The difference between creating wealth and winning the lottery

When it comes to wealth, the left loves to invoke powerful emotions—guilt for those who have it and envy or even resentment by those who don’t.

Earlier this month during a conference at Georgetown University on overcoming poverty, President Obama renewed the familiar canard that the most successful in our society did not rightfully earn their wealth.

The President’s comment came during an explanation of why the wealthy should pay more to help the poor. “If we can’t ask society’s lottery winners to make a contribution,” he said, “then this conversation is just for show.”

Former Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt also famously attributed success to luck and doubled down on the guilt card. “Those who have prospered and profited from life’s lottery have a moral obligation to share their good fortune,” he said.

Lottery winners are, by definition, just lucky.  Winning the Powerball jackpot involves no skill, a minimal effort and massive amounts of splendid serendipity. One would not rule out the added benefit of luck in successful wealth creation, but the primary attributes are hard word, risk, private capital, public resources and good ideas.

Andrew Grove risked his life by escaping then-communist controlled Hungary and immigrating to the United States where he and several partners started a semi-conductor business in 1968. Intel made just over $2,000 the first year. Today it’s valued at $147 billion and employs 107,000 people.

Did Grove buy a lottery ticket on a street corner in Budapest?

Steve Jobs was working a low-level job at Atari when he teamed up with Steve Wozniak to establish Apple Computer in Jobs’ parents’ garage in 1976.  Apple fired Jobs in 1985, but he returned in 1997 and created some of the most commercially successful computer products in history. Apple is now worth $742 billion and employs 93,000 people.

Should the success of Apple and Jobs be assigned to luck?

Oprah Winfrey was born into poverty to a single mother and raised in inner-city Milwaukee. She was raped at age 9 and pregnant at 14–hardly a lottery-winner’s beginnings. From her start in radio and TV news, Winfrey grew to become one of the most successful broadcasters ever, with a net worth of $3 billion.

Grove, Jobs, Winfrey, Henry Ford, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller and many, many more combined their talents, ideas and entrepreneurial spirit with the benefits of living in a free country to create not just great wealth for themselves, but also an improved quality of life for millions of people.

As economist Thomas Sowell wrote in a column on the subject, “Most people who want to redistribute wealth don’t want to talk about how that wealth was produced in the first place.”

President Obama got it partly correct during his Georgetown presentation. “The best anti-poverty program is a job,” he said. That would have been a good place to stop and leave the rest to the most efficient job creators, the business leaders in the private sector.

It’s not just luck. They know what they’re doing.

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