Against expropriating the founder of wework

The founder of wework is held to be immoral and to have exploited and mismanaged his company, costing thousands of people their jobs. Some people have called for his wealth to be confiscated and used to help the workers he’s harmed. The motivation for this seems not so much an egalitarian intuition as it is a desert based one. I think this is a bad idea.

Practically speaking, it would be a bad idea because the principle for taking away someone’s wealth would become "this person is unpopular and lot of people want to see them punished". That’s a dangerous principle. It can be weaponized by powerful individuals or factions to destroy their opponents. It will target people based on status and popularity rather than any objective standard of moral behavior. It would allow for selective enforcement where governments destroy unpopular billionaire they dislike. In short, it’s bad.

Looking at pure ethics, it’s not clear why he doesn’t deserve the billions he has.

One commonsense theory of desert is that people deserve to capture the value they create. The intuition here is that since he destroyed value by mismanaging the firm, he deserves to suffer a loss. This is one side of the equation. He also created a company from scratch which grew to span continents. It’s almost certain that without him, the firm wouldn’t exist. If he is mostly responsible for the creation of the firm and hence the value it creates, surely it’s only right that he should capture a large proportion of that value.

Another theory is that good people should be rewarded and bad people punished. Since he’s an immoral snake oil salesman, he does not deserve to be rich. The problem here is that a society that allocates wealth based on moral goodness needs to decide and enforce a singular conception of the good and then use the confiscation of wealth to punish people who deviate from that standard. This is tyranny. Punishing people for actions which we specifically vote to be illegal is one thing. Punishing them for their character or thoughts is another.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s