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World's 26 richest people own as much as poorest 50%, says Oxfam (theguardian.com)
95 points by onetimemanytime 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 118 comments



A reminder: it's usually not a good idea to sum up the net worth of the poor, as many people who are net-negative (have debt) will bring down a couple thousand of actually poor people.

The poorest person in the world by net worth is Jérôme Kerviel [0], the Paris banker, who is worth about -5 billion euros. You can add the entire net worth of all the population of a couple of African countries to get to total net worth of 0.

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

Edit: Rebuttal for their previous report: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2014/04/04/stop-adding...


> In March 2014, a French high court upheld Kerviel's prison sentence but ruled he would not have to repay €4.9bn.[36]

I was hoping he was actually billions in the hole, but no, he's out of prison and working and not responsible for repaying any amount of the debt.


I'd blame the system that let him do something like that rather than the person, he was young and got strictly nothing from it even it if would have worked. In the mean time his bosses and their bosses are still happily in the business.


Sure, let's put the junior trader in prison and not do anything about SocGen's management utter incompetence.

FYI Kerviel's job termination was ruled abusive and the French government is now asking SocGen to pay back the 2.2bn tax break they got in 2008.


It would actually be impossible for him to do this. Nobody will let him anywhere near a job that would let him earn any sum of money that could make a difference on a 4th or 5th digit of that sum even if he worked for the rest of his life for this.


You could really argue in all directions here. If he remained in prison all that he would do is to accumulate even more cost. But if not, he might become a welfare case (is he?) unless he lowers himself to do some honest work.


Actually, you could not argue. I'm Polish, so I may not know local law very well, but at least here the theory is that a punishment must, amongst others, allow the person to have a hope to come back to society, to remake themselves. This of course unless it is decided the person is unredeemable. So no, you can't argue in both directions. The judge has to pass a judgement that will take this into the account. Having a person be left with billions of dollars in debt that he has no hope to repay in a hundred lifetimes is not acceptable judgement, at least here.


The report is about the assets of the richest compared to the assets of the poorest. Debt doesn't affect that.


Isn't debt just a negative asset?


Debt is a liability on the balance sheet. Assets-liabilities=net worth


That is very important to include in this metric. Society has people with negative wealth. That’s a hugely important contrast to billionaires!


I don't understand the argument. Why is it not a good idea to sum up the net worth of the poor? Because you find the result displeasing?


Why is it not a good idea to sum up the net worth of the poor

Because it gives weird outcomes like a when newly graduated lawyer with a $200K salary and a massive student debt is considered much poorer than someone in sub-Saharan Africa earning $2 a day but is debt free.


It's an indicator, like many other indicators. If you interpret indicators correctly, there is no problem. I suppose the argument is that better indicators should be used? So I'm curious. Which ones would you suggest and how are they calculated?

I'm a bit sceptical about the replies to my question so far, because where I live individual debts have to paid and massive debts will make your life miserable. So I definitely think they should be included into a meaningful indicator.


massive debts will make your life miserable.

I have both a mortgage and student loans and in a global 'poverty' sense my debt level is massive (but probably quite normal from an upper middle class Westerner perspective). However my household income more than covers all the costs of servicing those loans as well as making sure my entire family is comfortably fed, housed, educated and healthy, and still leaves me with money left over every month to save for a rainy day. That is how wealth should be defined.

Basically, having a net worth of negative $400k is not necessarily a problem if your income is $200K. Being in debt is not in it self a problem, not being able to make your debt payments is what will make you miserable. A wealth indicator should try to capture that distinction.


> If you interpret indicators correctly, there is no problem.

Right, but when the indicators are used for ragebait headlines and editorials, for most people the reaction is outrage, and ends at that.

So a more sober, considered discussion about the issue of wealth and inequality - which is an important discussion we need to have - can't happen.


Also...

> where I live individual debts have to paid and massive debts will make your life miserable. So I definitely think they should be included into a meaningful indicator

There have been times over the past few years where my paper net worth was negative (due to running a startup that had no market value and having substantial personal debts), but still lived a materially comfortable western lifestyle - i.e., lived in a nice apartment in a nice area of a modern city, owned a nice-ish car, ate at nice restaurants, travelled frequently both domestically and abroad. Life wasn't exactly joyous, but it wasn't the debts that made life hard, it was the pressure of startup life.

Recently my partner and I have become home-owners and so we now live in a nice-ish house in a nice-ish area, but the mortgage combined with my legacy debts mean that my net worth is still not very much above zero.

The bank has been willing to lend to us because our combined present and future earning capacity makes us reasonably low-risk borrowers, so we get to live a lifestyle that could well put us in the top few percent in the world, even though we're not "rich" on paper. I could easily take out a couple of personal loans to spend on consumables, push our net worth below zero, but not have a materially less well-off existence.

This is the problem with these studies; it equates "richness" with present dollars of assets or debt, completely divorced from the realities of your current and future lifestyle and earning capacity.


Yes, if you interpret indicators correctly, there is no problem. Only the statistic above does not let you do that. It groups the data with no clear info on the weight of each category. As far as I know there could be no poor people included, only rich people with a lot of debt.

I can give you a basic example of it: x + y = 5. Give me the correct value for each unknown. Only 2 values are correct.


Individually as indicators they make sense in their context. Grouping together similar contexts makes sense. But aggregating all of disparate people globally on non-PPP adjusted wealth tells us what, exactly?


Only because assets aren't counted correctly.

That education -- a massive asset

That western passport -- a massive asset

Even a homeless bum sleeping rough on the streets of chicago has more wealth than a typical Indian farmer.


You could compute the net-present value of the average future life-time income of each of the persons involved, which would give a more correct overview of the real wealth.


Seems more like the results are not as straight forward as one thinks, especially if you don't account for debt. How do you appropriately account for debt anyway? I'm guessing many here would have different approaches. Thus why it's not a good idea. I think defining up front how the numbers came to be would be a better idea.


Exactly.

Who's the richest: * person A who owns 2 cows and can make a confortable living for their family; yet, has a debt of 2 cows value to someone else; * person B who lives a frugal life, has no possessions, gets only enough food to live day by day, but owns person A's debt.


The Forbes' rebuttal does a pretty good job at explaining it, there's no need to get my personal opinions involved.


"World's 8 richest people have same wealth as poorest 50%" - Oxfam, 2017 "World's 26 richest people have same wealth as poorest 50%" - Oxfam, 2019

Not exactly the most convincing proof of "the widening gap". I'm not saying that the inequality hasn't increased, just that you need a different metric for showing it.


The article said

"As a result, the report concluded, the number of billionaires owning as much wealth as half the world’s population fell from 43 in 2017 to 26 last year. In 2016 the number was 61."

the 43 in 2017 had a link to Jan 2018 article on same subject. Where do you get '8 richest people have the same wealth' from?



Poorest 50% probably have close to zero networth. Maybe some may have some sort of "house," or property, but that's about it.

Another good point they make: VAT (sales tax in USA) is over 20% in a lot of countries. That's in addition to income tax, pension (SS) contributions etc etc. Basically, you pay at least 20% tax virtually on everything. The governments usually collect that at the customs point of entry, and then it is passed down to the ultimate buyers.


> Basically, you pay at least 20% tax virtually on everything.

This is misleading. Firstly, in most countries with VAT, goods considered basic necessities, like food, tends to be zero rated or have lower VAT rates. Secondly, VAT is only paid on goods and often services you buy, not on e.g. mortgage payments or other debt, or rent (most places).

As an example, though at an income well above average, last time I checked VAT raised my effective tax rate by ~4 percentage points, despite the 20% UK headline VAT rate.

Very low earners also tends to pay relatively little VAT, as a much larger proportion of their income tends to go to rent or things that are exempt. As a result most poor people pay those 20% (or whatever local rate) at only a small proportion of their overall income.

VAT is still a problematic tax, as it has a disproportionately negative effect for poor people once they do earn a bit extra and want to spend it on something not considered a basic necessity (and the categories that are exempt do tend to be quite narrow). It can certainly drive their effective tax rate up well above the headline income tax rate for their income level even with very small proportions of income spent on full rated things. It also causes a "bulge" effect, where low to middle earners sees the largest effect (as high earners tends to invest and save a large proportion of their income; and in the UK and many other places are also more likely to afford to take advantage of a lot of other tax breaks)


> Maybe some may have some sort of "house," or property, but that's about it.

People with a house (of any kind) or property are typically not part of the poorest 50% of the people.


Looking at the tails is always going to be noisy. Gini coefficient should do.


If this is the same methodology as they've used in the past, I personally own as much as the poorest 30% of the world. (And so do you.)

Aggregating wealth gets weird when you look at debt and measure net wealth.


I think the point is also about access to a certain degree of privilege. Merely being born in what is considered currently the western civilization or hemisphere- Basically Europe, US, Canada and Australia- Gives you access to a lot of economic and social opportunity. Which includes things like free primary and secondary education, heath care, pensions, social security, food stamps/security, infrastructure, easy mobility etc etc.

Your average US citizen has more to their disposal(in terms of any metric you can possibly measure) than people in South Asia or Africa.


This is really misleading, as most people have very small or negative net worths. A homeless guy with a few bucks in his pocket has a higher net worth than most young doctors or lawyers.

The statistic as presented could make one think that you could just rob these 26 people and solve world poverty with their money. That’s just not true. What makes the world go round is not the stored up wealth of the ultra rich, but the much much greater sum of total output produced by the economy every year.


Inequality is irrelevant, the trick is to make poverty non desirable but at the same time comfortable. It would give them basic decency to not be exploited. Education resources (books/online courses) should also be provided for free.


Comfort is exactly what people seek. You can't make something both comfortable and undesirable.

If you're prepared to countenance a world where all people live a comfortable life, then you're implicitly countenancing a world where all people have equal worth - monetarily and otherwise.


I think the baseline of comfort that we're aiming for is beyond what most of us in the West have. I think the late Hans Rosling's "level 3" probably isn't much less well off in terms of emotional well-being than level 4. And level 3 is significantly cheaper than level 4, so it's not unimaginable that eventually everyone gets at least there over a few hundred more years.


> If you're prepared to countenance a world where all people live a comfortable life, then you're implicitly countenancing a world where all people have equal monetary wealth - monetarily and otherwise.

A world where all people have equal worth is a world where nobody has anything, because there will always be someone who will trade their worth for present pleasures and then have less than everyone else.

It is possible to have a perfectly unequal world where everyone is comfortable, and one entity controls everything. Indeed, something approximating this is the idealised equilibrium that underpins what 'a good capitalist society' could look like, if faeries were real.

The idea in practice is that the people who make the best decisions get all the wealth, so resources are productively utilised, then anyone who wants something does enough wok to produce it (but working in their own area instead of building it themselves).

The problem in the modern era is stuff like the 2008 financial crisis, where the mechanisms to take money away from idiot capitalists (ie, bankruptcy of major corporations) have been short-circuited and disabled.


They also seek sex, status, domination, power, wealth, fame, ...


Pretty interesting. One thing that bothers me is "The way our economies are organised means wealth is increasingly and unfairly concentrated among a privileged few while millions of people are barely subsisting".

I don't fully understand "unfairly" in this context. According to the thefreedictionary this word means:

1. Contrary to justice or a sense of fairness 2. Contrary to laws or conventions, especially in commerce; unethical: unfair dealing. 3. Not kind or considerate: It was unfair of me to laugh when he felt so sad.

I am not sure I understand which of those description of unfairness applies to, say, Jeff Bezof (mentioned in the article). I have only limited knowledge about him, but I haven't heard that he had done anything that could be described as "unfair". One might even argue the opposite - he enabled many people to but cheaper goods in an easier way and he also enabled many people to sell goods efficiently and earn good money in this way.


You're interpreting this incorrectly. It is not that any individual's accumulation of wealth is specifically unfair, it might not be, but rather the system itself that is perceived to be unfair.

Society has been structured so that increasingly few people accumulate most of the wealth. To many, it has reached a degree that is unethical, unjust, unkind, particularly because those who are not along the privileged are suffering as a result, therefore the scale of human suffering increases over time, while wealth concentration continues to increase. You may not agree that the degree of wealth disparity is worthy of such descriptions yet, but that is just a matter of where to draw the line, not whether it is an understandable thing to draw a line on. After all, if in say a few hundred years, unrealistically and strictly as a thought experiment, the current system has lead to a single individual accumulating as much wealth as every other individual in the world combined, and having done so in an above board way, while every other person in the world lives in abject poverty, would this be unfair to you? If so, then we only disagree about the degree of wealth inequity that informs our belief on the fairness of our economic and societal systems.


> if in say a few hundred years, unrealistically and strictly as a thought experiment, the current system has lead to a single individual accumulating as much wealth as every other individual in the world combined, and having done so in an above board way, while every other person in the world lives in abject poverty

How likely do you think that is, and why do you think it's getting more and more likely? If anything, the wealth and power these days is way more dispersed than a couple hunderd years ago when a few royalty held most of wealth/power/property. Like there's untold numbers of billionaires in China/Africa/Saudi Arabia/UAE/Europe/USA etc, and there's more on their way. In addition, the "turnover" of wealth seems to be faster and faster, and self-made billionaires dominate most rich-people lists (which however ignore most Arab dictators). Sure, it's possible that technology fundamentally changes that dynamic (e.g. by making 100% surveillance and oppression possible) in the future but that's not where the world is at right now.


Amazon warehouse workers who need medical attention after their shifts might disagree with you.

Or perhaps you don't consider the reality that some warehouse employees earn so little they have to be subsidised by foodstamps - i.e. from public taxes - to be unfair?


> Amazon warehouse workers who need medical attention after their shifts might disagree with you.

They probably would. However, I think they would be in the top 50% in wealth terms and not the the bottom 50%


Simply put, his unfair actions are exploiting his warehouse workers with extreme working conditions and meager pay, and perpetuating the unsustainable cult of consumerism that plagues western society. Our habits are unsustainable and are destroying the world we live in.

The reckoning for our thoughtless exploitation of the planet will come, but Bezos and his peers have managed to extract enough wealth and power that they will be the very last to feel the effects of runaway climate change, massive droughts, famines and resulting unrest and war.

They do not care, because ordinary people are simply resources to be exploited, wholly beneath their contempt.


Last year Jeff Bezos earned more money than every other Amazon employee put together. Does this distribution of rewards fairly reflect the contribution of each person to Amazon's success? If either Bezos or every other employee died in an accident, which would cause more damage to Amazon? Even accepting that Bezos deserves a huge pile of money for his achievements, and that the economic system isn't his fault, it would be reasonable to view the status quo as "contrary to justice or a sense of fairness".


Your "harm" by elimination based metric seems rather arbitrary. This rather big bunch of current Amazon employees, if they were cobbled together in a building before they were hired by Bezos, would they have spontaneously created the company? Most probably not. The market sees fairness and reward as proportional to actual creation. This seems just as valid as your abstract reasoning.


> This rather big bunch of current Amazon employees, if they were cobbled together in a building before they were hired by Bezos, would they have spontaneously created the company? Most probably not

So he did something once and deserves to be paid until he steps down as if he is creating a company everyday? That doesn't seem right to me.


It's not really a metric, just an absurd example to illustrate a point. In answer to your example, I would say probably yes, but not exactly the same and it wouldn't be called Amazon. Amazon bought up and merged competitive companies on its way to success. If Amazon didn't exist, it's likely one of those, or another competitor that fell by the wayside would've taken its place. I think it's extremely unlikely that most of the hard work, good decisions, clever innovations etc that led Amazon to win can be attributed to Bezos personally, as most of the spoils have.


Their definition of unfair is based on "need." That's why it's not making traditional justice-based sense to you.

Which is to say, you can then proceed to define unfair and need in any manner as you see fit to push an agenda.

It's really quite simple, they're saying wealth - with absolutely no concern for how it was earned - must be taken from those who earned it and given to those who have not. Because one person has a need, it provides a claim against someone else's labor, earnings, wealth, life, time, etc.

All forms of statist, gun-point wealth redistribution must derive from this philosophy, without exception and specifically without regard for any concern for an objective justice based on rule of law and property rights. Justice and the rule of law must be thrown out to fulfill true wealth redistribution, there's no other way to steal an honest person's assets and justify it.


There is no "objective justice based on rule of law and property rights". Property rights itself is subjective - they only exist to the extent they exist because of a willingness of a majority to support the use of violence to enforce it, rightly or wrongly.

Hence e.g. Proudhon's "property is theft". What is "objective justice based on rule of law and property rights" to you, some see as a perverse use of violence to restrict the liberty of others

Incidentally it is quite fascinating that you tie opposition to property rights as "statist, gun-point wealth redistribution" when the opposition to property rights originally came with the firmest opposition to the state. Proudhon was the founder of anarchism. Most others who argued against property rights argued against it from the point of view that property rights only exist through violence, and that the state is the ultimate guarantor of enforcement of what they see as coercion.

Whatever point of view one has on how justified property rights are, presenting it as "objective" is ludicrous.


It's a great temptation to point the finger at 'those filthy rich people over there' but to someone else you and I are those filthy rich people. Let's all have an attitude of gratitude, and not forget that wealth isn't a zero sum game. Make the most of what you've been given, and leave the world a better place.


I think you're underestimating the problem. In most industrialized nations the gap between rich and poor has been increasing since the 50s of last century. The ever increasing division between the rich and the poor is one of the biggest problems of the 21st Century.

In one way or another, societies will have to tackle this problem or there will be some major social disruptions such as widespread civil unrest, radicalization, mass migration, revolutions, and civil war. All of these possibilities may seem like on-issues to you in your country now, but we already see their beginnings and the trend towards increasing the gap continues.

To make this clear, I'm not talking about politics. If the trend is not stopped, there will be problems regardless of what political opinions you have.


To paraphrase your argument;

"You have 1,000 times more wealth than a poor person so you can't say it's bad that someone else has 1,000,000,000 times more."

You know what, I absolutely can.


Sure, go right ahead - just don't be self righteous about it. Don't become what you hate in that other person.


It has nothing to do with a specific rich person, it's the underlying systems, institutions, and human-made rules that make such realities possible that's of concern.

It's about the allocation of resources, efficiency of the marketplace, assymetry of wealth and political power and how it affects the democratic project we've all been engaged in globally for a few hundred years.

Economic systems are human-invented games; the rules can be rewritten. Things as basic as property and trade are human constructed concept with fine human-constructed nuances (people aren't property for instance) The laws are a chosen set of axioms that can be voluntarily changed.

The question is if this is the outcome we'd like to see from an optimal set of rules. Can't we design something better that doesn't lead to mass extinction, climate change, mass poverty, and a system that crashes the global economy every 10 years?

These are open challenges to improve things, that is, if we choose to take those challenges on.


Explain to me how certain relevant aspects of wealth such as food, housing, energy or not wrecking the planet are not a zero sum game.


Well, this game can be played cooperatively or adversarially. For the latter approach, everything is a zero sum game.

Getting back to your points:

> food

We already (can) produce way more food than we consume. The main problem is distributing it and the lack of economic incentives to make this distribution global and fair.

> housing

We have the tech and resources to provide everyone adequate non-slum housing. It's again a problem of global and fair distribution. More than that, more people need to accept that we need more high density urban environments. This point will come back later :)

> energy

From an energy point of view, we're kind of at the "food" point. The real challenge is converting energy production to renewables. Which brings us to...

> not wrecking the planet

We absolutely have all the tech and know-how to not wreck the planet. But it's a tragedy of the commons.

Not wrecking the planet is the final end game, the ultimate cooperative move. Heck, it's the final anti-zero sum game move.


Seems pretty simply? All those things exist in greater quantities than yesteryear. There's more farms, more houses, more power plants and accessibe energy sources.


Wealth inquality (up to a point, of course) is, in general, actually a good thing. The more concentrated wealth is, the more easily and more cheaply it can leveraged to affect change. A good example might be the Gates Foundation. Through Bill Gates’ concentration of wealth, he can allocate money to help the world with very little friction and overhead

Other examples include VC or hedge funds. While they don’t own the money themselves (they merely aggregate and invest it on the behalf of others), the reason this happens is because it’s much more profitable and efficient to invest one large pot of cash vs many small pots of cash.

PS: If someone wants to bring up that index funds are better, it’s still the same principle at work. The expense ratio of a S&P 500 index fund are much smaller than what most individuals could manage themselves.


It's the wealth inequality that creates the problems for so many people in the first place. Superrich people are basically royalty at this point. Affecting change as they see fit, mostly busy with themselves.


It's an interesting point seldom discussed: governments use money in boring safe ways, eccentric rich people "waste" money in unique and unpredictable ways. Both seem essential to the equation of production, just maybe not in the current proportions.


> governments use money in boring safe ways, eccentric rich people "waste" money in unique and unpredictable ways.

I think many would dispute this point, at least in a general sense; although personally I might agree that current governments seem a bit paralysed in the face of some of global society's larger problems.

It does seem like we are living in an almost Victorian era age of high profile philanthropy/industrial barons.


With the current wealth distribution, it makes more sense to take something great and market it to a few ultra rich at $$$$, instead of letting the general public enjoy it for $.

Examples of this range from vacation spots to high-end restaurants. Making things /more/ exclusive and accessible to an ever smaller number of people seems to be the trend for most nice things in life.


tldr; wealth inquality is good, because it is easier to distribute wealth (fight with wealth inquality)

disease is good, because it easier to fight with disease when you are ill


I think it is better that Gates has billions to distribute to poor people rather than each American millionaire having a couple of thousand dollars extra to spend on their vacations.


~34% of world population are children and teenagers. Of course they own nothing. Then there are young adults who just entered labor market and they don't have anything as well. So, it's roughly 40% of the world population. Plus debts mentioned by others.


26 (left most) = 3'500'000'000 (right most)

That is one staggering statistic.

If I were one of those 26 people, I'd consider myself a superhero. Wake up every morning knowing that I am capable of saving and improving lives of an entire (small) country!


I suspect they mostly wake up wondering how they can make even more. You need an insatiable appetite to get on that list. Poor buggers.


> You need an insatiable appetite to get on that list. Poor buggers.

Mmmm, some. Of the 26 I found, 7 inherited.


But please tell me how. Providing them all with clothing, housing, food and healthcare wouldn't solve anything. As a matter of fact, it would only make matters worse. It'll lead to a increase in birth rates without actually addressing the problem at the core. They have to be taught trade, not provided for.

A healthy capitalist economy must be created in those places. It's giving the man a fish vs teaching the man how to fish.


The man knows how to fish. Unfortunately for him, the fisheries are collapsing, because someone who wants to become wealthy is sending trawlers from halfway around the world, taking all the fish and leaving destruction in their wake.

The man also knows how to farm. What looks like forest, or jungle, to you, is actually the man's farm--has been, for generations. But that was last year: men came with guns, fenced off the forest, logged it, and now it's all a palm oil plantation, stretching toward the horizon in all directions. The man and his family were offered "jobs", earning a pittance, barely enough for survival, buying rice imported from halfway across the world. Because some other man wanted to be wealthy.

The man can't manage his resources, because there is no legal framework for him to do it. The people who claimed to create a free-market, "teaching the man how to fish", etc, actually created the present situation, so may be looked at today with some suspicion.


One thing that increases birth rates? Wanting your kids to look after you in old age. Have 10 kids, 7 survive, 3 are boys, they each give 20% of their income to you when you're too old to work, you get to live.


Increasing peoples' standing in life decreases the birth rate.

And no, there is no such thing as a "healthy capitalist economy", capitalism is by definition based on exploitation of the less fortunate. Saying such things is obviously heresy to the Silicon Valley set and capitalists in general, but it's the uncomfortable truth.


Capitalism by definition is private property rights and voluntary exchanges between individuals/businesses. It's the very antithesis to exploitation.

You might say that it's immoral to pay $1 an hour to people Africa to produce Nike shoes for the US market, except it isn't. It's simply the market rate. Could they afford to pay more? Yes. But it's in no means exploitation. That $1 an hour they make boosts the local economy, driving the quality of life up. Make it $10/h, and nobody would work for local companies there anymore.

And do you have any metric that proves that peoples' standing in life decreases the birth rate?

For example, there hasn't been a noticable decrease in Nigeria. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/nigeria-popul... https://tradingeconomics.com/nigeria/gdp-growth


> It's the very antithesis to exploitation.

Only if you believe in the fantasy of an equal exchange between people with vastly different economic positions. This is such a fantasy that hardly a country in the world does not confer additional legal protections to the worker to try to at least to some extent level the playing-field.

Historically, it took people dying to secure even basic protections, Like example stopping employers from locking people in, like what caused 146 deaths at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. It took nearly a century, and dozens of people killed in demonstrations and strikes to get reasonably widespread application of the 8 hour working day. When people worldwide march on May 1st, they do so in part in memory of the Haymarket Massacre [2] and the AFL's subsequent move to resume the fight for the 8 hour day.

Nothing in the history of the labor movement suggests there is anything like an equal exchange for most people. Some of us are privileged enough to be in positions where we have something resembling an equal exchange that is truly voluntary in am meaningful way, but for most their economic position is weak enough that the employer always has more power.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fi...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haymarket_affair


Isn't there a law about networks or something that explains these kinds of things? Basically, "money goes to money"?

Is so, does the discrepancy described in this article fit within this theoretical framework?


When you're very poor almost all of your assets are your earning capacity which isn't counted. So a top notch MIT graduate who participated with say 5$ in the cost of his education and can now earn a lot (which can be seen as a yielding asset) is now counted as 5$ poorer. Human capital isn't counted.


Imagine there was another planet in another galaxy that had 100x the wealth as earth. Would it even matter?

Sometimes I think these global comparisons are like comparing different planets. Who really cares? It's our immediate surroundings that matter.


Research suggests that we value relative wealth more than absolute wealth. [1]

This means that inequality is important for social stability - does social stability matter?

There are possibly other reasons as well - you could argue rich people invest differently, which has implications for the global allocation of resources. [2]

[1] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/318/5854/1305.full?ijk...

[2] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/investing/globe-wealth/artic...


The planet in that other galaxy doesn't matter because increases in their consumption does not affect anyone on earth.

How the rich on earth behaves does affect poor people: It affects what resources are available to others, and it affects prices, job opportunities, investment in the immediate surroundings of poor people, and can do so both positively and negatively.


Less wealth at the top, means more wealth all around.

Your analogy is flawed, unless you think things like progressive taxation, social support / transfer payments, and closing rich’s tax havens and loopholed are equivalent to a galaxy far far away.


Wealth is not zero sum.


The distribution of finite resources on this planet is a near zero sum question.


Capital accrues capital faster than income ever can. This gap is one of the reasons why we have right wing populists. They offer easy answers to a complex problem - namely low income growth, jobs and immigration.


This is a bad comparison not only because of debt, but because that is a valuation of productive capital they own. Nobody can eat shares. The only thing that would happen after a 'fair redistribution' is that party's bureucrats would replace current managers in their former companies.

The fate of PDVSA shows the ultimate result.

What the ultra-rich actually consume is a tiny fraction of their net worth.


The same goes the other way too though. Nobody can consume 1,000,000,000 loafs of bread.


The inequality of assets and income is an unfixable problem, but that is not the problem.

There are people who are really good at starting and growing businesses, investing, taking risks, and thus accumulating wealth. Then there are people, some of who are really bad at that but mostly some of who aren't just that much interested and driven by that. Then there are people who are really good at effectively getting rid of any wealth they manage to obtain. Let's call this being good at money.

There is nothing wrong with that. Programmers are like that. There are some who are really, really good at it. Then many who are pretty decent, then a lot who are mediocre but still not negative, and then there are programmers whose output is outright negative.

Education helps a little: it can help with the constant factor but those who are good they really are good regardless or despite the education. So similarly to as you can't expect to train the whole humankind to become decent programmers I'm pessimistic about being able to educate the whole humankind out of poverty.

If we redistributed the world's wealth equally to all people on the planet the distribution would revert back to what the shape it has now in a matter of years or decades. Surely, there would be previously poor people with a knack for money who would be wealthy and there would be previously wealthy people who could not recreate the wealth they obtained by luck or by inheritance. But we would eventually recreate the situation where few people hold most of the assets. The peak of the distribution would just amplify over time as having wealth makes it easier to make more wealth, so the rich get richer and the poor get only fractional improvements.

There is a problem if the poor people can't make a living even if they are willing to put in the effort on their part. The systemic inefficiencies to lock a person's position in permanent poverty, the high fixed costs of living that prevent accumulating savings, lack of food, roof or medical support rendering people incapable to restart or begin a financially sustainable life, or money being able to buy justice or privileges that trump other people's rights. These are the problems and not the fact that one person has a billion times more assets than some other person.

There are solutions we've tried and mostly failed. We can try to transfer wealth back from the rich to subsidise the poor. But poverty is often also about the mindset, and it is well known you can't refill a well merely by carrying water into it. The water just flows back to where it came from. We can try to make living not so dependent on one's income and assets but that means disrupting the natural markets for both jobs and goods, which not only accumulates inefficiencies due the diminished effect of businesses' healthy deaths but generates a reflecting black market that has no regulation. We can try to create more jobs as historically work has been a good medium to redistribute wealth but it seems that jobs are becoming less like that. There are very high-paying jobs for a small group of people and very poorly paid work or no work for lots of people.

Trying to fix the inequality of wealth distribution in order to combat poverty is, in my opinion, fixing the symptom and not the cause.


> We can try to transfer wealth back from the rich to subsidise the poor. But poverty is often also about the mindset, and it is well known you can't refill a well merely by carrying water into it

Are you saying that poor people are poor because of their own ignorance or poor behaviours? And therefore if you give them money they'll just piss it away?


Nope but because they're subjected to an environment that only operates in terms of poverty.

Living in poverty is likely to develop a mindset, in order to survive, that won't scale pulling you back out of poverty. That is, where you never start making smart financial decisions or plan ahead because, you know, the life is a mess enough because of various factors due to having little or no money or peers telling you to act otherwise.

There have been a number of discussions and even anecdotal comments on HN to probe into this. For example, feeling lucky at Google gave me this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16461773


In your original comment you said "If we redistributed the world's wealth equally to all people on the planet the distribution would revert back to what the shape it has now in a matter of years or decades" - so it sounded to me as though you were against this, on the basis that it would not solve the problem.

> Nope but because they're subjected to an environment that only operates in terms of poverty.

So let's say you have now identified a root cause, and assuming we're looking for a solution - how do we fix this without a redistribution of wealth?


Who cares?

This focus on rich people is a distraction from eliminating poverty. It's a stupid and simplistic solution just to take money from rich people. I wish Oxfam would stop stoking these silly socialist fires.


How do you propose that poverty be eliminated without some people holding proportionally less of the world's money?


The don't need to hold proportionally less. It's a red herring.

The focus rather should be on health/nutrition outcomes, education outcomes, physical safety, quality of housing.

And this question is... is it getting better?

Factfulness says yes. Slowly, but surely, yes.


It's not about money. In fact, money is the completely wrong way to think about it. The vast majority of the wealth of the wealthy is in the form of ownership of businesses that efficiently produce goods and services for others (not for themsevles - this is important). If you take these businesses away from them and give them to the poor (who are likely not going to be that great at managing said businesses), the effect would be to make the poor poorer, as well as humanity as a whole.


Most of their wealth isn't money, it's property, land and businesses.


[flagged]


I think there are a couple of problems with the "rising tide floats all boats" argument.

> My only metric is is it getting better on average for me and other people

This might be true for you, but may not be for all. Research suggests that on the whole people value relative wealth more than absolute wealth [1] making inequality an important predictor for social stability, a prerequisite for a capitalist system based on property rights.

> I hope capatilism lasts another couple of hundred years and everyone gets to level 3 or 4

As other comments have pointed out, it looks as though an economic system predicated on permanent growth - or even a particular rate of growth - might have some limits. It seems like it's not sustainable with our current level of technology.

[1] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/318/5854/1305.full?ijk...


You know the Marxists (and everyone was one back then) claimed in the 1930s that capitalism was dead. That was almost 90 years ago. [1]

It's the 21st century. It started in the 17th century. It's not dying tomorrow.

I fully support the notion that one day capitalism will eat itself like Marx claimed. I think it actually will. I think that's a very sensible conclusion to come to. Just like I believe my car won't run forever and will eventually break down and be beyond repair or no longer viable. I'm just happy to drive it until the actual point at which it becomes not viable anymore and not proclaim the sky is falling and my car is doomed because I hear one small noise coming from the engine.

[1] http://helian.net/blog/category/socialism/


200 even. Be patient ffs.

That's easy for me to say. It isn't my kid starving in the street.


But that has no bearing on whether or not that's the case.

That's like getting mad at the microwave that it won't heat the food up in 3 seconds and instead the timer says 3 minutes but that's no good because your kid is "hungry now."

If it takes 3 minutes, it takes 3 damn minutes.


When they run campaigns like these, they get more funding. When they get more funding, a few more children will avoid starvation.

Why are you getting so worked up over someone using a means that they have years worth of experience with showing it works in giving them the funds to save more people?


So my point with this comment isn't about Oxfam or charity really at all. It's about peoples sense of injustice and wanting to fix it now, now, now, now, and concluding the system is somehow broken because we can't have the fix now, now, now, now and harboring this desire to rip the system out and replace it with something that will usher in the just world.

Hence I liken that particular notion to a toddler who is upset and is unable to understand that his food is coming he just needs to wait as there is a process that takes time and there isn't any other way to get his hot food than through the process.

I'm getting worked up over the error in cognition that we can have it all now, now, now, now. My point to those would be revolutionaries who want to rip it out and replace it is - it's coming, just wait.

I personally donate monthly to charity water as I think it's a super practical problem that is at absolute bedrock for society and it just requires capital, labor and time to be thrown at it. I do my part to promote it here and there. I am amazed by the progress of access to clean water and I am stoked that the trajectory looks like in the next few decades everyone on Earth will have clean water. It just doesn't make sense to get upset and think things are broken when we have never used a process that has worked so well. Yes, progress is slow, but damnit it's working and I prefer to focus on what we have achieved and not that we personally don't have 12 Ferraris and a mansion and a few individuals do.


It's not an obsession. It's an easy way of illustrating a point that gets a portion of people to consider the current situation unfair and do more to change things. They keep publishing these because they keep getting press attention and as a result get more support and are able to improve the lives of more people.

> like a whiny entitled asshole

I won't say what I think about calling someone entitled assholes for wanting less death and suffering.


It is an obsession.

My claim is that you cannot compute a priori whether it is fair or not because it's not possible to consider both the present reality and the alternatives and fast-forward time in your mind and know exactly how all the possible worlds play out. You can't actually even get close. Humanity runs on one algorithm and that's guess and check. For stuff this complicated as to which way of organizing things actually results in less death and suffering this is necessarily so. Else we would just have sat down, worked it out and followed that course of action.

The river of history runs the experiment for us and it's the only way to honestly compute results.


We're all part of influencing that algorithm, so this is a ridiculous argument. We can choose to do nothing, or we can choose to try. Yes, we won't know if the results are good or not, but that is a shitty reason for doing nothing.

As for this argument being an obsession, I think you miss the point: It's a PR campaign. They've used it year after year, because it works. It gives them press attention. It results in increases in donations. It helps them achieve their goals.

If it's their goals you find "obsessive", then so be it. But this focus on the richest is pragmatic: It's something cheap they know they can milk year after year. I doubt most people at Oxfam goes around thinking all that much about the 26 richest people in the world - more likely they're busy actually trying to run their programs and keep them funded.


What's ridiculous is to conclude from what I wrote that my position is to "do nothing". I'll let you work that one out for yourself.

I don't care about the charity itself and I see your point about it's effectiveness as a PR campaign, sure, and I'm not anti-people donating to charity.

This is a wider narrative that is very prevalent in the West and it's independent of a single PR campaign, and I'm sure even you will acknowledge that.

My claim is that the relentless focus on relative wealth is completely upside down. And I think that's unhealthy. "Look at how much you personally don't have" doesn't serve you emotionally as well as "look at how far we have all come and the trajectory we are all on" does.

It's a matter of personal pragmatism for me. Why should the focus be on the gap?

I know, I know it's just a PR campaign and my yapping about larger narratives in the media won't have any effect on decisions made at Oxfam, yes, yes of course I'm not so deluded into thinking that they will.

But people will read our lovely discussion and some will side with me, some will side with you and it's via this process we tussle for which experiment the river of history should carry out in order to compute the result.


We don't have "50 to 100 years". Our unrestrained greed and obsession with growth and profit is well on its way to cause a Permian-Triassic style extinction event.

https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/

https://www.vox.com/2016/10/4/13118594/2-degrees-no-more-fos...

https://www.thenation.com/article/climate-disaster-is-upon-u...

https://nplusonemag.com/issue-33/the-intellectual-situation/...

The absurd accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few individuals is just a symptom of the disease human society is to the environment.

To have any hope of even slightly halting this trend, we have to completely restructure society and put an end to fossil fuel extraction, and to our entire culture of consumerism. Capitalism does not have a solution to this problem, there is no gentle gradual market-based solution. We need a hard stop and at the very least massive carbon taxes on industry.


Yeah, I'm thinking about this every time I see puffs of smoke from exhaust or airplanes pass by... It probably took the earth a few hundred thousand years to bind that carbon, and here we are puffing it off in a matter of decades.

Human short-sightedness never ceases to amaze. It's an evolutionary problem I believe as we're to smart in a micro-sense, but as a whole we fail to take the holistic approach.

A bit like driving at 100MPH -- the human brain is not evolved for that scenario and perspective gets skewed.


The human brain has remarkable plasticity, though. Most people can train themselves to competently drive and react to inputs at 100MPH. The issue is that most people won't put in the necessary effort, either because they're unaware of the risks and consequences, or because they prioritize other things.

Similarly, we can adapt to realize and adequately visualize our impact on the environment, and collectively act to lessen our impact, but most people consider it irrelevant or even downright unpleasant to even think about, so they don't.


The fact that we prioritise different things is a testament to this evolutionary vs. smarts discrepancy IMHO.

We can train and mould our brains, true, but at what scale does this actually have a noticeable impact and and how to achieve this at scale?

It's either through some form of enlightenment or through a totalitarian regime. The former at scale can, again IMHO, only happen through reaching a point of resonable equality, so at this point the latter with China spearheading the way seems most plausible, which is terrifying.


If we follow the metaphor of driving at 100MPH then we are in agreement that it is a skill we learn to do, however I would like to add the caveat that you cannot learn to drive around a hairpin bend at 100MPH because you cannot drive around a hairpin bend at 100MPH and it may well be the case that we are approaching the bend and are going too fast and cannot muster the necessary coordination to successfully navigate the turn.

It would be nice if this weren't the case, but it might be.


It's almost as if ecology will keep us in check if we wont do it ourselves. We aren't causing a perversion of nature, we are part of it and it is responding to us.

I'm ok with that. And human society being a disease on the environment will be cleansed and fought off by the auto-immune response of a warmed planet.

There isn't a problem.


Unless you're perfectly OK with all of humanity and possibly the only sentient intelligent life in the universe dying off, we actually do have a very serious problem. As far as we know, we are the only life in the universe that actually cares about other life, that actually cares about cataloguing the world and the universe and exploring it. We are (as far as we know) the universe's consciousness.

I don't buy into your defeatism. We can save ourselves, but it requires us to take the threat seriously and requires us to act, rather than just twiddling our thumbs and perpetuating the status quo.


Good luck saving yourself from the heat death of the universe.

Edit: I am ok with all humanity dying out. I don't think that is either here nor there. I have the same self-preservation tendencies as you and the others and in public and private I actually try to do my bit as I'm philosophically a defeatist/nihilist because that's ultimately where extreme macro timescale conclusions lead me, but in the micro timescale we live on I don't in practice actually act or live like a defeatist. I'm just ultimately not precious about the human race any more than I am about anything else. I love us, and want us to have a good a run as we can and one day we will run out of steam or do the cosmic equivalent of jumping off a wharf, hitting the rocks, snapping our neck and be snuffed out accidentally. You, nor anyone else can or will stop that.


Also the world's richest 50% own more than the poorest 50%.


I wonder why so many of these people are choosing to spend time in their office 'cubicles' rather than travel the world and do good things. Like seriously, what is the barrier/problem here? Even if I had only a million dollars to freely spend, I would still choose to travel and make an impact where it counts.

We in the West love to complain about our 'problems' but a lot of us honestly don't have a clue what's happening elsewhere on the planet. And, of course, I am not talking just about the helping aspect of it, but also the opportunity to be exposed to some of the planets hidden beauty, places that only a handful of people will ever get to see.

Maybe it's because I am so free-spirited, and don't really value my own life as above anyone else's. Although 7.5B people sounds a lot, this Earth is nothing more than a planetarium. The grip that the Human Ego has on materialistic identity so absolutely bizarre.

I'm not saying every giga-rich person is like this, certainly, some are contributing to philanthropy and other projects, and perhaps I am myself mixing together two issues here, but this kind of philosophy interests me a lot.


> Even if I had only a million dollars to freely spend, I would still choose to travel and make an impact where it counts

Travelling to remote places and doing things that feel impactful is generally an inefficient way to do good. I’m not criticising it per se. For edge-case problems, it’s the only solution. But if you want to enact change at scale, you’ll be doing it from the same places other human institutions enacting change at scale are.


>>Even if I had only a million dollars to freely spend, I would still choose to travel and make an impact where it counts.

So you spend $4500 on travel tickets to help a family gather wood? Labor, they have plenty. Now if you brought a water pump or a solar panel is different. A lot of "charities" in USA do that. Gather millions a year, pay themselves a nice salary and go distribute flyers once a month.




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