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[dupe] World's Top 26 Billionaires Now Own as Much as the Poorest 3.8B (time.com)
31 points by kushti 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

What I'd like to see more in these articles is an acknowledgement of how power laws work (or perhaps log-normal distributions or stretched exponential distributions https://arxiv.org/abs/1304.0212).

Is this one of those things where the vast majority of the 3.8B has a zero or negative net worth?

I'm not trying to deny anything about wealth inequality, but I wonder what this clickbaity statement really says about anything.

I agree completely.

Someone living hand to mouth subsidence farming has about $0.

Someone who went to a top quality law school, or medical school. Who has a nice car on lease, and a hefty mortgage, maybe a bit of credit card debt. But who is also brining in 6 figures. could have -$X00,000.

In my opinion the second person has more 'wealth' than the first person. But on paper, the education and opportunities are not counted. But the debt needed to pay for these is counted.

You get the opposite problem when you look at just income. People who have a vast wealth, but don't work, would be counted as being very poor.

Sadly finding someone's 'wealth' is quite complicated, and doesn't make an easy headline.

Just need to find a way to put a value on intangible assets. If that diploma, for example, can bring in an extra 150 grand a year, then I would put a value of that asset at around 3 million or so (assuming a 5% return on investment). Being born in a country with opportunity brings in at least $20k a year (minimum wage), so that asset is worth 400K total. Getting stuck in a high cost of living area where you need $50K a year just to survive may have a negative one million dollar value.

>Is this one of those things where the vast majority of the 3.8B has a zero or negative net worth?

How does that make it better? If anything, it makes it worse...

That doesn't make it better or worse. That would simply show that this statistic is irrelevant and clickbaity.

Just in the US 17M households have negative net worth.

Would a title such as "A worker earning minimum wage owns as much as the 17M poorest households in the country" be honest journalism?

That would me that you alone has more money than the poorest 3.8B people, making it somewhat clickbaity to bring up the billionaires?

It says the top 26 billionaires own as much as the poorest 3.8B, not that they own more.

Unless you're worth more than the top 26 billionaires combined, you don't have the net worth to match 3.8B people.

Sure, but if 2B of that population is in the negative, then even at minimum wage I do have the net worth to match 2B; its just the next 1.8B where comparison even starts to make sense.

I don't think Forbes Billionaires List is not accurate enough to track wealth changes from year to year as Oxfam does. It can show some trends over several years at best.


I think this happens because of technological development creating and enhancing positive feedback loops due to specialization and economy of scale. Can we have similar levels of technological development without such super concentration of wealth?

Technology doesn't even need to factor into it.

Wealth creates wealth, regardless of the available gadgets. We are now at a stage where the wealthy have used their wealth to accumulate more and more wealth. And as we speak, they are using that wealth to get more and more and more.

That's the feedback loop.

The most important thing for non wealthy is organization. Sharing issues and knowledge. Instead of relying on the rich to give them solutions (no incentives to do so..)

That being one of the hopes, decades back, for the internet.

Unfortunately most of the web has become a business rarely aligned with human needs or happiness.

Still a bit of the tech can be used but it's not enough per se.

I wonder if something could be worked out with a truly decentralized, mesh network based on personal equipment.

some neighborhoods in the US have tried local internet providers, worth looking into

> The most important thing for non wealthy is organization. Sharing issues and knowledge.

What value does that have to the destitute in Rio, or on the streets New Delhi?

It's everything. You have time and knowledge and a bit of food you can climb up within a group. Otherwise you're stuck.

you need money for that

I guess I’m too cynical to believe that any attempt to go after those 26 people will land on them rather than on me - I’m comparatively well off but much less able to defend myself than a Donald Trump or a Bill Gates.

70% tax rate above $10M makes a lot of sense.

It does, but at that price point you can start paying lobbyists and politicians to help make sure it doesn't happen. Likewise, at that point you can have your money stashed in a tax haven or other financial constructions to make sure you don't have to pay taxes, even if there was such a tax rate.

The marginal tax rate might help the American poor, but for the rest of the world, where the majority of poor people are, this, on its own, isn't really going to do much good.

It lowers the incentive to develop such wildly unequal compensation packages


Just because the world is doing better doesn't mean it's doing well.


And similarly just because it isn't doing well that doesn't mean that it is doing badly.

While that's true, if we have examples of poverty being an issue in people who shouldn't live in poverty (ie. Teachers selling plasma to make ends meet), we need to consider there's a problem with the economy or the system. It may not be the billionaires fault, but there's clearly not enough money going to some important things.

I 100% agree with that statement.

I think the nuance in my argument comes down to some core, axiomatic beliefs and metaphors that it doesn't seem are widely held.

So, if we start from the foundation that there are two projects in science and philosophy and those are the descriptive project (figuring out what is) and the normative project (deciding what we ought to do), then when we are having these discussions sometimes we are simply describing what we think is the case and sometimes we stating that what we think is the case has normative implications. I think it's important to make the distinction.

I have two core metaphors for how I think about the normative project. One is an "N-dimensional Quantum Entangled Rube Goldberg Cruise Liner" (perhaps Sketchy Sea Beast would be an apt name for this vehicle) and that represents the entirety of humanity and the course that we are on collectively, how we control the ship to steer it away from obstacles and what might be in front of us. The other metaphor is the same thing, but it's in car form and there are lots of them and they represent each nation state and they have the added property that they may collide with each other and that's another additional navigational challenge.

The reason for the complexity of the n-dimensional quantum entangled rube goldberg description is that from a control-theoretic perspective it is a good (at least I think) ballpark estimate for how complex the control system for such machines as our global and national vehicles are. This is where people often misconstrue me as a defeatist or a nihilist in that they think because I think it's so difficult to control that we just ought to give up. This is not the case. What this metaphor serves me to do is to be ultra cautious in believing that mine or your personal conception that you have arrived at through your individual reasoning of what knob/dial/lever we should turn will result in the necessary change in direction that you believe it will. It's my belief there exists no way to actually compute the truth value of normative claims this complex a priori and that instead the resolution of such claims happens via the political process of arguing about what to set the parameters to and then we let the vehicle run enough to produce a noticeable change and sometimes we were right, sometimes we were wrong.

I think people are mistaken in their level of confidence that they are correct in their assessment that the causes they are attributing to the effects they see are indeed as such, and that the parameters they think will steer us in the right direction will do so. I think people are grossly over-confident in this. I'm not confident at all that my assessment of the future is the right one, and I think dead reckoning is probably the single best tool we have to compute what the result of the trajectory we are on might be (though there are issues with this) as it relies on the most honest signals (hence why I have such a strong focus on looking at absolute wealth and seeing how far it is we have come and looking at that trajectory). Dead reckoning doesn't alert us as to whether or not there is an ice-berg up ahead (global warming, collapse of civilisation etc) that we are going to crash into and so it's necessary to employ our critical faculties to try and look ahead to those navigational challenges and I think there are some key errors we are making here too.

One key error we make is that we believe that catastrophe could have been avoided when it manifests. I think in limited circumstances, yes, it can, however if we assume that my belief that it's not possible to compute the truth value of normative claims as complex as what humanity as a whole or any given nation state should do a priori and that it is necessary to employ the political process to chose an experiment to run and then check the result (lets call this the 'guess and check' dialectic)... then in that case I think it's an error to be sad or upset or outraged at the catastrophe. I personally, simply just accept it. It was a necessary part of the dialectic process of first having a thesis and then at some point encountering its antithesis and from that computing a synthesis. It doesn't mean I don't feel horrible about WWII or the holocaust or Stalin's Gulags or the Tobacco industry getting kids hooked on cigarettes, I simply accept that we don't have any other viable means with which to arrive at these answers, so it is what it is and the important thing is to learn the lessons.

Another key error is over-estimating how controllable the ship is and perhaps fundamentally misunderstanding its operational envelope. It's not obvious to you, me or anyone what the operational envelope of the Sketchy Sea Beast is. Again, I think people are grossly overconfident in their personal assessments that they have arrived at through their individual reasoning are correct and thus they get outraged or upset the dials/levers/knobs aren't set to what they think they should be. Not only is the the control scheme of the Sketchy Sea Beast convoluted and obfuscatory, but every single one of it's operators (of which we are all one of them) is limited in their individual ability to reason through both 'bounded rationality' and 'narrative rationality'.

A potential point of disagreement between us is that the direction we are heading in is entirely wrong. We can agree to disagree there. Another error in thinking here is that because we can see an ice-berg up ahead that we have gone the wrong way. I submit to anyone that says that that is it not possible for your to compute that if we had gone any other direction that we wouldn't eventually have run into a different ice-berg.

If we simplify the metaphors, we actually all have the same goals. In this case you and I basically agree that as the driver in the seat of the car we need to make some micro-adjustments to the steering wheel to stay the course that we have agreed on and that if we start veering too far in one direction then a simple tug on the wheel will pull us back in line and this is an on-going process. We actually mostly don't differ on our goals if we are in agreement that the fundamental direction we are driving in is at least the correct one.

Edit: To anyone that is confident we are heading in the absolute wrong direction I submit to you the example of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.


The group of revolutionaries that assassinated him were convinced that for the change to happen that they wanted to see it was necessary to actually kill the Tsar. So, they did. Now he was actually big on reform and had implemented many and was in the process of setting up a judicial system with which to share his power. His assassination ushered in Alexander III who rolled back all the reforms and had the assassinators killed.

That's a bit like telling a kid with terminal cancer "Good news! Global life expectancy is going up!"

For starters, the folks living on a dollar a day may struggle to buy the book in the first place.

If my 3 year old son got terminal cancer I probably would sit and think about the fact that global life expectancy has gone up and child mortality has gone down and while this is horrible for me at least less and less people are having to experience this awful pain.

I think I would legitimately attempt to find solace in that. What else would you do? Just feel bad?

Going through terrible things is awful. Going through terrible things with a philosophy that allows you to take the most charitible interpretation of it is the least awful. It's still awful, but less so.

Can I ask you a question?

Is it your belief that we can live in a world where no one feels bad ever?


Is it your belief that there will always be some minimum degree of suffering in the World that is irreducible?

Which one?

There's likely to always be some minimum degree of suffering.

We most certainly haven't come anywhere near it yet.

Ok, that's good. I think that to say there is likely always a minimum degree of suffering is really the only rational position.

I definitely agree with you we are nowhere near it and to the extent that I could usher in the best possible world tomorrow, I wish that I could, so I do my part as I see fit toward that end.

I think where I differ from most people is in the core metaphor of how I think about it which I've described elsewhere in this thread as a ship that's basically impossible for any one person to reason about or to navigate, and so I approach normative implications borne from individual reasoning with extreme skepticism and instead prefer to focus on the honest signals of how far we have come and let the 'guess and check' dialectic play out in order to compute the truth value of any normative claims being made by any party at present as I think that's the only way it can actually be accomplished.

I sort of wonder what people's conception is of how possible and how one might go about being able to delineate what is necessary suffering from what is unnecessary suffering? Because I think this is where I differ with a lot of people too. It seems to me people think you can distinguish one from the other. I don't think you can. There is a famous parable that illustrates why and it's the one where son breaks his leg and the father exclaims that is terrible! Then the next day war breaks out and his son doesn't have to go war because he isn't capable of fighting and the father exclaims that breaking his leg was wonderful! I submit to anyone that would say you can objectively compute that something is good or bad a priori that you have a real problem on your hands with that example. The implication of that is to the extent that I want to take an action in the world that might hurt someone else I am not sure if that won't actually later on be of greater benefit to them and the only way to actually compute whether it will or not is to let the scenario play out and even then all truths are sort of temporal in that it can flip-flop between being good and bad and good and bad again ad infinitum. Though, I would suggest the guiding principle be in line with John Stuart Mill in his original concept of liberalism in that you should carry out your life project to the extent that it doesn't harm anybody else. Currently the radical left seems to feel morally justified in their extreme perversion of that which is basically formulated as "you can't even say anything that hurts my feelings" which is now just getting into very dangerous territory with deleterious effects. Yet their position ideally I suppose is that they are attempting to get the minimum amount of suffering through that mechanism and it will sort of backfire from what I can see.

I call this The Hard Problem of Delineation and it's formulated as follows:

"It's almost impossible to enumerate the possible causes of an effect and delineate the correct one, and it's almost impossible for you to think you haven't done so."

It's this trap that we get ourselves thinking that we are right and it's very hard not to be convinced that you are right, but it's also very hard to be right.

If that makes sense?

It's pretty tough to be optimistic when so much unnecessary death and suffering happens daily to ensure that those 26 people remain extremely wealthy.

Some may find this reprehensible, some may not (about 26 people at last count). Regardless, this represents a gargantuan opportunity for startups.

What, creating things the 26 may want to spend on? Or trying to squeeze out some profit from 3.8 billion poor?

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