Some of them were worded in such a way that I basically was shrugging my shoulders or questioning the question itself. Its possible that any misunderstanding on my part stemmed from my imperfect grasp of english though.

Checks ‘uncertain how to answer this’. Certainly ALL adult citizens have a (current) ‘responsibility’ to contribute to society in the form of taxes. So in that case, yes, they, like me, have such a responsibility. However, over and above the requirements of taxation? No, they have no ‘responsibility to contribute to society’. They may have a desire to do so…but no responsibility to do so. Its THEIR (or MY) money…we earned it, its ours to do with as we choose. If I choose to give to charity (which I do), then thats MY choice. If I choose to go on a cruise instead, or buy a new car, or simply light my fine cigars with it, thats my choice.


There are very few zero-sum games in a free market. Gambling is about the only example I can think of. If the economy were zero-sum, the total amount of wealth in the world would never change, but clearly we are wealthier now than say, in the 1950’s. In particular, just because someone profits in the stock market doesn’t imply that someone else loses. That is because the total value of the stock market tends to increase with time, so over time there will be more winning than losing.

Agree. There are some that amass great fortunes while at the same time contributing something to society as in Bill Gates. But I believe there are many more that simply inheirited their wealth, as in the Sam Walton heirs. Inheiriting a boatload of money and then simply amassing an even greater fortune off the investments is not a contribution to society.

Econ -7.75; soc -3.95.

Some of what is being said here is “right” for the wrong reasons.

It seems that there is general agreement that at least some fortunes have been amassed without the amasser having benefitted society at all. The gambler seems like the best example.

I would venture, however, that it is very difficult for an individual to know whether s/he is contributing to society or not, as it is very difficult to know whether one’s work is doing society any good. For example, suppose a really nice person working at a socially responsible firm does very good work–in a division that is run ineptly by others and is eventually eliminated. It"s quite possible that this person’s work was all for naught, yet this result was not his/her fault.

Ultimately, it is the role of government to police business and investors to make sure that they ARE contributing to society. Yeah, I’m a socialist–bigtime.

I’d like to eliminate quickly, however, the argument that the idle rich are contributing to society by paying taxes. Hogwash. One contributes to society by doing work that advances the economy or the social good. WORK. Taxes on the income of the idle rich are simply reductions in the amount that they are allowed to squeeze from the work of others (ie, exploitation).

Although many fortunes have been amassed through mere money manipulation, I would guess that even more fortunes have been amassed through simple exploitation: that is, making money off of the labor of others. Although a certain amount of exploitation is probably necessary in our primate societies, it is the role of government to curb the excesses and redestribute wealth so as to maintain a just society.

Oh yes, the familiar “it’s my money” argument.

Quick reality check: WRONG.

The money is “yours” only because there is a social/political/economic system that says it is. What you have isn’t gold or anything with intrinsic value; it’s fiat money courtesy of the Federal Reserve, and only has value because the US economy backs it up, the US military backs it up, your local police force backs it up; the Federal highway system, paid for with tax dollars backs it up (trucks roll on it for “free”). Etc. etc.

Somebody is sweating to protect American interests, to build all those roads, to maintain social order and whatnot. If these were not all in place, your fiat money would indeed be appropriate for lighting cigars, and nothing more. The way in which all these people, who protect the value of your fiat money, are rewarded is determined by the social/political/economic system. In case you hadn’t noticed, soldiers don’t get paid much, and the filthy rich don’t get taxed much.

So, their/my money, huh? We’ll see how much it’s really “ours” when the Federal Government fails to hold the peasants at bay…

Checks the “horseshit” box. This arguement only means something to the fuzzy headed crowd. We ALL pay those taxes for those services…to have that civilization. Having paid them, we’ve done our civic duty. Any money we make AFTER doing said duty is ours. Its not ‘societies’…society has ALREADY taken its piece out. If ‘society’ feels that soldiers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, civil servants aren’t making enough, then ‘society’ is who should bump their salaries…through the taxes we pay.

Yup. And my taxes are what goes to pay them to do that, to build the roads, to maintain the order. Whats your point exactly? If I didn’t make any money then I wouldn’t be contributing to all those lovely services. If my company didn’t employ several hundred people, then THEY wouldn’t be contributing either. If NO companies employed anyone then you’d have NO services.

As to soldiers pay, who the hell are you talking to here? Have YOU ever been in the service? I have. I know EXACTLY how much ‘soldiers’ make. If they didn’t want to BE soldiers there are other jobs that pay more. Same with teachers, police and firemen, etc. Again, its OUR taxes that pay those salaries. However, after we pay our taxes our obligations to ‘society’ are pretty much what ever each individual makes it. For my part, I also donate to several charities. Not because I have too…but because I CHOOSE too.

As for the ‘filthy rich not getting taxed much’…what planet are you from? The ‘filthy rich’ are who are paying for most of those nice services you are banging on about. They pay, percentage wise, the majority of the taxes in the US. You have a cite showing otherwise? That ‘the filthy rich’ AREN’T paying taxes??

I’m sorry but this arguement boils down to "since we have a civilization you don’t really own anything you create, that you are merely a slave to ‘society’’. Sorry…I don’t buy that at all.


Using whose standards? Does chewing gum, for example, contribute to society? How about doughnuts? What about $50 haircuts?

I know that we live in a corrupt system in many ways. But for the most part, the only way to make money is to make someone else happy, and I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. The only exceptions to the rule involve the government and its friends, which use guns, bribes, and prisons to make money. I don’t see why you think making the government more powerful is going to help things.

I agree. Governments have never been known to exploit their citizens, and they never happen to redistribute wealth to themselves. :rolleyes:

So you’d of course agree with the idea that someone who amasses a small fortune gaming the welfare system has earned that money. Or a pimp, drug dealer, pyramid scheme operator, spammer…

Making money off of investments is a contribution to society. Without investors, houses don’t get built, daycares don’t get started, and restaurants don’t open. One makes money by investing in successful businesses. Successful businesses are successful because they make their customers happy. How is this bad?

Many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society.
I can think of no legal way that a fortune could be made by a person manipulating money and not contribute to society in some way. It may be an indirect contribution, but a valuable and necessary contribution none the less. If there is an example of a person making a fortune by manipulating money w/o contributing to society, I’d like to hear it. (I’m assuming we’re sticking to things within the law).