20 votes

Advocating for rich civilians

I'm fifty years old and thirty years ago I held different views.

I remember only shadows of feelings that I had about the wealthy. Some of these were disdain.

Now that I have been around the block a few times, I see things a little differently.

I believe that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a good thing. I, also, believe that Warren Buffet is doing very good work with his fortunes. Similarly, Jeff Bezos is set up to do immensely good things with space flight and environmental undertakings.

I do not believe that I am, entirely, misguided. And I know that there are a great deal of people that would disagree with me.

48 comments

  1. [2]
    vord
    Link
    I'm only ~10 years behind you, I'm wealthier than ever (read: still negative!), and despising the wealthiest more each passing day. The mega-bilionaires attained their wealth due to mass...

    I'm only ~10 years behind you, I'm wealthier than ever (read: still negative!), and despising the wealthiest more each passing day.

    The mega-bilionaires attained their wealth due to mass exploitation. It manifests as Amazon workers peeing in bottles, mass Covid outbreaks in Tesla factories, and massively complicated tax code that results in billionaires paying lower rates than someone making 70k.

    Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pushed Oxford to not donate Covid patent to any drugmaker that wanted it

    Charity is a shell game of scraps used by the rich as PR. People are hungry, homeless, and dying of easily preventable causes around the world. We can't properly fund schools and hospitals in the USA. Meanwhile two billionaires have their own private space race for fun.

    45 votes
    1. FrankGrimes
      Link Parent
      Exactly. People have said it before, and I'll say it again - you simply can't become a billionaire without being amoral and exploiting many people. Bill Gates can hire as many PR firms as he wants...

      Exactly. People have said it before, and I'll say it again - you simply can't become a billionaire without being amoral and exploiting many people. Bill Gates can hire as many PR firms as he wants in an attempt to reshape his legacy, but the fact is even now he continues to use his ill gotten fortune to push his own personal beliefs on how the world should function, and many of those beliefs are misguided at best, and an attempt to become even richer and more powerful at worst (after discussing vaccine costs, we can move on to Monsanto...). Bezos and the rest are no better.

      21 votes
  2. [23]
    FrillsofTilde
    Link
    Imo hoping for a benevolent billionaire to come and save people is insane. These people should be taxed appropriately so that the government can determine where best to use the money and support...

    Imo hoping for a benevolent billionaire to come and save people is insane. These people should be taxed appropriately so that the government can determine where best to use the money and support the population. Some celebrity gets good press for cleaning the water of a city, or paying the medical bills of a follower. But would the situation have arisen if these people had paid appropriately?

    Additionally, these people have also cost the fortunes of many others to further enrich themselves. Look at what Gates did to Netscape. Was it necessary? Was it ethical?

    I believe there is earning and greed and all those you've mentioned above fall squarely into the greed category. Could Bezos make money without needing his employees to pee in a bottle? Yes. So why do it. Just to make more than he could ever spend. So he can play astronaut.

    I'm curious to know your response of course! I have found this a challenging topic of debate because they are NOW doing some good...but I question their motivation (tax cuts) and why they should be the ones who decides who gets to benefit from the hard work and labour of those that slaved for them.

    35 votes
    1. [7]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      I've had this discussion before. I think it's significantly more complicated, and it starts with the question: What if the government can't determine this properly? What if the government is...

      These people should be taxed appropriately so that the government can determine where best to use the money and support the population.

      I've had this discussion before. I think it's significantly more complicated, and it starts with the question: What if the government can't determine this properly? What if the government is wrong?

      And it's easy to say "well yeah but only the government should be able to decide this" when you and I, laypeople, don't have the power or influence required to have a say in it. Once you do … well, why exactly should the government have the final say in x or y or z?

      There's a lot of instances where private citizens or companies simply do the work a lot better than governments do. Where they do things the governments won't. And removing the possibility of those pushing progress forward is dreadful.

      Please note, there is NO WORLD in which the answer to all this is "just do X". "Just tax them and use the tax money to do it" is a really, really difficult proposal: Taxing the rich is difficult. Using the money efficiently is difficult. Whenever I write about something like this I have to systematically ignore a bunch of "but it's so easy if you just do X" replies. No it's not, and anyone who thinks it's easy hasn't thought it through.

      What it comes down to is that billionaires aren't elected, the government is. But… billionaires are a form of meritocracy, they tend to get there through skill. Skill which often is representative of their ability to manage money efficiently. So, do I trust the US government or Jeff Bezos to better manage 1 billion dollars? Welllll…

      IMO, billionaires aren't an issue in and of themselves, but we need to give them more incentives to apply the money to non-selfish endeavours. And do so at every level, from the somewhat-well-off middle-class to the ultra-billionaire.

      9 votes
      1. [5]
        FrillsofTilde
        Link Parent
        The reality is that people with more money can take more risks which have higher payoffs and hire people at a lower rate to manage it. A person I know with a fair amount of money was able to...

        The reality is that people with more money can take more risks which have higher payoffs and hire people at a lower rate to manage it. A person I know with a fair amount of money was able to negotiate a better rate with a stock broker because he had more money to our into it. A rate you and I could not obtain. So this results in generational wealth, and what I believe we are seeing is an increasing in this.

        You base this all on the argument that a rich person can manage wealth more effectively, but they can manage it personally. Can they run an effective welfare program? Are they willing to run community maintenance programs that won't result in PR? If I have heard correctly the state of the roads around Apple HQ are terrible. Why don't Apple fix it? They could easily. But it's not in their best interests.

        What the government has that the billionaires don't is simply some level of accountability. Look at Skirely, that POS, is an absolute ass hat but you and I are abosultelty powerless to do anything about it.

        You can argue the LEVEL of accountability of course but they have significantly more accountability than these Billionaires do. And you and I are only speaking of the high profile ones.

        If we incent them through tax breaks etc to gmgive more money down, we are only encouraging their hoarding of the resource so they can throw it down on us from their golden blimps and watch us fight over the scraps. (Yes, I know I am going to extreme just to be funny. Again I understand that this is complex and I don't have the research required for a full discussion about it but this is the side I am on on this thread so I'll push deep into it! Don't take my sarcasm for ignorance!!)

        9 votes
        1. [2]
          joplin
          Link Parent
          Having been to Apple HQ and driven around the area, I certainly don't recall anything other than traffic being an issue on the roads. That said, their recent purchases of land and building of new...

          If I have heard correctly the state of the roads around Apple HQ are terrible. Why don't Apple fix it? They could easily. But it's not in their best interests.

          Having been to Apple HQ and driven around the area, I certainly don't recall anything other than traffic being an issue on the roads. That said, their recent purchases of land and building of new HQ, etc. dumped at least millions into the local tax coffers. (According to this article from the San Francisco Chronicle, they're paying $40 million per year in property taxes just for the new building. That fixes a lot of roads.)

          Furthermore, they have recently finished allocating the first billion of the $2.5 billion they're giving to make housing more affordable in California and other places. So it sounds to me like they're doing both what you suggest and more. (Which doesn't in any way absolve them of any wrongdoing they may have committed in the past, just to be clear.) And likewise, I'm sure other large companies pay lots of property taxes in their locales, as well. It's one of the reasons cities try to attract big businesses.

          6 votes
          1. FrillsofTilde
            Link Parent
            I certainly hope so as I certainly read too many reports of these companies not paying much or anything in taxes and using every loophole to avoid paying taxes while their top execs collect their...

            I certainly hope so as I certainly read too many reports of these companies not paying much or anything in taxes and using every loophole to avoid paying taxes while their top execs collect their bonuses regardless of the well was of their business and employees.

            This is a gray topic with no simple solution but in my opinion, the way things are going are not in the direction that helps more people (in NA at least).

            4 votes
        2. [2]
          Adys
          Link Parent
          I bet you a pizza they couldn't "easily" fix this, and I'll bet you extra olives and anchovies that the blockers are at a local government level. I've not looked this up, and I'm ready to be...

          Why don't Apple fix it? They could easily.

          I bet you a pizza they couldn't "easily" fix this, and I'll bet you extra olives and anchovies that the blockers are at a local government level.

          I've not looked this up, and I'm ready to be wrong, but I've seen this happen too often. You say it's "not in their best interests", but actually, it absolutely is. Employee productivity and retention rates are very high reward metrics to optimize for in a company, when your employees are paid handsomely.

          I absolutely agree with you on accountability, and I think a real solution would involve heavy accountability in any public-interest project, but coupling it with handsome incentives to chase such kinds of projects too.

          I don't think such incentives would present themselves in the form of tax breaks. That's just … using a broken system from the get go. I honestly don't know what the incentives would look like. What I however increasingly feel is that we are, as humans to the planet, the equivalent of cells in our body. As individuals we don't control the whole, but the whole does give us "consciousness" (or whatever we define this to be).

          We need to develop a planet-wide consciousness. With the free instantaneous flow of information, we've never been closer to doing this. Improving communication and education are critical to making this happen. And when it does happen, we may yet be able to efficiently tackle the real challenges: all the planet-wide shit such as COVID and climate change (and plenty more).

          This doesn't get me any closer to the response of what those immediate incentives look like. But it gives us a glimpse into potentially what future progress may look like. The things that will put people a few hundred years from now on a truly different level (as computers did with the previous generation, and the internet does with the current one).

          4 votes
          1. vord
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            Bull. If there are blockers at the local level surely the multi-billion dollar company could figure out how to resolve those blockers. Even if that issue is as simple as 'pay more in taxes so the...

            I'll bet you extra olives and anchovies that the blockers are at a local government level.

            Bull. If there are blockers at the local level surely the multi-billion dollar company could figure out how to resolve those blockers.

            Even if that issue is as simple as 'pay more in taxes so the local government can pave those roads.' Hell, put those corporate lawyers to work to draft up some legislation for them.

            Worst case they could just fix it themselves, without any permissions, and pay the miniscule fine that would accompany that violation.

            Or, you know, it probably isn't in their best interests. At least not enough of an interest to bother trying.

            7 votes
      2. Cycloneblaze
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        At the very least, on a philosophical level, government is made up of people. It is (intended to be) the people coming together to decide what to do collectively. Yeah, a democratic government can...

        Once you do … well, why exactly should the government have the final say in x or y or z?

        At the very least, on a philosophical level, government is made up of people. It is (intended to be) the people coming together to decide what to do collectively. Yeah, a democratic government can turn into a dictatorship and impose its whims on people against theretheir* will. But a billionaire philanthropist (to say nothing of non philanthropists) can't turn into a democracy unless they give away all their money. All they can do is make things happen according to their whims. So I'm supposed to hope that they have good ones?

        But… billionaires are a form of meritocracy, they tend to get there through skill. Skill which often is representative of their ability to manage money efficiently.

        I would say better that it's a skill at acquiring money. And it's aided very well by a lot of circumstances that don't involve any particular skill, the main one being the fact that they have a lot of money already. Does using their money on social projects that give them no direct return seem to help them acquire money? Not really, and I don't trust them to do that beyond the extent that it does. If they did they wouldn't be billionaires. It seems absolutely impossible to acquire that kind of money without the mindset of greed and lust for power.

        IMO, billionaires aren't an issue in and of themselves, but we need to give them more incentives to apply the money to non-selfish endeavours.

        I'd rather decide what those endeavours are myself, take the money and apply it to them instead of waiting for a billionaire, whose life's work is gaining money, to do it. And government is the best apparatus for that which we've got right now. Certainly it seems a better one than the good will of people who regularly demonstrate that they have very little.

        I'm being cynical here of course, and so are you, your cynicism is just more directed towards government than billionaires. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good reasons to have that mindset! I just think that on a theoretical level if nothing else, extremely wealthy single people are less trustworthy.

        9 votes
    2. [15]
      mrbig
      Link Parent
      I don't think anyone is saying we should. I literally never read or heard anything to that effect.

      Imo hoping for a benevolent billionaire to come and save people is insane

      I don't think anyone is saying we should. I literally never read or heard anything to that effect.

      1 vote
      1. [6]
        spctrvl
        Link Parent
        Really? That's surprising to me, I find it an immensely common trope, propagated both by non-billionaires like Steven Pinker, Peter Singer, many other effective altruism advocates, Gates...

        Really? That's surprising to me, I find it an immensely common trope, propagated both by non-billionaires like Steven Pinker, Peter Singer, many other effective altruism advocates, Gates Foundation dickriders, and most prominently the cult of Musk, as well by billionaires themselves, both in promoting their philanthropic organizations and in the marketing of actual, for profit goods and services.

        16 votes
        1. [5]
          mrbig
          Link Parent
          You seem to have listed some billionaire-friendly people and organizations. I wonder if their friendliness can actually be embodied in the sentence "we should hope for a benevolent billionaire to...

          You seem to have listed some billionaire-friendly people and organizations. I wonder if their friendliness can actually be embodied in the sentence "we should hope for a benevolent billionaire to save us", though. In my view, that phrase conveys the idea that waiting for their help should replace other pursuits.

          I don't think what billionaires think about themselves is relevant here, of course they're favorable towards themselves, why wouldn't they be?

          4 votes
          1. FrillsofTilde
            Link Parent
            An example that comes to mind for me is what happened in Flint. With what's his name Smith paying millions to try and restore water. Or even in the past year, so many sports stars were found to be...

            An example that comes to mind for me is what happened in Flint. With what's his name Smith paying millions to try and restore water. Or even in the past year, so many sports stars were found to be paying the salaries of people at stadiums. If only their salaries allowed for the workers in the stadiums to get more money instead of hoarding it all for themselves. If only Mr. Smith were paying more taxes so that Flint didn't have to wait for his charity to save them. These are folks who would have had none or limited other options.

            And when these millionaires do this stuff, they are praised as a hero.

            I will also be clear, I am writing from my side of the argument here. This is an interesting point of conversation and I appreciate your thoughts in it.

            12 votes
          2. [3]
            spctrvl
            Link Parent
            I suppose we interpreted that phrase somewhat differently, but I think the only real difference is that most of those I listed think the benevolent billionaires to save us are already here....

            I suppose we interpreted that phrase somewhat differently, but I think the only real difference is that most of those I listed think the benevolent billionaires to save us are already here. Certainly I think Pinker embodies the "wait for billionaires to save the world" bit, since his whole philosophy seems to be (uncharitably), "See how much social progress has happened, isn't it great? Also fuck people fighting for social progress, it happens on its own because capitalism and they're derailing the whole thing, just sit back and wait for the market and the job creators to fix things."

            6 votes
            1. [2]
              mrbig
              Link Parent
              Yeah... I never read any Pinker but I have the impression he's a sophisticated thinker. Surely his thesis' are more solid than that, no?

              Yeah... I never read any Pinker but I have the impression he's a sophisticated thinker. Surely his thesis' are more solid than that, no?

              1 vote
              1. spctrvl
                Link Parent
                I honestly don't think so. There's a kernel of truth in there, in the improvements to quality of life and social progress made over the last century or two, but it's used to extrapolate an...

                I honestly don't think so. There's a kernel of truth in there, in the improvements to quality of life and social progress made over the last century or two, but it's used to extrapolate an incoherent ideology that is in direct opposition to further progress and that probably would've opposed the same earlier progress it extols had it been contemporary. There's a couple Jacobin articles that broadly summarize my views.

                I don't think he's popular and respected because his ideas are good. I think he's popular and respected because his ideas are convenient.

                5 votes
      2. [8]
        joplin
        Link Parent
        It is a common trope here in the US often presented by libertarians. It goes something like this: Person A: I think the ultra-wealthy should be taxed at a higher rate and we should have limits on...

        It is a common trope here in the US often presented by libertarians. It goes something like this:

        Person A: I think the ultra-wealthy should be taxed at a higher rate and we should have limits on what people can earn.

        Person B (libertarian): Why should the government get to decide what happens with the money I earned? Someone somewhere in the government was once inefficient, therefore all of government is entirely corrupt. Why should we have free college tuition? I heard Mitt Romney paid for some paralyzed kids’ college.

        Person A: But not everyone knows a billionaire like Mitt Romney.

        Person B: That’s not my problem!

        Note: I may have used some hyperbole in the above, but probably not as much as you think.

        10 votes
        1. [7]
          mrbig
          Link Parent
          I might as well rephrase: I never interacted with anyone online or off-line who defended anything remotely close to the sentence "we should hope for a benevolent billionaire to save us". Certainly...

          I might as well rephrase: I never interacted with anyone online or off-line who defended anything remotely close to the sentence "we should hope for a benevolent billionaire to save us". Certainly not on Tildes.

          4 votes
          1. [3]
            aphoenix
            Link Parent
            I am envious of that. ;) But in all seriousness, this is one of the primary tenets of libertarianism; people should be free to make as much money as they want, and then they should be free to do...

            never interacted with anyone online or off-line who defended anything remotely close to the sentence "we should hope for a benevolent billionaire to save us".

            I am envious of that. ;)

            But in all seriousness, this is one of the primary tenets of libertarianism; people should be free to make as much money as they want, and then they should be free to do what they want with that money, and we should trust that there exists people good enough to do noble things with their money. It is rarely stated as extremely as "we should hope for a benevolent billionaire", but that is the ultimate end goal; some billionaire will choose a cause and eradicate whatever problem the cause is for. If not a single billionaire, then "the rich" should be trusted to care for everyone, out of the goodness of their heart.

            It seems obvious to me that this won't work, but every libertarian I know is convinced that it is the only way forward for society, and claim it'll "get us out of the mess we're in".

            Certainly not on Tildes.

            Partially that is because of how this particular social network grows; since it is only by invitation, we do tend towards a particular kind of voice. On a small scale: I know several libertarians, and I don't want to discuss most things with them, and thus don't invite them to Tildes. I imagine I'm not the only one in that boat.

            10 votes
            1. vord
              Link Parent
              Preach it. I won't even invite the regular liberals cause I already argue with enough of them here. :-)

              Preach it. I won't even invite the regular liberals cause I already argue with enough of them here. :-)

              3 votes
            2. mrbig
              Link Parent
              I'm not in America, never been actually. I don't think I ever met a libertarian like they call it in the US. And I don't seek libertarians online.

              I'm not in America, never been actually. I don't think I ever met a libertarian like they call it in the US. And I don't seek libertarians online.

              3 votes
          2. [3]
            Seven
            Link Parent
            Almost every Musk fan I have ever interacted has said something along those lines. A lot of them genuinely think that Musk's electric cars, satellites, and carbon capture schemes will save us all.

            Almost every Musk fan I have ever interacted has said something along those lines. A lot of them genuinely think that Musk's electric cars, satellites, and carbon capture schemes will save us all.

            7 votes
            1. vord
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              "Elon Musk is saving the world by bringing electric cars to the masses and building carbon capture devices and insuring the future of humanity by getting us to Mars!" - Every person I've met that...

              "Elon Musk is saving the world by bringing electric cars to the masses and building carbon capture devices and insuring the future of humanity by getting us to Mars!" - Every person I've met that has a positive opinion of Elon Musk

              Living on Mars is a sci-fi fantasy. Elon Musk's greatest infrastructure contribution is a complete downgrade from any subway, bus, or tram. His main contributions to Tesla were a door panel and a proprietary charging connection (Remember that big push early on for Tesla charging stations and how they own 40% of them today?).

              We have highly efficient carbon capture devices already. They're called trees, and there's plenty of space where we can plant them and let them return to wilderness.

              11 votes
            2. mrbig
              Link Parent
              That is unfortunate.

              That is unfortunate.

              2 votes
  3. [2]
    MimicSquid
    Link
    That they do good things is (rarely) debated. The question is whether they do better things with it than the other owners that money might have, and that's perhaps a harder case to make.

    That they do good things is (rarely) debated. The question is whether they do better things with it than the other owners that money might have, and that's perhaps a harder case to make.

    34 votes
    1. archevel
      Link Parent
      Even if these particular billionaires made optimal choices (debatable as you noted) and even if they had made their money through only their own labor, I think it is morally wrong that individuals...

      Even if these particular billionaires made optimal choices (debatable as you noted) and even if they had made their money through only their own labor, I think it is morally wrong that individuals have that much unchecked influence at their fingertips.

      If we value a democratic society we should strive to push fundamental decisions into that domain. There are competing needs in a society and a limited amount of resources. So the question is to what degree should the allocation of resources be up to individuals/orgs and to what degree should it be a democratic decision?

      25 votes
  4. jcdl
    Link
    That some billionaires have an effective tax rate of 0% is simply unacceptable and altogether disqualifying to me. If some pledge to donate their wealth upon death, great. Their reign only lasts a...
    • Exemplary

    That some billionaires have an effective tax rate of 0% is simply unacceptable and altogether disqualifying to me. If some pledge to donate their wealth upon death, great. Their reign only lasts a human lifetime. Otherwise, a dynasty is formed. Today's billionaires may indeed be benevolent and produce a societal net good. Their children might be even better. Who knows what kind of people Jeff Bezos' great grandchildren might be?

    Lots of high impact, highly efficient philanthropy is done by billionaires: true. Also true: government bureaucracies really, really suck and struggle to get things done, but they are (bear with me, for the sake of argument) elected and accountable. You cannot kick a billionaire out of public office, and yet, they hold office. They enact real policy with ever growing scope. Healthcare, infrastructure, you name it.

    Here's a scenario that I find plausible: let's say SpaceX is denied a rocket launch permit and Elon, says "fuck you" on Twitter, and smacks the launch button anyway. Is a billion dollar fine effective? Does the US military shoot down the next rocket launched without permission? What if the rocket is carrying cargo—or, worse, people—belonging to a foreign state. That sounds a lot like an act of war to me, so that's probably not a great option. Complicating matters further, the US military is a major SpaceX client. What military capabilities are lost or weakened if that business relationship ends? Is a threat to nationalize SpaceX enough leverage to control Elon? Remember, Elon is extremely rich (and getting richer) and diversified. He has a lot of bargaining chips and leverage in other areas.

    At the risk of descending into dystopian supervillain fiction, I wonder how far we are from a n-illionaire holding a dead man's switch over us? The ultrarich are launching their own rockets into space. Consider what the first intercontinental rockets were built to do. A rocket does not have to use a nuclear warhead to cause a lot of damage. A couple Starship payloads of tungsten rods sitting in orbit, pointed at your house kills you just as dead as any good weapon. I believe this can already be done today.

    Play the same game with other billionaires' industries and picture the end-game. In summary, my opinion is that in the long run, advocating for the ultrarich is in effect, advocacy of dictatorship.

    18 votes
  5. [3]
    Seven
    Link
    I don't want to be rude here, and I don't use this language lightly, but this sort of thinking is honestly disgusting to me. These men have made their money off of the endless exploitation of...

    I don't want to be rude here, and I don't use this language lightly, but this sort of thinking is honestly disgusting to me. These men have made their money off of the endless exploitation of workers and the environment. I will never praise the rich for their response to an environmental crises that they caused. They create charities as PR stunts while using them to increase their own wealth. Even if they were completely altruistic in their aims, that would still not excuse the horrors they have caused to generate their money. If a southern plantation slaveowner donated much of their profits to charity, would we praise them for it? Of course not, because of the hideous human rights abuses that brought them their fortunes.

    When I was younger, I had a vague sense of disdain for the rich too. I now know that I was misguided. Anything but boiling, seething rage at these billionaires for what they're doing to humanity and our planet is giving them too much credit.

    25 votes
    1. [3]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. [2]
        Keegan
        Link Parent
        I’m not sure this person was replying to you, although the point about saying you don’t mean to be rude not making a difference is true to me.

        I’m not sure this person was replying to you, although the point about saying you don’t mean to be rude not making a difference is true to me.

        2 votes
        1. mrbig
          Link Parent
          Silly of me, why do I keep doing that? Thanks.

          Silly of me, why do I keep doing that? Thanks.

          1 vote
  6. TemulentTeatotaler
    (edited )
    Link
    There are certainly examples of billionaires who do good things with their wealth. I had a wonderful housemate who worked through a Gates Foundation grant. A lot of the "eat the rich" sentiments...

    There are certainly examples of billionaires who do good things with their wealth. I had a wonderful housemate who worked through a Gates Foundation grant. A lot of the "eat the rich" sentiments can get pretty toxic as well, and some comes from people that are uninformed.

    That said, I think the more important conversation is on whether the system of modern wealth acquisition is a healthy one for society.

    David Mitchell had an insightful comment when tax evasion was a big deal in the U.K. Paraphased, it was that by making how much of your taxes you should pay optional you have essentially created a tax on conscience or being a good person.

    Consider 100 billionaires, 10 of whom give away almost all of their wealth (ala Buffet's pledge) to charity. You're now left with 90 billionaires with worse character. The same logic can be roughly applied to those that make suboptimal decisions that are good for society or humanity: they are handicapped in the race for wealth accumulation.

    The Dictator's Handbook (highly recommended) gets into some of that sort of game theory. It distinguishes between countries that require a few people on your side to seize power and countries where it requires appealing to many people.

    In Russia you may only need to appease a handful of wealthy oligarchs to have a winning coalition. In Australia where voting is compulsory you (in theory) need to appeal to a lot of people. Comparing the two groups you unsurprisingly see that countries that require appealing to many people have more prosocial policies.

    In line with that, SCOTUS Louis Brandeis once said: "You can either have concentration of wealth in the hands of the few or you can have democracy, but you cannot have both."

    Wealth makes wealth. If you're Amazon, Koch Industries, or Google you have surveillance infrastructure in place to figure out how people behave. You can afford experts to analyze that behavior and invest (or develop/promote competing niche products like Amazon) based on that information.

    Increasingly wealth makes rules. Using data you can strongly influence the outcomes of elections or stances of politicians. Automation of work (even white collar) grows increasingly possible, so there is less threat of strikes or dependence on workers. One (specious) thought on that is that The Black Death led to the emergence of the middle class in Europe, and Covid led to an accelerating accumulation of wealth by the wealthy.

    Personally, I want a soft cap on influence/wealth/power.

    16 votes
  7. [2]
    NaraVara
    Link
    Anand Giridharadas wrote an entire book about this.
    • Exemplary
    9 votes
    1. vord
      Link Parent
      The Giving Pledge reeks of what Anand talks about. It frames the discussion as if the only choice for the world is with or without philanthropy from the rich. A world without the wealthy is framed...

      The Giving Pledge reeks of what Anand talks about.

      It frames the discussion as if the only choice for the world is with or without philanthropy from the rich.

      A world without the wealthy is framed out of the discussion.

      9 votes
  8. [7]
    mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    Much of the hate against billionaire philanthropists can be considered examples of the perfect solution fallacy, in which a good (but partial) solution that is actually attainable is considered...

    Much of the hate against billionaire philanthropists can be considered examples of the perfect solution fallacy, in which a good (but partial) solution that is actually attainable is considered bad because there's a hypothetical perfect and complete solution that is not really possible yet.

    It's a kind of binary thinking, according to which we must either welcome the goodwill of the rich or look for the complete solution that we really need. We can and should do both. Of course it would be nice if capitalism was replaced with something more fair, of course it would be nice if humankind could coordinate it's efforts to solve all our fundamental, structural problems. In the meantime the Gates are trying to eradicate polio -- do we really thing that is bad?

    Of course we should criticize the absurdity of wealth concentration, but this cartoon-like opposition we draw between good and bad, virtuous and immoral, heroes versus villains, is just unhelpful, and a poor way to understand reality.

    13 votes
    1. [2]
      rosco
      Link Parent
      I see the logic in your reasoning and I'm left with a lingering feeling of doubt. It may be irrational, but I feel like that perspective ends up delaying or hindering structural change. Fixing our...

      I see the logic in your reasoning and I'm left with a lingering feeling of doubt. It may be irrational, but I feel like that perspective ends up delaying or hindering structural change. Fixing our current feels like a non-urgent issue with that narrative, "we'll get to it eventually, but in the meantime look at all the great stuff those rich folks are doing". I know that isn't what you're saying, but I think we need the threat of Malcom X to make the movement of Martin Luther King possible. When Bill Gates and other .01%ers are actively backing legislation to make them pay less in taxes, I do think it's a bad thing for us to applaud their polio programs. A properly funded CDC could also erratic Polio.

      I think I'll continue letting all the folks who are happy to endorse the great charity and donations of the .01% take on that mantle while I continue to tell anyone who will listen why philanthropy is a joke.

      12 votes
      1. mrbig
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        This answer ended up not being just to the above comment. Sorry, @rosco Sure. I just don't see much evidence that this is an actual dilemma. I mean, in what scenario (with the possible exception...

        This answer ended up not being just to the above comment. Sorry, @rosco

        Sure. I just don't see much evidence that this is an actual dilemma. I mean, in what scenario (with the possible exception of an unlikely voluntary donation) would resources float directly from Bill Gates to the CDC? Cause that would be awesome, and, if there's any way to make that happen, sign me in!

        It may come as a surprise but I'm not fond of billionaires myself. But things are often more complex than our emotions make it seem. I am NOT out to engrandize billionaires. I don't live in a culture that does that, at least not to the same extent as a lot of yours. I don't need to subscribe to some capitalist personality cult to acknowledge that some of the things rich people do are positive. This happens a lot, so it bears repeating: I understand in the US you kinda have to radicalize to maintain sanity, but I am not in the United States. Sorry?

        So many strong emotions on this thread, I'm not sure if that's a good thing. Not much space for nuance, I'm afraid.

        2 votes
    2. novov
      Link Parent
      I would argue that those with immense wealth aren't part of the solution though, but a problem. Yes, Gates forked over a small percentage of his wealth to eliminate polio. But his foundation is...

      I would argue that those with immense wealth aren't part of the solution though, but a problem. Yes, Gates forked over a small percentage of his wealth to eliminate polio. But his foundation is not an unalloyed positive, and there is no rule of nature saying that only people like Gates can solve these problems. Under their watch, power has dissipated from government - which for all its flaws is accountable and somewhat democratic - and shifted it to an undemocratic cadre of individuals with little accountability or oversight; it's not a good idea to have societal machinery rely on so few. All people have their biases and blind spots; something that democracy is designed to mitigate. Even if they start with good intentions, it's a well-known fact that power corrupts.

      It also matters on a societal level. The impoverished and disempowered have few paths to success in today's world, because the metaphorical big fish take up the whole pond. Bezos and Musk wouldn't be so rich if Amazon and Tesla treated their workers more fairly - workers whose contribution is definitely not reflected by their slice of the pie. And due to Gates, one company has an effective monopoly on desktop computing operating systems, and almost had one on the web.

      11 votes
    3. [3]
      FrillsofTilde
      Link Parent
      It is certainly a good point you raise of the black and white nature if thinking. Also there is a sense that people never change. What Gates did in his past does not mean that he can't do...

      It is certainly a good point you raise of the black and white nature if thinking. Also there is a sense that people never change. What Gates did in his past does not mean that he can't do differently in the future. I agree that eradicating polio is good, my question is: should Bill Gates be the one who gets to decide this? Should one man be the person who decides what funds go to whom and who gets vaccinated and does not? Now I understand that I'm also playing at extremes here, it's not as though Gates sits in a room and says yes/no to everything. But in my opinion, their wealth could have done so much better good being more spread about on the first place. Instead of collected under one roof.

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        mrbig
        Link Parent
        Sure, you may be right. I did not say anything to the contrary, really.

        Sure, you may be right. I did not say anything to the contrary, really.

        1 vote
        1. FrillsofTilde
          Link Parent
          Simply, we're both right because you can't apply any blanket statement to a group that big. To me the question becomes which way are we headed.

          Simply, we're both right because you can't apply any blanket statement to a group that big. To me the question becomes which way are we headed.

          2 votes
  9. kfwyre
    (edited )
    Link
    An important point that I haven’t seen come up in other comments here is that in the US (and arguably many other countries), being ultra rich disrupts the very structure of democracy. Just as the...

    An important point that I haven’t seen come up in other comments here is that in the US (and arguably many other countries), being ultra rich disrupts the very structure of democracy. Just as the wealthy can spend their money for philanthropy, they can also spend it to influence governmental processes and public policy, which gives single individuals outsize power.

    Warren Buffett lays it out here:

    The unlimited giving to parties, to candidates, really pushes us more toward a plutocracy. They say it’s free speech, but somebody can speak 20 or 30 million times and my cleaning lady can’t speak at all.

    This phenomenon is also examined in depth in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money and Sheldon Whitehouse’s Captured.

    The mechanisms that allow the ultrarich to operate philanthropy at such a large scope are also what allow them to have far greater impact on our democracy than the number of votes they themselves can cast. It’s true that many billionaires are currently doing far more good for the world than you or I ever could, but it’s also true that when their wealth is used for political means, they’re effectively subverting the foundation of and intent behind democracy.

    As such, we’re essentially lucky that so many of them have a nagging conscience: if all of the billionaires decided to be sociopathic about their wealth, then there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be able to stop them from just steamrolling the rest of us. They clearly have the means. I ultimately don’t think we should have to live in a way that hinges on their kindness or lack thereof.

    10 votes
  10. [2]
    Parliament
    Link
    Philanthropy is nothing more than a way for the wealthy to white wash their public images and hide their endless exploitation, and it seems to have worked well on you. The mere existence of a...

    Philanthropy is nothing more than a way for the wealthy to white wash their public images and hide their endless exploitation, and it seems to have worked well on you. The mere existence of a billionaire is immoral in my view, especially while tens of millions of people live in absolute squalor.

    8 votes
    1. Adys
      Link Parent
      I don't think comments like these contribute to the discussion. "It's nothing more than" is an antipattern. Unless you want to call, like, eradicating polio and malaria, "nothing more than PR...

      I don't think comments like these contribute to the discussion. "It's nothing more than" is an antipattern.

      Unless you want to call, like, eradicating polio and malaria, "nothing more than PR whitewash".

      2 votes
  11. [4]
    Flashynuff
    Link
    Billionaires (all rich people, really) did not acquire their fortunes in a vacuum. They were only able to do so by existing in a society built by everyone else and exploiting and hoarding the...

    Billionaires (all rich people, really) did not acquire their fortunes in a vacuum. They were only able to do so by existing in a society built by everyone else and exploiting and hoarding the value generated by the labor of others. Why should they be the ones to decide where the money goes?

    Further, just because the Gates foundation funds a lot of good things does not make the foundation good. The things the foundation funds become dependent upon the goodwill and whims of two entirely unaccountable individuals. It is simply too much power for one person to be trusted with -- see the uncertainty many organizations were thrust into when the Gates announced their divorce.

    7 votes
    1. [3]
      vord
      Link Parent
      I wouldn't go that far, believe it or not. It's all about exploitation and power. Suppose a small team of developers makes a video game, and they all have equal salary/ownership of their company....

      all rich people, really

      I wouldn't go that far, believe it or not. It's all about exploitation and power.

      Suppose a small team of developers makes a video game, and they all have equal salary/ownership of their company. They sell their game and make a cool 10 million each.

      There's no exploitation there, just workers getting fair pay for their efforts. That 10 mil should obviously be subject to wealth/income taxes, and diminishing returns on growth after a given threshold.

      But consider a more typical company, like a fast food chain. There's a clear heirarchy of exploitation, given that the 'lowly' hourly employees actually gathering all of the revenue, working the tills and grills in fairly harsh conditions are making incredibly low wages while the further up the chain you go the jobs are higher paid. After a certain point (I'd wager the regional manager, tops) the day to day need for that position to exist approaches zero while payout gets exponentially higher.

      At the tippy top you have the stockholders of public company whom have little to no involvement with the actual operation of the company beyond just owning a bit of it.

      So long as most companies follow that heirarchal system under the delusion that any person contributes more to the company than any other (on the macro level of average worker mind), there will be massive exploitation that resukts in wealth accumulation for a few while the many toil with little to show for it but covering their living expenses..if that.

      6 votes
      1. [2]
        Flashynuff
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I agree, hierarchical structures are almost always exploitative. And I get your point that a small group of people who have created something themselves and sold it should see results from that...

        I agree, hierarchical structures are almost always exploitative. And I get your point that a small group of people who have created something themselves and sold it should see results from that effort. However...

        There's no exploitation there, just workers getting fair pay for their efforts.

        Unfortunately, we live in a society run through with capitalism, imperialism, exploitation and extraction at every level, so this isn't exactly true. Like you said, this is all about exploitation and power. The developers created the game on computers & the game is played on computers -- who mined the rare earth minerals that make those circuits work? Who assembled the computers? If the game has high quality graphics, how much combined energy do all the GPUs playing the game use, and where does that energy come from? Who runs and maintains the network that the game (perhaps it's multiplayer) is played over, and who put together the computers that network runs on?

        I realize that you could extend this pretty far, but that's my point. No rich person exists in an exploitation-free vacuum.

        8 votes
        1. vord
          Link Parent
          Oh I certainly agree on all points here, I was just referring to that small insular group. Until that kind of leveling-out exists worldwide we can't eliminate exploitation.

          Oh I certainly agree on all points here, I was just referring to that small insular group.

          Until that kind of leveling-out exists worldwide we can't eliminate exploitation.

          2 votes