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Jeff Bezos Is Now the World's Second Richest Person (bloomberg.com)
296 points by huangc10 on Mar 29, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 522 comments



Everytime I see these types of articles I wonder if we're still in feudalism. Should we really be celebrating that a single individual is worth more than hundreds of millions of people[1]? I dunno, it seems dystopian, like we're enslaved to the system.

[1] https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2017-01-16/...


I think that's a little hyperbolic. In feudalism the balance of power is enforced by violence, whereas Jeff Bezos got rich because you gave him money in exchange for products. Like,

"Hey, here's this cool electronic device called the Amazon Echo for $50."

is a markedly different from

"Farm here or I'll decapitate you."

The fact that you harbor a resentment as if the former is anything like the latter is slightly terrifying.


This reminds me of Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain example, which I will quote here:

> Nozick's famous Wilt Chamberlain argument is an attempt to show that patterned principles of just distribution are incompatible with liberty. He asks us to assume that the original distribution in society, D1, is ordered by our choice of patterned principle, for instance Rawls's Difference Principle. Wilt Chamberlain is an extremely popular basketball player in this society, and Nozick further assumes 1 million people are willing to freely give Chamberlain 25 cents each to watch him play basketball over the course of a season (we assume no other transactions occur). Chamberlain now has $250,000, a much larger sum than any of the other people in the society. This new distribution in society, call it D2, obviously is no longer ordered by our favored pattern that ordered D1. However Nozick argues that D2 is just. For if each agent freely exchanges some of his D1 share with the basketball player and D1 was a just distribution (we know D1 was just, because it was ordered according to your favorite patterned principle of distribution), how can D2 fail to be a just distribution? Thus Nozick argues that what the Wilt Chamberlain example shows is that no patterned principle of just distribution will be compatible with liberty. In order to preserve the pattern, which arranged D1, the state will have to continually interfere with people's ability to freely exchange their D1 shares, for any exchange of D1 shares explicitly involves violating the pattern that originally ordered it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchy,_State,_and_Utopia


As in many of these discussions, this hinges very heavily on the notions of "free exchange" and "consent".

How do we account for the effects of power or leverage imbalances on free exchange or consent?

If you consider violent force and the like as just one extreme on the broad spectrum of potential leverage between two parties, then we see that a primary focus of most governments is to limit or prevent leverage of cetain forms or intensity.


>>How do we account for the effects of power or leverage imbalances on free exchange or consent?

If it's financial leverage not gifted by regulatory protection, why do we necessarily need to?


Although, my relationships with AT&T, Exxon, and my landlord do not seem to match this Wilt Chamberlain scenario.


The standard claim is that you need to be a better buyer, and to have backups for all of your suppliers. It can be painful to switch suppliers (and successful suppliers quite intentionally make it more painful to switch away).

The social world is entirely constructed, just as much as societies infrastructure. In capitalism the goal is to make as much as possible doing as little as possible, and the only way you do that is to become the supplier you despise. Personally, I believe a world with reproduction caps and universal income would do a lot to ensure that, at the very least, capitalism is "opt in".


Well that standard claim is utterly bunk given the reality is that we cannot just choose to switch to a different supplier when:

1. Most of the time there is no alternative 2. Even when there's alternative, it's probably crap 3. If the alternative isn't crap, then the existing market players will engage in anti-competitive tactics until there are only crap market players remaining.

Amazon is, by any definition, a company engaging in illegal anti-competitive business practices. Losing money in order to stifle competition is nothing new, and it's still as illegal as it has ever been: very.


First, losing money to edge out competition is not illegal. Loss-leaders are a normal business practice.

Second, none of your three points refute the Chamberlain argument.

1. There were limited alternatives to Wilt. When Wilt was named MVP in 1959, there were 8 NBA teams.

2. Technically, there were 39 other players in the starting lineups of NBA teams that year.

3. Among those starters was Bill Russell, whose Boston Celtics won their second straight NBA championship that year. The NBA has controlled membership very tightly in all the years since. It has been granted exceptions from laws prohibiting anti-competitive behavior.

And yet, Wilt is still featured in this classic thought experiment to illustrate fair distribution of wealth.


> First, losing money to edge out competition is not illegal. Loss-leaders are a normal business practice.

Well for a start, loss leading and intentionally lowering prices unsustainably to cut out competitors are different things. Loss leaders don't exist to be anti-competitive, they exist to attract people to your shop so they will buy the other things you have, which is how you make profit.

Selling some things below cost in order to sell other things to make a profit is fine. Selling some things below cost in order to not make a profit, living off of venture capital while your competitors go out of business? Completely different story.

And, quite frankly, 'normal business practice' means fuck all. Lots of things are normal, illegal and unethical.

>Second, none of your three points refute the Chamberlain argument.

No, the argument resting on a false dichotomy refutes itself.

>And yet, Wilt is still featured in this classic thought experiment to illustrate fair distribution of wealth.

I have no fucking idea what NBA is.


I was going to chime in, but you nailed it here.

Absorbing losses until your competition goes out of business is called price gouging. It's considered unethical and in many current cases is actively punished worldwide. Advantageous access to funding is usually (but not always) the enabler.

In the early 20th century US Industry invaded Brazil with much lower interest rates and absolutely decimated Brazil's budding manufacturing sector, to which it has never recovered. Then there's Wal-mart in the US -- Amazon's strategy is not unlike Wal-mart's was (ream the competition in a price war with lower prices and ginormous investments in logistics technology, which bring competitive cost-savings). It's impossible to beat that triad (low prices, being flush with outside capital, huge investments in cost-savings). Other businesses without all that money can't keep prices low and invest heavily at the same time. Another advantage:You hardly need to advertise. You make a name for yourself with the good deals you give everyone.

I don't think it's fair. I don't shop at a wal-mart, I don't use amazon, and I don't use uber(never have). That's about the only solution I can see: don't patronize scumbags.

Maybe one day the banking system will be less democratic. For now, the bankers pick favorites and those favorites become ever more favorable, because the goal of these schmucks is the centralization of wealth-- so why not get to centralizing it?


> Absorbing losses until your competition goes out of business is called price gouging.

No, it's called dumping. Price gouging is a different unethical pricing maneuver.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumping_(pricing_policy)

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_gouging


ERRATA: *maybe the banking systems will be MORE democratic


why are you talking about the basketball example? post you responded to was talking about consumer choice in sectors that suffer from monopolies or oligopolies such as internet (or mobile data) service provider.


Interesting. the solution should be to just to tax Wilt Chamberlain at a rate high enough that the astronomical net worths become merely "stratospheric".


"Interesting. the solution should be to just to tax Wilt Chamberlain at a rate high enough that the astronomical net worths become merely "stratospheric"."

The solution to what ? Could you describe the problem in the (above) Wilt Chamberlain example ?


unequal distribution of wealth is the underlying issue, so essentially they are suggesting a progressive tax system whereby higher earners are taxed at a higher rate. Which allows the government to redistribute that wealth towards poorer areas of society whilst not impacting significantly on the living standards of the higher earner.


Well stated. All of the arguments above amount to "sure inequality is happening, but that's just capitalism so what can be done?" This.


Inequality.

The problem is, nearly never, access to resources: modern society (including in poor countries) puts necessary resources (food, clothing, shelter and even transportation) available to all at a very small price. Our material needs are 100% guaranteed.

The problem is that most of the goods that modern society produces are unavailable for most of the population. By reducing inequality, we could improve life quality for the masses.


I was asking specifically about the WC example, not real life.


Dissatisfaction


That's just another way of saying people shouldn't be allowed to give their shares freely. You give your shares to Wilt, the government gives them back to you (assuming the government has no overhead).

So the original argument stands: forced wealth redistribution is incompatible with free will and liberty. The word "force" itself means the removal of freedom.


The government doesn't give you back everything you gave to WC and it doesn't necessarily give it back to you.

You van spend your money however you want. Taxes simply mean that everyone benefits from spending, not just WC.


Right but in this particular thought scenario it doesn't matter what the government does with the shares. It is still the case that the government constrained your liberty regarding your shares. You wanted Wilt to have them, Wilt didn't get them.

I'm not making a moral statement here. I'm not saying whether it's good or bad for the government to do this. I'm just making an observation that, logically, the parent didn't provide a "solution" to the grandparent's thought experiment.


you're coming dangerously close to the precipice of far-right libertarian "all taxes are tyranny" ideology here.


This is an argument I haven't seen before, and I've been trying to follow the tree of wikipedia links, but I'm not understanding terminology like "patterned principle." Is it a fixed distribution of wealth, or opportunity, or some other thing? Would Wilt spending all his excess income bring things back into balance, or do extra possessions also violate the principle? What if he spent the money on experiences?

Or better yet, can someone translate it into plain old equations for me? Words get very slippery, especially since this is a proof by contradiction and it's hard to make sure you've eliminated all the possibilities without enumerating them.


> I'm not understanding terminology like "patterned principle."

See here: https://www.reddit.com/r/askphilosophy/comments/34r4vg/endst...

This awkward terminology is something that infuriates me about Nozick.


Thank you! My math brain says I can define (I think) a pathological system that is both "patterned" and "non-patterned," and a bunch that are non-patterned but still result in equality given the right initial conditions, but these definitions aren't meant to be rigorous in that way, right? He's talking more about what's likely to be true given what we know of realistic human societies?


Yes, if wilt spends the money he made on things that don't further concentrate his money-making ability then it will cascade and circulate, helping create the imbalances necessary for activity (economy).

The effects of spending your money can have three types of impact: 1) you spend money in ways that don't directly offer you further capacity to concentrate wealth (food, drugs, entertainment, (clothes, cars, and houses are arguably marks of status which in many societies is a tool for further wealth concentration). 2) you spend money in a way that reduces other's capacity to concentrate wealth (you spend money to abolish the school board in the liberal capital of a rural state in the bible belt, like the Waltons and Stephens just teamed up to accomplish in Little Rock, Arkansas. (thanks guys!)) 3) you spend money in ways that can directly benefit your competitive advantage in making money. In the business world we call this Capex, or capital expenditure. Spending money on things that help you make more money.

I think it's important to say:

What is money? Money is a store of value, which is used to peacefully coerce others to do what you want them to to. It can be used to convince others to do your bidding, or in the case of a well established (specified) civilizatiobn, people have already done the work they expect you to want, and are ready to make the exchange. Changes to the product or process happen over time, with the consumer communicating to the providers what and how he or she wants a specific thing, and will guide businesses with the placement of his or her own dollars. This is why these guys spend more on 2 and 3 of this list: money is a form of power, where you can dictate not only what but the way products and services are rendered. And as a member of the elite class of producers and financiers, it is further advantageous to impede any one unit or subgroup of consumers from having enough money to coerce the elite into business practices that favor consumers


This argument is trivially inconsistent. The state must protect liberty by interfering with one's liberty?

State interfence is a direct transgression against an individual's liberty. Thus far the majority has decided that such interfence is a greater evil than the "inequality" that it could reconcile.


The only way to have the freedom from being punched in the nose, is by taking away the freedom to punch people in the nose, punishing punchers with more nose-punching, but constrained by due-process (peer-reviewed violence).


Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes!

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/waltwhitma132584...


(You dropped a clause.)


I contradict myself and mis-quote Whitman.


That's the point.


Which is why the most morally consistent position is to be an anarchist. Perhaps not practical in many cases, but morally defensible.


Anarchism is a paradox though. Because it doesn't exist naturally. We always develop some kind of hierarchy. To do away with hierarchy, we need some kind of enforcement body. And how do we get that without some kind of hierarchy?

I'm kind of anarchic myself, in that I like decentralization of power and resources.

I think the key is to realize that no ideology will work by itself in its absolutist form. Rather we try to get close to it.

So the question to me is, how do we get relative equality without losing the benefits of companies like Google and Amazon.

It's a hard problem. Maybe we're already at the best compromise?


There's a difference between "statelessness" anarchism and the type of anarchism entirely opposed to power structures or other forms of central authority.


"It's full of contradictions!"

"So is independence!"


The negatives need not be so similar for the two to occupy the same space of vast property ownership concerns - namely that a single person has what many consider to be a troubling amount of wealth and power.

EDIT: sentence structure change


But that's not the important part. The violence is the important part. Feudalism wasn't unjust because the kings had a lot of money, it was unjust because they got a lot of money through force and not through productive economic activity.

Also, I think it is extremely problematic to compare any system with large disparities of outcome with an essentially violent system like feudalism (or just defining "inequality = violence", which people do) because what you are doing is basically justifying violence against that system. Violence against capitalism has happened historically, multiple times, and has led to huge injustices, the slaughter of innocent people, and the ruin of every society that has tried it (unless they ease off like China). That alone is a great counterexample to the idea of capitalism = feudalism = violence.


each system is as violent as the people running it. An ideal king is just the land owner collecting rents from the people on their land, and lending rights to people they think can make more wealth from it.

Capitalism is perfectly happy with slavery; it didn't end because it wasn't profitable.

There's still some rather violent things in today's capitalism like "give me all your money or die from cancer" which when the capitalists gave you cancer, isn't much different than the violent king forcing you to farm. You give them what they want or you die.


> it didn't end because it wasn't profitable.

Actually, it ended because it could not compete with free labor. It was dying around 1800 because of that, and then the cotton gin revived it. It was dying again in the 1850s, and a big driver of the Civil War was the slave states trying to protect their economy from free labor competition.

I don't think it's a coincidence that social justice has tended to follow what works best economically.


Slavery still very much exists in places like Middle East, South Asia, and US prisons, so your argument is moot.


Ask yourself why the USSR was unable to compete with the US economically, and could not even feed itself (Kansas in the 1970s was known as "the breadbasket of the Soviet Union". Why the Chinese could not compete with the US until they switched to free labor. Why N. Korea is starving and regular shipments of food from the west keeps things from getting much worse. The Middle East is not known for exporting factory goods.

The examples go on and on.

Where forced labor still exists there is something else propping it up or subsidizing it - like I mentioned with prison labor.


Claiming that labor in the USSR was slave labor is disingenuous and quite a stretch. By the same standard, I can claim that Western wage labor was also slave labor.

I'm also dubious of your Kansas claims (Google search comes up with nothing). Again, by the same standard, I can claim that the US "cannot even clothe itself" today. I'm sure reality is a lot more nuanced than that.

I can expand further on history of the USSR and long-term effects of WW2 on that country's population, which had massive waves of effect well into 1990s, but I'll stop here.


In case anyone is wondering what libertarian revisionism looks like, look above.


The Confederacy couldn't even produce shoes for their soldiers. That's why Lee had gone north to Gettysburg - there was a shoe factory nearby.


> I don't think it's a coincidence that social justice has tended to follow what works best economically.

citation needed


Slavery ended in the US because we fought a war. And some forms of slavery do exist today. See prison labor for example.


The war didn't just happen. It didn't start out as a war to end slavery, either (that happened later, with the Emancipation Proclamation).

As for prison labor, most of the cost of that is borne by the taxpayer, not the company using their labor. Keeping people prisoners in the US is very expensive.


Nothing you just said supports that slavery ended because of the "free market".

1) The Civil War was absolutely about slavery. Here's a professor at West Point talking about: https://youtu.be/pcy7qV-BGF4 (and PragerU is a very conservative source too).

2) The Emancipation Proclamation didn't end slavery. It ended it in states that were still rebelling. It took amendments to the Constitution to end slavery once and for all.

3) I agree that keeping prisoners is very expensive in the US and that most of that cost falls on the taxpayer. But it is very much still (essentially) slavery that the "free market" uses.


> Feudalism wasn't unjust because the kings had a lot of money, it was unjust because they got a lot of money through force and not through productive economic activity.

What if they just inherited it?

How confident are we that everyone who has a lot of monetary power today got to that place originally through productive economic activity vs. illegitimate/criminal activity, or unproductive economic activity, or inheritance, or just being the first to colonise (or often just plain steal) some land, or some other less savory source?


We're not talking about all rich people. We're talking about Jeff Bezos. How did Jeff become the second wealthiest human on the planet?

Well, his mother's family had some wealth. But his mother was a single teenage mom until she married his step-father. His step-father immigrated alone from Cuba at the age of 15. Later, he worked his way through a degree at the University of Albuquerque.

So, I'm not sure how much of a silver spoon he had.


In an ideal society, we identify theft/criminal activity and get the money back. That's part of what we have government for right? Also inheritance is ultimately the extension of the will of someone who was economically productive, so I see no problem there.


> Also inheritance is ultimately the extension of the will of someone who was economically productive, so I see no problem there.

Like Queen of England's inheritance, for example?

Or anybody inheriting land on American soil?

Totally no violence involved in initially obtaining those assets?



Crimes aren't inherited.


So if I kill you and take your house, and somehow escape justice before dying myself and passing said house to my son, your son forfeits any claim to the house? Correct?


I think the general consensus is that if you can identify a specific property that has been stolen from you in an estate, you can reclaim it (from the estate). But claims against someone who purchased the stolen goods unknowingly, or general claims from one group to another, like a common English person against the Queen, a colored person against a random white man, or a Palestinian against an Israelite, those are not valid.


General consensus of people who've benefitted from said stealing*

In each of the cases you listed, the person who would've had claims against them has power over the plaintiff


So if I unknowingly buy a stolen bike off Craigslist, I get to keep it? If the owner later identifies it with proof and requests me to return it, do I get to say "sorry, no" to him?


> claims against someone who purchased the stolen goods unknowingly ... are not valid

I am not sure about that. A stolen good cannot be legally buyed from the thiefs.


No, you won't kill it so casually. It is: "legally bought from the thieves".


no. (with a lot of statutory exceptions, i'm quite sure) i believe the applicable common law rule is this:

if there's a (prior) theft in the chain of title, then you do not have good title.

hence the market for title insurance and the market for title searches.


You don't even have to die in this scenario. Just give the loot to a friend. He inherits the loot but not the crime. Maybe he'll return the favor, or just immediately give it back to you.


that's a legal convention that we agree with in America today, kinda, mostly. it has not always been the prevailing legal convention in society.


Inequality sure is.


> Also inheritance is ultimately the extension of the will of someone who was economically productive, so I see no problem there.

I see a problem with the dead ruling over the living. Your will ends when you do with no extension.

That's not to say there might not be legitimate reasons to allow some inheritance, but extending the will of the dead, economically productive in life or not, is not among them.


Isn't that why wills are written while people are still alive, and executed as they die? Isn't that why it's called the last will? Not "extending the will of the dead" isn't any kind of legal principle anyways. It's absurd. We don't rewrite every law after the people that wrote it died, come on.


> We don't rewrite every law after the people that wrote it died

Sure, for one reason for convenience. But Jefferson, it must be noted, wanted something similar for every law and Constitution (time based, because the alternative is impractical), specifically because the law should represent the will of the people living under it, not the dead hand of the past generation.

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch2s23.h...


Good luck with that.

The daughter of a wealthy estate might receive the very best in private education, music lessons, etc. She might take her allowance and start a successful business. She might just have a successful business because of all her parents' social connections.

Then dad dies. How do you propose to nullify all the advantages she still enjoys because of her father's wealth?

Can you take away the child's business that was started with a few million dollars from dad? No? But you can take away the million dollars still sitting in the bank?

How about the farm? the house? the boat? Can those not be inherited?

If you reject all inheritance, you reject much of the incentives of capitalism.

EDIT: better English


> If you reject all inheritance, you reject much of the incentives of capitalism.

I reject the idea that inheritance is a matter of right, and particularly that there is any moral right in extending the will of the dead past their death.

I don't, OTOH, disagree that some inheritance may even socially useful and worth permitting, with appropriate conditions and limitations, on that basis. In fact, I said so explicitly in GP.

OTOH, I'm also not a big fan of capitalism as a system, am glad that it has generally been displaced by the modern mixed economy since being described by its critics, and think that the influence it has on the general shape of modern economies needs to be further curtailed, so I'm not particularly worried that limiting inheritance might further undermine the influence of capitalism; that's a benefit, not a cost.


So where's the line?

I was born and grew up under an actual communist rule. It was terrible. Also, it didn't really work due to fundamental human nature.

What human nature you ask? Well, mine for example. I'm working my ass of so that I can have more than you have. So that I can leave my wealth to my children (three so far) so that they can continue from a better position than where I started from (almost nothing, except the education my single mother gave me) to get an edge in life.

You want to take that option away from me? Sorry, not gonna work.


> I'm working my ass of so that I can have more than you have.

why do you want to have more than someone else? that implies that you derive pleasure from the deprivation of others, which is sadistic.

I think you should work so that you can have the things that you want for yourself, not so you can have more than someone else.


I like the freedom that monetary success gives. I've seen it briefly and it was freaking awesome.

The only reason it gives that freedom though is derived from inequality. The world is an extremely complex system and complex systems have weird emergent and unpredictable behaviours.

Also, some people contribute more than others. I'm certainly not saying that I'm the biggest contributor, but I do know people who can code circles around me (yes, I used to be a software developer, hey, this is HN you know) and really can do things that I could not, because they depend on fundamental understanding of complexity that I'm simply unable to comprehend. There is no way I could have come up with Paxos for example and clearly it has been extremely useful technology. Also I'm sure the inventor (Alan Kay, IIRC) makes a ton more money than I do and he deserves it!

There is no fundamental equality, because people are not equal and peoples contribution to society is not equal.

Bezos already has paid more taxes than I will ever pay - so he has in fact contributed more.


No, I only want to take 75% of that option from you if it didn't return into the economy during your lifetime.


Good luck trying, you're not getting it :)


Unfortunately for you, that is not up to you to decide, but to society as a whole. And society has those pretty fun tools like police forces, etc.

But don't worry, there are much bigger fish to fry than you. You probably won't even be impacted, given the amount of wealth that can be recuperated from the leeches at the top, we can probably already make a much more egalitarian society.


I can vote, just as everyone else :)

So, the problem here is that I don't understand why you think Jeff Bezos is a "leech" exactly. The guy built a business and became very successful. What the heck is wrong with that?

I'm building a house for me and my family. I mean literally building it myself, not hiring people to build it for me. It's fun - sometimes. Other times it's hard and frustrating.

I've also been involved in building three companies so far. That has been fun - sometimes. Other times it's hard and frustrating.

If one of those companies is/was successful, would I also be a "leech" by your definition?


Absolutely! And in most likelihood, such a system will never be put in place, so you can sleep soundly.

Amazon could run very well without Bezos, at this point, solely through workers. Bezos at this point serves nothing but effectively leeching the wealth produced by employees. But appropriation of the means of production is not the subject.

Bezos being successful is not the issue. However, he is effectively an annuitant, and produces very little of value. This brings up the question of why does he deserve that money now? As he's been building the company, yes, eventually (and even then, his only contribution is capital. The rest of his work can be done by anyone else). Nowadays? I'm doubtful.

Secondly, this fortune would much better serve society as a whole than be passed through generations, effectively creating a lineage of oligarchs. If I have to choose between bettering the living conditions of millions or letting Bezos keep his net worth... I'm not going to cry for him.

The most important question is of course, how much should be taxed, and what amount of wealth is too much? Everyone will have different answers. But there are other solutions to taxation. Capping salaries and profits from shares to a factor of the lowest salary in the company, etc.

If one of those companies is successful, that you have managers upon managers doing most of the work for you, yes, you would be a leech.

Good luck on that house, however. I know from first hand experience that it is a tough thing to do. Make sure everything's done properly.


Sorry for the long time to reply, this is one of the best conversations I've had on HN yet. It's always fascinating to talk to someone with a radically different opinion on things! Thank you for that!

Your argument seems to be that amazon could and would have run just as well without Bezos. The counterargument for that is - why isn't any other company in the same line of business nearly as successful as Amazon then? Clearly, if the concrete people don't matter and the only contribution of the leader is capital, then there is no particular reason why another, as-well-capitalised company shouldn't be as successful as Amazon? Yet none are. Why?

My argument is that a good manager can bring 10 people who separately would each be capable of making 1 abstract thing per month together into a team and create 100 abstract things per month.

There is a saying - a person is smart, crowds are dumb. What Bezos and other leaders bring is the ability to make crowds smart and work together towards a goal.

So, if a good leader can effectively make the difference between a successful company and a broke company, then I do think he deserves 100x or a 1000x more than some guy who's looking for every possible opportunity to slack off and do as little as possible.

Also, you argue that he has already contributed all he can and is now just reaping the rewards from his previous efforts. Doesn't the same apply for any pension scheme though?


actually, you'll be dead


People care about what's going to happen after they die. You can see this from any global warming activist. They're not concerned about their own live but about future generations. Are you saying they should mind their own business and ignore the grandkids who might have more storms and famines?


> Are you saying they should mind their own business and ignore the grandkids who might have more storms and famines?

No, I'm not.

I'm saying that once they're dead, what they cared about when they were alive matters, if at all, because and to the extent people still living care about it, and that there is no inherent right that the dead have to have their will dictate actions or rights of the living once they have died.


that's not the same type of thing as inheritance of material property and money. the inhabitability of the earth is an existential priority. what we do with leftover bank account balances when someone dies is not.


you're arguing against a strawman, the post you're replying to was discussing the posthumous will specifically.


> In an ideal society,

There has never existed an "ideal society". Power always corrupts.


Capitalism is inherently violent whether you like it or not. The police violently repress anyone seeking what they have a natural right to: their fair share of the wealth.


Capitalism is absolutely violent, and just as concerned with with-holding value as providing it (the primary means of price negotiation is the threat of walking away). Look at how much food a grocery store throws away, or how many houses are unoccupied, all in the interests of accounting and bargaining leverage.

However: I take umbrage with "natural right" (the only right nature guarantees is entropy and death), and "fair share" (as decided by whom?). I think a wealthy, free, and just society would include infrastructure investment and The Commons in addition to free enterprise and private property; but good luck getting every single person to agree on the same definition of "fair".


Grocery stores throw a lot of food away due to regulation and liability issues, not for bargaining leverage.


Crap. They throw away food because it's cheaper to throw it away than to give it to those that need it. It has nothing to do with 'liability' or 'regulation', given they still do the same in NZ, which has neither the concept of personal injury liability nor onerous food regulations.


Correct, even just paying for delivery to homeless shelters is the money no store owner wants to pay and even if you get volunteers they still have to pay for gas.

Edit: forget gas even paying the employees to sort the food that is still edible costs too much.


People have a natural right to the results of others' toils solely by virtue of having been born?


People have a natural right to a fair share of society's toils solely be virtue of being human beings, yes, absolutely.

What you have is not the result of your toils.


> What you have is not the result of your toils.

be careful with your phrasing. better to say "What you have is not solely the result of your toils."


We could remedy that by taking privileged children away from their toiling parents who provide them with advantages not available to other kids.


Ah, the "Don't read to your children" approach [0]. Don't worry, I know you weren't being serious. Sadly some people are.

[0] http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417997/professor-if-yo...


That's kind of why the West is rich ... well it wasn't so natural but hundreds of years of on-going colonialism made it so.


Humanity is inherently violent.


Jeff Bezos himself has not performed the productive economic activity that has generated his wealth. He has performed some labor for a corporation, similar to millions of other Americans, except that because of the ownership privileges granted to him by our capitalist system his share of the wealth produced by the corporation he works for is vastly out of proportion with the wealth share almost everyone else in the entire world receives.

the wealth is Amazon's. Bezos owns quite a lot of Amazon. the system permits this level if inequality. that doesn't mean it is deserved or desirable.


You don't think land lords provided positive economic activity under feudalism? That's absurd, but not as absurd as the implications that capitalist states don't have blood on their hands.


Sorry, why is it concerning? It seems concerning to me but only if you choose not to really engage with what it means.


Throughout human history there has never been a time where those in power, regardless of how obtained, didn't turn to violence and subterfuge to maintain it.


Have you experienced violence from those in power? Its so easy to spread fear when you haven't used your brain.

And have you considered how much of your lifestyle, the best parts of your lifestyle, is impossible under any system other than capitalism? I can't think of a better vehicle for diversity and indeed there certainly isn't one. It's almost insulting when people so casually dismiss these things.


You may wish to tone down the condescension. Many people use their brains just fine and have, in fact, experienced violence from those in power.

Perhaps they knew or were related to one of the dozens of people murdered by police. Perhaps they were turned away from a favorite recreational activity by armed BLM agents and snipers violently confiscating cattle. (Why does the BLM have snipers?) Maybe they were affected by government murders at Ruby Ridge, or police peppering of Occupy protesters, or maybe they were attacked by trained dogs near the Dakota pipeline. Maybe their children were threatened when they spoke out about a tax hike to hire more police. Maybe their relative is in lockup for crossing an imaginary line that arbitrarily bounds Arizona. Maybe their property was taken from them because it could generate higher tax revenue if a strip mall were built there instead. Maybe they read about somebody who fled for their life after exposing illegal activity on the part of the government.

Maybe it is possible to use your brain and still be wary of the corrupt use of power in today's society.


I have had things stolen from me by someone else and tried to get police help with that.

And I've also stolen things from both poor and from large businesses and:

a) confessed to it (thankfully before 18 years old, my advice from the experience : do not ever, ever, ever do this, no matter how obvious the situation is)

b) gotten away with it

Comparing the reactions of the authorities between what happened when I offended a large business, who wanted to make an example (I didn't realize this at the time but they never even want restitution or the stolen item back), and what happened when I tried to recover my own stolen property and attempted in vain to get ANYTHING done (other than "fill in this paper and add to this huge stack here")

Just a piece of advice : DO NOT learn kids to not steal by having them return a stolen item, unless you know and trust the store owner.

Does this count as violence ?


My intention was to show why comparing the two things you mentioned and claiming the comparison is outrageous was not a reasonable dismissal of OP's concern - because they were talking about the similarities of society predicated on wealth accumulation generally and not the violence inflicted to protect that wealth and how that has changed over time.

Many disagree with the tenants of capitalism regardless of how violent those in power are or how corrupted their authority is, the system itself can occur as strange, especially when it puts a lot of power into the hands of a few people - that causes uneasiness in many cultures and it is certainly something to think about as wealth inequality gaps widen, for better or worse.

I don't really have any stake in the result of this conversation and my views aren't as critical of capitalism generally, I'm commenting because your out of hand dismissal of OP's comment made me think that you might either be erroneously framing the comment or reading his concern as something far more serious than the casual comment would otherwise indicate (at least, that's how I read it).

Another way to read the OP would be something this - "Doesn't this remind anyone of how wealth was distributed in more clearly feudalistic times? Weird, right? - it makes me feel weird. I worry sometimes that this might be the beginnings of what we will consider to be a slip into a dystopian society. It worries me, and I wonder about it from time to time."

EDIT: copy/pasted a little too much and repeated myself


> a troubling amount of wealth and power

Any rookie cop can force you to pull over in your car, and confiscate any cash you have with you. Bezos can do none of that.


Bezos can buy The Washington Post and use it a megaphone to shape elite debate and tilt policy towards his preferences. No rookie cop can do that.


He can influence the voters, sure, from his soapbox. But he can't make anyone vote his way. It's the government that wields the power, not Bezos.

Keep in mind that Clinton way outspent Trump, and had most of the media on her side, and still lost. Money and media do not buy elections.


He didn't acquire it through violence, so there's nothing to see here. Move along, people.

A handful of people control as much wealth as the world's population combined, but there's nothing here to concern any of us, since they didn't do it with sword and cannons like a few hundred years ago.

In fact, since the days of imperial conquest by force are pretty much over (minus the occasional here and there), we really shouldn't worry ever again about the hundred people who own the world.

Not. A. Problem.


Is Poe's law making a fool of me, or do you truly believe this?


He is sarcastic. But it's also a false dichotomy. It is different from taking things by force. There is in general mutual benefit between all involved parties.

Though that doesn't mean we can just completely relax. We should stay vigilant, because tyranny is always just around the corner.


> tyranny is always just around the corner.

I believe in capitalism, but still when a handful of people own the world, that in itself is a form of tyranny. The article below says EIGHT PEOPLE control as much wealth as over 3 BILLION PEOPLE, 50% of the world's population. And much of that number lives in poverty. It's no ill will against Bezos or his success in business to say, it sure would be nice if the world didn't have 1.3 billion people in extreme poverty, while the world's wealth is controlled by, and for the benefit of, just a roomful of people.

http://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-eight-richest-as-wealt...


Was the way that inequality was achieved ever the only problem? Is inequality in itself a social ill? Inequality achieved through socially accepted means is still inequality. I'm not advocating Harrison Bergeron levels of flattening here, but there has got to be diminishing returns on the utility of extreme wealth which could better be used to help the uber poor.


There's a lot of ways you can look at it.

Feudalism was a hierarchical system. Not all nobles went around hacking off heads - they could farm that out to higher ups who kept order. What's the difference between Amazon's reliance on national governments? The business model only works because the US enforces peace on parts of the world and because the Chinese government allows its workers to be used for pennies on the dollar. Within Amazon's kingdom, good luck getting the authorities to help you if you aren't a big player.

Meanwhile the average worker who isn't any less intelligent or hard working is seen as worth a fraction of a percentage of Bezos. Sounds like feudalism, serfdom, slavery, or whatever you'd like to call it. That we can celebrate such disparities of human value and even worse in some places this kind of rampant greed is seen as something good is what is truly terrifying.


> any less intelligent or hard working

Not necessarily true. Luck plays a big role in things like this but Bezos is clearly in the elite when it comes to effective professionals.


Bezos is effective because his company engages in illegal anti-competitive practices. Amazon either breaks even or loses money, and the reason is because they have incredibly low prices. Why do they have incredibly low prices? Because they can, because they have the venture capital, and because others can't compete with those prices without that venture capital.

We're quickly reaching the point where without venture capital, there's no way to enter any market anymore. You can't start a company and just produce good products worth paying for. You have to have enough VC to be able to withstand sustained market pressure from those who do have it and can spend you out of the market by lowering their prices.

There's a reason that these practices are illegal.

Plus they pay fuck all tax.


You can open a hair salon without venture capital.

You can start a tech consulting company without venture capital.

You can start a construction company, a law practice, an auto repair shop, or a dental practice without venture capital.

Oh, you mean that you can't build a multi-billion dollar company overnight without venture capital?

Thank you for your insight.


>Oh, you mean that you can't build a multi-billion dollar company overnight without venture capital?

No, you can't build a large company ever without venture capital. Money begets money. The only way that any company will ever be large in the future is if some other existing billionaire decides they think they deserve funding.


I beg to differ. Here are a few examples that you might have heard of: ESRI Oracle


How many times more effective? As the difference between what humans can do and what computers can do increases, we become relatively closer.


Technology is a lever that can hugely amplify differences in capability.

A 10% skill difference between two people with shovels will result in a much smaller output difference than a 10% skill difference between two operators of heavy duty earth moving equipment.

With software, this dynamic occurs in the extreme, as the cost to run a software program is so low. A hour of unskilled human labor cost hundreds or thousands of times more than an hour of computation. And the quantity and complexity of output from a single hour of computation is rapidly increasing.

Edit: reworked the comment to make my point much more clearly


Part of being effective is leveraging your abilities via managing other people. An effective manager can make 10 people each perform 10x more effectively when working towards a goal. You could argue then that one person's effectiveness increases the whole organisation's effectiveness 100x

Of course with bad managers it can easily go the same amount in the other direction, but it seems that Bezos has extremely effectively leveraged his abilities in management and built a very successful company because of that.


Really? I would say we become a lot farther apart. The productivity an elite can have with computer support is far greater than an uneducated worker.


Two people move their finger forward one centimeter.

One of them made a hole in the ground; he's going to put a seed in it, which will hopefully grow into something useful.

The other one pushed a button which started an automatic lathe which created an engine piston worth a hundred thousand dollars.

The difference in the productivity of two people is practically limitless.


But the second person isn't being productive. The lathe is being productive. In Amazon's case, the person actually pushing the button on the lathe can barely make rent.


Feudalism is not a terrible analogy. It's just not complete. It's still stick, but now we get carrot too. We still get the stick as in - don't pay your taxes and you go to jail or can't pay rent - you're out on the street. It's not beheading, but it's still force backed up by promise of violence.

But now we also get the carrot - the freedom to consume what you can afford to.


Whatever economic system may be in place, it will be possible to profit by making better decisions in that context, but that doesn't prove the superiority of that system, and it doesn't make it "terrifying" to wonder whether this or that emergent phenomenon is a feature or a bug.


The terrifying part is someone with a completely un-nuanced understanding of Jeff Bezo's wealth going around saying "Hey! This man committed violence against me! He committed violence against you too!" when the violence was selling them an Amazon echo at a cheap price, or just being richer than them. What happens when they reach a consensus that Bezos committed violence against them? History tells me very clearly (see Russia, China, LatAm, Germany).


> when the violence was selling them an Amazon echo at a cheap price

How about when the violence was selling under the normal market value undermining competition, then remaining the only vendor. Also replacing employees with robots.

So in the end, people who would have had a job lost it, no matter if they work directly for Amazon or for the competition.

It's not violence to take people's jobs, but in a society with few social protections, it's as bad as violence.


Selling under normal market value is not an act of violence.

Using robots instead of human employees is not an act of violence.

You have a very strange world view. Are your clothes hand-stitched? Was the electronic device you used for your post painstakingly constructed by hand? Do you think it is fair for some things to be automated but not others?

Perhaps you think that it was bad to selectively cultivate a variety of wheat that could yield more tons of food per acre? Or maybe you think it is just wrong for a farmer to use a tractor? Should they water a hundred acre field by hand with 1 gallon buckets? That would mean more jobs!

What is your opinion of all these auto-mechanics who have displaced stable hands? Should cities use thousands of laborers to spin manual generators to feed individual street lights? Modern power plants are taking peoples' jobs.


There's a very strange phenomena going on where are starting to equate non-violent things with violence. Even words are violence.

I have witnessed a friend being physically attacked and have seen the aftermath of an physical attack.

From this perspective, I can only conclude that these people equating things to violence are simply attempting to gain political power, or virtue signal or whatever.


Gave money to Amazon, which funneled it to a single individual. I think in a perfect society, this sort of cash flow would be severely tempered.


> which funneled it to a single individual.

You mean, which funneled a small fraction of it to a single individual. Bezos individually got more of it than anybody else, however to pretend that he got all of it, is silly.

Total non-stock compensation paid by the business. Total stock compensation paid. Total investor return since inception. Total benefit to all consumers in convenience and savings. Total benefit to the investor return derived and that capital being put to further use in the economy. And on and on the calculation goes. The money has been funneled to hundreds of thousands of jobs and hundreds of thousands of investors overall and millions of consumers (savings from aggressive margin pricing, or just value from various useful products Amazon has provided such as Prime), spanning decades.

Bezos has likely gotten a low single digit percentage of all the value Amazon has created for everyone.


And yet he's now one of the richest people in the world. As an employee, is Bezos really a million times more valuable than a typical Amazon engineer? That seems almost self-evidently unfair to me.

I think in a truly just society, the multiplier on the amount that a single individual could be compensated compared to his or her peers would have a hard cap. It would solve so many societal problems and also incentivize corporations to run more like collectives instead of fealties. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple would still exist, just as they do today; after all, their founders didn't get started out of the desire to make big bucks. But there wouldn't be any oligarchs on the other end of the pipe.

Not that it's likely to happen, of course! A person can dream...


It's the reward for past work, not current.

Imagine kid A studies really hard during his youth and doesn't get to have any fun because he's working so hard. Kid B likes to slack off and party and do drugs. If Kid A grows up and makes it big, why does kid B deserve half? Why should he deserve any portion? You could tax kid A's wealth but you can't tax kid B's youth and pleasure. Why put a cap on on kid A's wealth if you are not putting a cap on kid B's leisure time? We put no such caps on anything else whether it be beauty, intelligence, number of friends, popularity even though all of these things cause disparity.


Well, I'm not necessarily suggesting that wealth be distributed equally throughout all society. But maybe we would be better off if wealth and ownership operated on a more human scale. Even in a massive company like Amazon, no matter how hard A works or how much B goes on Reddit, A will never be one million times more valuable than B. That sort of piece-of-every-pie money is an absurdity. In my fantasy economy, A could still be rewarded for their hard work, but perhaps on the order of millions instead of tens of billions. There's no intrinsic reason why people should be able to acquire material wealth with no upper limit.

I strongly believe that in order to build a better world, we have to stop thinking in terms of people "deserving" things and instead focus on what's better for society overall.


If you put an upper limit, you'll have people stop once they hit that limit. Why would you go after that billion dollar idea when you are hard capped at millions? Nobody would ever go after moonshots.

If we're talking about fantasy economies, IMO we should move to a system where we don't need money at all. Money is basically a way to partition access to limited resources among people. Except, outside of this planet, resources are near infinite. With complete automation and unlimited access to space, everything would be free with our only real cost being energy - which luckily, is also near infinite given the billions of stars in the universe. Something like Wall-E but less dystopian.


>If you put an upper limit, you'll have people stop once they hit that limit.

By that logic most scientists, philosophers and mathematicians from ancient times till now wouldn't have had the incentive to do anything.

Einstein didn't discover relativity because he thought he would become a billionaire. Isn't that a "moonshot".

But the people whose contribution is fractional compared to intellectual giants think their ability to sell, market etc should be awarded with insane amount of wealth.

The rampant egotism is forgetting that we stand on shoulders of giants, on the contribution of entire society from the discovery of fire, invention of wheel, language etc till now. To ignore the casual chain of determinism, and claim "I" alone did it through my "efforts" is insane.


Different people are motivated by different things.

While its true that scientists and engineers and everyone else have done a great deal in advancing things, the sad reality is that unless someone fronts the money, nothing will get done.


>the sad reality is that unless someone fronts the money, nothing will get done.

Its not the natural law of universe which cannot be changed. We humans create the systems of economic organization. So if you agree that profit is not main motivation for many creative jobs, then perhaps the optimization function of the economy should not be to optimize for monetary profits.

So perhaps other modes of economic organization be explored?


Well, the natural law here is that we need access to resources to do anything. And money is basically a proxy for it. Until we solve the resource problem, I think other economic systems would eventually run into trouble as well. Its human nature to try to game the system.


> Its human nature to try to game the system

Or is the system is designed to give wrong incentives?

I don't think we have enough evidence for what you take as "human nature". On the contrary the anthropological studies in Debt: The First 5000 Years Book by David Graeber, we have evidence of many primitive societies behaving more communal fashion.The resources though scarce is shared with the commune.


Companies would still be able to accumulate money, and moonshots could still be pursued under corporate control. People would pursue billion dollar ideas in order to strengthen the companies they created rather than to enrich themselves.


They can already do it now and they aren't. If you have to convince the board, the shareholders etc to take on a risk that has a high chance of failure, it has even less chance of happening.

If a person has enough control at a company so as to be able to unilaterally spend its money, its not much different than having the money yourself.


I don't know what system you're defending, but capitalism has nothing to do with getting wealth proportional to your individual hard work. There are plenty of Kid Bs who have much more money and income than Kid As because of they have more leverage in the free market (funds, education, even luck). I know a bunch of them...

In Capitalism, you profit from owning the means of production, not from working hard. Obviously, it can help, but not necessarily. There are plenty of start-up CEOs who worked just as hard as Jeff Bezos their entire lives, but aren't multi-billionaires, or even millionaires.


> We put no such caps on anything else whether it be beauty, intelligence, number of friends, popularity even though all of these things cause disparity.

there are natural limits on those things whereas there are not natural limits on capital accumulation because capital isn't natural.


> I think in a perfect society, this sort of cash flow would be severely tempered.

The problem is if we had your society, there would be no Jeff Bezos or similar capitalistic-minded entrepreneurs to create these mega companies in the first place. Remember it started out small.


I think most of the big players today would have started out just the same. People like Jobs & Woz, Page & Brin, Bezos, and Musk didn't get in the game to make billions, at least at first. They wanted to change the world, or maybe pursue an interesting opening, or perhaps chase after a fascinating new technology. In a more equal society, these instincts would hardly be curtailed.

And even if you're right, maybe a world without mega-companies wouldn't be such a bad place after all?


Musk is a nice example. He probably would've started the same, but Tesla and SpaceX wouldn't have existed / been the same as today.

Remember that at some point Musk had poured all his wealth into those companies and they were one failure away from bankruptcy. If Musk had any less money after PayPal, he couldn't have done what he did.


In this alternate universe, PayPal could have morphed into PayPalphabet and spawned other companies corresponding to Musk's interests. I think that would still work fine as long as the money stayed within the company and out of executives' hands.


nope, it wouldn't ever happen. without capitalism -- or greed, incentive, however you want to put it -- none of those companies would exist.


Yes, I think it absolutely would happen. Incentive would still be there. People won't sit around idle just because they can't make a million times more money than their peers.


The fundamental issue here is human behavior. Whatever system you come up with, people will come up with ways to turn it to their advantage.


there is a meaningful compromise position here somewhere. being able to accumulate $1 billion of personal wealth is still a mighty incentive even if we tax wealth enough so that accumulating $90 billion is almost impossible.


It's the flow graph of the $ thing that is of concern, not the terror of weaponry. Everyday life is terrifyingly unexamined.


In essence you're right, but i just wanted to point out that that's not how feudalism worked.


> "Farm here or I'll decapitate you."

I think you got confused, that's communism. :P And it's not decapitation (too messy) it is a bullet to the back of the head or death in a labor camp.

Feudalism is "you can farm here but you owe me and your promise to fight in my wars".

> The fact that you harbor a resentment as if the former is anything like the latter is slightly terrifying.

Really? Is it terrifying to compare a vassal's contract with the "work for me in the warehouse and I'll pay you a minimum wage, if you don't like, there is a line waiting at the door". They are not the same, it's a bit silly but is that sending shivers down our spine?


> that's communism.

I think you're confused about communism. What you're talking about seems more about soviet russia and other countries that run/ran an authoritarian state-capitalism system (often calling it communism).

However, communism has nothing to do with enforcing people to work under a threat of death, rather the contrary.


From Communist Manifesto:

8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

Unsurprisingly this leads to labor camps in every communist government.


According to the communist manifesto, the point you mention should be put into effect during the transitory phase from capitalism to communism, where the State gathers the power in order to then build a class-less, state-less society.

That is just a mean to reach the final goal, and it does not mention labor camps or anything like that.

I'm curious on which communist government are you talking about, since pretty much all the "communist" revolutions so far did not actually implement communism but state capitalism (as Lenin himself said), except for some libertarian communist revolutions (e.g. revolutionary Catalogna, Ukraine) that were then defeated militarily.

On one thing I agree with you though, which is that putting all the power into the state is not a good way to achieve communism, as it is dangerous and it pretty much never worked so far.


I am not confused I lived in a communist country.


communism as an ideal seems impossible to implement in any way besides the authoritarian state-capitalism way that it has been implemented. that accomplishes the objectives of having a command economy with full employment (even if its monstrously inefficient), but it certainly doesn't come close to creating a just political order where the policies serve the people instead of the owners of the means of production (which is the state).

the Mondragon Corporation[1] is one of the few interesting experiments with a Communism-inspired system that does not immediately degenerate into authoritarian state-capitalism.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation


>communism as an ideal seems impossible to implement in any way besides the authoritarian state-capitalism way that it has been implemented.

>the Mondragon Corporation[1] is one of the few interesting experiments with a Communism-inspired system that does not immediately degenerate into authoritarian state-capitalism.

So there is no logical inconsistency in what you believe?

Mondragon Corporation is a worker syndicate , which is not a "communism inspired system", but a system aspiring for communism. If worker ownership can work in Mondragon, then saying that "communism is impossible without authoritarianism" is flawed.


No true communism.


[flagged]


> if you will marry, I have every right to fuck your new wife on your wedding night, just before you. with church blessing. good luck figuring our if your first kid is yours or not. or having happy marriage.

That is widely considered to be Enlightenment-era propaganda, not an actual feudal practice.

> I can kill you, anytime, for no reason, without consequence, horribly slow. or whole village. the only motivation to not do so is losing a bit of wealth since you all are my property, nothing more. but sometimes I can afford to lose a bit of property, just for the fun of it.

Generally not. Most serfs had some minimal rights and couldn't be killed without justification.


> , I have every right to fuck your new wife on your wedding night,

Did you study this in school or read about or just watched movies?

> sky is the only real limit. so yes, comparing those 2 sends shivers down my spine too, since this is just envy.

I didn't blame anyone. Just pointing out that comparison is not really that outrageous and terrifying, mostly because it builds a straw-man out of what feudalism was about.

If you believe kings and lords were going around sleeping with brides everywhere on their first night, yes, I can see why a lot of things would send shivers down your spine.


+ if you will marry, I have every right to fuck your new wife on your wedding night, just before you. with church blessing. good luck figuring our if your first kid is yours or not. or having happy marriage.

Prima Noctis was a myth and no evidence of it every being practiced can be found.


you're not describing Feudalism. you're describing an imaginary system that combines the worst attributes of slavery, theocracy, and lawless rule-by-violence.


You might still wonder whether, insofar as modern society works due to a sort of non-aggression pact, all of us are getting the same benefits from that pact.


in late stage capitalism the threat of violence is implicit (poverty) not explicit (men with weapons). the hyperbole in the post you responded to is a rhetorical device and it serves a purpose. is there anything substantively wrong with what OP said? I'm not sure why you find it important to attempt to treat figurative speech as if it was literal. It isn't literal and we all understand that.


That's an incredibly naive view of things. To not recognise that Jeff Bezos's wealth is the product of a violent system is wilfully ignorant.


Not an argument.


>The fact that you harbor a resentment as if the former is anything like the latter is slightly terrifying.

[0]The "half poor" rally don't care about the top 2 rich.

[0]https://medium.com/incerto/inequality-and-skin-in-the-game-d...


Property is violence.

If I try to take something that "isn't my property", the state will intervene with violence (e.g. forced imprisonment, etc.) on behalf of the person deemed to be the "lawful owner".


Can you propose any alternative system that doesn't involve the concept of property that manages to avoid violence?

Broadly speaking, demand is unlimited and supply is limited. With these two as a given, violence is essentially inevitable. Property near as I can tell, is a cultural tool that minimizes violence and maximizes supply.

Only when there is abundance outstripping demand of a population, is violence avoidable. A couple million people spread across North and South America 600 people enjoyed abundance, relatively speaking. 7 billion people spread across 7 continents is an entirely different scenario, and one where violence is unavoidable.


Violence is inherent to living in our civilized, city-building way of life. That doesn't mean that property isn't a system for regulating violence. It is. We allow the state to monopolize the right to violence and entrust the state with the responsibility of settling property disputes in a legal framework so that we don't immediately resort to violence.

An alternative system that avoids violence is not living the way we live. That ship sailed tens of thousands of years ago though. Too late now. In our current state we just have violence and systems for regulating it.


Yeah, I generally agree with everything you've said. And no, I can't propose any alternative system with those requirements. I'm not even sure if it's possible by definition.


Smart Contracts? https://www.ethereum.org/


I haven't seen opinion polls, but I doubt that's a widely held view. Why should people conform to your unusual position on property, as opposed to the mainstream one?

Personally, I quite like owning things that are mine. The cost, that other people can own things that are theirs and not mine, seems well worth it.


I'm not making a moral point. And it's not an opinion, nothing in my explanation is outside of trivially observed reality.

I'm just trying to dispel the idea that capitalism (as we experience it, or otherwise) isn't maintained through violence. It very well is more pleasant for most people than feudalism, but they both perpetuate themselves through violence.


>Why should people conform to your unusual position on property, as opposed to the mainstream one?

That's a nice fallacy you've got here, and that would imply that his opinion is actually uncommon around people who have studied the subject (spoiler : it's not).

>Personally, I quite like owning things that are mine.

Possession and property are not the same thing.


If you interpret "property is violence" to mean that property is maintained by organizations willing to use violence - I.e. That something is "my property" because I can appeal to a police system who will help me defend, retain, or regain possession of it, then that's obviously true. I expect nobody disagrees with that. If that is the interpretation you're trying to defend then I have no objection beyond an arched eyebrow at something trivial being obfuscated to appear objectionable.

The interpretation I made, and challenged, is that property is violence. I.e. Owning things is violent towards other people.


Owning thing isn't violent but property is about a lot more than "owning things".


Parent comment didn't lay forth a good argument, but I think there is something to be said for the societal cost of people owning investment capital. However, there is also something to be said for the benefit of incentives. It's important to balance these factors, for example by making capital gains tax progressive and raising the rate for high earners.


Property is a system for regulating (hopefully reducing) violence). I'm quite sure that is a widely held view.


I'm curious to understand how you've decided that your desire to take someone else's property makes it a trivial truth that only violence prevents you from having the natural right to take it.


I never suggested such a thing. Natural rights don't exist. That's just something some people make up. So what prevents me from taking someone else's stuff, if I really wanted it?


The same thing that prevents you from killing people that you really don't like, I guess? I assume you don't do it because you are at least a half-decent human being, and not because of the threat of violence. Same with taking property.


discredited rhetorical technique. you can do better.


Still, it could have been 10 or 100 rich people instead of just one.


First generation rich, yes. But then his riches will rely on the state's monopoly on violence to defend the "property" of his descendants.


""" His maternal ancestors were settlers who lived in Texas, and over the generations acquired a 25,000-acre (101 km2 or 39 miles2) ranch near Cotulla. As of March 2015, Bezos was among the largest landholders in Texas. Bezos’s maternal grandfather was a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque. """ From Bezos wikipedia entry[0].

Hardly what i would call first generation rich... The foundation for his wealth (his education, social status etc) could - his ancestors being texan settlers and all - very well be based on very much violence (theft of land from native americans etc.)

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Bezos


For people paying alimony and child support, you must work or go to jail. And buying cheap stuff goes along with that.


Were you forced into having that child in the first place? We don't need children for farm work anymore (in first world countries).



You said "For people paying alimony and child support, you must work or go to jail".

How does that play into rape? I don't understand.


> Were you forced into having that child in the first place?

The victim of a rape had to play child support. So, he was forced into having a child.

In general, some men are forced into having children by women who lie about taking birth control, or even by collecting semen by used condoms.


That really wasn't clear to me from initially reading your post.

Of course in those situations I would hope that a jury could pardon the responsibility of alimony if there was rape involved and the child is not wanted.


There is no jury in family court, and as the article shows, child support wasn't waived. It's always justified by whatever is "in the best interest of the chilllldrrreeeenn"


Yes, I see what you're saying. I was not aware this was the case.


> I think that's a little hyperbolic. In feudalism the balance of power is enforced by violence

Tell that to the hordes of unemployed people. Amazon is doing it darndest to employ as few people as possible in their warehouses and now are testing drone delivery.


How is minimizing labor costs an act of violence?

The point was that Jeff Bezos did not violently force anybody to work for him. Nor did he force anybody to buy from him.

Your complaint is that Amazon is profitable because nobody works for them, and that's just feudalistic. That's an absurd argument.


If automation is so evil we should ban the loom.


Okay, but think of it this way. Bill Gates is worth 90 Billion, sure fine.

What is the entire United States worth? GDP is 18 Trillion, expenditures are 4 trillion. So if you do something (admittedly kind of dumb), like take the GDP, subtract expenditures, let's pretend the earnings are 14 trillion?

Valuing the US at 10x earnings, that would put it at a valuation of 140 trillion dollars. This is horribly incorrect, but I think it still makes a very important point.

The richest person's entire net worth is orders of magnitude less than the yearly GDP of a moderately sized country.

The key thing in monarchial feudalism is that a single person is the state (Imagine a person worth 'only' 14 trillion dollars, he's got his own airforce, navy, army).

Jeff/Bill/Warren et al. aren't on that scale of wealth yet, and it seems that it would be difficult for them to get there without state intervention.


"The richest person's entire net worth is orders of magnitude less than the yearly GDP of a moderately sized country."

Economically speaking, the US is not a "moderately sized country". It is the richest country in the world.

There are several moderately sized countries with lower GDP than Bill Gates net worth.


I'm not considering US to be a moderately sized country.

While you are technically correct (the best kind of correct), this was kind of a brain-fart on my part and not really important to the point.

The point is that net worth includes the assumption of future earnings in the valuation. GDP is just one year's production.

Bill gates is orders of magnitude less wealthy than Ukraine, for example, even though his net worth is similar to Ukraine's GDP.


I think it is important to the point, that one man is worth the annual GDP of countries that have millions of people. A country is not a person...it's millions of people, and it's nonsensical to say, "Oh, it's not such a big deal, because a nation of millions makes as much in a year as this guy's whole net worth."

That's a terrible argument for why the amount of money Bill Gates has is not absurd.


I'm not saying it isn't absurd I'm saying it isn't comparable to feudalism.

(It is indeed a terrible argument for the point I'm not making).

In feudalism a single person is the entire state. His wealth isn't comparable, disregarding the extra rights that are conferred from literally being the law of the land as a monarch.


Eh, I guess...but a feudal lord oversaw hundreds, maybe thousands of people. I'm not suggesting feudalism was better than what we have now, or necessarily agreeing with the argument made above about this being feudalism. Let's just all agree that Bill Gates isn't a feudal lord and this isn't feudalism, but rather something else that is probably bad, but it may take us a few generations to figure out exactly why it's so bad and how to avoid it.


>In feudalism a single person is the entire state. His wealth isn't comparable, disregarding the extra rights that are conferred from literally being the law of the land as a monarch.

No, that's not true. That's not at all true.


> The key thing in monarchial feudalism is that a single person is the state

No, that's (approximately) monarchical absolutism. Feudalism is completely different, because the state (insofar as that term is even loosely valid for feudalism) is a bunch of people, arranged in heirarchy, but each with both rights and obligations both up and down the heirarchy, not one person with absolute power. That's why the transition from feudal government to absolute monarchies in much of Europe was a big deal.


> expenditures are 4 trillion

Your calculation is making my head hurt. I assume by 'expenditures' you mean the US governments budget is about 4 trillion? If so, your $14trillion represents expenditures by the private sector. So if we build a bridge or something it doesn't count into your 10x, for some reason. Sorry this whole argument makes no sense to me.


I was trying to figure out what the "earnings" would be. I probably should have just used 18 trillion and been done with it.

Argument is humans aren't on the same scale as governments (even comparing exceptionally rich humans and middle of the road governments). It is easy to verify with a few minutes of thought.


There are 540 billionaires in the US. The top 400 combined are worth 2.4 trillion. That's a remarkable portion of the economy.


Putin kinda has '>... his own airforce, navy, army'.


Yeah, I was thinking about that too. He's definitely the closest.


>The key thing in monarchial feudalism is that a single person is the state (Imagine a person worth 'only' 14 trillion dollars, he's got his own airforce, navy, army).

This is entirely wrong. Other people have already commented on what feudalism is, but I wanted to provide a brief high-level history in case people were interested.

So let's take the historical look! How did we go from ancient Rome, an imperial monarchy, to feudalism being the law of the land?

The seeds of feudalism were sown from the Roman Emperor Diocletian's decision not to tax lords if all commerce took place within a lord's domain. Diocletian was a wonderful Emperor, one of the best, but he was around at a time when the Empire was cannibalizing itself with constant civil wars, making his main goal was peace and stability. To simplify, if I owned a city, and the city blacksmith supplied everyone else in my city, the state (i.e. the Roman Empire) would not take a cut of this. Only if goods flowed into a neighbouring lord's areas would the empire tax it.

What's the incentive structure here for the lords? Build up as much as you can within your domain and make it as self-sufficient as possible. It's legal tax avoidance, baby!

Because of all the civil wars there were labour shortages, both from bloodshed, devastated landscapes, and people fleeing. What's the solution to this? Outlaw moving, making peasants stay where they grew up and work the job of their father. This made economic planning much simpler, and Diocletian was an economic planner. In doing so, we get serfdom going hand in hand with the seeds of feudalism.

Over time, as the Roman Empire waned, this political structure stayed in effect. Power was increasingly ceded to the regional and away from the imperial. Basically, the state collapsed on itself. While we do get the Catholic Church springing up, it only sorta-kinda fills the power vacuum as it's clearly not a state in the same way Rome was.

Ambitious lords take more power, filling the vacuum of the the monolithic state. Without a single arbiter to enforce relationships between the lords, fealty and swearing allegiances become much more important. Literally the only thing holding these states together were a few lords word, some marriages, and often some hostages. If it was worth it to break those things, the 'state' would crumble, and everyone knew it.

That's basically it. From then, feudalism became the law of the land for around a thousand years (let's roughly say 300AD-1500AD). Then we're onto absolute monarchies, the renaissance, and the bourgeoisie throwing a wrench in everything.

In case all that hasn't helped, here's a (probably weak) analogy: monarchies are monoliths, feudalism is microservices.

FYI, Diocletian didn't use the word lord, he used dux. Which is where we get duke, doge, duce, etc. We also get the word dioceses here, which the Catholic Church still uses to this day.


Thank you, although I am quite familiar with history this was an extraordinary and simple analysis.


Sorry, I couldn't disagree more. While Jeff Bezos' upbringing isn't exact destitute, his rise from a modest background[1] to extreme riches is evidence to me that the American system still works to some degree. No offense but I think going all the way to conflating this with feudalism slightly discredits and damages efforts to fix real problems in our society such as increasing wealth gap.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Bezos#Early_life_and_educ...


Owning a 25,000-acre farm is a modest background and his rise therefore evidence that the American system still works? Rather sounds like he was born into a sufficiently privileged environment and all the benefits that come with it (Mainly an educated background and discipline to work hard). A Jeff Bezos from a "lesser" background might have strayed from this path earlier due to the circumstances of his upbringing.

Of course the status quo is hardly comparable with a feudalist system, but the stark inequality you are born into is very much - and even more so the difference in wealth and power between "regular people" and the super-rich.


Examples of something isn't proof of a system working. I'm more inclined to say that the low number of examples is proof that the system ISN'T working.

There should always be motivators (like money) for people to work harder, take risks, invent things, and fill a spectrum. I'm not sure if that spectrum needs to be in factors of millions though, instead of say, 100-1000s.

And I'm not saying anything about Bezos in particular. He really is self-made, but for everyone of him there are 100s of (patently less rich) inherited top 0.1%:ers.

But did he work millions of times harder than someone else? Did he risk that much?

I'll gladly work TWICE as much/hard for 5-10 times the reward. A lot of people do, for diminishing returns.


Absolutely. Did this person work more or does he have more merit than 100.000.000s of people? It's absurd.


He provided more economic/productive value to the world than 100,000,000s of people.

Idk about "working hard" or "merit" because who cares if someone has to work super hard for 2 days to produce the same results another person can produce in 10 minutes.


Nope, Bezos didn't create more value than 100,000,000s of people. How could he? He started it, sure, he owns it and he directs it, but Amazon employs 341,000 people. Those are the people who generate the bulk of the value produced by the Amazon company, yet they share in very little of the value they produced. Would you say a CEO is responsible for all the value the company makes? Would you say it's fair for a feudal lord that "owns" a land to keep for himself 90% of the value his land produces while 100 people toil for 12h a day and barely have enough to eat? It's absurd. You can't defend this.


> yet they share in very little of the value they produced.

Those employees are free to start their own companies. If you take the risk of starting a business then you should get the rewards if it succeeds.


Oh yeh, because creating a startup is a breeze isn't it ? And most anyone could simply drop every commitment in their lives and like 4 years later they're rich! Why doesn't everyone do that, given they're free to do it ? Well, because they're not free to, not at all.

90% of people are strapped into financial obligations and have families. None of these people can afford to risk starting a business, even if they would be good at it and had the money, support and contacts required. Even among the usually already wealthy people who can afford to risk a startup, 90% of them fail.

What you're really saying is: if you inherited the freedom to risk creating a startup, and you are one of the lucky 10% who make it a success, then you deserve to enjoy the rewards.


Absolute nonsense. People start companies in extremely difficult positions in life and only some of them succeed. No one said it's easy.

But that doesn't change the fact that every single one of Amazon employees is free to leave the company and start their own tomorrow. You don't have to have complete financial security to be "free" to do something.


you are living in a dream world


No, I just don't assume that you need to have a million dollars in your bank account to start a business. There's way too many people on HN who think that to run a startup you need investment money, offices, dozen employees, marketing campaigns etc etc.

You don't. You can start small, out of your own bedroom if you have to, and then grow from there. There's plenty of stupid advice like "if you're not making million dollars within 3 years of starting then there's no point" but it's just not true.


> 90% of people are strapped into financial obligations and have families.

So they have to prioritise what is important, if they feel that starting a business is more important, they will avoid getting financial obligations and starting a family.

This is also part of the overall risks, you might be better off just being an employee with a normal life instead of being a failed entrepreneur.


They don't have to choose to prioritise, they don't have a choice! Which brings your entire argument down.


If you are going to count poor people then I agree most of them dont have a choice, I am talking about people who visit HN.


Hacker News gets about 300K unique visitors per month. That's ~0.0042% of the world population. Hardly a representative sample to make those kinds of ridiculous statements.


The reason I am talking about HN demographics is because we are on HN.


wait, didn't you time-travel in your argument ? You said if you feel like starting a business, go back in time and not have a family or take-on debt - may as well say they should have been born into a rich family with a good education, contacts and an inheritance to gamble with


If you are young and your inner voice is telling to work on your idea then it's better not to take debt like a house loan or an expensive car loan. Similarly tell your partner to wait for marriage/kids.

Of Course a rich kid won't have to do these sacrifices but the rich kid will probably not have the same intensity and drive as the middle class person who wants to succeed.


You're begging the question (and yes, that's proper use): why should all the rewards go to those who've taken some risk?

What of the risks taken by others? Are there uncompensated risk-bearing activities?

Are there activities with low risk but high return?

Suppose, say, dropping a drill bit next to the guy who's just blown in a gusher? Or securing control of the pipelines, railroads, and refineries by which that oil must make its way to market?


> What of the risks taken by others?

What risks do employees take, they are getting a salary. If they are not happy they can leave and get another job. The founder has to put everything in it, his money, time, relationships, reputation. This is not "some risk", he cannot just walk away.


What prevents a founder from walking away and getting a job exactly?

I did it, so I know it can be done.

Founders reap rewards of their risk-taking almost immediately, and it accelerates exponentially from there.

This really cuts to a major point of contention in modern politics - exaggerated pity party for the hardships of the most powerful people in society.

It is a privilege to take such risks, and if you are in doubt, go get a soul-crushing treadmill job and watch the fruits of your labour flow elsewhere.


> What prevents a founder from walking away and getting a job exactly?

He/she can do that but the sacrifices are greater compared to just being an employee.

> go get a soul-crushing treadmill job and watch the fruits of your labour flow elsewhere

I am from India, I have seen abject poverty. I know it's a privilege to take such risks, my original point was focussed more on HN demographics not the poor people who I know cannot take such risks. Poor people who cannot take such risks is a totally different conversation


the sacrifices are greater compared to just being an employee.

Sunk cost fallacy.


Of late, employee risks include being on the short side of an extremely unbalanced power relationship. This includes unilateral and eternal NDAs, claims on all work, non-competes (including in such "industries" as sandwich shops, hairstyling, and auto repair), drugs tests (which risk drugs convictions), and more.

Jobs mobility may be limited by blacklists or other forms of discrimination: H1-B visas or other immigration status, social, religious, gender/sex, issues (not legally, in most cases, but de-facto), and more.

Employees are committing just as much of their fungible time, and often appreciably all of their available resources, which for roughly half the population net out to roughly zero. Figures I've seen suggest that about that number could not come up with $500 - $2000 (amount varies) on a 1-2 week notice -- that's far less than the amount required for, say, a business-appropriate wardrobe, transit or transport access, apartment deposit, and a month's food.

And that's within the US/EU/AU/JP/UK. It's considerably worse in much the rest of the world.


What risk? That they'd spend money on something that made them no/less money?

Other than their initial investments business owners are protected from almost all the risks their businesses take on. Company debts aren't personal debts and individuals can't be forced to work to repay the debts they cause the business to take on. Worse still these safety nets aren't paid for as these companies don't make a profit.

Whilst I won't discount the work Bezos has done the reason he's come out 1000s of times better off than other Amazon workers is because of his initial gamble.

It's not like the workers don't take on risks either. Almost all paid work is paid after the fact. If your employer goes bust you don't get paid


> What risk?

Financial, health, relationships, reputation, opportunity are some of the risks.

Are you saying that an employee getting a salary has the same risks as an entrepreneur?


In what way do employees not also take all of those risks? The degree of risk might be different but employees are also betting on the success of your business. You only have to look at the recent US election to see that people are taking all these risks.

Whilst I imagine a lot of people on HN see these risks as negligible they do still exist and it can go wrong.


> The degree of risk might be different but employees are also betting on the success of your business.

The degree of risk is completely different. We can keep on arguing but there are some things you will only understand when you take the leap yourself.


It was far less risky for Bezos to start his business than most of his current employees. He was wealthy before he started.


If you believe in your idea get a loan from family, friends or banks or get a high paying job save money and then start your business.

Starting and running a successful business is not easy which is why the rewards should go to the risk taker.


> If you believe in your idea get a loan from family, friends or banks or get a high paying job save money and then start your business.

I don't understand if this is supposed to be a joke or you are really that sheltered and clueless. Just get a loan from your family and get started? You are aware that for the vast, vast, vast majority of people this is not an option that's available to them, right? Get a high paying job and save money? Jesus Christ, but how?? How do you do that if there are no such jobs for you, either because of your location or because of your lack of education? Surely you would tell a 14 year old working 12h a day making cheap sneakers in Bangladesh to either ask his parents for money or to save his 0.25$ an hour salary and start a company, without an education. After all, this is perfectly feasible and if you don't so it you deserve to stay poor.

It's frightening.


You are comparing apples to oranges, my comment was for people who visit HN not for poor people in US or elsewhere. I agree poor people cannot afford to take such risks.


Someone working in a fulfillment center making ~40-50K each year won't be able to put together 100K capital to risk, even with family and friends.

A large portion of HN readers are entrepreneurs, a lot of stories here tell the tale of failure, the burden and how to bear it. Yes it's not easy.

And then there are people for the "not easy" is virtually impossible. Because they can't even start a business with any chance to succeed.

I'm not saying, that because of this Bezos should give more to the employees, but it'd be good if these inherent inequalities were better managed by society.


> but it'd be good if these inherent inequalities were better managed by society

I am not talking about the people making ~40-50K each year. I am talking about the software engineers in Amazon.

Creating a better managed society is a complete different conversation.


I bootstrapped my business with far less than 40k. It is definitely possible.


Yes, he did. This value doesn't come from all the "monkey" jobs that most of his employees do. It comes from the ability to produce ideas and making them happen by managing that 341,000 people. You completely underestimate the value of directing a company like Amazon.


Except Jeff Bezos doesn't produce those ideas, or make them happen, or directly manage 341,000 people.

All of that is done by his employees. The ideas, the innovation and the execution are done by people other than him, while the credit and most of the value they create is taken by him.


Imagine I find a way to create bread from thin air and don't tell anyone else how to do it. Assume the value of a loaf of bread to a consumer is 1 dollar. I sell 100 loaves for 99 cents each, because that's what the market will bear. How much money have I made? 99 dollars. How much value have I created for everyone else? 1 dollar.

Now imagine instead I give away 100 loaves for free. How much value have I created for everyone else? 100 dollars. How much money have I made? Zero.

Do you now see the problem with estimating a person's usefulness to society by looking at their net worth?


That's not really how consumer surplus works. Just because "the market will bear" a certain price, does not mean the value to a given buyer is that price. In reality, there are probably some who really do only value the loaf at $1, but others would be willing to pay $1.10, $1.20, or even more before the transaction was no longer break-even. You might make an attempt to capture this surplus as well (this is called price discrimination), but it's notoriously difficult to do with commodities.

Also, there is no actor in the world economy who is having an effect like your metaphorical bread-give-away-er. So while it might hypothetically have been better if someone had built Amazon out of the goodness of their heart and operated at cost to all users, that is not one of the alternatives we have to decide between. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that such altruists are out there waiting in the wings. If anything, they'd have a competitive advantage, if they did exist, because they'd be able to offer lower prices.


Amazon uses lots of open source software created in large part by altruists for free.


That's a fantasy. An analogy taken too literally. People lionize John Galts and imagine that they are their organizations. They aren't. Just because he started it and called the shots doesn't mean he literally is Amazon. That's a fanciful way of thinking and it's disastrous for us mortals to take it literally. Amazon is all the people working there, who, while well-paid compared to all the other serfs, actually get a paltry share of the fortune they generate collectively.


Very complicated systems, like computer hardware and software systems, particularly services and distributed systems, do have this un-intuitive property of amplifying competence differences.

healthcare.gov is one visible and notable example where thousands of "trained and certified professionals" made a huge mess, and like 10 volunteers from silicon valley cleaned it up.

You could hire 100000 or 200000 such contracted professionals and the value produced would be even lower. Sure, most of the blame is with the management structure, which the ~10 volunteers bypassed and overrode. But the results stand. A few people in the right place can produce more value than orders of magnitude more people doing the wrong thing for whatever reason.

EDIT to better address your point: very few people could have done as well as Bezos in his position. Take any of the CEOs HP has had in the last decade, put them at the head of Amazon, and it would have done a lot worse. Put them all there, it would have done worse. Bezos gets a huge value multiplier for practical reasons.


I never said he "was amazon". I am talking about his contribution to amazon.

All those "serfs" are not really risking their own personal wealth. They take home their pay win or lose for amazon. They are not serfs. They are getting paid for their work.


Neither. He had money which he risked. Capitalism isn't about working harder, it's about getting a return on risk.


But this is what many people defend. And what do you say to the billions earning less than 5$ a day?


I'll defend it myself. And to the billions earning less than $5/day I'd say "You'd still be earning $5/day if Jeff Bezos didn't exist."


That's not about what he did do or did not do. In reality there's no concept of "fair pay" or "just earnings". In fact, Bezos doesn't even matter, personally. What matters is that he owns an asset (Amazon) that appreciated in value. Obviously, his "net worth" is tied to this holding. It appreciated because it provided desirable services.

Now, preventing it can be done in two ways, and only two ways - either limit Amazon's appreciation in value (curb the company), or limit the person's holding in Amazon, meaning that if you started as a founder of a company having 50% of the total shares, your holdings will decline as the company's worth rises. Does this seem reasonable to you?


This isn't thinking far enough outside the tiny box of this specific economic order at this specific point in history. For example, we could have co-ops instead of corps.


The vast majority of businesses fail, and many businesses go through cycles where they make less money than they spend. How can the average person take on the risk of not getting paid for years? One year of non-profitability would be a death sentence for a co-op if people can't get paid and flee.

A corporation allows the average person to get paid while someone else takes on a risk with their money.


"Merit" could refer to many things, but yes, I think he directly/indirectly added more utility to people's lives than 100,000s of other people.


I don't think money is a good proxy for "adding utility to people's lives". It's a good proxy for "good at playing the money game". A nurse won't be paid $1B if she saves a CEO's life, and he is able to go and make his company billions as a result. A clever business person might, if she saves the CEO in some other aspect, as she can setup a provision first.

That being said, I don't think money has much to do with merit, either. It's just the output of a function that you are either good at optimizing or not.


Yes, supply comes into it too.

A nurse will be paid a substantial sum if she is one of very few that can save the CEO's life.


The CEO can die and the company will continue functioning 95% as well. Or maybe 105%, or 10%, or 1,000%.


If he's eating the shareholder's money like that, they should fire him.


Not saying that what you are implying is wrong, but empirically speaking working hard/relative merit do not correlate to proportionate monetary rewards in our current system. The idea of a pure meritocracy is an interesting one, I wonder what some of the outcomes would be.


There is also the fact that money (and value) is not a zero sum game.

Bezos making billions doesnt mean that the money was taken from someone else in the sense that that person cannot have it anymore.

The opposite is also true. If he was poor it doesn't mean that I would have more money.

Value creation is a weird but beautiful thing.


I don't think that's the entirely the case. True it's not zero sum, but it's not free either. There is absolutely wealth transfer. For example, if he were poor, many middle class Seattle residents would have far more purchasing power in their current real estate market. Amazon have expanded rapidly and transplanted most of the cogs who are building the Bezos empire.

The many displaced multi-generational residents of Seattle and San Francisco might not refer to this phenomenon as beautiful.


Perils of capitalism in it's absolute form. We celebrate these people for becoming rich and we will celebrate again for giving back their money like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.


Are you suggesting we shouldn't thank them? Now that's a perilous idea.


For accruing wealth for themselves? Why should we?


But someone's got to be the hardest working and have the most merit... just like someone has to be the least hardest working and have the least merit.


You're saying net global merit is a zero-sum system?


Funny to find this top comment, since I just had this exact train of thought an hour ago. It went something like this. It's a common unexamined platitude that it takes a huge amount of work, and especially sacrifice to be able to live well. That might well be true under certain conditions of, say, undeveloped agrarian civilizations. It shouldn't still be true of ours, and yet it is. Our infrastructure and supply chain create so much abundance of every imaginable thing, from necessities, to frivolities, to luxuries. There's no way that it actually requires a huge amount of toil and pious sacrifice for each person to earn their share of this abundance. And yet it does. Every time I try to discern why, it always comes back to the same thing. Everything is owned. On the very large scale, everything is owned by a relatively tiny handful of people. And those people absolutely depend, for their absurdly outsized fortunes, on everybody else working for them. The owners of everything want you to work for them.

It's exactly as you say. It's feudalism. Wealth inequality is feudalism.


The problem is that without those pople up there we lose quote a bit of efficiency as a sosiety. Game theory does not work out without owners.


Such arguments are such nonsense, that you should probably not make them without going into much more detail. It is common knowledge that almost all macro economic models we currently have are very crude approximations, so you are in no position to deduce anything with the certainty and "it's game theory" attitude that you seem to have.

In other words: Economics is not physics, there you say something like "Well, energy is always conserved" or "This does not work because of the second law of thermodynamics", you can't do that with "Game theory".


Yeah, the people the very people who will snigger at someone selling "quantum healing" defend economic theories which have no scientific rigor. And the worse part is the dominant theories operate in a manner that they are self fulfilling.

Capitalism promotes monetary profits as the incentive because humans are self interested.

is one among them, but is it the other way around? Is the system manufacturing behaviors that it takes for as a cause?

I was reading Debt : The 5000 years, where the author, an anthropologists makes the case of how capitalism destroyed the communal behavior of tribes in different parts of the world.


His wealth doesn't really come at the cost of the wealth of others though - he has probably been a net benefit to society through job creation and investments and things like that. If wealth was a zero-sum game it would be different, but it is not.


The problem is not that there are people with huge sums of money. The problem is that groups of those people have an acute control over legislation and policy.


Amazon quite frequently makes my life better. On the other hand, I can't remember ever experiencing a difficult situation because Bezos is rich.


> Amazon quite frequently makes my life better

because you can finally buy more things and own more things and consume more things. how does this make your life better?


That is not your call since you're not in a position to assess the profound meaning of the word 'better' in the mind of another individual. In my case 'consuming' a lot of books costs money and definitely makes my life better but someone else's choices are for them to make and not for me to pontificate over.


Its pretty amazing that it isn't someone with a surname like Rockfeller or Ford...


According to Oxfam, you too have more wealth than hundreds of millions of people. They're counting net worth, and lots of people are in debt.

If you use a metric which is more in line with subjective wealth -- say, assets or sustainable annual consumption -- then the it doesn't seem anywhere near as crazy.

Basically, Oxfam is exploiting a bug in how people misunderstand wealth.


If you want more blue whales you need more ocean.

And if the ocean don't have its few blues, krill and algae explode and the whole system, sooner or later collapses. Nature has had a long time to find alternate ways of keeping ecosystems temporarily stable and everywhere you look in nature you see hierarchies prop up.

The only difference with humans is we can "choose" who to collectively prop up.


A person with a single dollar to their name will have a higher net worth than a significant fraction of the world. I have never found "more wealth than" to be a useful relation to think about.


That fraction of the world is significant though.

You're talking about millions of people who have so much less than nothing that they will have to work for years just to get to $0.

With all our technology, our wealth, our sophistication; all the work of our ancestors and the sacrifices they made, all the works and understandings they developed, and the ability to transmit this knowledge at the speed of light and for damn near free; with the incredible bounties of the earth, the ocean, the sun, plants, animals, fungi - with all that, why should so many people be in such a hole, working their arses off as they make wealthy people wealthier?

While you may feel privileged to have a single dollar to your name, 8 people have more dollars than 3.5 billion people. That points to real, catastrophic injustice endemic in our systems and societies, even our belief systems.


Thought experiment: if you could destroy half of Bezo's wealth with the push of a button, would you do it? (Not dollars, but actual wealth -- imagine he has thousands of houses and you are allowed to legally demolish them with the push of a button).

It would reduce inequality, and increase everyone else's relative economic standing, and probably make many people feel better in comparison.


Why destroy? Why not tax it and use it?


But why? He earned it.


Should we celebrate that a single individual has provided millions of dollars worth of value to society through innovation and willful exchange by all parties?

Or should we be saddened that most of society fails to provide similar value, despite having similar access to education, ability, and capital?


Stop worrying about inequality. It fixes itself.

http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/apocalypse-is-the-only-path...


It might or might not be unjust, but feudalism is all about the hierarchy of oaths- it is about distribution of power - you give power to those sworn to you and in turn they give it to those beneath them.

Jeff bezos having lots of money is an oligarchy, not feudalism.


Board of directors hires a CEO. Gives them funding and requires they produce a return. CEO hires upper management. Gives them funding, requires return. Upper management hires middle management. Funding, demands return. Etc...

This is a hierarchy of oaths. It's just not as ceremonial as you've put it. It's also not directly agrarian (and territorial) as you'd expect from a medieval feudalist regime, but the basic structure is still present.


It boggles my mind to think that a single individual is worth more than entire countries.


You're confusing capital with annual income. You can't buy a country for the value that it produces in a year.


You should start a company, grow it to a multi billion dollar market cap, and give away your generated wealth.


That's pretty much exactly what Jeff will end up doing. He can either give it away or the government will take more than half of it. Unless he manages to crack that whole mortality thing.


Many other multi-billionaires in the US have signed the Giving Pledge [0], promising to give away more than half of their net worth to charity. Gates, Paul Allen, Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Benioff, Michael Bloomberg have all signed. Even Larry Ellison! But not (yet) Jeff Bezos, or for that matter Sergei Brin or Larry Page.

[0] https://givingpledge.org/


I don't see anything wrong in people becoming super rich by exploiting their talents in the free market. That's the opposite of feudalism.

The alternative was tried in Soviet Union and Maoist China. The results were not exactly pretty.


There is no "alternative". Government can be approached from a million different ways. To say it's black or white (capitalism vs communism) is completely self-serving and offers no real insight into the fundamental complexity of human civilization.


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