The ultra-rich have no redeeming social value.
June 9, 2019 5:45 AM   Subscribe

“Working- and middle-class people have a vested interest in infrastructure investment. They depend on good public roads, schools, and parks. Wealthy people don’t. If public services frazzle, they can opt out to private alternatives. And the more wealth concentrates, the more our political leaders tilt the wealthy’s way. The wealthy do not like paying for public services they don’t use. Political leaders don’t make them. They cut taxes and deny public services the funds they need to thrive.” The World Would Be a Better Place Without the Rich (Jacobin)

Related: Brooklyn gets a massive new park ...for wealthy tower residents only

What are going to do about the rich?
posted by The Whelk (104 comments total) 109 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dragons. Basically dragons. Sitting on a hoard, ammassing more, wrecking civilizations in their greed. I dunno, what is the traditional cure for dragon infestations?
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:49 AM on June 9 [85 favorites]


Hobbits?
posted by dbx at 6:52 AM on June 9 [44 favorites]


This is an interesting framing that I haven’t seen before—that the tastes of the rich drive consumption choices for everyone else (that everyone is paying more than we used to for weddings, because the luxury weddings of the rich influence the desires of everyone else). This framing sets us on an equal plane, in that we have the same desires but different amounts of money to spend on them. All that’s holding the rest of us back from the gross conspicuous consumption of the ultra-wealthy is our lack of access to the necessary funds.

Which is sort of funny because it’s the opposite of how I interpreted the title of the piece, which set my teeth on edge: the problem isn’t the rich as our fellow humans (as humans, we all have equal inherent value, imo), but rather their fortunes and what those fortunes allow them to do. Or maybe the problem is them as humans, but if so then the problem is all of us, given the piece’s argument that we all mimic their choices to the extent we are able (the famous cerulean monologue from The Devil Wears Prada). It’s nice to believe that if I won the Megamillions jackpot, I’d be different somehow, but maybe not.
posted by sallybrown at 6:55 AM on June 9 [18 favorites]


I have no argument with any of this. The article does, however, seem to conflate the top 1% and the top 10% (by wealth, not income— I read somewhere that it’s having accumulated about $1M in wealth vs $10M), who have vastly different patterns of life and consumption. The bits about private jets, private yachts, floors of needle-like skyscrapers— that’s the top 1%. It’s the top 10% that are motivating Lexus-lane traffic in Washington DC. The top 1% are just taking their helicopters. The top 10% still benefit from expenditure of public resources (albeit in a different way than everyone else).

Most importantly, it’s a lot easier to motivate the remaining 99% against the 1% than 90% vs 10%. That tenth percentile is easier to attain (and I’m sure there are some who read Jacobin) than either generations of inherited wealth or the one-in-a-million shot of founding MSFT or GOOG.
posted by supercres at 7:01 AM on June 9 [16 favorites]


Or perhaps the top stratum in effect is even smaller. By definition, there are over a million top-1% households in the US. Lopping off the top one-in-a-thousand doesn’t seem as bad as that.
posted by supercres at 7:07 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]


supercres: when you're talking about helicopters or yachts or top levels in skyscrapers, that's not the 1%. That's the .01% if that. If one in every hundred people you know plausibly owns a yacht and/or helicopter I'd say you're already living pretty large yourself.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:07 AM on June 9 [34 favorites]



what is the traditional cure for dragon infestations?

Hobbits?


I think you'll find, in view of the broad swathe of post-Gygaxian praxis that has emerged since the 1970s, that the correct answer is murder hobos.
posted by howfar at 7:13 AM on June 9 [95 favorites]


point of clarification on Lexus lanes in the dc metro - they are free for cars with 3 or more people in them
posted by askmehow at 7:30 AM on June 9 [9 favorites]


To be clear I think this article is making the case against the super rich, the multi millionaires and billionaires, not some top 10% or even 1% family in an expensive city making a combined 300k or something which is pretty much upper middle class at this point. People who can theoretically afford Lexus Lanes because it's an opportunity to save time and they can afford it, but can probably not afford to buy a yacht or a second home in the French Riviera, and probably still stress about planning for retirement and healthcare expenditures and would still take the subway in a city like NY.
posted by windbox at 7:42 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]


I wanted to love it, but this article reads like "next issue deadline coming up; gotta fill the pages." Even the author doesn't know whether he is criticizing the ultra-rich (jets, yachts, etc.) or the merely wealthy (those who would say "Oh honey, if you're stuck in the Lexus lane because you have to actually commute to a JOB...")

There are pointers in the article to a few good long-form analyses we have discussed here before, and I was ready to reach for my pitchfork when I read the headline. But overall this article is just a mild green smoothie of assorted critiques of modern socio-politics.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:01 AM on June 9 [9 favorites]


a mild green smoothie of assorted critiques of modern socio-politics

Metafilter: *is dragged offstage by a walking stick*
posted by ominous_paws at 8:03 AM on June 9 [43 favorites]


Much like many comments in the thread about the 4-day work week, I think this "the goal of people to be rich" comment reflects an unquestioned internalization of the conflict highlighted in the article.

People want to be comfortable and engaged in their whole selves. That requires a certain amount of security and infrastructure, it does not require that they all be supported by endless streams of excessive passive income and wealth. But as the wealthy hoard and we lose leisure; we lose parks; we lose functional transit systems; we lose gracious public spaces to be in; we lose access to books or public programming, we start to believe you have to be the idle rich in order to have any sort of fulfillment.

That's a perversion of society and culture. That's systemic oppression.
posted by crush at 8:20 AM on June 9 [175 favorites]


Not the most critical point, but surely "the 1 per cent richest people" is not going to be equivalent to "the richest one in 100 percent of people any given person knows". Possibly I just need better friends.
posted by ominous_paws at 8:27 AM on June 9 [6 favorites]


Also, believing that you'd be content with just a job that afforded you time to live and grow through your leisure and nonwork relationships and activities is so grossly undervalued in this American capitalist wealth-hoarding, wealth-worshipping status bullshit.

Ambition does not have to mean "I want to be richer than Bill Gates" or "more famous than Princess Di" or "in charge of a shinier company than Apple". Ambition can mean "I want a job that actively improves another person's life"; it can mean "I want to ensure that this person I love who is incapable of living independently never suffers". It can mean "I want to live this one life I get happily, surrounded by good people, spending my short time in joy and present in what I'm doing."

Those are much more valuable ambitions than fame or fortune, but expressing them earns not respect, but pity that you'll never "be anything". And thus, we need to dismantle systems that allow wealth-hoarding at the expense of societal infrastructure that supports everyone.
posted by crush at 8:28 AM on June 9 [116 favorites]


Yeah, that article was a bit of a muddle. The premise that the ultra-rich have no redeeming social value seems uncontroversial, at least among anyone who has any chance of reading Jacobin, and the stuff about the DC metro is, I think, a bad example of a real phenomenon. One of the quirks of DC is that a lot of 1%-ers ride the Metro, because traffic is terrible, and living in a close-in, Metro-accessible neighborhood is a status symbol. Plenty of moderately-rich people are inconvenienced by Metro's woes, and most of them don't live in places where there are Lexus lanes. But it is still true that rich (but not mega-rich) Americans can opt out of underfunded public goods: they can still send their children to private schools, join private swimming pools if the public pools are gross, buy books rather than checking books out of underfunded public libraries, etc. I think that's a somewhat separate issue from the thing about the ultra-rich, though.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:30 AM on June 9 [10 favorites]


The other problem is that there is a slim majority who worship the very rich, or identify with them, for whatever cause or reason that make them do it. They may be born with a fawning gene or it may be cultural. I recall once a lone mansion built in the 1980s, with Tudor styling and very large, and it was the first of its size for fifty miles. Then it came out a year later that the owners sold it because they were daily answering the door to people who wanted to take a tour, as complete strangers. Worshiping the rich is now the secret weapon of the right wing and it is everywhere, with rock stars, actors, athletes, moguls and the occasional heir to a fortune. They dominate discussions and they corrupt politics from the bottom, because the job of politics is to raise funds to improve society, and if the wealthy have it, then we must start there as a rational course of action. But it all changes when we worship them and they leverage this adoration. Having said that, the worst reaction to wealth is to lower expectations for everyone by pretending that wealthy people proved that nobody can have anything they want anymore. It is pretending, because the sanctimonious leaders of this plan fully intend to control the ledger permanently and be far better off than everyone else.
posted by Brian B. at 8:36 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]


Worshiping the rich is now the secret weapon of the right wing and it is everywhere

Want to see it in its unalloyed form? Take a mansion tour -- one of the Newport ones, or Castle in the Clouds in NH, or any of them, really. Don't say anything hinting that maybe these people didn't deserve their extreme wealth, or that their expression of it was excessive. If you do, you'll immediately be put in your place.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:23 AM on June 9 [10 favorites]


My relative privilege is such that I’ve spent a litte time some with mega-rich people over the years. And my general sense it that they’re the leart interesting, most tedious fuckers alive. Anyone that says orhwrwise is either delusional or on the payroll (and within earshot) of a mega-rich person. If class war ever comes, their greatest weapon will be their ability to bore you to death with their oblivious, unearned self-regard
posted by thivaia at 10:04 AM on June 9 [43 favorites]


mulch?
posted by supermedusa at 10:07 AM on June 9 [7 favorites]


Humans are social animals and very conscious of status. In the US model, the most obvious sign of status is wealth. The non-wealthy envy this, and aspire to it for themselves. We need a revolution in this value-system. Wouldn't it be nice if the owners of multiple mansions and yachts and private jets and luxury cars who do not otherwise contribute much to society at large were looked down on as social parasites who nobody would want to emulate.
posted by binturong at 10:11 AM on June 9 [10 favorites]


Wouldn't it be nice if the owners of multiple mansions and yachts and private jets and luxury cars who do not otherwise contribute much to society at large were looked down on as social parasites who nobody would want to emulate.

Honestly, I think that's been changing, generationally. I'm nearly forty and most of the people I know younger than me are in even worse financial states than me, and they certainly don't "look up" to the rich as much as know it's something they will likely never, ever have. Their best hope for wealth is winning the powerball, just like anyone else.

There's a sea change coming regarding this, I just wish it had come about fifty years sooner so maybe I wouldn't be dead and in my grave before the positive upswing comes. The reason the sea change is coming, however, is explicitly because the ultra-rich have shown that they are indeed parasites. Young people are growing up in a world where they don't even really own the devices they buy, they have almost no real long-term success prospects outside of working for a giant multinational conglomerate (i.e. working for the soul sucking shits who are the problem.), and if they give in and work for that conglomerate, they're getting used to intimate, endless surveillance. A LOT of young people aren't stupid, and they can see how mentally/emotionally/physically damaging that life and world is, and a lot of them are seeking nearly any way to "check out" from that. The change is coming because the ultra rich are so blatantly obvious about how they screw literally everybody, that even the less educated and conservative are sick of it. (Yes, I do literally know several conservatives who hate the ultra rich and the likes of giant conglomerates like Comcast, yet still fly their conservative flag high.)

If I had a dime for every person my age and younger who wanted to move to the woods and escape it all to become self sufficient, I'd be a fucking rich man. Everybody is done with it, they just fail to see that collectively they have power.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:18 AM on June 9 [32 favorites]


You're not going to get to a place where humans don't want to one-up each other on status, though. Not just one-up each other on status, actually, but the desire to step on someone else's neck. Whether you're the guy with the most wealth, the most wives, the most land, the most Facebook likes, there are always people that want to actively dominate others cruelly, and then folks that want to follow them. How we root this out of ourselves as a species, I don't know.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 10:19 AM on June 9 [9 favorites]


Anyone who thinks that few millennials revere wealth and status and bling ain't looked at how many follows the Kardashian Clan has on social media...
posted by PhineasGage at 10:25 AM on June 9 [7 favorites]


@PhineasGage

and you honestly believe all of those are real fucking people and not just endless celebrities paying to create bots to follow them to make themselves seem more popular than they are?

Beyond that, but the internet is worldwide, which means 150 million followers scattered across the world is INDEED a small fucking number of people, they aren't even in the same city or nation.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:27 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]


@NotAWolf:
YOU WILL NEVER BE A BILLIONAIRE BUT THERE IS STILL TIME TO SEE WHAT THEY TASTE LIKE
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:28 AM on June 9 [88 favorites]


All of them? No. A lot of them? Yes.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:29 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


You're not going to get to a place where humans don't want to one-up each other on status, though. Not just one-up each other on status, actually, but the desire to step on someone else's neck. Whether you're the guy with the most wealth, the most wives, the most land, the most Facebook likes, there are always people that want to actively dominate others cruelly, and then folks that want to follow them. How we root this out of ourselves as a species, I don't know.


The clever evolutionary adaptation in wealth systems is that every stratum of affluence is supported and stabilized by the one just above and just below it. Each class can see and be tempted by the delights enjoyed by their superiors, and be repulsed by the situation of their inferiors: jealous for what they currently have and envious for just a bit more.

And this interdependence is carried up and down throughout the system, so that ultimately the affluence and comfort of the highest strata is based on a broad base of an oppressed and exploited underclass.

Money is power in this system, and no one is going to give it up voluntarily. The interwoven nature of this Gordian Knot means the only way to change or disrupt it is with the sword. So historically, the only way the game has been reset has been through armed uprising, followed by guillotines, gallows, and firing squads. (See the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, the Arab Spring.)

Of course, a lot of collateral damage occurs in these transitions, and the solution sometimes ends up as oppressive as the original problem.
posted by darkstar at 10:36 AM on June 9 [5 favorites]


All of them? No. A lot of them? Yes.

"Good guy with a billion" seems to be the centrist equivalent of the right's "good guy with a gun".

In both cases, that things have gotten to this point is an indictment of the entire system.
posted by Ouverture at 10:36 AM on June 9 [27 favorites]


The bits about private jets, private yachts, floors of needle-like skyscrapers— that’s the top 1%.

It's not even the top 1%. There's like 328 million people in the US. 1% of that is three million people. I don't think there's three million private jets/yachts, or needle-like skyscrapers. We seem to have maybe ten thousand private jets. And only five thousand superyachts.

Most importantly, it’s a lot easier to motivate the remaining 99% against the 1% than 90% vs 10%.

The perverse outcome of the Occupy movement was a realization by many that joining the top 1% wasn't impossible, and thus a goal was set. One of the driving factors of wealth is time. Time to earn wages to invest, and time for those investments to earn returns. So it would be prudent to calculate how those factors might apply to a future self. A new college graduate working as an engineer in SV can pretty handily save up their way into the top 1 percent in 30 years, and I'm fairly certain I have neighbors who have done so.

If you want to do the gristly math about have vs have nots and where to draw the lines of a bloody class warfare, you should at least factor this in on where you lay down the chalk.

This is an interesting framing that I haven’t seen before—that the tastes of the rich drive consumption choices for everyone else (that everyone is paying more than we used to for weddings, because the luxury weddings of the rich influence the desires of everyone else).

It's kind of a cross of Veblen goods and hedonic adjustment. But neither really explain why wedding photographers are more expensive than non-wedding.
posted by pwnguin at 10:37 AM on June 9 [6 favorites]


How we root this out of ourselves as a species, I don't know.

We can’t root it out, but if we acknowledge it as human nature we can work around it. And if we acknowledge it as human nature than we abandon the idea that there is something vile about these specific ultra-wealthy people, because it’s not that coincidentally, a bunch of evil people happened to get their hands on money, or even that there’s a type of evilness that’s really profitable, it’s that having access to a huge bounty of resources drives behavior that’s terrible for society as a whole (and from looking at history, usually pretty terrible for the ethics and mental health of even the rich families themselves). And if we acknowledge that then maybe we can get collective action to design systems to prevent it. While a lot of people (a lot of younger men with anger problems, at least among people I know) like the alternate concept of “let’s fuck up these specific rich people in our society right now because they personally suck,” that isn’t an appealing slogan to a lot of people as a whole.

(The people who love and follow the Kardashians are very real. I’m sure they have bot followers, but bots don’t buy Kylie lip kits...)
posted by sallybrown at 10:42 AM on June 9 [17 favorites]


at this point my sole reason for caring about anything related to any kardashian is because of how many men unironically invoke them as the greatest evil known to humanity

see also: rpattz as batman
posted by poffin boffin at 10:57 AM on June 9 [22 favorites]


Every billionaire is a policy failure.

And if you want to live in space, ok, give us your fucking money and we'll see how much should go to NASA. But that's something we should all decide, with democracy. It's not even your money, not without us.
posted by adept256 at 11:08 AM on June 9 [13 favorites]


The Kardashians are kind of an everyday person's idea of the Obscenely Wealthy, though. They seem obscenely wealthy because, really, what the fuck have they done to earn wealth? But however trivial their contributions to society may be, the Kardashians are hustling to make money; they seem gauche because they're tacky nouveau riche. The really rich people in this country have wealth that goes back generations, and they don't do a fucking thing except get richer. At least the Kardashians are working. I...guess.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:10 AM on June 9 [11 favorites]


The rich exist to make and coerce everyone else into vast and unsustainable amounts of necessary work to support them. I call this trickle-down ideology.
posted by polymodus at 11:13 AM on June 9 [9 favorites]


I think today, right now in 2019, for a lot of people the sentiment "I want to be rich" doesn't necessarily mean "I want to be a gross exploitative billionaire," it means "I don't want to die in poverty of a treatable ailment that I can't treat because my shitty health insurance is tied to my job which I will lose when I get fired since I can't work due to this medical issue" because right now that's a pretty unattainable level of wealth for the majority of (sorry to be us-centric but anyway) americans. This isn't a response to the above comment, just an observation.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:18 AM on June 9 [71 favorites]


That’s often the criterion I use, pb. I’m not so interested in traveling broadly anymore (had to do it for ten years for work) or owning a huge house, a fast car, an impressive yacht, etc. Much of that material wealth strikes me as a pain in the ass, frankly.

But I’m definitely concerned about not having to die in a cheap nursing home where the attendants don’t care about me, or losing my home because I lost my job, or spending my remaining years in poverty because of a major health issue that wasn’t covered by insurance and drove me into bankruptcy.

And although I have a good job and accumulating wealth now, I still have lingering anxiety from when I was really sick and penniless, and food and shelter security were not assured. To the point that I have an upstairs closet filled with stored food and medicine, should that ever happen again.

Wealth, to me, doesn’t mean a Rolex, a Jag, and two weeks on Santorini every summer. It’s being able to sit next to the jasmine in my little garden at home, enjoy a glass of iced tea, and not have to worry.
posted by darkstar at 11:31 AM on June 9 [45 favorites]


OTOH, they are edible.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:32 AM on June 9


I find these articles tiresome because inevitably the comments are a bunch of back-patting that includes people who themselves are rich, and inevitably the answer to "who is too rich" is "anyone richer than me".
posted by schroedinger at 11:48 AM on June 9 [11 favorites]




Oddly, I have no desire to step on anyone's neck, thank you, though I have been told this makes me un-American.

I do have fantasies about having enough money not to worry about contracting an illness that bankrupts me, or dying of a treatable illness because I couldn't afford treatment, as those above have said.
posted by maggiemaggie at 11:53 AM on June 9 [8 favorites]


I think the meaningful break point for this particular kind of analysis is the income at which you start thinking of private school as the appropriate and socially-expected route for children without any particular special needs, because that's when you're divorcing yourself from a vital part of our public infrastructure. In NYC, that's basically a two-lawyer family: earning around $500K or so. Not the .01% for Manhattan.
posted by praemunire at 12:00 PM on June 9 [11 favorites]


Congresswoman Katie Porter putting the screws to Jamie Dimon during his testimony does a much better job of explaining the author’s treatise than this piece does.
posted by photoslob at 12:07 PM on June 9 [5 favorites]



"Good guy with a billion" seems to be the centrist equivalent of the right's "good guy with a gun".

In both cases, that things have gotten to this point is an indictment of the entire system.
One kind of significant difference is that while I can buy a gun, I can't buy a billion dollars (other than by starting with a billion dollars). Another significant difference is that there are like 600 million guns in the U.S. and only around 600 billionaires. I guess they are both memes, though (in the original sense of the word), and both things many people on MF don't like.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 12:08 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


mulch?

Mechanical hounds

Or slamhounds, if you're Gibsonian
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:10 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


what is the traditional cure for dragon infestations?

Maybe some kind of... fyre festival?

But yeah, rather than having to keep saving them from themselves, we should go to the root of the problem, and not allow people to be rich in the first place
posted by eustatic at 12:14 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


JayZ is a billionaire. One can like or dislike his music without considering it a crime, right...?
posted by PhineasGage at 12:16 PM on June 9 [4 favorites]


thank you for reminding me of the greatest mefi comment of all time in which beyonce was accused of providing aid and comfort to jay-z
posted by poffin boffin at 12:21 PM on June 9 [12 favorites]


Axios reported on Thursday that "wealthy people and corporations have so much money they literally don't know what to do with it." We have a few ideas what they can spend it on

We had some fun this week roasting This truly horrible article about how the idea that most Americans can't afford an emergency $400 expense is a quote-unquote myth because you can always just put it on your credit card! Or borrow from your family! Afterall we don't hear stories of people not being able to afford to fixing their dishwasher, right? Turns out the guy is some six-figure consultant for a firm that makes its duty to lobby against the minimum wage - an excellent example of how the owner class uses the professional class to work against the working-class by treating them like they're some kind of Junior aristocracy and not just a fancy kind of servant to them.

When you ask Americans what they think income inequality is like and what kind of redistribution they would like you got something a lot closer to the Social Democratic states in both cases then to reality , which is just awful


After a certain point capital accumulation stop filling a need and starts for filling an irrational desire - especially in this era of dwindling public resources and incoming climate catastrophe. It's not so much redistribution as it is taking a drunk's car keys away.


Personally, I'd like a world in which being rich is irrelevant via some system of Basic Public Services and worker ownership but you know, baby steps
posted by The Whelk at 12:32 PM on June 9 [17 favorites]


Anyone who thinks that few millennials revere wealth and status and bling ain't looked at how many follows the Kardashian Clan has on social media...

Are you sure there isn't a portion of those follows that are hate-follows?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:32 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


To extrapolate from schroedinger’s comment, it’s useful to define what we’re talking about.

“Affluence” is a spectrum, and definitely venue-dependent, and what might be considered wealthy in Funk, Nebraska might not be so in San Francisco, California. And you can consider income vs accumulated wealth. And it’s definitely modulated by having kids, etc.

Nevertheless, I tend to think of it in tiers...

Tier 1 - Poverty
First, the Federal Poverty Guideline (FPG) is $12,490/yr for a single person. Now, in no place I have ever visited in the US would a single person making, say $13,000/yr be considered not functionally poor. The functional poverty line surely extends well above this threshold. If you’ve never lived in this stratum for an appreciable time, you can’t understand what it does to you, over time. There are far more eloquent people than me to describe it, but I’ll just say it is like feeling you are crushed and preyed-upon by circumstance all the time.

Tier 2 - A Livable Wage
A “livable wage” ranges from $25k-$40k depending on where you live (assuming you are not in the extreme cost-of-living areas where it might be double that). It describes a stratum of affluence in the low-to-mid single-digit multiples (eg, 2X-6X) of the FPG. I don’t think anyone in this range generally would be considered financially “rich”. But there can be a major difference in quality life depending on where you sit in this stratum. Making $30k vs $75k for a single person household can mean the difference between hanging on by your fingernails vs feeling fairly comfortable.

Tier 3 - The (Quite) Well-Off
The next stratum is in the low-double-digit multiples of the FPG (10-30X FPG). This is the $125K-$400K annual salary for a single person. This puts you at the threshold of breaking into the 1% in the US. These are the lawyers, physicians, C-level executives for mid-sized corporations, etc. Having known (and dated) people in this stratum, the quality of life is like night and day, compared to just making a Living Wage. This is where “luxuries” truly become accessible, and even begin to be taken for granted. If you have two spouses in this earnings tier, as praemunire suggests, it can be where a sense of shared purpose diverges from more common folk.

Tier 4 - The Rich
The mid-to-high double-digit multipliers (50-80X) of FPG, or a single income of $750k to $1million per year, or the wealth to generate it.

Tier 5 - The Ultra-Rich
>100X FPG, or an individual income well in excess of $1M per year, or the wealth to generate it.

Tier 6 - The Billionaire Class
These people have a degree of sociopolitical power that is far and away untethered to their personal inherent value as an individual in society. Just to put it into perspective, a billionaire could theoretically simply invest their wealth in an index fund and, at a 6% return, earn $60 million per year (~5000X FPG) without having to lift a finger.

I’m not sure exactly where in this spectrum the social inequality begins to become truly outrageous. And I’m really okay with highly trained, hard working, exceedingly talented people working their way into Tiers 3 and 4. But in my view, definitely by the time we hit Tier 6, it’s become obscene.
posted by darkstar at 1:07 PM on June 9 [36 favorites]


that the tastes of the rich drive consumption choices for everyone else
I know it's hard to believe, but it wasn't that long ago that granite counter tops and 2-door fridges were things that didn't really even enter the consciousness of middle class people.
posted by klanawa at 1:13 PM on June 9 [14 favorites]


I had a (probably-not-original) idea for controlling inequality while riding my bike. See, the farthest anyone has ever been able to ride a bike in an hour is about 60km. It's unlikely that a human will be able to exceed that by much because wind resistance increases out of proportion to linear velocity. The faster you go, the harder it is to go faster.

I'd like to see something similar in terms of taxation: There's nothing stopping you from becoming a billionaire per se but once you get past your first half million, it gets harder with every dollar to accumulate more wealth. Do the rich work hardest and longest? Let them prove it by fighting a stronger wind than the rest of us. And let the richest fight the strongest wind.

So many of them belong to a self-reverential cult of competence that I doubt any of them would oppose it. Right?
posted by klanawa at 1:19 PM on June 9 [19 favorites]


Well, we know they’ll all oppose it, since we used to have a taxation stratification that did something similar, and they spent the next 50 years reversing it entirely. Now wage-earners get socked for every single dollar while billionaires Hoover up all the profit.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:35 PM on June 9 [10 favorites]


what is the traditional cure for dragon infestations?

Also what happens when the traditional method is hamstrung by the dragon owning all the equipment shops in the starter town?
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:37 PM on June 9 [6 favorites]


Yeah you would say that Sam PIZZAGATE
posted by anazgnos at 1:54 PM on June 9


@klanawa

"So many of them belong to a self-reverential cult of competence that I doubt any of them would oppose it. Right?"

The school admissions scandal is a recent example showing that wealthy people even below the billionaire class don't actually believe they win because of merit. They know the only thing they really have over everyone else is a store of power allowing them to operate outside the rules other people have to follow plus a set of class privileges, if their families have been wealthy for long enough (examples: knowing how to act at a fine dining restaurant; having friends and contacts among other wealthy people around the world; the mere idea that their time and attention is extremely valuable). They know that if they competed with everyone on an even playing field (similar class sizes, school conditions, levels of food security at home, and on and on), they would be no better.

They "compete" by leveraging their store of power to bend, break, or rewrite the rules in their favor. Lesser wealthy people just use it to pay for expensive test prep, hire someone to make bad faith arguments for unlimited test taking time, or take on a small risk by bribing the gatekeepers. Wealthier people simply become patrons of whatever school they want their children admitted into. They pay lip service to "merit" because it keeps working/middle classes from questioning their advantages by convincing them it is reasonably probable (not merely possible) they can win on merit alone.

I agree with progressive taxation, but there's no way they'll just agree to it without being forced to.

*quick edit to acknowledge that a few of them, e.g. Trump, do have delusions of above-average competence. It's still not a keystone of wealth justification.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 2:02 PM on June 9 [14 favorites]


Note that I qualified it with "so many of them" (and also, it was sarcasm). Obviously there's a large cadre of cheaters. There's also a cadre who are just playing the game by the current rules and would continue to do so if the rules were changed.
posted by klanawa at 2:30 PM on June 9


Up thread someone mentioned dishwasher.
I would just like to point out that if you have such a machine, by world standards you are already rich. If you have enough money to last the month, you are rich.
Part of the problem is that the vomit inducing rich are surrounded by panderers and sycophants who will (literally) kill to get to the equal power status.
Stuck in traffic, bus broken down, brown outs, burocratic lunacy loosing working days, all of this and more comes nowhere near their everyday lives. Equally so for most of our political class.
Short of burning it all down which seems to be happening anyway I'm not sure what the solution is.
Capitalism is destroying the Earth. (George Monbiot)
posted by adamvasco at 2:36 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Would the US be a better place without the rich? Probably not. Why? Whatever social values one might think they lack, there is one thing they do provide. One really important thing. So important that every leftist dream scenario of cannot exist without. That is money. In taxes. And goods. and services. You might argue that they are not paying enough taxes. But they are paying taxes. A lot of taxes. They are the sugar daddy of every government program, reluctant or not. Want to extract more? Sure. But you probably don't really want to really destroy that path to the billionaire club so much as maximize it for continued milking. You might argue that the nine homes sitting mostly empty, the dozens of cars, the jets, and buildings are just idle symbols of their wealth. They also amount to pretty big jobs programs, paid for mostly by them, employing tons of people in all aspects and levels. And that's just to service their lifestyles, without mentioning their holdings in industry, distribution, exchange, etc. that employ tons more. But they coarsen our culture, erode our economic future, and diminish our democracy! Oh fuck off. In other words, they're like every other socio-economic class around that happens to be comprised of people. Class warfare bullshit isn't helpful, isn't healthy, and all the impotent pitchfork swinging isn't going to be of any constructive use when it comes to ensuring the rich are contributing, or the powerless are improving.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:44 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


I’m not sure exactly where in this spectrum the social inequality begins to become truly outrageous. And I’m really okay with highly trained, hard working, exceedingly talented people working their way into Tiers 3 and 4. But in my view, definitely by the time we hit Tier 6, it’s become obscene.

What makes you OK with those in Tiers 3 and 4?
posted by schroedinger at 2:45 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


The tax code is designed so that rich people actually don't pay a ton of taxes. Remember Warren Buffett's whole thing about how his tax rate was lower than his secretary's? If employees saw a bigger share of profits and shareholders got less, then there would actually be more money for social programs. Plus, it would stimulate the economy, because more people would have more money to spend on stuff. If they had more disposable income, Millennials could stop killing industries.

I'm hardly a radical, but the current system isn't working.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:51 PM on June 9 [25 favorites]


Could we solve this by adding poison arrow frog toxin to million dollar bills?
posted by snofoam at 2:56 PM on June 9


What makes you OK with those in Tiers 3 and 4?


Honestly? A complex alchemy of factors related to my own life experience that are too entangled to try to tease out and elucidate here.

Practically speaking, though, I’m fundamentally a progressive capitalist. I appreciate that having a spectrum of affluence can incentivize people to work hard and innovate. And in any such system, there will be a statistical distribution of affluence, with some few in the upper tail of the distribution. I accept that as a realistic system, rather than advocating a system that is more rigorously flat.

But the trade-off I’d make for having some people make their way into Tiers 3 and 4 would be that Tiers 1 and 5&6 would be truncated — to the point of elimination — by having highly progressive taxation paying for robust social welfare programs, such as UBI, free health care, free education, public transportation, etc. Basically, a capitalism with its extremes pruned off either end by socialist reforms.

I understand many folks have other views, though.
posted by darkstar at 3:04 PM on June 9 [14 favorites]


Rich people don’t pay taxes, hell I’m in the 9% and I barely pay anything comparative to my mother whi makes 50kish a year. It’s almost like the tax code and enforcement was designed and defunded to make this happen.

If hard work was rewarded strawberry pickers would own mansions and all that. Nearly all wealth is passive wealth, generated from inheritance or previous generations’ investments, usually via exploiting free or nearly free labor or land, usually taken by force. Late Capitalism is when you run out of that
posted by The Whelk at 3:19 PM on June 9 [42 favorites]


there is one thing they do provide. One really important thing. So important that every leftist dream scenario of cannot exist without. That is money.
This makes perfect sense... if you live in a Randian fantasy world where the only way money exists is if rich people conjure it literally out of thin air. Spoiler: that is not how it works.
They also amount to pretty big jobs programs, paid for mostly by them, employing tons of people in all aspects and levels
"Pretty big" in relation to what? You want to come up with some numbers here? Like, GM's 170,000 employees, Ford's 200,000, Volkswagen's 656,000 compared to Porsche's 24,000, Ferarri's 3000, Bugatti's 297?

Exactly how much caviar can one billionaire eat?
posted by klanawa at 3:50 PM on June 9 [27 favorites]


Whatever social values one might think they lack, there is one thing they do provide. One really important thing. So important that every leftist dream scenario of cannot exist without. That is money. In taxes. And goods. and services.

Do you...think they grow money in special gated compounds using secret techniques known only to them? Do you even know where money comes from?
posted by praemunire at 3:57 PM on June 9 [28 favorites]


On the theme of wealth as high status, the counter-example is the potlatch -- a gift-giving practice found in indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Their economy and status was "marked by the competitive exchange of gifts, in which gift-givers seek to out-give their competitors so as to capture important political, kinship and religious roles." The richer you were, the higher your status when you gave it all away -- the wealth in itself was not as important as the power of holding certain influential social positions.
posted by binturong at 4:05 PM on June 9 [6 favorites]


They are the sugar daddy of every government program, reluctant or not.

It's really something that you chose this metaphor to make your point.
posted by peeedro at 4:48 PM on June 9 [32 favorites]


Honestly, I think that's been changing, generationally. I'm nearly forty and most of the people I know younger than me are in even worse financial states than me, and they certainly don't "look up" to the rich as much as know it's something they will likely never, ever have. Their best hope for wealth is winning the powerball, just like anyone else.

I mean, I think the resurgence among younger people of a belief in... something like social democracy, at the very least, is very real. I think the broader trend is in fact on our side here. But there is for sure a subset of younger people that is the constituency for successwin culture (I first encountered that term among weirdleft Twitter people as a way of making fun of this sort of thing but I'm not sure this Instagram is a joke).
posted by atoxyl at 6:03 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


There are demonstrated alternatives to conspicuous consumption. In much of Europe people earn as much or more per hour of work as in the U.S., but the total GDP per capita is a somewhat lower. This is because they work only 35 hours per week and take off up to 30 days per year for holidays and vacations. They are exchanging material wealth for more leisure time. Smaller homes, smaller and fewer cars, fewer gadgets. It is a cultural choice. And, of course,universal health care is a big part of it.
posted by JackFlash at 6:19 PM on June 9 [11 favorites]


It's really something that you chose this metaphor to make your point.

I mean, that entire post really is something.

If anyone thinks the hyper-wealthy are holding together the nation state out of their own generosity, then they're very likely the sort of person who this piece is criticizing (or they somehow think they will one day become part of this parasitic overlord class).
posted by Ouverture at 7:45 PM on June 9 [9 favorites]


Tier 3 here. Came by it honestly, working our whole lives, saving our money, investing in our small businesses, living modestly, and (I understand this better now these last few years) certainly some luck and privilege. But we didn't waste that privilege, we put it to good use. Our careers build and heal. We enjoy a good amount of comfort and freedom from want, but like everyone never completely free from pain (for now mostly the mental and emotional pain of seeing society be so fucked up). We're the kind of Tier 3 you want, and we want everyone to have the same. Tier 2 would be fine too, if need be, so long as we knew no one else was being deprived of it.

I view wealth hoarding as taking my kind of decent lifestyle away from large groups of people and I find that depraved and obscene. The only reason I have my small pile is because they haven't taken it away from me yet, but they are coming. I spend a lot of time wondering how to take their wealth and put it in the right places. I will be campaigning for Warren. If that doesn't work I kind of just hope their servants poison them all.

I'd like to see something similar in terms of taxation: There's nothing stopping you from becoming a billionaire per se but once you get past your first half million, it gets harder with every dollar to accumulate more wealth. Do the rich work hardest and longest? Let them prove it by fighting a stronger wind than the rest of us. And let the richest fight the strongest wind.

In fact it's just the opposite. Accumulated wealth, like accumulated matter, bends space around it to increase the rate of accumulation in the form of buying the politicians and rewriting the rules. The idea that everyone has a chance gets further and further away.

You might argue that the nine homes sitting mostly empty, the dozens of cars, the jets, and buildings are just idle symbols of their wealth. They also amount to pretty big jobs programs, paid for mostly by them, employing tons of people in all aspects and levels. And that's just to service their lifestyles, without mentioning their holdings in industry, distribution, exchange, etc. that employ tons more.

Those service jobs wiping the asses of the rich are empty jobs, akin to digging and filling holes. They produce nothing. They return no investment on their energy usage. They just contribute to faster heat death. What sane society would build a multi-million dollar jet plane and then just let it sit 98% of the time? It amazes me that anyone thinks this is a good way to spend resources or organize society, and yet it's very prevalent. It's just another form of the Broken Windows Fallacy.

As for holdings in industry, those industries would still exist if owned by many instead of a few, and would very likely function better both as businesses and in terms of their contributions to society.
posted by M-x shell at 8:51 PM on June 9 [12 favorites]




When push comes to shove, someone who makes 200k a year has as much power as someone who makes 20k a year compared to someone who makes 20 Million a year and owns the means of production. Fostering division between people who have to work for a living is ruling class tactics.

I've made six figures and I've made less than 20k. When push comes to shove, a person making 200k can fund their life and plan for some kind of future. A person making 20k cannot. Now I make 70k to do work I can stand behind. I don't have solidarity with the folks making three times that; they're sending their kids to private schools and pulling apart public ed. That's my class enemy. My ex mother in law made about that much defending payday loan firms from the inevitable lawsuits. That's my class enemy. Some guy wanted to hire me at some networking event the other month: "six figures; buy a tesla; all my guys drive teslas." That's supposed to be my enticement, a status car? Then I can move to the burbs so I have a place to charge it; then sit in traffic every day to show I need it and show it off, it's a self justifying loop. I don't have solidarity with the version of me that takes that job. If you have to hustle to pay your bills, you do what you have to do. But past your basic needs, how you make the money matters; if you can make 200k doing some class enemy stuff, you can figure out how to do worthwhile work for less.
posted by Kwine at 9:31 PM on June 9 [15 favorites]


Depends on the region. 200k doesn’t go nearly as far in SF or NY as it does elsewhere.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:23 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I live in Seattle. 200k is more than 5x what I make with my service industry and professor jobs. I nearly married someone who was making just over that amount, and I didn’t leave only because of the money (relationships are more complicated than class struggles) but it poisoned the well in unexpected ways. My life was absurdly, grotesquely, invisibly easier at that income, and it became clear as we expanded our social circle to include others at that level that nobody was free of economic oppression (in the sense that all of them are always hopping like rats from job to job, sinking ships with severance packages) but there’s very little fear unless they lose sight of being humans and instead become consumption/Tesla driving bots. In contrast, I exist now in the persistence of fear, in unpayable yet objectively minimal debt, in the impossibility of changing my circumstances if they oppress me.

I recognize that the “tiers” above me ought not be my class enemies, but I see them consistently working to maintain the particular systems of oppression which harm me (low taxes, high rents, since many of them move as quickly as possible into the ownership and landlord class) and I guess it feels like a “love the sinner, hate the sin” platitude to consider us unified against the mega rich when I really just want to buy some groceries.
Sure, I’m unified abstractly with them, but maybe they are the ones who need to hear these things more than I do?
posted by zinful at 11:01 PM on June 9 [13 favorites]


but I see them consistently working to maintain the particular systems of oppression which harm me (low taxes, high rents, since many of them move as quickly as possible into the ownership and landlord class) and I guess it feels like a “love the sinner, hate the sin” platitude to consider us unified against the mega rich when I really just want to buy some groceries.

Which is what I’m saying, all who sell their labor in order to live need solidarity with each other against their true class enemies, the owners of the means of production, the landlords, and the super rich who can afford to “pay one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

The is requires the more comfortable to do more work in comparison, both materially and mentally, but that comes from being more comfortable.
posted by The Whelk at 4:18 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


So important that every leftist dream scenario of cannot exist without. That is money. In taxes. And goods. and services. You might argue that they are not paying enough taxes. But they are paying taxes. A lot of taxes. They are the sugar daddy of every government program, reluctant or not.

This is just plain dead wrong. The ultra-wealthy extract far more capital from the economy than they ever circulate. That’s what tax havens are for and why economists write articles about how much money is missing from the economy.

Wage-earners support the economy by buying goods and services in proportion to the population. They pay a much higher proportion of taxes relevant to their income. They use the services and more importantly, they perform the labor of those services to keep society rolling.

The ultra-wealthy aren’t even covering the costs of their own ownership. For those who own businesses, they depend on taxpayers to subsidize their losses and overhead. Wal-mart and the financial industry are clear examples of how the wealthy use the government to shift wealth into their pockets, and that’s before Trump came along and shoved it in our faces.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:14 AM on June 10 [34 favorites]


200k doesn’t go nearly as far in SF or NY as it does elsewhere.

It still goes pretty fucking far.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:28 AM on June 10 [14 favorites]


Tier 3 does a lot of the water carrying for the people above them and it's a major contributing factor to media myopia and tone-deafness on the subject of class. By the time you're writing for the NYT, you're in the club.
posted by Selena777 at 7:50 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


200k doesn’t go nearly as far in SF or NY as it does elsewhere.

Having been up and down the income scale (having enjoyed the good fortune through blind personal luck and historical timing of having done largely morally-neutral or even -beneficial work while on the higher end, which is not the experience of most of my contemporaries), I can tell you that $200K is more than you need for a reasonably comfortable lifestyle and decent (decent--in order to be fully secured against medical catastrophe, you'd need at least an order of magnitude more) security as a single, healthy person in NYC. About half that yields an adequate middle-class lifestyle, adjusting expectations for housing to the NYC standard of course, except that sufficient retirement savings is quite challenging. If you can't make $200K work, you are just spoiled. If I could find non-morally-compromising work in my profession here for $200K, I would be over the moon.
posted by praemunire at 8:24 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: If I could find non-morally-compromising work... I would be over the moon.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:28 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


200k doesn’t go nearly as far in SF or NY as it does elsewhere.

I wish this sentiment would die. Receiving $200k a year means that you are a beneficiary of our economy and society. Making $30k means that you are a beast of burden providing for the $200k and the $200m crowds alike. This is true no matter where you live. Not to mention living in a desirable and economically advantageous region is a privilege in itself, purchased with money most people don't have.

I also wish we would get socialized medicine so we can stop hearing the fake class solidarity of the merely-rich. "But but but if my head got cut off and it got mega-cancer at the same time, it would ruin me so much that I would become poor like you!"
posted by FakeFreyja at 9:37 AM on June 10 [9 favorites]


"But but but if my head got cut off and it got mega-cancer at the same time, it would ruin me so much that I would become poor like you!"

We need this sentiment or we're not going to get socialized medicine, unfortunately.
posted by praemunire at 10:14 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


200k doesn’t go nearly as far in SF or NY as it does elsewhere.
The median household income in SF is $78k, which means that 420,000 people in SF make less. Making 3X of that must be tough.

The median household income in NYC is $50k, so like 4 million people make less than that yet still live there. NYC's median household income is lower than super exclusive places like Lincoln Nebraska.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:52 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Nearly half of NYCers are rent-burdened. Nearly a quarter pay more than 50% of their income towards rent. Almost all of the latter are low-income. That is not a decent lifestyle; it's barely a sustainable one. NYC's median salary is not high enough.
posted by praemunire at 1:45 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


I thought 30% of income was a widely suggested ideal for a housing payment among the kind of people who give financial advice. What is deemed sustainable?
posted by Selena777 at 2:59 PM on June 10


there is one thing they do provide. One really important thing. So important that every leftist dream scenario of cannot exist without. That is money. In taxes. And goods. and services. You might argue that they are not paying enough taxes. But they are paying taxes. A lot of taxes. They are the sugar daddy of every government program, reluctant or not.

Wow, no. The purpose of (say) a 90% marginal tax rate is not to make more money. It's to make less billionaires. When taxes are high, businesses don't throw all that money at the CEO.

It's right-wing framing to say that Jeff Bezos gets $75 billion a year and taxes come out of his rightful money. It's not inherently "his money." It's money produced by his business, and in a liberal country, such as we used to have, he'd be making a small fraction of that. The company would be paying other workers more, or investing in its own business.

I used to say that people don't realize how much things changed with Reaganism. Now I guess it's more that people just can't imagine the more egalitarian society that we had 40 years ago.
posted by zompist at 3:27 PM on June 10 [16 favorites]


In a lot of other ways, we've come a long way in the last 40 60 years. And to be sure, it would be nice to have the maximum marginal tax rate of 1959 in use today, that's for damn sure.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:31 PM on June 10


I thought 30% of income was a widely suggested ideal for a housing payment among the kind of people who give financial advice. What is deemed sustainable?

30 percent was kind of an arbitrary guideline for access to public housing that everyone just kind of lifted without fully considering. There's no reason to believe, in a market economy with prices adjusting in relation to one another that 30 percent would be a static rule. The price of food has fallen dramatically per CPI measurements. The reason rents haven't done the same is a collective delusion that housing prices must only go up, and any policy that would hinder this is quickly stamped out. That inevitably trickles into the rentals market.
posted by pwnguin at 3:40 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


It's also a maximum (and was originally set at 25%).

The private market, it's worth noting, effectively enforces this, reflecting landlords' intuition about rent affordability: outside of the slumlord context in which so many of these renters are trapped, it's challenging to find a landlord who will rent to you without an income 40x the monthly rent.
posted by praemunire at 6:49 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]




This article and the fawning post about the New England Patriots coach Bill Bellicheck motivated me to subscribe to Jacobin.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:57 PM on June 10


point of clarification on Lexus lanes in the dc metro - they are free for cars with 3 or more people in them

So they're just HOV lanes? Is it likely that a Lexus driver is going to be carpooling?
posted by bendy at 11:28 PM on June 10


This represents everything that I feel about the actions and motivation of Mr. P45. Whatever he does to manipulate markets masked as ‘fair trade’, won’t keep him from enjoying his caviar and gold plates toilets.
posted by xtian at 3:47 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


So they're just HOV lanes?
They're HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes. You can drive in them for free if you're in a high-occupancy vehicle, or you can pay a toll and drive in them if you're alone in your car.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:58 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


creating a worker-led economy when business and human interests diverge :P fwiw!
Law as the Code of Inequality and Wealth - "Katharina Pistor's new book, The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality, deserves to be the essential text of any movement today that concerns itself with law and political economy. It establishes, as its central topic, how fundamental law is to political economy, in the tradition of classical social theory but with a considerable update in light of contemporary affairs. And, more fully than anything else I know, it vindicates the LPE intuition that legal intellectuals have something essential to bring to the current and ongoing debate about markets and injustice."[1]
This is not because Pistor has detailed prescriptions for an emerging movement for reform of this or that area of law, but rather because she offers such a breakthrough set of theoretically-inflected descriptions of how law serves “capital,” and so often fulfills the interests of the rich rather than the rest. It has always done so, of course, but the current moment of extreme inequality requires a considerable effort to collect and synthesize the workings of law that prior generations already detailed. It also demands careful descriptions of the new forms of legal protection on a global scale that recent generations have failed to offer in one place and as part of a general account. Pistor even claims to offer a novel definition of “capitalism” that makes law central, insofar as law not only has a role to play in the creation of property, but also ensures its durability and convertibility.

To exist at all, and to be insulated and multiplied and transformed, wealth requires law and therefore state power to create it and protect it. Even land, the ur-form of wealth, is valueless except to the extent that law “coded” it, Pistor says, and the same is even more true of successor forms of mobile property down to the fancy inventions of contemporary finance that have successful allocated so much of what there is to own at the top of many societies. But creation is not the end of it. For Pistor, the additional key to understanding how law performs a constant and definitional function in the life of capital lays in tracing the ways that law secures capital’s endurance and allows for its transformation into new asset forms.
Shame Versus the Free Market - "One of the ways I want to understand the power and dynamics of shame as a social mechanism is by comparing and contrasting how shame works with the other forces that play similar roles but that we are much more aware of. Today I'll start thinking about that with respect to market forces, and more generally the viewpoint of the individual as an economic free agent."
Indeed, shame often works really well to get individuals to act against their self interest in relatively small ways so that the group as a whole works more smoothly and is better off, at least ideally. The idea is, if the norms are reasonable and achievable, then people are shamed into following them for the sake of society.

When norms are unreasonable or unachievable, things can go wrong, and the free market ideology we have been indoctrinated with can make things worse...

Speaking of being a perfect 10, I think the easiest way to access how shame works vis-à-vis free markets is to think about how easily scores and scoring systems evoke in people a deep sense of shame.

Whether it’s an SAT score, a GPA, the ranking of the college you went to or your kid got into, your weight, your BMI, your IQ, or your Twitter followers, people have gotten used to – and to a large extent embraced – the concept of being measured by externally defined, maintained, and verified scoring systems. They have profound effects on society, at least to the extent they people care about them...

Stepping back, I think I’m ready to say that there’s been a massive and largely undescribed conflict between the two systems of powers represented by the informal social mechanism of shame and more formal market mechanisms. They are not consistent with each other, and as individuals and groups, we’re being pushed one way by shame and another way altogether by market incentives.
Plans for a worker-led economy straddle America's political divides - "Most notable among them is Elizabeth Warren, who last week announced her 'plan for economic patriotism'[3]... Marco Rubio — the senator from Florida who wants to be president someday — has come up with what is in some ways a very similar take on Making America Great. In May, he issued a report, in his capacity as chair of the Senate small business committee, on the challenges to capital investment in America, which crossed a number of red lines for Republicans. The report admitted that the US capital markets had become too self-serving and were no longer helping non-financial business, that prioritising shareholders above all should stop, and that public policy could play a role in directing capital to more productive places — away from Wall Street, and towards Main Street."
Republicans are beginning to question the trickle-down orthodoxy. Made in China 2025, Beijing’s manufacturing strategy, has made it clear to politicians on both sides that the US can no longer successfully compete with state-run capitalism unless it figures out how to funnel capital to the most productive places, connecting the dots between job creators and education.

That’s industrial policy, of course — it’s been a dirty word in the US for decades now. But it wasn’t always. As Cornell professor and legal scholar Robert Hockett, who has advised several presidential hopefuls, puts it: “All this represents a return to our own Hamiltonian development model, in which the public sector played a crucial coordinating role, empowering the private sector, and enabling its efforts not to be scattered, haphazard or wasted.”

Alexander Hamilton supported the creation of a national bank, and started a public-private partnership to provide cheap water-power and financial capital to investors in the early Republic. Subsequent administrations, from Lincoln to Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy, took pages out of his book.
Rethinking Wealth, From Birthright Capital to Big Spender Taxes - "Americans have about $100 trillion of wealth. If that was divided evenly across the population, each individual would have a net worth of $300,000. At a 5% rate of return, this money would deliver to every person $15,000 annually in investment income. Poverty would be eliminated, inequality would be slashed, and the power of concentrated wealth would be neutralized."
If this sounds like a socialist fantasy, it is: Some 20th-century Marxist economists argued that it should be possible to bring a country’s assets into collective ownership and pay everyone a universal dividend. But part of that socialist idea—that millions of people could own a country’s capital together—has, in a way, already happened. Look at the rise of index funds, such as those run by BlackRock Inc. and Vanguard Group Inc. These companies now manage trillions of dollars for tens of millions of clients and are major investors in many public companies.

The bulk of these assets are held by the wealthy, but it’s not hard to see how a socialist society could build on this design. A huge, government-operated mutual fund—in which each citizen owned an equal, nontransferable share—could work just as well as index funds do today. The government could create an investment fund, use wealth taxes to gradually fill it up with return-generating assets, and then pay out an annual dividend to every American based on the fund’s return. Alaska’s Permanent Fund, which pays a dividend to state residents, and Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global have proved that such portfolios can work not just in theory, but also in practice.[5]
  • How Marc Benioff and Other Tech Titans Are Disrupting Philanthropy - "Bay Area tech entrepreneurs have changed how we communicate and do business. Now the community is trying to disrupt philanthropy by reinventing capitalism."
  • The Real Reason Stock Buybacks Are a Problem - "This argument is a corollary of the fact that the preferential taxation of capital does not seem to deliver on the policy goals with which it is rationalized... that preferential taxation of capital no longer leads to the intended policy effects of job creation and increasing capital investment in plant, property and equipment but rather is a bought-and-paid-for scam perpetrated by the financier class."
posted by kliuless at 8:13 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]




Alaska's and Norway's funds are distribution of the proceeds from wresting petrochemicals from the earth, not redistributing the assets of the wealthy - on both fronts that's a bit problematic as an example for creating a healthy, more equitable society.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:44 AM on June 11


darkstar: “Affluence” is a spectrum, and definitely venue-dependent, and what might be considered wealthy in Funk, Nebraska might not be so in San Francisco, California. And you can consider income vs accumulated wealth. And it’s definitely modulated by having kids, etc.

The "billionaire hotspots" make sense through that lens: Bay Area has third largest billionaire population in the world (Adam Brinklow for SFist, May 13, 2019)

Wealth-X, a New York-based data analyst service that specializes in the super wealthy, San Francisco continues to accumulate and concentrate vast sums of money, compiles an annual billionaire census. Of the 705 billionaires in the U.S. (and 2,604 worldwide), 75 live in San Francisco, up from 74 last year. New York City has the highest worldwide population with 105, followed by Hong Kong with 87.

But the most startling fact, to me, is that he Wealth-X report also claims that “San Francisco has significantly more billionaires per inhabitant (SF Gate) than any other top city—with one billionaire for approximately every 11,600 residents.” This has the significant potential to skew local and regional politics, in addition to fucking up the local housing market.

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Pulling some links from comments starting here in the latest US Politics megathread:

"America Is a Poor Country for most of its people." (Eudaimonia & Co)
There are days I feel like I read dystopian statistics for a living. And then there are day when the dystopian statistics take even my jaded breath away. Here’s one: 43% of American households (CNN Money, 2018, citing a United Way ALICE* study) can’t afford a budget that includes housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation, and a cellphone. Translation: nearly half of Americans can’t afford the basics of life anymore.
* "This effort provides a framework, language, and tools to measure and understand the struggles of the growing number of households in our communities that do not earn enough to afford basic necessities, a population called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed)." Here's a comparison of states, with county-by-county evaluations, too.

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can’t afford the basics of life anymore

When could they? The huge growth in economic inequality since the early 1970s is a central fact and problem, but don't romanticize the past. Fifty Years Of Growth In American Consumption, Income, And Wages (National Bureau of Economic Research): "Despite the large increase in U.S. income inequality, consumption for families at the 25th and 50th percentiles of income has grown steadily over the time period 1960-2015."

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Getting Poorer While Working Harder: The “Cliff Effect” (Truthout) There is no place in the country where a family supported by one minimum-wage worker with a full-time job can live and afford a 2-bedroom apartment at the average fair-market rent. If the minimum wave was raised to the purchasing power it had when started and intended to be a living wage it would be 33$ an hour. (New York Times)

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I've written this before on MetaFilter, but back when I was reviewing land use permits, I heard this maxim or quip: millionaires generally play by the rules, but think they can pay more to expedite processes, while billionaires think rules don't really apply to them, so they'll do what they want and pay penalties after the fact.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


PhineasGage: Alaska's and Norway's funds are distribution of the proceeds from wresting petrochemicals from the earth, not redistributing the assets of the wealthy - on both fronts that's a bit problematic as an example for creating a healthy, more equitable society.

In some ways, by collecting those proceeds, Alaska and Norway are reducing the wealth that would otherwise go to energy company boards and CEOs, in effect pre-distributing wealth. But I think we should also be "mining" billionaires and re-distributing their wealth. No one needs that much money, and the OP makes a strong case that billionaires are actively making the world a worse place for everyone else.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:16 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


For data nerds

Distributional Financial Accounts from the Fed

Includes lots of cool interactive graphics.

One stat:
1989 Q4, Net wealth of top 1%--$4.8T. Bottom 50%--$0.8T. Ratio: 6
2018 Q4, Net wealth of top 1%--$30.7T. Bottom 50%--$1.2T. Ratio: 25.3
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:40 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]




"Between 1989 and 2018, the top 1 percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion. The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period.”
posted by The Whelk at 3:58 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


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