It’s a slogan so common – at Occupy rallies and elsewhere – that it verges on cliché: make the rich pay! Other variants might be that the rich need to “give something back” or “contribute their fair share.” The upshot of all this seems to suggest that the rich are rich because they’ve taken something that didn’t belong to them. Like little kids divvying up marbles, there was only a set number available; the only way you could have more than anyone else is if you cheated and took more than your share. This immense and widespread confusion indicates the challenge that faces us as a species. Some 50,000 years ago, we took a first, extraordinary, step toward the creation of civilization. The progress has been remarkable. However, it’s a two part program: until we make the essential second step deluded and self-serving “class warfare” will keep civilization beyond our grasp.
Prior to that first step, over the 1.5 or so million years of our species’ evolution, the story was pretty much the same. We lived in small, family-based clans. The food and other resources to live were hard to come by and other clans were our competitors. Unsurprisingly, hunter and gatherer life was bitterly violent; not only did we kill the other clans to get at the resources, but we killed them pre-emptively because we knew that they would kill us to get at the resources. The notoriously violent inner city areas today are peaceful sanctuaries compared to the brutality of hunter and gatherer life. All that started to change, 50,000 years ago, when we began to trade with each other.
Since no one knowingly trades what they value more for what they value less, free trade only exists where people are gaining more value in the things of life. Also, trade allows for specialization and division of labour, which allows us all to be more productive. For an animal with a giant, voracious brain that needs to be fed, trade then makes life better for all of us. As a consequence, our attitudes toward others change. Instead of exclusively killing them because they are competitors for scarce resources, we start learning that not killing others actually makes us, ourselves, better off. This shift in the human preference from preferring others dead to preferring them alive was the first great step toward civilization. Now we must confront the second one.
No less counterproductive to the achievement of civilization than was the belief that it was more productive to kill others is the class war illusion that riches are a symptom of anti-social behaviour. It was initially counter-intuitive to think that, with free markets, not killing others might be of long term benefit for us, but eventually we figured it out and made that first momentous step. Likewise, however counter-intuitive it may be, we now need to take the second great step in our evolution to civilization and recognize that in free markets riches are symptoms of great, pervasive social good. No one gets rich in the free market without providing great benefit to others.
Since no one trades what they value more for what they value less, but, rather, only ever the other way around, there are only two ways under free markets to increase one’s own wealth. First, to do everything for yourself; constantly, incrementally improving one’s own capital stock, which would allow one to live essentially like a pre-50,000 B.C. hunter and gatherer. Or, the second option is to increase your wealth by engaging in trade with others, benefiting from their experience, expertise, knowledge or other advantages. However, just as you will only trade something you value less for something you value more, so too will anyone with whom you trade. At the local grocery store, you value the apple more than the dollar you pay for it, as the grocer values the dollar more than the apple. If you didn’t value the apple more you would have kept the dollar for a more highly valued purpose. If the grocer didn’t value the dollar more than the apple, she would have asked for more money in exchange for the apple.
Thus, aside of impoverished self-sufficiency, the only way to gain wealth is to provide for others the goods that they value more than what they already have. In other words, in free markets, the only way to get wealthy is to make others wealthier. Obviously, if I exchange with 1,000 people, each of them enjoys a single contribution to their greater wealth, while I have a thousand contributions to mine. On the other hand, each of them, through our exchanges only made one other person wealthier, while I made 1,000 people wealthier. My greater wealth indicates the number of people’s lives that I helped improve. Only those incapable of deductive reasoning fail to recognize this less visible, but no less tangible significance of my greater wealth.
On the free market, wealth is not an emblem of social delinquency, but of service to the well-being of others. Those who got rich on the free market are not to be demonized, but appreciated. This does only apply to free market riches. If the state interferes in the market, through regulation, tariffs, anti-immigration policy, subsidies and bailouts, etc., then such riches are gained not through voluntary acts of self-improvement, but an anti-market shakedown, always backed by imminent threats of state violence, to enforce its decrees. 
For evolutionary reasons, we still function with the hunter and gatherer mind that sees injustice where there is inequality. That served our tiny clans on the Savannah, well. In today’s world of complex, interrelated, socially cooperative production, confusing riches with malfeasance merely holds us back from achieving the prosperity and well being that we all want for our loved ones and which the first great evolutionary step made possible. It’s now time to take that second step and leave behind the outmoded confusion about the nature of riches in a free market. The very possibility of overcoming the destructively self-interested demagoguery of “class warfare” and finally achieving human civilization rests upon it.
 As a quick aside, so as not to make this post too long, a common retort about this point in the discussion is that the rich benefit disproportionately by the provision of “public” services: e.g., roads, schools, health care and so on. What’s strange about this position is the assumption that monopoly “services” which are over-priced, poor quality, innovation suppressing and insensitive to customer demand are somehow to be considered a benefit rather than a cost. They are not aids to success but obstacles to it; they have to be overcome.