"So wealthy that it is quite literally unimaginable"
May 1, 2020 8:16 AM   Subscribe

 
That's pretty cool. Nothing else to say. I gave up way before the end (around the redistributed 40% mark), that's how long the scroll is.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:38 AM on May 1, 2020


You can imagine that the 400 richest americans have the same limitations that we do, and can't actually understand how wealthy they are, leading to some incredibly poor, and selfish decision making on their part.
posted by fnerg at 8:44 AM on May 1, 2020 [17 favorites]


They know how wealthy they are relative to each other. They don't care about the rest of us except as enabling the further production of their wealth.
posted by Gelatin at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2020 [21 favorites]


This made the rounds at my tech workplaces earlier in the week. It made me so furious I've spent the rest of the week making messily emotional bad decisions. Click at your own risk; it'll hurt your soul.
posted by potrzebie at 8:53 AM on May 1, 2020 [33 favorites]


What an incredible web site. Amazing.
posted by dobbs at 8:55 AM on May 1, 2020


Aw gee and today was the day i was gonna wake up and stop hating jeff bezos.

Seriously this is incredible, very powerful. Id like to squeeze jeff bezos like the rotten fruit he is until he,s bled dry of every cent. Or maybe leave him one million..

I want him to spend a few months living with my 'neighbors' in the tent city under the overpass.

I am angry but also i feel perversely hopeful by this presentation of how very possible it could be to make things better FOR EVERYONE!
posted by supermedusa at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]


Id like to squeeze jeff bezos like the rotten fruit he is until he,s bled dry of every cent

Might take you awhile. If you could squeeze wealth out of Jeff Bezos at the rate of $1/second it would take you around 4400 years to bleed him dry.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:34 AM on May 1, 2020 [19 favorites]


I thought I had a grasp on the concepts and numbers that this addresses but I clearly didn't. I am absolutely stunned. I wish every American were made to scroll all the way through this.
posted by treepour at 9:50 AM on May 1, 2020 [9 favorites]


Wow, striking visualization.

I fundamentally don't understand the motivations of extremely wealthy people. I get why people want to be rich. I don't get why people want to be THIS rich. Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use? Is it just for the power? Is it the achievement? Is it something else? I would like to read something about the psychology of the extremely wealthy and how they feel about their wealth. (Although I guess getting something actually honest would be pretty hard.)
posted by aka burlap at 9:51 AM on May 1, 2020 [10 favorites]


Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use? Is it just for the power? Is it the achievement? Is it something else?

I think they are probably as unfathomable to us (and us to them) as royalty must have been to peasants in the middle ages. We'll never be able to comprehend how they see the world.
posted by treepour at 10:00 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


I have the idea there is also a fear driven hoarding of mega-wealth as a hedge against coming doom: climate crisis, shortages, resource wars. they believe that with enough wealth they can be buffered against the worst to come. (when in fact they could prevent so much of it and still be filthy rich argh!!!)
posted by supermedusa at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2020 [15 favorites]


Might take you awhile. If you could squeeze wealth out of Jeff Bezos at the rate of $1/second it would take you around 4400 years to bleed him dry.

In my imagination this makes a noise like punching a coin block and every coin that comes out turns into an absolutely massive ham which falls onto the table of a hungry family
posted by taquito sunrise at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2020 [21 favorites]


My hand hurts now, and so does my heart.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


A war that saves billions of lives and has only 400 casualties doesn't sound so bad
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:10 AM on May 1, 2020 [51 favorites]


I don't know if it was accurate but I saw that someone on Twitter had worked out the wealth of the richest Medici and it was something like 175 million. Less than Taylor Swift's fortune. Bezos' wealth is utterly unprecedented.

The difference is that Swift earned her money (for certain loose interpretations of "earned") and Bezos' money is basically poker chips. Neither of them are entitled to it.
posted by klanawa at 10:25 AM on May 1, 2020


I fundamentally don't understand the motivations of extremely wealthy people. I get why people want to be rich. I don't get why people want to be THIS rich. Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use? Is it just for the power? Is it the achievement? Is it something else?

They're greedy, egotistical, monomaniacal shitbags?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]


Anyone with that amount of wealth has only that wealth to recommend them as recognizable humans to other humans.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 10:28 AM on May 1, 2020


Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use?

Ted Turner has an answer to that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:29 AM on May 1, 2020 [3 favorites]


It's very hard to get rich. That selects for rich people being the kind of people who really like working, and who really like succeeding (which in business is measured by money), because those who don't like it, can't hack it. You'd no more expect Jeff Bezos to stop working because he's rich enough than someone who enjoys mountaineering to stop climbing because he's been on enough summits.
posted by MattD at 10:33 AM on May 1, 2020


I don't know if it was accurate but I saw that someone on Twitter had worked out the wealth of the richest Medici and it was something like 175 million. Less than Taylor Swift's fortune. Bezos' wealth is utterly unprecedented.

Possibly for the top few, but think of it this way: there has been close to 200 years since the Civil War, but for the wealthy barrons between then and 1900, if you just take their wealth as earned, not adjusted, they are still very wealthy close to 200 years later, closer to Swift than to your average American, even if they aren't that close to Bezos.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:37 AM on May 1, 2020


MattD you will never convince me that Jeff Bezos "works" as hard as any of his lowliest warehouse workers. Bezos got rich off the sweat and toil of people he pays slave wages to, just like the Waltons/WalMart.
posted by pjsky at 10:39 AM on May 1, 2020 [41 favorites]


It's very hard to get rich.

It's "hard to get rich" in the same way it's hard to win the PowerBall. The mathematical reality is that if everyone who was as smart, harworking and -- let's be honest -- greedy as Jeff Bezos gained in proportion to their effort and avarice, there would, by definition be no Jeff Bezoses. Extreme wealth only exists relative to poverty.

If you want to turn a platitude into a fact, try this: "it's very hard to get lucky."
posted by klanawa at 10:41 AM on May 1, 2020 [29 favorites]


I have the idea there is also a fear driven hoarding of mega-wealth as a hedge against coming doom: climate crisis, shortages, resource wars. they believe that with enough wealth they can be buffered against the worst to come. (when in fact they could prevent so much of it and still be filthy rich argh!!!)

The irony is that their hoarding and their inaction is what has brought about the climate crisis and the resultant shortages and resource wars.

One of the most insidious aspects of wealth inequality is that it invariably allows wealth to determine politics and policy and as a result, it creates a democratic death spiral.
posted by Ouverture at 10:43 AM on May 1, 2020 [11 favorites]


the NYT article linked by Burhanistan is a very interesting analysis of the why.
posted by supermedusa at 10:52 AM on May 1, 2020


pro tip: hold shift to allow your mouse scroll wheel to scroll sideways (in Windows at least, works in Chrome and Firefox, not sure about OSX)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2020 [3 favorites]


Person has product or service that people pay money for and person profits. I shake my head at the misunderstanding and attribution of blame and hatred directed at someone who people STILL buy from. It is called CAPITALISM...
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 10:56 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


Misunderstanding? This level of wealth is evil. Did you even scroll, bro?
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:58 AM on May 1, 2020 [21 favorites]


Of course there's a huge measure of luck in any Jeff Bezos type becoming extremely wealthy, to say the least of centi-billionaire -- but the pool of people from the lucky ones are drawn is almost all people who love to work and love to succeed at work, which is why almost no one with any real measure of success retires early. And this goes just as well for people whose success is not measured (primarily) by money. You'll spend a very long time before you find anyone who has truly succeeded in any endeavor who remotely resembles anyone who wins the Powerball.
posted by MattD at 10:59 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


And IndelibleUnderpants wins the prize for most obtuse, bad faith response!
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:59 AM on May 1, 2020 [9 favorites]


Looks like I spoke too soon-- MattD coming in HOT with a challenge for the title!
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:00 AM on May 1, 2020 [12 favorites]


person profits [...] It is called CAPITALISM

No. There's profit, and then there's an obscene accumulation of wealth at the expense of the tens of thousands of underpaid and often exploited workers earning that money for him.

The ethics of capitalism in general are murky but there is no such thing as an ethical billionaire. That level of wealth does not occur except at the expense of human suffering.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:02 AM on May 1, 2020 [25 favorites]


Rich people are not some other species, some alien thing with unknowable motivations and rationalizations. They're evolved apes, with the same hopes and fears as the rest of us. They are rich not because they're special and esoteric, they're rich because they were were either 1) born with money or 2) extremely lucky. The other common thing is that, almost to a person, they are sociopathic and/or narcissistic and do not give a fuck about anything other than a) what is in their own heads and b) how to manipulate others to get more of whatever satisfies them.

They're bad people, extremely bad people; and through leveraging their inconceivably (i do know what this word means) large tools and assets they hey have killed more humans than any natural disease or disaster.

Like Nazis, it is always okay, and very likely mandatory, to punch billionaires.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:04 AM on May 1, 2020 [31 favorites]


the pool of people from the lucky ones are drawn is almost all people who love to work and love to succeed at work were born on third base if not closer to home and enjoyed every possible advantage along the way
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]


“...but the pool of people from the lucky ones are drawn is almost all people who love to work and love to succeed...”
Really? Tell me more. Isn’t it funny how they are (nearly) all white, and male?
posted by dbmcd at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2020 [15 favorites]


dbmcd: just stop hating success so much!
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:07 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


I think it's important to distinguish between money and wealth here -- these net worths reflect the value in the companies they hold large shares in. If these were to be confiscated and redistributed throughout the population, we may see some momentary shifts in short-term fortune (as in the $10,000 to every American idea). But what happens when everybody rushes to the market to cash in their one-year gift of Amazon stock? The price will be depressed incredibly quickly, most will stuck holding a bag of worthless shares, which will eventually be purchased by investors.

It's hard for me to imagine that the people who really do need the cash would hold onto their shares as a long term investment, but it's possible -- and that would certainly be good for all involved. I just think it's unlikely.

One reason very, very large apparatus like companies and governments can execute on anything effectively (without gridlock) is having clear majority ownership of decisionmaking capacity. Within the framework of a company, I think the main thing to think about would be -- what would it mean for us to suddenly collectivize ownership of large private companies? We have historical precedents to look to.
posted by phenylphenol at 11:09 AM on May 1, 2020 [5 favorites]


The practical approach is for the government to finance these huge projects with deficit spending and then make up for it over time with a significant-but-manageable wealth and income tax on the super rich. For example, spend billions upfront to eradicate malaria and then put a ~1% wealth tax on billionaires and a marginal tax rate of ~75% on income above $10 million. The program is paid for within a few years.
posted by jedicus at 11:14 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]


One of the fundamental misunderstandings people have is that money somehow correlates to work, and that money is somehow deserved.

The bare fact that you can stick money in an index fund, breathe, and get more money back shows that money and work have absolutely nothing to do with each other. There's no relation, they're not even on the same planet.

Index funds fluctuate, but over time work.

With more money, you can weather bigger fluctuations, therefore to be safe, you should have the biggest amount of money to weather the biggest fluctuations. This is why people accumulate money. There's no other reason. This also means the more money you have, the less risk you have to take on, since you diversify your holdings. This means the more money you have, the easier it is to get even more money. The very rich don't live with as much risk as the rest of us.

--

The other fundamental misunderstanding is that money somehow equates to good. Money just equates to money. Again, completely disconnected.

The more investments you have, the more you're standing in the stream of money hoses from all directions, meaning it's very difficult for the poors to NOT support you.
posted by fnerg at 11:18 AM on May 1, 2020 [23 favorites]


Remember how long it took to scroll through "just" 2.96 trillion dollars?

Now imagine that for 21 to 32 trillion dollars held in offshore tax havens.

Vampires at scale.
posted by Ouverture at 11:21 AM on May 1, 2020 [14 favorites]


if one actually scrolled through that and internalized the fact that we could turn the 400 richest people into *only* small b billionaires and as a result save billions of lives and complete transform the human race, but walked away eager to split hairs about wealth versus cash or working hard or 'that's just how capitalism works' or whatever, i submit that one is in need of some serious cultural deprogramming.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:22 AM on May 1, 2020 [40 favorites]


"The practical approach is for the government to finance these huge projects with deficit spending and then make up for it over time with a significant-but-manageable wealth and income tax on the super rich."...

Unfortunately, the 'super rich' can afford good tax lawyers and accountants to protect their wealth. Part of the investment in protecting this wealth is by incorporating a donor model to support your own favorite political party to ensure legislation will NOT get passed....
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 11:22 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


I believe:
- The amount of inequality in the U.S. and the world is morally indefensible. It is determined in large part by the structure of the economy, which is a legal and cultural creation, not a force of nature.
- We should have a political and economic structure that generates far more equality.
- Wealth grants political power. Therefore, inequality is self-sustaining to some extent.
- Given the existing economic structure, rich people have a moral duty to redistribute their wealth, as many (such as Bill Gates) are doing. They also have a moral duty to support political change that will prevent the future accumulation of the amount wealth that they achieved.

That said:
- The market economy is one of the greatest forces for material good in history. We need to harness it for the good of everyone, not destroy it.
- Wealth is a stock, not a flow, as the infographic reflects. Also, income and wealth are not consumption. You're not going to spend much of your first billion. You'll spend an even lower shre of your second billion. What that level wealth primarily represents is power, not consumption.
- Therefore, some of these examples are extreme. In normal economic times, you can't just suddenly spend additional trillions of dollars. (Of course, those scenarios aren't politically realistic, so that's not an issue.)
- For consumption inequality, the issue isn't the 400 richest, it's the top 1, 5, or 20 percent, depending on your perspective. We need to change policies - starting with higher and more progressive tax rates - that will require many of those people to give up money and privileges they (what some have called Dream Hoarders) currently enjoy.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:25 AM on May 1, 2020 [5 favorites]


Bill Gates is not redistributing his wealth, no matter what his PR team wants you to believe.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:31 AM on May 1, 2020 [19 favorites]


I have the idea there is also a fear driven hoarding of mega-wealth as a hedge against coming doom: climate crisis, shortages, resource wars. they believe that with enough wealth they can be buffered against the worst to come.

Except that's completely stupid, and these are not, by and large, stupid people. For minor disasters, money is useful, but they could have several orders of magnitude less and still ride out all sorts of storms comfortably. For a major event that upends the world order, it'll probably be fairly early on in the crisis that monetary wealth—which is a purely social construct, and only has value to the extent that society confers value upon it—will cease to be a useful way of asserting control over people or possession of things. At that point Jeff Bezos would just be some guy in a very large house that nobody has a good reason anymore to agree with him that he owns, surrounded by people who have no really good reason anymore to agree with him that they should do what he says.

I mean, yeah, maybe his basement is full of canned beans and ammunition and he plans to hide down there, but again, that gets back to my original point about how much wealth you need to ride out a minor crisis. You don't need all that much money to buy more personal-survival supplies than one person can use or, mor to the point, practically manage/store/parcel out to loyal peons. If you aspire to be King of the Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland, you could do it surprisingly cheaply.
posted by jackbishop at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


Probably yeah “loves to work/works hard” is right but only for a very narrow band of definition, which includes categorically a disregard for the exploitation of others and an obsessive denial of forms of labor which do not produce money.

I am working, lovingly and exhaustingly, on a birthday gift which involves painting tiny poems on about 75 shellacked rose petals. This is hard work which I love to do, and will feel a bit bereft when i finish (along with relief yes) but if I spent my life obsessively inking flowers I would never produce Bezos-level money, both because I have no interest in exploitation nor in the chasing of money for its own sake.

So yes, hard work (plus hella luck and a personality type) gets money, if your long hours and tough days are centered around an exploitative hoard. Why can’t they just develop an immersive game like EVE for their types to play, to scratch this weird hoard-exploit-power itch they’ve got and leave the rest of us alone to paint and bake and sing songs? Hmph.
posted by zinful at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2020 [14 favorites]


- The market economy is one of the greatest forces for material good in history. We need to harness it for the good of everyone, not destroy it.

As someone from the developing world, I have terrible news for you about both the market economy's historical contribution to "material good" and its present and future contribution to the ongoing climate apocalypse.
posted by Ouverture at 11:36 AM on May 1, 2020 [24 favorites]


Since it's getting a lot of favorites, could you share some details on "terrible news"? I think it's a pretty standard view that the introduction of a market economy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the alleviation of poverty. E.g., Historical poverty reductions: more than a story about ‘free-market capitalism’. "...globalization has been a key factor contributing to raising living standards across the world, its positive effects have been modulated by public policies, particularly social transfers." I don't know if we're disagreeing on substance (you think the economy should be controlled by government), or terminology (market economy as implemented in the Nordic countries, for example, or as envisioned by libertarian extremists).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:03 PM on May 1, 2020


no jackbishop I don't think so. your analysis of the situation may be correct but I don't think that takes into account the cognitive dissonance that the super rich may be blinded by. they are preparing for an apocalypse because they actually believe that money will save them, even if that is laughably wrong.

I have a friend who is very rich (but not super rich) many tens of millions. he worked hard, and also got lucky (very lucky) but honestly, I don't think he is smarter than the average bear and his socio-political perspective is glaringly blinded by his immense amount of privilege along many axes.

excessive wealth seems to distort perspective. just because jeff bezos is good at getting rich doesn't mean he will be good at preparing rationally for coming challenges.
posted by supermedusa at 12:08 PM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]


but the pool of people from the lucky ones are drawn is almost all people who love to work and love to succeed at work

I think it's time for a basic primer on necessity and sufficiency.*

* not in reference to Mr.Know-it-some's comment.
posted by klanawa at 12:16 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


It's very hard to get rich. That selects for rich people being the kind of people who really like working, and who really like succeeding (which in business is measured by money), because those who don't like it, can't hack it. You'd no more expect Jeff Bezos to stop working because he's rich enough than someone who enjoys mountaineering to stop climbing because he's been on enough summits.

The next time someone tells you they got rich from hard work, ask them: "Whose?"
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:17 PM on May 1, 2020 [21 favorites]


Back when I used to go to Las Vegas I realized that it didn't make any difference to by fun whether I was playing at a $5 table or a $25 table. It all came down to what percentage of chips I was winning or losing. I imagine it is the sae at their level.
posted by rtimmel at 12:28 PM on May 1, 2020 [3 favorites]


You'll spend a very long time before you find anyone who has truly succeeded in any endeavor who remotely resembles anyone who wins the Powerball.

I am yet to encounter someone in history who could effectively and consistently loot the resources of others that then stopped. Just like bank robbers are typically caught because they don't stop, the wealthy don't stop because there's no one to "catch" them.

Unless somehow the laws of thermodynamics cease their application once they hit GAAP/IFRS financials, "profits" are theft/looting. Name a Fortune 500 company, this weekend I will pull up their 10-K and outline specifically what their looting scheme is.
posted by avalonian at 12:32 PM on May 1, 2020 [5 favorites]


This is really great. I didn't make it to the end but I ran into a beef with this: pretty deep in they start talking about lowering taxes for middle class Americans. This kind of anti tax sentiment is what has us in the trash fire we're living in. Except for the poor, we ALL need to pay taxes. We all need invest in shared services. We allneed to contribute. This is a civic obligation that ties us together in a functioning society. Imagine if middle class people payed taxes AND the super rich paid taxes. What riches we could all have.
posted by latkes at 12:40 PM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]


Progressive taxation is not an anti-tax sentiment.
posted by Phssthpok at 12:57 PM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]


@MattD and everyone who is saying, that's just capitalism. Most of the people in that group of 400 got their wealth the old-fashioned way. They inherited it. Very few of the top wealth holders in this country "earned" their money through work, or creating something, or growing an industry. Most got it because they inherited it.
posted by drossdragon at 12:59 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


Most of the people in that group of 400 got their wealth the old-fashioned way. They inherited it. Very few of the top wealth holders in this country "earned" their money through work, or creating something, or growing an industry. Most got it because they inherited it.

I've always wondered about this, but most of the time I try to look into it I just find evidence that billionaires are typically successful business leaders. Surely it's a combination of skill, luck, connections, and the like, but I'd hesitate to think they simply inherited all these companies.

But in the end, that's an empirical question -- perhaps we could comb through the Forbes list and track down their employment records to see how they ended up being such large shareholders of valuable companies.
posted by phenylphenol at 1:13 PM on May 1, 2020


Progressive taxation is not an anti-tax sentiment.
posted by Phssthpok at 12:57 PM on May 1
[+] [!]


But they talk about cutting taxes. That's anti tax. My version of progressive taxation taxes Bezos at about 500%, but functioning countries with healthy infrastructure and strong safety nets also tax the middle class. Tax most. And tax the rich THE most. But we can't perpetuate the lie of middle class tax cuts if we want functioning schools and healthcare for everyone.
posted by latkes at 1:16 PM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]


most of the time I try to look into it I just find evidence that billionaires are typically successful business leaders.

Eh, these "successful business leaders", at the very least, are part of a familial operation to accumulate wealth. Their parents were already wealthy enough to provide excellent educations, connections, and access to financing. Kin don't exist in a vacuum. When Bezos' parents gave him $300,000, that's just a fraction of the value passed generationally in the interest of looting for more. People with $300,000 to give to their children have valuable experience in navigating the complex networks necessary to appropriate the labor and resources of others. It's not otherwise easily accessible!
posted by avalonian at 1:47 PM on May 1, 2020 [11 favorites]


Of the richest, there is a large portion of old money but also many that didn't inherit. I struggle to find one of those that hasn't participated in some kind of exploitation.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 1:49 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


Busting out the forensic accounting microscope to figure out who inherited their immoral billions vs. "made"their immoral billions is a distraction from the fact that "successful business" is inherently vampiric.

That's the whole point of shareholder value theory. The workers are paid just enough to do their work, while the outsize value of their labor is hoovered by the managerial class and shareholders.

The problem isn't the rules of the game. It is the very game itself.
posted by Ouverture at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2020 [16 favorites]


Since it's getting a lot of favorites, could you share some details on "terrible news"? I think it's a pretty standard view that the introduction of a market economy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the alleviation of poverty. E.g., Historical poverty reductions: more than a story about ‘free-market capitalism’. "...globalization has been a key factor contributing to raising living standards across the world, its positive effects have been modulated by public policies, particularly social transfers." I don't know if we're disagreeing on substance (you think the economy should be controlled by government), or terminology (market economy as implemented in the Nordic countries, for example, or as envisioned by libertarian extremists).

Check the article you cited:
Yes, over the last two centuries free markets and globalization have had a positive effect on aggregate economic growth, contributing to better living conditions and the reduction of extreme poverty across the world. Yet this is far from the only important socioeconomic change and moreover, the last two centuries have not been all about ‘free-market capitalism’. Governments around the world have dramatically increased their potential to collect revenues in order to redistribute resources through social transfers and raise the living standards of those that are worst off.
Market economies are incentivized to maximize profit, not quality of life or material equity. Now, that profit can be distributed in a way that does maximize quality of life and material equity, but only if the government can regulate the economy in that way.

Unfortunately, market economies also tend towards regulatory capture. Given enough time, the government will no longer be able to effectively redistribute those profits (see: America). This is why market economies eventually fail and erode the societies they are embedded in, even in places like Nordic countries.

Also, market economies are built on a lie of infinite consumption and infinite growth literally fueled by carbon emissions. The devastation from climate change caused by The Market, particularly in third world countries, will wipe out any of the gains made thus far as a result of The Market.
posted by Ouverture at 1:57 PM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]


latkes: "My version of progressive taxation taxes Bezos at about 500%"

So he pays in 6 times his net worth?
posted by chavenet at 2:06 PM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


Given enough time, the government will no longer be able to effectively redistribute those profits (see: America). This is why market economies eventually fail and erode the societies they are embedded in, even in places like Nordic countries.

That's interesting -- I've sometimes thought about "regulatory capture" as being a bit of a boogeyman from the Stigler / U. Chicago school. I typically think of the role of lobbyists to be bridging the gap between people who specialize in the industry with those who specialize in translating for their constituencies.

Genuinely curious to learn about literature on market economies ultimately driving failure of historical societies, though -- especially as it relates to morality of redistribution at the individual or societal level.
posted by phenylphenol at 2:34 PM on May 1, 2020


what's money again?
posted by 4notherOnlineUserName at 2:56 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


That's interesting -- I've sometimes thought about "regulatory capture" as being a bit of a boogeyman from the Stigler / U. Chicago school. I typically think of the role of lobbyists to be bridging the gap between people who specialize in the industry with those who specialize in translating for their constituencies.

It's broader than the regulatory capture of say, the CFTC or the SEC; the more accurate way to describe it might be as "policy capture". Even in a world without lobbyists or the ability to buy your policy preferences, the wealthy are able to flood a country with advertising and PR that suddenly convinces them that universal healthcare is bad, actually. Double unfortunately, we have that and lobbyists and unlimited political spending.

Here's a useful study that shows just how powerful wealth is in terms of determining policy outcomes.

Genuinely curious to learn about literature on market economies ultimately driving failure of historical societies, though -- especially as it relates to morality of redistribution at the individual or societal level.

The dismantling of the NHS along with the erosion of public services in Nordic countries are both useful starting points.

Markets economies are certainly useful, but so is cell division. Without tight controls on either, you end up killing the host.
posted by Ouverture at 2:59 PM on May 1, 2020 [17 favorites]


The next time someone tells you they got rich from hard work, ask them: "Whose?"

Prepare yourself for the response but it's a great thing to ask. Whenever I'm asked if I believe in God I always respond with the question, "Which one?" I usually don't get a pleasant response but I'm prepared for it.

This grotesque imbalance is one the many reasons I'm terrified when people support running the government like a business. I think a lot of people think that just means not overspending. It means we become expendable in massive ways.
posted by juiceCake at 3:45 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


Markets economies are certainly useful, but so is cell division. Without tight controls on either, you end up killing the host.

This is by far the best slogan I've heard this year.
posted by phenylphenol at 3:57 PM on May 1, 2020 [5 favorites]


I make a good income. Yes. It’s six figure. But it wasn’t always that way. My wife and I come from dirt poor and worked out asses off - my wife really works her ass off. So. The spectrum is obvious to us

But I know some fairly wealthy people who grew up upper middle class or wealthy. There is just no perspective. Most just slowly scale up expenses invisibly until they don’t really feel all that wealthy. They will swear that 600k a year isn’t that much.

Like they’ll buy a 100k car and it’s just a car. Like. You have a car, right? To them, same thing. They have $200 an hr personal trainer? Sure. You have a trainer at your gym, right? It just goes on like that. But even they are vulnerable in times like this. Like it sounds crazy, but most those people who’ve had a real health scare and had to shell out 400k for cancer treatments then they start to get it. But these people think we’re on the same level. They just don’t know anything else. But they obsess over money. All the time. Relentlessly. They assume you do, to.

But then I know two really, REALLY wealthy people. Not just high six or seven or eight figure. But, I don’t know, maybe a couple hundred million a year in income? I think? Like private plane and houses in multiple major cities rich.

The difference is they never talk about money. Never. They are acutely aware of the gulf between us. They know their money makes money. But they have no idea how much they have. They just know they belong to small secret group that everyone wants in on. That everyone wants something from them. And they are right about that.

They know they exist in guarded compounds and you don’t. They know that you won’t even know where the entrance is.

The way we are all living on lockdown now, you know, just not going to work? They’ve always done that. I mean you have 130,000 sq. Ft house? You don’t need to leave to work. Going to an office is entirely performative.

They don’t fly out of commercial air terminals ever. I doubt very much my friend has ever had to go to a pharmacy or laundromat in their lives. Or that such a place exists outside of theoretical thing from TV. It’s a place to send somebody.

Money is for keeping score. That’s all. It’s just something you use to outmaneuver another really rich person. They care about the assets they have. And they know that is zero sum. For every valuable asset they own it’s one someone else can’t own.

This not to say these people don’t have problems. They do. Or that they don’t possessed human compassion or generosity. They really do.

But it’s like being immortal. You just stop fearing the same things mortals do. And so you just stop automatically empathizing with people who do. They literally need to exercise that muscle deliberately to keep it.

They never even need to see 90% of humanity if they don’t want. So of course if 50% of humanity died they’d hardly notice for some time.

It’s pretty fucked up.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 6:16 PM on May 1, 2020 [24 favorites]


Hands up who bought something from Amazon this year.

*guiltily raises hand*
posted by storybored at 6:58 PM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


Hands up those who own Amazon shares in any form (shares, S&P index funds).

*not me*

Ha!
posted by storybored at 7:01 PM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use?

I want more money than I could possibly use. I can't understand why anyone wouldn't. Why? Just in case. Having had the rug pulled out from under me before, I can tell you it's better to have more than you need than not.

The thing I think many multi billionaires have is momentum. At a certain point, the amount of accumulated wealth is basically incomprehensible. But the machine grinds on, shored up by multitudes, from the bottom up, whose job is to ensure it grinds on, and who depend on it grinding on.

Not to mention the multitudes on the outside ensuring the machine grinds on.

Some of the multi billionaires decide to effectively retire, and enjoy the fat the machine has to offer. Some want to stay involved. To my mind, why wouldn't you, if it's something that motivates you and brings you satisfaction? And, as unbelievable as it may be to some, you happen to be good at it.

How they get to that point is subject to my judgmental whims, just like everyone else. But those whims are mine, and based on my own set of hangups, and values, as perfect and unassailable as they are.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2020


But then I know two really, REALLY wealthy people. Not just high six or seven or eight figure. But, I don’t know, maybe a couple hundred million a year in income? I think? Like private plane and houses in multiple major cities rich.

This is a good place to reiterate the issue with scale we are talking about here with regards to the ultra rich. Jeff Bezos makes a couple hundred million in....25 hours. Honestly, we could leave those two wealthy people you know completely alone and just hit up the ultra rich and change the course of Earth forever. Sigh.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:09 PM on May 1, 2020 [9 favorites]


I doubt Bezos, Musk, Jobs or Gates ever "wanted" to be rich, if they did they would have been an investment banker in their 20s, instead of pursuing their nerdy passions everyone made fun of in the early days of computers.

Bezos only owns 11% of Amazon, the source of his "wealth" - 89% of control resides with other parties - and what they want is to improve yields on their investment (pension funds, etc). Even if he wanted to do something else with Amazon - to a degree - he would get outvoted. Jeff serves the capitalist machine just as much as any of us. Vanguard for example owns 6% of Amazon, and many of us have money in Vanguard investments, either directly of through our retirement funds.

I've known super wealthy people who are absolutely completely normal. My first inkling was when they (a volunteer teacher) bought all the students a t-shirt. They flew to Australia once and asked if I wanted to meet them for dinner, and to meet them at their hotel. I was asked to go to the lounge - no, not the normal one, the one at the top floor of the hotel... and when I met them I asked what brought them here, and they said, well we're thinking of buying it (think along the lines of Hilton, Ritz Carlton, Intercontinental) and I said, this skyscraper? And they said, hm, no, the entire chain in the country. Within a few days the news broke in the business section of the papers... we had dinner at a restaurant that I would normally eat myself as a student (say, $20 per person) because they said they liked the food there.

Like Bezos, even if you're THAT rich, you are only a 10% part of the machine as a whole, and the 90% of the machine DEMANDS that you continue making money for them. So that's your "job" and that's how you are judged, and you have to keep doing it, otherwise you are judged a failure.
posted by xdvesper at 7:41 PM on May 1, 2020


I've known super wealthy people who are absolutely completely normal. My first inkling was when they (a volunteer teacher) bought all the students a t-shirt.

Wow.

A t-shirt.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:56 PM on May 1, 2020 [9 favorites]


Remember how long it took to scroll through "just" 2.96 trillion dollars?

Now imagine that for 21 to 32 trillion dollars held in offshore tax havens.


And that's numbers from nearly a decade ago.

The OP actually doesn't seem like a great illustration of scale to me, since we have things like government budgets and national GDPs on a similar scale to compare to. The ~$3 trillion in wealth for the 400 richest is a fraction of yearly national income for the entire country in the form of a ~$20-odd trillion GDP, so there's a hell of alot more money out there for harpooning with wealth taxes.

Is there an estimate of how much wealth there is sitting around and who owns it?
posted by XMLicious at 9:54 PM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


>I doubt Bezos, Musk, Jobs or Gates ever "wanted" to be rich, if they did they would have been an investment banker in their 20s, instead of pursuing their nerdy passions everyone made fun of in the early days of computers.

You do know Bezos worked in Wall Street, right? He was working at a hedge fund when he decided he wanted to start a business. In his youth, he would spend time at his grandfather's 25,000 acre ranch in Texas, which he would expand to 300,000 acres as an adult.

Musk? His family owned an emerald mine in Zambia. He's spoken about having pockets full of emeralds in his youth, and his family's "lavish lifestyle" is credited with shaping his interests as an adult.

Gates' father was a partner at PG&E, a law firm bearing his name. Plenty has been written about Jobs where it turns out Wozniak was the person pursuing enough "nerdy passion[s]" for the both of them, and Jobs was the one who made a plan to monetize it.

Whatever you may have heard, rich people do not become rich by mistake. They very much want to have money. Having money is the point. And most of them are already born on third base. The sooner we stop spreading spurious hagiographies about the wealthy, the sooner we'll wake up from this wealth-as-success worship nightmare we're living through.
posted by donttouchmymustache at 10:32 PM on May 1, 2020 [28 favorites]


A horizontal scroll gives me a rash.
posted by bendy at 10:45 PM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


> Here’s a NYT piece that explores this some.

huh, i just watched this thing on marvelman :P

> Bezos' wealth is utterly unprecedented.

Historical wealth: How to compare Croesus and Bezos (What is wealth?)

> what's money again?

Sovereign Citizen: "Money, financial instruments, the right of the state to tax its citizens -- at some level these are delusions. It's just that they are collective delusions; because we all believe in them, they work. They are what Yuval Noah Harari calls an 'imagined reality': 'something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world'. 'Politics', writes David Graeber, 'is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them'. Money shares in that character. That means that Shrout's project is not purely silly. 'If you could convince everyone in the entire world that you were King of France', writes Graeber, 'then you would actually be the King of France'. If Shrout could convince enough people that the state has no power to tax them, then the state would have no power to tax them. If he could convince enough people that his $100 trillion of paper was money, it would be money."

Why You're Going Broke While the Rich Get Richer: "So here's the first thing to note about money in our broken system: banks have an account at the central bank — but you don't... As usual, capitalists reserve a certain degree of socialist privilege for themselves — but not for anyone else. The central bank should be a public institution — but in our broken system, it's a club, a weirdly private institution, where you can't have an account, only banks can."*
posted by kliuless at 11:16 PM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]


The thing I think many multi billionaires have is momentum.

Leverage might be a better term. If I see a restaurant that is doing well, I can't go to the bank and get them to give me a loan so I can buy it and get a share of that success. Rich people can, and they're making investments with other people's money, taking the profits, and returning the borrowed capital minus a small interest penalty.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:27 AM on May 2, 2020


I get why people want to be rich. I don't get why people want to be THIS rich. Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use?

Seems to me that this question rests on an assumption that the 400 are indeed this rich because they want to be this rich. I don't think that's necessarily the case, and even if it is the case, I don't think it matters very much.

The fundamental dynamic underlying all of capitalism is that of making a return on investment. There's a spread of percentage returns depending on the kind of business invested in and both the savvy and the luck of the investor, but the single most significant factor that determines the absolute size of the return on any given investment is the absolute size of the investment itself. And that means that the wealth controlled by any entity, in a capitalist system, grows exponentially as a consequence of the rules of the system.

So in a capitalist system predicated on private retention of most of the return on any given investment, there's always going to be some relatively tiny group of entities in control of the biggest buckets of investable funds, and it's those entities that are going to be making the biggest returns. This is a positive feedback, and it acts to preserve the wealth of the wealthiest.

So sure, Bezos worked like a steam train in the early days of Amazon and put in some ridiculously long hours. But lots of people work like steam trains and put in ridiculously long hours. Which ones actually end up in the position of a Bezos today is more a matter of chance than anything else; the point is that somebody always will. It's baked into the way that the present rules governing private property and business investment operate.

Asking why people want to to be this rich is the wrong question, because even before answering it, it leads to the conclusion that enabling the kinds of universally beneficial outcomes referred to in the OP is a matter of persuading people who are this rich that they want to be a bit less rich for the benefit of all humanity. But seriously, getting that rich was never actually up to them. It's the predictable and predicted consequence of the property distribution rules that remain in place in the societies in which they operate.

This is exactly why, at every opportunity, I argue for adopting rules that make economics leaky. The absolute size of any given transaction ought to be viewed as a kind of pressure, and the higher the pressure, the leakier the plumbing ought to be. The greater the amount invested, the higher should be the fraction of the return on that investment sprayed randomly in all directions rather than being given back to the investor.

Trickle-down economics doesn't work for most people and never has. What we need is open-hydrant economics.
posted by flabdablet at 9:07 AM on May 2, 2020 [5 favorites]


The phrase "fuck you money" doesn't begin to capture the scale of enormous wealth that can insulate the billionaires from virtually any consequences of their actions, e.g. Elon Musk's outbursts this week:
About $13bn (£10.3bn) was wiped off Tesla's shares after chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that the electric car company's "stock price is too high".

In a series of other tweets, Mr Musk, 48, also said he was "selling almost all physical possessions" and "will own no house".

He added his girlfriend was "mad at me".

The Wall Street Journal said Mr Musk responded to an email asking whether he was joking, or whether his tweet was vetted, by saying: "No." [...]

He described coronavirus lockdowns as "forcibly imprisoning people in their homes" and "fascist".
So, to review: Mr. Supergenius throws a tantrum that erases billions from a company's value, and when contacted for clarification, he doubles down. That's not "fuck you money", it's "fuck everything money". He truly believes that he exists on a separate plane of existence from society, with his companies' products and services and the capital markets serving as the only nexus between them. And he's probably right.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:35 AM on May 2, 2020 [6 favorites]


A war that saves billions of lives and has only 400 casualties doesn't sound so bad
If by casualty you mean they'd still be billionaires.
This is the obscenity, the ultra rich could be taxed at a level which could transform the lives of billions of people and they would not notice any change.

Imagine if you were given the option of having an imperceptible change to your lifestyle but save millions of children from death and you went "nah, too much hassle."

That's evil.
posted by fullerine at 11:47 AM on May 2, 2020 [18 favorites]


I agree with MattD that the reason why it looks like really rich people continue to accumulate wealth way more than makes any sense is basically a selection effect -- if they weren't the type of people who are obsessed with accumulating wealth (either in and of itself or as a proxy for quantifying "success") they would retired long ago, because you can't make that much money without trying really hard. (I didn't realize this would be so controversial? It seems obviously true to me, although maybe there are also other effects contributing.)

I definitely don't understand, though, why really rich people do such a bad job of donating money to altruistic causes. There's no selection effect about that, but the extremely rich seem to not donate much more as a percentage of their wealth than normal people. (I don't know what the "definitive analysis" is on this but all the sources I ever look at indicate this, and I don't think it's part of some super altruistic donate-later logic. See this article for a few numbers, for example.)

No matter how many times Metafilter commenters imply it, I don't think that billionaires are uniquely evil humans, so I am confused about what is the deal. Would typical people really donate so little if they had so much?
posted by value of information at 2:11 PM on May 2, 2020


For billionaires whose wealth is mostly stock in the company they run, I can understand that they want to hold onto that wealth to maintain control of the company, but it seems like they should be able to accomplish that while liquidating a lot of wealth if they wanted to.

I would be interested in seeing some statistics about whether billionaires who aren't using their ownership to control businesses donate more, but I doubt there's a big difference.
posted by value of information at 2:25 PM on May 2, 2020


you can't make that much money without trying really hard

People are pushing back on that because it's bullshit. There is almost no correlation whatsoever between how hard someone works and how much money they have. Any assertion that such correlation exists requires facts that no one will be able to provide. Because however much people want to carry water for the billionaires, it is a lie.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:52 PM on May 2, 2020 [10 favorites]


I mean FFS if how hard you worked had anything to do with how much money you have, roofers would be the billionaires.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:54 PM on May 2, 2020 [14 favorites]


There is almost no correlation whatsoever between how hard someone works and how much money they have.

I work in Silicon Valley, and I can see a clear distinction between my peers. Some of them are trying as hard as they can to succeed financially in their career (e.g. starting companies, actively pursuing power at big companies) whereas others are happy with their financial situation, put in their hours, and spend their effort doing other things. The first category has a tiny chance at becoming extremely rich if they happen to get really lucky. The second category has zero chance at becoming extremely rich.

Would you, personally, continue to try to get money if you had ten million dollars? I sure wouldn't -- I would retire, donate most of the money, and do useful things while I lived off the rest. All billionaires would and did keep trying to get money, because they really wanted more money than that.

This is saying you can't get rich if you don't try to get rich, so all rich people are the kind of people who try to get rich.* It's totally different from saying that "hard work" "makes" you rich. Zero people in this thread have claimed that "hard work" "makes" you rich.

*This is all false for people who inherited a fortune, but as discussed upthread, many of the most wealthy Americans did not inherit their wealth.
posted by value of information at 4:53 PM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


Many wealthy people work hard. So do washing machines.

I mean I'm not sure why the putative intensity or difficulty of whatever "work" is being performed by billionaires and their handmaidens in the the upper 1%-5% is still mentioned in conversations like this. Maybe Bill Gates put in a few more hours at the grindstone in the 90s than my night-cashier mother did (though I doubt it)--how does that justify the exponential difference in the way they were respectively remunerated? His work was valued more than hers by the powers that be, but it sure as shit was not more taxing (no pun intended) and arguably hers was no less necessary.

Nobody works 1000 or 10000 or 1000000 times harder than anyone else. It's not humanly possible. So at a certain point we've got to collectively reckon with the fact that the distribution of wealth in this world has absolutely no societal or moral justification, and that clawing it back from the rich fuckers burning this planet to the ground is not only right but necessary.
posted by peakes at 5:01 PM on May 2, 2020 [7 favorites]


Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use? Is it just for the power? Is it the achievement? Is it something else?

There's no penalty for being rich anymore. Used to be, every now and then the insanely rich got hung or shot or something, or at the very least had their monopolies busted and broken up. They run everything now.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:10 PM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why the putative intensity or difficulty of whatever "work" is being performed by billionaires and their handmaidens in the the upper 1%-5% is still mentioned in conversations like this.

I will cut it out after this to stop dominating the thread, but the reason it was mentioned was to answer this question:

Why do people want so much more money than they could ever possibly use?

The answer is that some people are obsessed with model trains, some people are obsessed with postage stamps, and some people are obsessed with money, and only people obsessed with money ever get such an incredibly large amount of money. It's a selection effect. If they weren't obsessed with money, you wouldn't be seeing them. It's not an argument about justice, or fairness, or deserts, or proportionality. I am sure we agree that it's fucked up that they got all that money.

I brought it up because I am curious why really rich people also seem rather uncharitable, and I don't think the same selection effect applies. Although maybe it does, on reflection. They wouldn't still have a lot of money if they were very good at giving it away.
posted by value of information at 5:13 PM on May 2, 2020


(sung to the tune of Doris Day's "Teacher's Pet")

"Heads on pikes, I wanna see heads on pikes..."
posted by non canadian guy at 5:51 PM on May 2, 2020


All billionaires would and did keep trying to get money, because they really wanted more money than that.

gosh this sounds so benign that I wonder what you think about cotton plantation owners in your country's recent past. Same principle applies right? They just wanted more money! and they try really hard to get it. how can we call these people evil when they're just like model train collectors?
posted by some loser at 6:11 PM on May 2, 2020


This is exactly why, at every opportunity, I argue for adopting rules that make economics leaky.

Economics is pretty leaky at present. I "pay" our contractors $70 per hour, but of that amount $7 gets taken by the state as payroll taxes (kind of like FICA in the US), and another $6 by mandatory superannuation contributions, and another $16 is personal income taxes, so the employees only get $41 in cash. You may debate whether this money really comes out of the employee's pocket or the employer's pocket - reality is that like the math behind incidence of taxation (wiki link), it doesn't really matter whether you tax companies or consumers, the wealthy or the poor, the burden disproportionately falls upon the actor with least elasticity of supply / demand. Being leaky is not enough, the structure of the economy has to be built in such a way that preserves the wealth and rights of the most disadvantaged. Eg in that link above, it states that although FICA is paid half and half by the employer and employee, economists think that workers bear almost the entire burden of the tax as the cost of it is passed on to them in the form of lower wages. A billionaire who employs 100,000 people is almost certainly experiencing a huge amount of "leakage" via the amounts the government taxes take from various amounts in their business, but the problem is the burden falls upon the workers.

For billionaires whose wealth is mostly stock in the company they run, I can understand that they want to hold onto that wealth to maintain control of the company, but it seems like they should be able to accomplish that while liquidating a lot of wealth if they wanted to.


That's what happened to Henry Ford, the abbreviated form of it is that inheritance was treated as income, and taxes were about 70% on the high end, so if he "passed" the company to his children they would have to sell off most of the company to pay taxes to the government, and they would lose control of it. So they created a special class of stock, 5% of voting stock that had the power to make decisions while the other 95% was only entitled to profits... then he passed the 5% voting stock to his children, and donated 90% of the rest away and founded a charity that has been enormously influential in pursuing a social justice agenda (counter to the founder's capitalist leanings, his son resigned from the board of the charity in disgust) and still - 60 years later - gives away half a billion dollars a year in support of social justice goals.
posted by xdvesper at 6:22 PM on May 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


...and still - 60 years later - gives away half a billion dollars a year in support of social justice goals.

not too detract from your comment which was good and interesting - i just again want to keep beating the perspective horse. Bezos makes half a billion dollars in 2.36 days. The scale we are talking about when it comes to the ultra rich is actually criminally evil and insane.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:34 PM on May 2, 2020


"Makes half a billion dollars in 2.36 days" makes no sense, that's just fluctuations in the market, he absolutely does not earn half a billion dollars every 2.36 days from now till the end of his life. Bezos lost $10.6 billion dollars on Friday, by that logic he's on track to lose $3.9 trillion by the end of the year, making him the world's biggest loser. Amazon could go bankrupt at some point, and Bezos will never have touched 99.9% of his supposed fortune.
posted by xdvesper at 8:41 PM on May 2, 2020


"Makes half a billion dollars in 2.36 days" makes no sense, that's just fluctuations in the market, he absolutely does not earn half a billion dollars every 2.36 days from now till the end of his life. Bezos lost $10.6 billion dollars on Friday, by that logic he's on track to lose $3.9 trillion by the end of the year, making him the world's biggest loser. Amazon could go bankrupt at some point, and Bezos will never have touched 99.9% of his supposed fortune.

Bezos doesn't earn a cent as far as I'm concerned - concentrating wealth at that level isn't earning, it's just exploiting.

And no shit, he doesn't have an hourly rate in real life, of course that is calculated based on 'fluctuations in the market' or more appropriately 'how much his massive wealth extracts from markets'. It's roughly $8.9m per hour, if you go by his change in networth between 2017 and 2018. Here's just one article, feel free to google it and you'll get a hundred more. It's a popular puff piece.

So yes, based on 'aggregate market fluctuations' over a year, Bezos comes out around 8.9m / hour which is half a billion in 2.36 days.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:55 PM on May 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


Also I never said anything about until the end of his life or the rate staying constant or whatever. He could trip and fall into a guillotine tomorrow, for all I know. That'd be a silly thing to try and predict. It's the vampire of today I'm worried about.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:56 PM on May 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


>Amazon could go bankrupt at some point, and Bezos will never have touched 99.9% of his supposed fortune.

You know, that's kind of a good point. What good is his enormous un-"touched" stash doing for the economy? What good does the global elites' hidden-from-tax 13 trillion from that 7-year-old Guardian article actually do for them or anyone?

And whatever good charities may do, billionaires' charities are not efficient aid distribution mechanisms. Tax-deductible charitable donations effectively remove the donated money from being redistributed as needed, and in many cases (e.g. university endowments), they can even make the inequities worse.

So let's see. If you shave a few percentage points a year off their amassed wealth, these billionaires' lifestyles wouldn't change at all since they don't actually touch much of their "supposed fortunes". Which means, they don't actually need all the money they've amassed from years of money-making activity. They are far less efficient at addressing inequities and in some cases make things worse. They didn't really work any "harder" for that money than, for example, a single parent juggling 3 minimum wage jobs. They aren't necessarily smarter or more virtuous, since most of them were already born fabulously wealthy and have no real concept of what it means to stress over the decision to buy either food or prescription drugs, not being able to afford both.

If reduced poverty would reduce aggregate human suffering while increasing the amount of money circulating in the economy and in "the markets", why shouldn't we look for a more better, more efficient way to distribute these unimaginable and virtually untouched sums of money?
posted by donttouchmymustache at 10:34 PM on May 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


It's very hard to get rich.

It should be harder.
posted by robcorr at 10:39 PM on May 2, 2020 [5 favorites]


There's a lot of semantic and moral and ethical weight resting on the word "earn."
posted by aspersioncast at 11:31 PM on May 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


Amazon could go bankrupt at some point, and Bezos will never have touched 99.9% of his supposed fortune.
In that case, first you create a series of democratically elected worker's councils...
posted by fullerine at 12:09 AM on May 3, 2020


Economics is pretty leaky at present. I "pay" our contractors $70 per hour, but of that amount $7 gets taken by the state as payroll taxes (kind of like FICA in the US), and another $6 by mandatory superannuation contributions, and another $16 is personal income taxes, so the employees only get $41 in cash. You may debate whether this money really comes out of the employee's pocket or the employer's pocket

I could, but what I'd rather debate is the appropriateness of extracting taxation in high percentages from piddly little low-pressure $70/hour streams rather rather than investment transaction streams that operate at millions per hour.

Aside from anything else, paying a branch of government to concentrate wealth from a society-wide taxation base is massively inefficient, given that the free market already does such a spectacularly good job of concentrating it unassisted. Government ought to be tapping into pre-concentrated wealth streams and leaking those, not mainly sloshing dilute wealth back and forth among those who don't actually have a lot of it to begin with.
posted by flabdablet at 1:38 AM on May 3, 2020 [3 favorites]


Echoing much of the above, an anecdote a friend told me a decade ago: A: "So some of the people I work with are upset they only got a $10 million bonus this year, but I told them they'll do better next year." B: "$10 million? If I made $10 million, there wouldn't be a next year. I'd retire." B:"[long pause] That is EXACTLY why you will never make $10 million in the first place."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:52 AM on May 3, 2020


> That is EXACTLY why you will never make $10 million in the first place."

Ah, the soothing lies meritocrats tell each other to avoid having to grapple with reality.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:02 AM on May 3, 2020 [4 favorites]


@vgr: "Very large quantities of concentrated capital can bend truth rays and warp epistemology and ontology. There is a financial lensing effect by which you can detect the presence of large cold masses of money that otherwise can't be seen."
Very tired of how financial lensing effects muck up everything I find interesting and worthwhile about life, the universe, and everything. Brings out worst in people. If I were religious I’d call money the embodiment of the devil. The effect is very nonlinear in amount of money.

I’m not particularly bothered by high inequality per se. But the warping it causes in the top levels of society is really unpleasant to see close up. This last year or so has been particularly rich in such odious spectacles, and it has sharply accelerated with the pandemic.

It’s hilarious how people worry about cute little cognitive biases at the individual level when the entire human condition is in orbit around a money black hole, with the wealthiest orbiting closest, with most warping.

To a first approximation, “less wrong” is just “not too closely in orbit around large piles of money” (but not too far either... but the consequences of cognitive distortions of extreme poverty are mostly limited to you, you can’t screw up the world at large beyond a point).

Looking back, I’ve expended huge efforts in my life trying to keep my thinking clear of the distortionary effects of money — having it, not having it, being near piles of it, being far from piles of it. Trying to be something of a money neutrino. Pass right through unaffected.

In my idea of a better world, money would simply be yet another global coordination/communication/computation tool, like traffic signs or air traffic control radar systems. A few would nerd out over it, most would be slightly bored by it but have enough and deal with it.

You wouldn’t have the entire human condition enslaved by obsession with it, with the top leaders of any consequential hierarchy being absolutely obsessed with maximal accumulation of it. Money is simply not that interesting.

To make a comparison, language is like money in many ways, a global tool of coordination, computation, and communication. But we’re kinda sane about it. We don’t revere large piles of words. Librarians of the largest libraries aren’t treated like Bill Gates is with money.

Here’s a small glimpse of why I dislike what large concentrations of money does to humanity. Say you gave a 3rd gen failson sitting on 100 million with no ideas. So, he sounds on yachts, booze, prostitutes, whatever. You could argue that the “dumb money” gets smart 1 degree out.

1 degree out, the $ goes to yacht designers, bartenders, etc. So damage seems low. One person living a life I would not want for myself. But who am I to judge. Except it’s not just one person. Hundreds of people are living lives shaped by the logic of 1st order failson spending.

Would they do something else more fulfilling with their lives if their best option hadn’t been pandering to unimaginative failson’s miserable idea of a good life?

The economy is often compared to a large distributed computer (correct). It is often assumed to be an efficient computer under some narrow conditions (also kinda correct). What is not often talked about is — who programs it and for what. And the answer to that is not pretty.

It is programmed by the stewards of the largest, slowest piles of money. Each dollar you hold is like a right to one cpu cycle. Even governments can’t alter this landscape wholesale. Only reshape it in certain known ways.

It’s like if your family had one tv and the tantrummy 5 year old insists on controlling the remote and will only allow the tv to play his favorite kid cartoons on endless repeat. It’s a powerful device but can do only a fraction of what it is capable of.

That’s what even an ideal efficient market controlled by large capital piles is like.

I don’t mind spending a reasonable fraction of my time thinking about my personal finances. Cost of doing the business of living life. But i grudge every minute I have to devote to modeling and predicting consequence of existence of large piles of tens/hundreds of billions.

If I’m consulting for a company that makes widgets its because I am interested in widgets. Not in the psychology of a dozen bores who own the PE company that bought the widget company and don’t give a shit about widgets.

I hate that any sufficiently important and interesting project turns into a “money psychology of boring people” project if you give it long enough. Kinda like how any social media product turns into a messaging app if you give it enough time. So everybody has to think about that.

One of my weird influences is Alberto Moravia’s Time of Desecration, which I randomly read as a teenager because it happened to be around. Not the sort of book I’d pick myself. But the theme of desecrating money stayed with me.
posted by kliuless at 8:20 AM on May 3, 2020 [3 favorites]


The trickle, in trickle down economics? That's the rich pissing all over the poors again.

Having taxes taken out of the employer-employee transaction and show up on pay stubs are an amazing way to make it impossible to have taxes, never mind raising them. It's the same scam health insurance companies run when my medication is $1,200/month but thanks to them it's only $80/month.

How about these taxes:

100% tax on income above $10 million/year.
A tax on personal assets about $1 billion.
A tax on every transaction that happens on Wall Street, with a goal of slowing down the worst excesses of high-frequency trading.
A extra tax on companies when the highest paid person makes more than 100x the lowest paid person at that company.
An extra tax on the highest earners at that company, and their board of directors, and the stockholders.
A value-added tax, such that it's way more expensive to install flooring on a mega-yacht or personal jet, compared to the flooring in low-income housing.

The temporarily embarrassed millionaires that won't vote for new taxes might be happy to hear that we're all closer to being millionaires than Jeff Bezos.
posted by fragmede at 11:36 AM on May 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


This makes its point very ineptly. I got bored very quickly with aimless scrolling as, I will guess, did practically every other person who tried.

There are good ways to illustrate increasing scale (Powers of Ten for instance), this was not one of them.
posted by epo at 11:41 AM on May 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


The exact thing that makes all those log-scale-based illustrations digestible is that they fit in with the way the human brain is predisposed to understand comparative sizes in the first place.

We're absolutely not intuitively equipped to deal with direct comparisons between items whose sizes are six or more orders of magnitude apart. That's the reason why this scrolling presentation is so viscerally repulsive and also the reason why spending time working with it is so vitally necessary. Until we're actually confronted with just how bizarre that kind of size disparity is, we just keep on underrating its influence; handwaving it away with a "yeah, yeah, I know that's much bigger".

You don't need to know that that's much bigger. You need the extent to which it's bigger to punch you properly in the gut. And if that involves a certain amount of pushback from your attention span, I recommend expecting that and allowing for that and scrolling all the way through it anyway.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 PM on May 3, 2020 [5 favorites]


I just found this from a Related Posts link. You Are Jeff Bezos in which you're tasked with spending all of Jeff Bezos' money.
posted by bendy at 11:18 PM on May 3, 2020


Even ordinary writing numbers out with place value does a lot to demystify them without actually giving a sense of scale. The fact that this visualization is dull and aimless is kind of the point: written out conventionally, 1000000000 doesn't look that much bigger than 1000000; they're both "1s followed by a bunch of zeroes". But one is a sigificant but not huge amount of money (or anything else) while the other is mind-bogglingly large.

(I feel like this willingness to not discriminate among large sums of money was illustrated in the opposite direction by the ridiculous December non-story that Elizabeth Warren had made $2 million in side income over 30 years. Most people throw that mentally into their "illion box" of large numbers and just figure it's "a lot of money". Which, yeah, it's more than most of us have, but it's an entirely fathomable large amount of money which, spread out over 3 decades, is actually a fairly modest consulting income for an in-demand professional. Whereas pretty much any fortune measured in billions, no matter how long it took to acquire, is well beyond the reasonable compensation for individual effort and a frankly inconceivable quantity of money for most people to imagine acquiring or spending.)
posted by jackbishop at 4:53 AM on May 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


Billionaires, I have a modest budget for ensuring your survival in the future:

Cost of Bullet Farm : $20 million
Cost of Gas Town : $60 million
Cost of Citadel : $100 million
posted by benzenedream at 5:42 AM on May 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


"That is EXACTLY why you will never make $10 million in the first place."

Ah, the soothing lies meritocrats tell each other to avoid having to grapple with reality.


First, that doesn't mean "if you didn't have that attitude you would be rich," it means, "with that attitude you will never be rich." Second, my friend had the skills and credentials to easily multiply his salary by a multiple of 2 or 3, and likely much more. Not necessarily $10 million, but he'd already revealed himself as someone who chose work that had other-than-purely-financial benefits.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:15 AM on May 4, 2020


I typically think of the role of lobbyists to be bridging the gap between people who specialize in the industry with those who specialize in translating for their constituencies.

Wait... WHAT?! You think lobbyists are just "translators" who help politicians by explaining complicated technical terms or something?

I want more money than I could possibly use. I can't understand why anyone wouldn't. Why? Just in case. Having had the rug pulled out from under me before, I can tell you it's better to have more than you need than not.

There's a huge difference between "I want to have enough money so that I can handle an emergency health crisis" or even "I want to have enough money so I can just enjoy life and go on nice vacations a few times a year without having to work a lot" and "I want to have enough money to be able to cause massive ripples in the global economy at the slightest whim and I will grind the rest of humanity into the dirt to get that money."

The answer is that some people are obsessed with model trains, some people are obsessed with postage stamps, and some people are obsessed with money, and only people obsessed with money ever get such an incredibly large amount of money. It's a selection effect. If they weren't obsessed with money, you wouldn't be seeing them.

The difference is that people who are obsessed with model trains don't get their model trains by stealing the model train sets that other people have set up, and their goal isn't to make sure they have more model trains than anyone else and in fact more model trains than could be played with in 10 lifetimes, and they don't leverage their model collection to prevent other model train collectors from ever owning a model train of their own. (Usually. I mean, I'm sure the collectors market for model trains has seen some pretty vicious bidding wars...)

People who want to hoard obscene amounts of money aren't "money collectors." They don't sit around and look at their dollar bills and compare fonts from one denomination to another. They are hoarding power: the power to do whatever they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want.

That is EXACTLY why you will never make $10 million in the first place. .... my friend had the skills and credentials to easily multiply his salary by a multiple of 2 or 3, and likely much more. Not necessarily $10 million, but he'd already revealed himself as someone who chose work that had other-than-purely-financial benefits.

And in the world governed by the uber-wealthy, there are no forms of value other than financial. The person who wants to earn $10 million+ dollars... why? To what effect, besides the ability to say "I have 10 million dollars"? So they can continue to earn more money? The money gives them access to a certain lifestyle, but that's in some sense secondary to the pursuit of money itself. There is no purpose beyond the accumulation of more wealth and power.

The market economy is one of the greatest forces for material good in history.

Presumably at one point in time, one could have said something like "the feudal system is one of the greatest forces for material good in history" or "the rule of the Pharaohs is one of the greatest forces for material good in history."

Material production simply for the sake of material production is not an unalloyed good. We have the production capability to produce enough cars for just about every human on the planet, but this is NOT a good thing. Production geared only towards further production is cancerous if the negative consequences of production are not considered. At least one necessary corollary to the above statement is "the market economy is one of the greatest forces for environmental devastation in history."
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:38 AM on May 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


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