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Capitalism Beyond Mutuality?Perspectives Integrating Philosophy and Social Science$
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Subramanian Rangan

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198825067

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198825067.001.0001

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Behind Every Great Fortune is an Equally Great Crime

Behind Every Great Fortune is an Equally Great Crime

(p.191) Chapter 10 Behind Every Great Fortune is an Equally Great Crime
Capitalism Beyond Mutuality?

Jay B. Barney

David Schmidtz

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the accuracy of the quote “behind every great fortune is an equally great crime”, attributed to Balzac. In our times great individual fortunes are generally generated via the instrument of the business firm. The question then becomes when are firm profits a crime? Firm profits are, in general, explained by one or more of three factors: luck, efficiency, and collusion. While it is difficult to regard luck as a crime, luck does not reflect merit. Profits due to efficiency seem like the least problematic case, and collusion seems the clearest case of when fortune coincides with crime. A variety of cases lie, at least in a dynamic sense, at the intersection of the three conditions. Unfortunately, history suggests that big business and big government can collude to keep profits flowing to the former and contributions flowing to the latter. While luck and efficiency may help initiate wealth, the system tolerates connivance, making Balzac’s statement more plausible than it ought to be.

Keywords:   wealth accumulation, sources of economic profit, luck, efficiency, inheritance, collusion, monopoly, crony capitalism, political power, crime

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