2014 January 20 Monday
Do You Have Faith In Humanity?

A Time mag article title: One Stat to Destroy Your Faith in Humanity: The World’s 85 Richest People Own as Much as the 3.5 Billion Poorest.

First off, why should that statistic make someone lose their faith in humanity? 85 peopl aren't very many people by which to judge the rest of humanity. So are we supposed to think humanity is lame because 3.5 billion people can't get it together to make much money? Or are we supposed to think humanity is horrible for not rising up en masse to take the wealth of the billionaires and hand it to the 3.5 billion poorest?

But in order to lose your faith in humanity you need to have faith in humanity in the first place. Well, why have faith in humanity? We've gotten this far mostly due to a fairly small portion of humanity lifting up the rest. For example, just James Watt made steam engine innovations that enabled machines to do far more work than humans could. His innovations enabled the industrial revolution.

I am reminded of a quote by Steven Pinker.

"People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true"

That quote of Pinker comes from a book by Robert Kurzban book on how the mind works and the book seems like a strong case against faith in the human mind.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 January 20 09:42 PM 


Comments
Maciano said at January 21, 2014 2:38 AM:

"We've gotten this far mostly due to a fairly small portion of humanity lifting up the rest. For example, just James Watt made steam engine innovations that enabled machines to do far more work than humans could. His innovations enabled the industrial revolution."

I was reading through Marc Andreessen's tweets in which he claimed CEO pay would go up significantly from here [now on], he wasn't uncheerful about it at all; defending it by saying employees have higher trust in highly capable CEOs, Steve Jobs-type CEOs create value, etc. Considering he's at the nexus of winner-take-all SV entrepreneurialism, I tend to think inequality isn't one of the worries that keeps him up at night. Au contraire!

But, just BECAUSE CEOs & James Watt helped humanity forward does that imply they deserve 85 of them should have 50% of world's wealth? I'm very libertarian and think little of Gini-coefficient, yet this doesn't strike me as a very good development -- if only because the wealthy use their deep pockets to A) money a lot of causes that are a net negative for society & B) enrich themselves even more through supporting specific politicians who'll do them favours in return. It's one thing to argue that these people made their money honestly (which often is true), and therefore ought to own it; it's another thing to argue winner-take-all schemes are intrinsically good, simply because they reward the top of the gene pool. Also, if it's mostly genes deciding we'll be succesful in life, then I have a hard time rewarding those who lucked out the most and punishing those who lucked out the least. I'd like to see them having lots of progeny, but other than that...

I'm more in the camp of guys like William Shockley and Jonas Salk who actually gave a damn about society's benefit and through their accomplishments helped everyone forward. I don't see much value in itself to see the CEOs of BOX or Uber to be loaded, even if these guys worked superhard and are the nicest people in the world.

roystgnr said at January 21, 2014 5:53 AM:

We generally allow people to have children without pre-determining that they can afford to, and we allow people to choose to consume instead of save wealth, because the alternatives would be far too totalitarian. But either of those policies alone (well, combined with human nature) is sufficient to ensure that a huge fraction of the planet will have net wealth near zero. We allow people to lend and borrow money, and so we even get huge numbers of people whose net worth is less than zero. The fact that summing billions of non-positive numbers does not produce a large positive number should hopefully be unsurprising.

"I don't see much value in itself to see the CEOs of BOX or Uber to be loaded" is the great thing about the free market: if you don't want to give any of your money to BOX or Uber, you don't have to. You don't even have to wait for an election or convince tens of millions of fellow voters to agree with you first. You just don't get to stop *other* people from choosing to invest or spend *their* money on BOX or Uber services.

AB said at January 21, 2014 8:55 AM:

How many of those 85 are inventors like James Watt?

AB said at January 21, 2014 8:56 AM:

Steve Jobs was a salesman, not an inventor like James Watt.

James Bowery said at January 21, 2014 1:14 PM:

Don't confuse "humanity" with group selection -- ala Pinker (and also E. O. Wilson in "The Social Conquest of Earth"). Group selection in its extreme form, civilization, is what makes possible not only the silly concentration of wealth observed but also the more damning dysgenic trend inherent in civilization pointed out by W. D. Wilson in "The Innate Social Aptitudes of Man".

destructure said at January 21, 2014 2:40 PM:

"People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true"

Dr Pinker has just explained political correctness.

James Bowery said at January 21, 2014 4:19 PM:

Well, more to the point, Pink has just explained "mass" as in Holding Mass and Mass Media. If one is subjected to the presence of a large crowd all witnessing the same proclamation and, somehow, silence is enforced (whether reverence during Mass, politeness during Cinematic Mass or the absence of others that one, nevertheless knows are hearing the same message as in TV, radio or print of an "authoritative" source like the NYT), the subconscious -- the paleolithic -- has to presume that this is normative. This is why Jews went into a virtual panic upon Edison's deployment of cinematic production and within two decades had migrated from Eastern Europe not only to the US but across the US to Hollywood and seized control. They, being the originator of religions, know this as a deeply ingrained part of their folk culture.

Randall Parker said at January 21, 2014 8:41 PM:

Maciano, AB,

I'm not saying that wealth is distributed proportionate to contributions. What I'm saying is that the vast majority of people ride along on the accomplishments of the very few. I think the debate about wealth distribution between rich and poor is a distraction that misses out on where the real debate should be waged: between the highly productive and those who manage to make the most money.

The problem as I see it: the dumb people have no lack of advocates and no lack of votes for getting welfare state entitlements. The argument about the rich getting too much and the poor getting too little is a result of all these advocates and their voting power. If the rich are getting too much they aren't doing it at the expense of the least productive. The least productive are in fact heavily subsidized. The more parasitic among the rich are getting rich at the expense of the high producers.

destructure,

Pinker certainly sees the problem.

ErisGuy said at January 22, 2014 3:48 AM:

I look to Europe to solve this problem. They are the leaders, the innovators. I demand the EU seize the wealth of the 5% (let’s call them ‘Kulaks’) and distribute it to the deserving (the Party).

Wolf-Dog said at January 22, 2014 1:16 PM:

Randall Parker: " If the rich are getting too much they aren't doing it at the expense of the least productive. The least productive are in fact heavily subsidized. The more parasitic among the rich are getting rich at the expense of the high producers."
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Maybe the rich are not getting too much at the expense of the least productive, but the rich are getting rich certainly thanks to the least productive, whenever the latter group is very numerous. As you said, since the government heavily subsidizes the least productive group, this is done by borrowing from the rich (i.e. no new money is printed without strings attached, at least in most western countries) and giving that money to the poor. But then, during the same tax year the poor have no choice but to use that money to purchase goods and services from the rich (the same upper class that lent that same money to the government in exchange for debt instruments), and when the treasury bonds reach maturity, the rich end up doubling their money since the government must pay back the debt to the rich (by borrowing more), the rich are not just collecting some small interest but their main money is coming from the fact that their money owned by the rich that the government borrows to give to the poor is recovered by the rich before even the government pays back the debt to the rich, thanks to the fact that the poor must use that money to buy from the rich.

If the government deficit spending stops (or if the poor stop reproducing and die within a century), then in the current economic system the rich will make no money as a class.

Check it out said at January 22, 2014 4:36 PM:

Agree. Even more, Why have faith at all? The world would be a better place if people stopped having faith, specially faith in other people or deities.

I would say that humans have potential, but it's up to them to use it to better themselves. But that would require from them to be less cowardly.

Maciano said at January 23, 2014 12:31 PM:

"The least productive are in fact heavily subsidized. The more parasitic among the rich are getting rich at the expense of the high producers."

Then we're in perfect agreement.

Although I'd like to some noblesse oblige on top of that, not just for PC causes.

James Bowery said at January 23, 2014 5:15 PM:

Speaking of noblesse oblige:

Gates should do no further philanthropy until he puts his wealth and influence behind shifting the tax base off of economic activity (income, capital gains, sales, value added, inheritance, etc.) and onto (liquidation value assessed) wealth with the bulk of government revenue disbursed as unconditional basic income aka citizen's dividend. Gates became the world's richest man on the strength of the network effect aka network externaility aka natural monopoly aka economic rent which would have been reflected in the liquidation value of his copyright on MS-DOS the moment IBM distributed it on their original 4.77MHz 8088 PC.

HYPERCYNIC said at January 24, 2014 5:34 AM:

Fun fact: the 85 richest people also have about as many flush toilets in their homes as the 3 billion poorest.


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