More on "Giving Back"

At Classical Values, a post about “giving back” (with extra sarcasm on the “scare quotes”):

Meaning what, exactly? Give back what? And to whom? Did someone steal something from someone? If so, they should definitely give it back. Anyone taking something that did not belong to him has an obligation to give it back. But if what someone has is not ill-gotten gain and was not taken from someone else, by what logic can there be said to be a duty to give back? … “Give back” has come to mean “community service” work. I have no problem with that either. Voluntary charity is good. However, at the risk of sounding antisocial, I fail to see how doing community service constitutes “giving back” unless the community had given something to the community service performer in the first place.

The word “give” is a nice word. It encourages goodness without nagging or berating. But when you pair it with “back” it turns into a whole different ballgame. Because “give back” implies that you have some obligation to return something that’s not really yours, or to repay some generosity of which you have taken unfair advantage. It’s a two-word guilt trip, usually used by people who have no right to make such a claim on your resources. It’s a point I made at greater length here:

We talk about businesses “giving back” to the community so much that even the most capital capitalist has it burned into his brain that that is just what businesses are supposed to do. 

The unstated premise is that successful businesses got that way by taking something away from the community, and therefore are morally obligated to give it back. This “giving back” usually takes the form of monetary contributions or political support of liberal causes. 

That unstated premise is, of course, completely wrong, and the whole concept of “giving back” is a form of moral blackmail used by losers against achievers. 


Businesses give back to the community by providing goods and services for the people who live in that community. They provide jobs, and the benefits that go with jobs. They increase real estate values. (Have you ever seen a property advertised as being “close to shopping”? Where do you think that “shopping” comes from? The Federal Shopping Department?) If you really like infrastructure, nothing encourages investment in more and better infrastructure like a few successful businesses in the neighborhood. 

In short, businesses give back to the community by simply existing. They don’t owe anybody anything more than that, least of all the insatiable maw of the federal government.

Leave a Reply