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Richest 1% now owns more of US wealth than at any time in past 50 years (washingtonpost.com)
21 points by eevilspock on Dec 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments

Trickle down capitalism at its finest.

If you took all their wealth and gave it to the poorest 1%, by the end of the decade, they'd probably have it all back.

So, what?...

Yeah, I know that we've seen reports like this before. But if the SV sphere wants to stop being part of the problem and start working on a solution, it is critically important it first stops perpetuating the meritocracy myth and looks at reality.

Can you expand on what you mean? SV seems to represent more of a meritocracy than most industries or areas?

I don't have time to write the treatise this deserves, but here are some things to consider:

1. More does not mean sufficent.

2. Does Zuckerberg have more merit than all the people who invented the Internet in the first place? I'm pretty sure the net worth of all those people don't add up to 0.1% of Zuck's ($74 billion today).

3. Google was better than Infoseek. It won on the merits. But Google wins and owns markets now not on the merits, but on its accumulate power, and the moats it has built. Including political moats and advantages (It puts a lot of money into lobbying). The Matthew Effect (the rich get richer) is the antithesis of meritocracy.

4. Do VCs merit the cut they take? Smacks more of rentier capitalism than meritocracy to me.

5. Bill Gates supposedly won the OS wars on the merits (many in SV will strongly disagree with that, myself included). But now he uses his wealth (i.e. power) to push his ideas and preferences on education and healthcare. Did Common Core get selected on the merits?

6. In the spirit of going back to first principles, what exactly it meritorious? Look at all the things that SV is rewarded for versus the things that this fucked up world really needs. Why is Instagram worth so much? Does coding work on any of YCombinator projects, for example, have more merit than teaching children in our totally neglected schools? Why do teachers get paid so little? Is our society valuing things properly on the merits? "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks." – Jeff Hammerbacher, fmr. Manager of Facebook Data Team, founder of Cloudera. If we define "merit" as able to figure out how to capture eyeballs and data about those eyeballs in order to sell them to advertisers, that's a pretty meritless definition of merit.

7. Advertising itself is antithetical to meritocracy. Products should win on the merits, not on which one has the best marketing (much less which one has the most money for marketing), not on who is the best used car saleman. Silicon Valley not only uses advertising, a lot of what it does is funded by advertising (undermining things like privacy while they're at it).

8. Likewise, producing and making money off of products that taps into our psychological weaknesses, our propensity for addiction, our desperate need for social validation, is not meritorious, it's despicable. See Farmville, Facebook, and many of SV's greatest "successes".

9. Here's another first principles question: What does it actually mean to be a meritocracy? Is it "the best idea, solution or person for the issue/problem/job get chosen" or does it also mean "get the most money". Because we have a economic system that is built on the idea that self-interest and greed are so inevitable, so fundamental that we should build an economic system around these givens, "gets the most money" is our answer. I don't agree that someone born with a higher IQ merits a greater share of the world's wealth or resources, just as I don't agree that if 10 people get shipwrecked on a desert island with no edible food on land, the best fisher of the 10 gets to eat the most much less be king. They each get the greater share by leveraging power. That's not merit. Note also the situational arbitrariness: in SV the higher IQ gets more money and power, and in the shipwreck the better fisher does.

Okay, maybe I should go write that treatise.

  Does Zuckerberg have more merit than all the people who
  invented the Internet in the first place? I'm pretty sure
  the net worth of all those people don't add up to 0.1% of
  Zuck's ($74 billion today).
How to judge merit is a separate issue. Whatever the value of all the other contributions, it's Facebook that attracted the most money in the marketplace--one of the most common ways to judge merit in our society. When people discuss the [lack of] meritocracy, usually the issue is whether, how, and to what extent people are rewarded for their individual actions as opposed to being rewarded for their status or associations.

Zuckerberg may have profited by standing on the shoulders of giants, but to the extent that the environment was meritocratic those were shoulders anybody else could have stood upon had they chosen, not shoulders that preferred Zuckerberg over someone else equally situated. Of course, not everybody is equally situated, but that has nothing to do with the merit of Facebook over TCP/IP.

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