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Survival of the Richest (2018) (onezero.medium.com)
65 points by algui91 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments



Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory secretary for Work and Pensions in the UK, has just suggested that the retirement age should be increased to 75. Problem is that in places like Glasgow men have a life expectancy of 73, so the majority of them are expected to work till they die. If this isn't class warfare and "survival of the richest" I don't what else is.


When pension funds are not actuarily balanced, there are 3 options: raise the retirement age, reduce monthly payments, or borrow from future generations.

It seems most countries go with the obviously wrong, yet politically plausible option 3.


The other two are also "obviously wrong", since people paid into the retirement scheme on the assumption of receiving particular benefits at particular times.


Except that is politically expedient to always under represent the costs to properly finance those future benefits (eg by making rosy expectations of growth, or pessimistic assumptions about expected lifetimes). Those invalid assumptions can remain untested long enough for the relevant senior people and politicians to retire and now it is someone else's problem. The someone else is always the following generation, as they are the one voice without a vote when these decisions are made.

So yes, it is always option 3.


There's just not much you can do about it. You could argue that these programs shouldn't have been implemented in the first place, because they weren't going to be sustainable, but those decisions were already made. Somebody's going to get the short end of the stick here.


Remember that "sustainability" unavoidably depends on long term predictions of the future looking somewhat like the past.

The value of my pension depends on economic growth between now and 2050. Hopefully we can continue average 7% equities growth as in the past, but everything from climate change to Brexit will have unpredictable effects on how that turns out.


What about raising taxes to pay for the pension gap? They always talk about Social Security being in some kind of crisis. Social Security is taxed at 6.2% of income for the first ~$130k of a person's income in a year. While the taxable threshold increases with inflation, we could give it a boost to better balance the books and set it to the first $400k of income.


Wouldn't that be roughly equivalent to borrowing from future generations? Although accounting math says you can borrow from someone who isn't born yet that is impossible in the physical world we live in; it is bound by laws of time and space.

It is easy to assign a negative number to an unborn child, but when people consume real goods and services they have to be provided from what currently exists. The person providing the goods is the one who will be on the hook if future generations don't feel like honouring the debt.


> Wouldn't that be roughly equivalent to borrowing from future generations?

No?

It would be roughly equivalent to saying that income greater than $130K also paid Social Security tax.


You missed one out: redirect money from other welfare schemes towards pensions.


Although I agree that raising pension age disadvantages the poor, not for that reason. Life expectancy is not the same as age most people live to.

If you compare the percentage mortality between the ages 65-75 it's pretty equal (about 1%) both for the UK [1] and Glasgow [2]. Lower life expectancy looks to me due to much greater death rates in the 25-40 range.

Raising the pension age hurts the poor, not because the poor won't experience pension, but because they have no hope of an earlier retirement, and so you are forcing people to work when they are potentially unable to effectively do so.

[1] https://www.populationpyramid.net/united-kingdom/2019/

[2] https://www.understandingglasgow.com/indicators/population/t...


People simultaneously want to have fewer children, to not have many immigrants, and to have high pensions for long time.

It is obvious that if there are not enough young people there won't be enough money to pay pensions for the old, the old people who do not want to work until they die should live with their children, and take care for their grandchildren, like people did for millenia and still do in many countries where government interventions didn't break families yet.

An additional benefit is that spending time with grandchildren increases the lifespan, and is most likely the main reason why people evolved to stay alive after passing childbearing age.


Some people want fewer children, some people have decided they cannot afford to have children. Which group is larger is unknown, and I haven't heard of a single country (and few individuals) that has expressed an interest in investigating it. Rather, most people seem intent on denying this situation is even true, despite little if any evidence suggesting that.


Do you have any good sources on the existance of the latter group? Also that could be seen as a subset of the former, I'd say people wanting fewer children have a combination of reasons for that, possibly including financial.


Other than plenty of anecdotal stories in personal conversations and on social media, none at all.

Considering Western countries are having to jack up immigration rates to make up the shortfall in reproduction, arguably contributing to a noteworthy increase in populism and racism (which does seem to greatly bother politicians and reporters), it seems odd that no one is interested in looking into the actual reasons for low birth rates.


Somehow I believe that former is much larger, the reason being that poorest countries usually have enormous number of children per family, while richest countries usually struggle to have even 2 per family.


In 1939, when the first US Social Security payments were issued, life expectancy was 62.1 for men and 65.4 for women.


Is that 73 number an average? If so, what are you talking about?


I assure you, that is by design.

What most amazes me is how blatant this is. Late-Stage Capitalism in it's death throes?

The last time there was a multi-country, "common-goal of the general people" popular movement like we are experiencing was prior to World War 1 and the movement away from Monarchy to "Constitutional Monarch" on one end of the spectrum and Communism on the other.

The overwhelming opinion of: "We don't have to live like this." has a very strong force of momentum to it.


I'm not fully convinced if "late-stage capitalism" is a suitable phrase for this historical era we're going through - I suppose we won't know until the next era defines itself.

Aside from what to call it, I do agree that wealth and power dynamics have got so blatant and cruel, especially in the US. In the last few decades, the public has witnessed countless abuses and breaches of trust from the "elites", those in government and corporations that rule their world. There's systematic exploitation, "wealth transfer", power grabs, and consolidation of society as a human farm.. OK, gotta stop my rant.

We really don't have to live like this, there must be better ways for society to self-organize. As the pressure mounts - it's been building up for a long time, and the ratchet keeps getting tighter - I think it's inevitable that there will be public movements to "take matters into their own hands", since clearly the rulers have lost touch with needs other than their own, long ago.


> What most amazes me is how blatant this is. Late-Stage Capitalism in it's death throes?

Retirement age used to be the point where people were physically unable to work, with justifications being that past 65 workers were completely unable to do anything useful [0]. If jobs have changed enough that a 70 year old can be productive (and they can) this represents a reversion to an anachronistic mean rather than death throes.

If you want death throws of capitalism, look to whatever [1, 2] changed in the 1970s that delinked wage growth and productivity; the pressure that forced the US to abandon the gold standard is probably also the pressure responsible for a lot of other ills that are building with time. It isn't a fast process.

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

[1] https://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/

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


What changed was computers. Computers didn't just improve productivity incrementally. It was easy for the management class to deal with giving a worker an 8% annual raise when their productivity grew by 10%. Then computers showed up. And workers using computers were suddenly gaining 80% or 150% productivity (if measured with the same metrics as previously). The management class could not tolerate giving out wage increases that large. The 'work hard, be more productive, and you will make more' mantra was only ever meant to be a means to preserve the status quo. It was not meant to facilitate the large-scale social change that rewarding profound productivity increases with profound wage increases would create. There was a very well-defined concept, held by both the upper class and the middle and lower classes, that it should require 40 hours of sacrifice per week for 40+ years before a person could financially survive retirement. If people could retire at 40 years of age, it would throw everything out of whack. Or at least that was the presumption.

All those stories about how automation and technology would enable people to work less have two sides. They're very appealing with workers. They're grim horror stories for those who define themselves by how many people they control and how much value they get those people to produce for a low price.


Depends on the job and the physical and mental state of a given person. For many manual jobs, this is unrealistic. Also, many people experience gradual mental decline and they become semi-unemployable in those ages


I'm not sure how things are run in the UK, but in Australia the theory goes that issues of physical and mental state would be picked up through the health system case-by-case.

I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that the retirement age was never universally seen as a reward. If a 70 year old can work, they should work. On basically the same principle as when I say that a 40 year old who can work, should work.

If they can't work then fair enough; 70 is a delicate age and life gets really hard past the early 70s. But it is a reasonable policy to say that the official age is 75 and then find a different way of filtering out people who can't work for health reasons.


But the problem here isn't capitalism. Politicians certainly want to set low retirement ages and high pensions, but they have to deal with the reality that the government simply cannot afford it. If you over promise then that's going to eventually blow up in your face. Every economic system would have this problem.


"Cannot afford" is usually a moral decision not an economic one. Nobody managed to stop the Iraq war by saying we "couldn't afford it".

Besides, pensioners aren't even in the same category as unemployed people who you can attempt to shame or starve back into the workforce. Setting pension levels is effectively setting a standard of living for pensioners. What are they supposed to do if it's cut below acceptable levels?


>"Cannot afford" is usually a moral decision not an economic one. Nobody managed to stop the Iraq war by saying we "couldn't afford it".

It is very much an economic one. It simply comes down to stuff. If you have 50 million people in your country then you need 50 million people's worth of food and other goods. If 20 million of them are retired or children then the other 30 million has to produce enough to cover themselves and the 20 million. If the balance gets worse with 30 million not working and 20 million working then you're already in a situation, where society can't really continue down that path. And this balance is getting worse in the developed world.

The only way to afford this is by reducing people's quality of life by simply having less stuff for people. This means less healthcare, worse (less) food, less safe equipment, worse entertainment etc.

If you don't have enough stuff, then you don't have enough stud. No moral decision is going to change this.

>What are they supposed to do if it's cut below acceptable levels?

Then it's below acceptable levels. Welfare programs aren't old things. They haven't been around forever. In fact, many would even argue that the way we could afford many welfare programs until now is by borrowing from future generations. Eventually that's going to catch up to us. Some generation is going to be screwed by this.


> If you don't have enough stuff, then you don't have enough stuff. No moral decision is going to change this.

Sure. Then it becomes a question of who gets the stuff. A situation where you import 50 million people's worth of food, let 10 million waste 20 million's worth of it, and let another 10 million go hungry: is that moral or sustainable?

Remember this is all being eaten by automation from the other end. If you no longer have enough human-requiring jobs that everyone can have one who is capable of working, what then?

Eisenhower:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."


>Sure. Then it becomes a question of who gets the stuff. A situation where you import 50 million people's worth of food, let 10 million waste 20 million's worth of it, and let another 10 million go hungry: is that moral or sustainable?

But you will always have food waste regardless what system you have. That's something already considered in calculations for how much food a person would need. Not doing so would be foolish, because it's irrelevant what system you have - food will still be wasted.

>Eisenhower's quote.

Eisenhower's quote is interesting, but it leaves out comparative advantage. In this case, money indeed is not the whole story. Somebody that's good at making weapons could very well be rubbish at producing food.

There's also the fact that you need to be able to defend yourself and your interests. It doesn't matter how much food you produce if somebody else just takes it from you. The modern world relies heavily on trade, but this trade requires that there is some military might on most countries. Otherwise they'll just be taken advantage of.


> The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

From the 1950s to today, it means that in mere 60 years, the optimistic view on the future has done a full U turn, and now everyone is believing we are headed for the worst (maybe with good reasons). Still this is such a radical change, in such a short time frame.


This is classic Bond-villain material. The difference from today is that back then people more readily recognised it as villainy, and the "event" would have been assumed to be nuclear war.

What it's more likely to look like today is Venezuela.


You're correct there were more bunker built 50 years ago than today.

I am not sure about the whole survivalist/bunker mentality, if everything goes down in flame, at most the bunker will only give you a few months respite, assuming you are not replaced by your head of security first.

If you are a billionaire today, it would still be better to be a millionaire in a organized society in 50 years, that being the guy with the code for the fridge in a mad max society, so I am not even sure that rationally it is a good decision to have a bunker built.


Grew up under Reagan. I'm surprised we're still here.

But to your point, America has long had subcultures with apocalyptic fetishes.

Too lazy to dig it up, but once read an article which tied it back to the types of Christians initially compelled to settle here. Book of Revelations and all that. Having been raised in a church, having someone point out this elephant in our room was a facepalm moment for me.


"combination of locks on the food supply that only they knew".

In apocalyptic scenario very easily solved by torture.

I guess these guys (who are empty inside and trying to fill it with money) never played Fallout, heh.


The thing is that these people already treat us as disposably and inhumanly as they plan to treat their apocalypse guards. The situation after "The Event" is just a glimpse of some boiled down essence of how they already view the world and the rest of us. And they have always viewed us in this way, not just in the last decades. It's why so many CEOs are clinical psychopaths. Success in the rules we have set (or rather, they have set) for this world requires such a cold disposition towards our fellow humans.


Totally... I was afraid for the future before reading this, but now... I am even more afraid.


And it is interesting that not in even the most extreme circumstances would billionaires even dream of cooperating or coexisting with others except in situations where they can dominate and control others.


We are going through the 6th mass extinction and a climate crisis so...


The thing is that the only people who can do anything about it are the people who are the most unwilling to do so because it would jeopardize their wealth.

There are more than 2000 billionaires in the world right now. If only the richest elite of those got together tomorrow and decided to put an end to industrial pollution, they could do it.

However climate change is a direct consequence of capitalism. Halting pollution would ruin the economy. Factories would have to be shut down, entire categories of products could no longer be produced, masses would become unemployed. The global financial system would tank. Surviving this change would require abandoning capitalism.

So a naive hope might be that some of the billionaire "preppers" are planning for exactly this scenario and intent on causing it once they've set up their little luxury bunkers to ensure their "quality of life" once their money becomes worthless.

A less optimistic and more realistic view would be that they know capitalism is unsustainable but want to make sure they still get the most out of it and ensure their comfort outlasts the civilisation they're helping destroy, i.e. "screw you, I got mine".


"The thing is that the only people who can do anything about it are the people who are the most unwilling to do so because it would jeopardize their wealth."

Naw. There's a faction committed to bringing about end times to fulfill some prophesy. Wish I was kidding. How do you reason with billionaire enfant terribles?


>There are more than 2000 billionaires in the world right now. If only the richest elite of those got together tomorrow and decided to put an end to industrial pollution, they could do it.

This is naive. It might be possible that they could put a dent into it or maybe incite an apocalyptic war that could end it, but without something like that they can't change it. Industries make things for people. If you suddenly double the price of food and other goods, then what do you think people will do? They'll either just compete or riot.

>Halting pollution would ruin the economy. Factories would have to be shut down, entire categories of products could no longer be produced

And who do you think buys these products? Do you really think that the general population would just accept it when their entire life comes tumbling down? I don't think any country could survive something like that.


> However climate change is a direct consequence of capitalism. Halting pollution would ruin the economy. Factories would have to be shut down, entire categories of products could no longer be produced, masses would become unemployed. The global financial system would tank. Surviving this change would require abandoning capitalism.

I believe this also. But the consequences are even more profound than they might appear: it's not just the pointless excesses of capitalism we would likely have to do without (e.g. new car on finance every 3 years, food flown halfway around the world for processing then back again, 1 zillion brands of shampoo in the supermarket) - but also many of the things we no longer view as luxuries i.e. modern housing, healthcare and medicine, choice over what we eat etc.


I didn't say it would be comfortable. But most "climate-friendly" policies already affect consumers (and often much more so than they affect industry, making them entirely pointless).

Keep in mind capitalism not only means producing excess junk. It also means producing unnecessary excess junk: overproduction and shredding/landfilling the surplus because selling it would harm the desired price point or create unwanted market dynamics (i.e. people waiting to buy at a discount later).

"Modern housing" often means tearing down existing McMansions in order to build new ones on top of them. "Choice over what we eat" often means importing produce that would be available locally but is currently out of season, or producing ready-to-eat meals only to throw them out at the end of the day, always stocking hundreds of an item in dozens of variations just to give an illusion of choice, etc etc.

And that's only the immediately obvious harm of "consumerism". Industry also means shipping parts around half the world to process them with cheap labor, then ship them all the way back so you can add a sticker to the finished product saying it was "made" locally. And with "just in time" production this means repeating that process dozens, hundreds and thousands of times with individual packaging, repackaging, shrinkwrapping, unwrapping, loading and unloading -- a simple cardboard box can end up going through three different factories (being itself unpackaged and repackaged at every new location) before being thrown out after a single use for, again, transport of other goods.

Recycling and renewable energy are bandaids. The current production levels are unsustainable, especially if we seek to lift the developing world out of poverty to similar levels of comfort as the average person in the West.

Sure, it'll suck for the average person and society and economy will have to change drastically. But it'll suck even more for the billionaires because their very existence is subject to maintaining the current status quo.

We can't sustain the "consumerist excess" of the middle class, but we certainly can't sustain that of the very rich. And they know this, which is why they would rather let "the Event" happen rather than give up their luxuries and join the rest. Because even if they have to protect their rusting food bunkers with armed slaves wearing shock collars, at least they'll still be better off than the rest.


> However climate change is a direct consequence of capitalism. Halting pollution would ruin the economy. Factories would have to be shut down, entire categories of products could no longer be produced, masses would become unemployed. The global financial system would tank. Surviving this change would require abandoning capitalism.

The goal shouldn't be to totally halt all pollution, the goal should be to switch to a carbon-neutral global economy, and find some way to sequester carbon on a large scale.

Doing that would require a massive shift in power generation to wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and nuclear power. All vehicles would have to switch to electric or fuel cell. All of that would be enormously expensive, but it could still create many new jobs.

Manufacturing would have to change dramatically and carbon scrubbers would have to be employed to counteract carbon emissions from industry. Shipping and trade would have to undergo radical transformation. The cost of many goods would rise substantially

You'd still have some air pollution, trash, water pollution, etc. But again, the goal would be to cut greenhouse emissions.

Either way the costs of not making the shift are incalculable. The civilization as we know will end if we stay on this path.


The problem is that we're well past the point where "carbon-neutral" is good enough. We not only need to stop causing additional harm, we need to figure out ways to undo at least some of the harm we've already done.

Given the limited time frame, there's simply not enough time left to "upgrade" all production to be carbon-negative (or at least carbon-neutral). Even if we could magically swap out all factories and infrastructure, we would still be overproducing and depleting scarce resources.

Plus of course thermodynamics are working against us: burning oil is easy. Extracting carbon from the air and refining it to create a usable resource on the other hand is extremely difficult and energy intensive. Trying to ramp up recycling instead of harvesting raw materials would create a massive additional need for energy, meaning we would not only have to shift to renewables but also do so while ramping up the energy production.

Plus of course nuclear power still requires mining for raw materials and building the batteries needed to store all the variable power from wind, solar etc would require even more (and rarer) raw materials.

Basically we're talking a massive overhaul with very little financial benefit (and often quite the opposite) to those owning "the means of production".

The costs of not doing it may be incalculable but the costs of doing it are far more direct and immediate. Capitalism doesn't optimise for long-term cost reduction. An individual capitalist may prefer long-term survival over short-term profits but the economic system as a whole doesn't work that way and an individual "taking the risk" of investing will be punished (i.e. lose market share, go bankrupt or be bought out) if the market outperforms them in the meantime.

That's why I'm saying the problem is capitalism: it's not some Marxist-Leninist navel-gazing. The very way capitalism works makes it impossible for those with the power to do so (i.e. "the market") to do anything about climate change. It's one big prisoner's dilemma. The only way to win this would be either for a significant majority of wealthy people to cooperate and invest everything they have, or for a single individual to control the majority of the market and force the decision (which of course doesn't work if more than one person does this) -- guess which strategy is more appealing.


> Basically we're talking a massive overhaul with very little financial benefit (and often quite the opposite) to those owning "the means of production".

Not just those owning the means of production. There will be massive consequences to those using what is produced. Doing this in the time frame needed, without having the disruption of doing it causing millions of deaths, is not going to be easy.


> The problem is that we're well past the point where "carbon-neutral" is good enough. We not only need to stop causing additional harm, we need to figure out ways to undo at least some of the harm we've already done.

Agreed. I think we're already well into a new phase in humanity where geo-engineering on a massive scale is going to be needed if we don't want to slip back into the dark ages, or worse. Unfortunately there may not be any practical solutions available to us.

I agree with a lot of what you said, I don't the markets can solve the problem. It will take wide scale government intervention. Maybe that means capitalism as we know must go away, or just a highly modified version of capitalism, I don't know. But free market capitalism is absolutely going to drive us off the cliff.


I think this is fiction.

We have lived in a creator-based morality ever since behavioural modernity (50-70,000 years ago). Teaching, trading, inventing, etc - because two heads (perspectives) are better than one. Small, isolated societies stagnate. Over time, "societies" have grown larger, more open, more inclusive.

Over time, the larger open society beats the small closed one. (even if that larger group isn't recognized as a "society", it need only communicate, share ideas and build on them).

So we needn't fear a tiny billionaire society, even with a head start (at least, not in the long term...).

> What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader?

Historically, this is a hard problem (et tu, Brutus?). It's easy to keep the masses in check; just create a "nobility" who also benefit from subjugation, all the way down. Resource them, health, education, training, armoury. Propaganda that they are better (fairy tales, clothes, etc). But hard to be safe in that inner circle... Power is a problem.

> if they can’t get a seat on the rocket to Mars.

After the worst possible imaginable apocalypse, Earth will still be far more habitable than Mars.


> Over time, the larger open society beats the small closed one. So we needn't fear a tiny billionaire society, even with a head start (at least, not in the long term...).

What happens when all societies have been essentially merged into one, largely run in a coordinated manner by sociopaths and useful idiots who control what facts the bread and circus obsessed citizens are allowed to consume?

This is one of my largest concerns with globalization - integration and optimization indeed increase efficiency and material wealth, but in doing so reduces redundancy and diversity. Evaluating these risks and making a calculated decision to proceed is one thing, completely ignoring it is something else entirely.


The source of wealth is creativity, which requires diversity (not optimization). Present globalization does not prevent competition between different parts, with competing levels of homogenity.

For example, China has had spectacular long-term growth but now that it has caught up, it must instead create, which is a different game, requiring different approaches and institutions. I think China will either open further (which it's been doing) or stagnate.

For a dsytopian total globalization that controls everything (like The Matrix)... I think it's literally impossible long term, because (1) people are smart (including every one of the masses); and (2) reality is open and infinitely complex and textured.

While specific facts about a society can be hidden, misrepresented, drowned out, not all facts about reality can be. This is perhaps a slim hope in the short term (and has been in totalitarian states throughout human history), but will win out eventually - because reality and intelligence cannot be controlled totally, and they inevitably cause change. The more perfectly optimised the State is for one situation, the less adaptable it is to another.


> The source of wealth is creativity, which requires diversity (not optimization).

Creativity requires diversity? Optimization does not create wealth? Could you share where you learned this?

> Present globalization does not prevent competition between different parts, with competing levels of homogenity.

Well sure, you can literally try to compete with companies paying their employees a few dollars an hour, and operating in environments with little environmental or workplace safety standards if you'd like. You will obviously lose, but you are not technically prevented from competing.

> For a dsytopian total globalization that controls everything (like The Matrix)... I think it's literally impossible long term, because (1) people are smart (including every one of the masses); and (2) reality is open and infinitely complex and textured.

Of the new wealth created in the world, how is it distributed? From everything I've read, it mostly goes to the top <10% of people. Do the "smart" masses not desire wealth?

> not all facts about reality can be

There's no need to conceal all facts.

> because reality and intelligence cannot be controlled totally, and they inevitably cause change

Is that so? What's your sample size?

Lots of things have been declared impossible over time, until suddenly they weren't. As the saying goes, past performance is no guarantee of future results.


Reminded of this classic Bob, The Angry Flower: Atlas Shrugged, One Hour Later.

http://angryflower.com/348.html


That is a subtle misreading of Rand; and all the more interesting because it precisely misses what she was trying to say. The sort of people who cook in return for pay or who operates machinery to till soil were the core of the world that Rand was envisioning. The vision wasn't anti-labour, it was anti-redistributive-policies. Philosophically there was a great deal of support for people who worked hard and earned a wage. If I recall correctly, its been a while, the condemnation was for the sort of people who said "I don't think you need this, so I'm going to take it and do a better job with it because you aren't moral enough".

Obviously Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction, a community as small as was in the book couldn't match the productive output of city with a large labour force and not everyone is going to buy in to a capitalistic utopia. But the idea was never that the rich should dominate by virtue of being rich; the philosophy was that people should become rich because others agree that they are creating wealth. And the method for determining what people think should be a free market, and everyone should be left alone apart from that.


I'm gonna have to correct you there: Rand famously was not interested in 'others', much less a suggestion that people's success should be in any way conditional upon 'others agree' in any sense.

Perhaps you have an economic philosophy which I still wouldn't like, but which is nevertheless way better than what Rand was considering.


I'll argue that textual evidence supports the opposite conclusion.

Look at when Rearden finally decides to bail of society. He takes his top / mangers / engineers with him. What about all those other workers in Rearden Metal? The most of them are shown as hard working. But that's not enough. They (along with the d'Anconia's employees, etc, in a more explicitly cruel fashion) get left in a society that is purposefully being put into apocalypse mode in order to prove why certain people should get what they want. They get left there because they have to be. The Randian-moochers, would probably never humble themselves to ever invite the exceptional back. It's only going to be the impoverished workers who are going to have to throw off the yoke of the moochers and acknowledge how the world should be. So without the honest hard workers of the novel in such a position, the central conceit doesn't work.

People like Galt start as mere workers but only so their exceptionality can be established by their ascendancy.

The common worker is cannon fodder.

In the world of Ayn Rand, the worker only exists to acknowledge the superiority of the exceptional.


Some of these points are convincing, so I shall slightly modify my argument.

If Galt's Gulch had taken in the hardworking labourers as well as the management Ayn would have basically been writing a parable of the US vs the USSR. She might have been happy to do that too, but with Atlas Shrugged she clearly wasn't satisfied saying "Capitalism is better". She wanted to say "Communism doesn't work, and the driving idea here is really bad and should be rejected".

So although horrible things did happen to the workers in the story of Atlas Shrugged, it wasn't at all because Ayn's message was anti-labour. Her point was that if the power of labour was being directed by people who wanted to redistribute capital based on need/fairness/something-other-than-ability-to-use-capital then the story would not go to a good place.

Her philosophy had nothing bad to say about people who worked hard and earned money. It had a lot of unkind things to say about people who worked hard to support involuntary redistribution, and stood idly by without understanding that power was shifting away from the capable people.

> In the world of Ayn Rand, the worker only exists to acknowledge the superiority of the exceptional.

If I look around my room, I can't really name a person who could create any item in it except some of the technical writings. If I could, it would be the very small fraction of my acquaintances who are not clerks, office workers, administrative types or in the health or service sector. I rely pretty heavily on exceptional people of superior creativity to myself. I suspect most of the people on this forum do too.


At the end of Atlas Shrugged, one laborer with a name (Eddie Willers) is left abandoned on the tracks, presumably left to die in the collapse.


Yes, but not because he was a labourer. Rand was pretty hamfisted with that sort of thing, it was clearly intended to represent that he was devoting all he had to the redistributive types and that they were unable to give him anything meaningful in return.

If he'd been labouring for the people Ayn liked instead of the ones she didn't he'd have lived to a happy and ripe old age. Which is the point of the book - what determined people's fate in the story was largely how they interacted with the people who wanted redistributive policies.


I think you're misreading critics of Rand. Please don't assume that people only disagree with Rand because they don't understand Rand.

> The vision wasn't anti-labour, it was anti-redistributive-policies.

I won't comment on whether Rand's intentions are anti-labor, but intentions are irrelevant. Her vision was anti-labor because her vision is harmful to laborers, regardless of intentions. The problems were fairly obvious even at Rands time, and have continued to be borne out since.

> But the idea was never that the rich should dominate by virtue of being rich; the philosophy was that people should become rich because others agree that they are creating wealth.

You're conflating wealth with value. Rand believed that people should become rich (obtain wealth) because others agree that they are creating value. The problem is, Rand deliberately eschewed all attempts to ensure that this system actually works, ignoring the problem with the free market which was well-known even at that time:

Some means of producing value (land, machinery, institutional knowledge) have a high entry cost, so only those with wealth can obtain those means. In this case, those without wealth are robbed twice:

1. If the poor wish to produce value they must go to those with the means of production. This means that only the rich get to participate in the agreement of who is creating value, and the poor must accept whatever wealth the rich say the value produced by the poor is worth. Of course the poor can find another wealthy person to produce value for, but the wealthy have no incentive to give up more wealth than their competitors as long as there is enough value being produced by the poor to go around. It should be no surprise that the wealthy choose to reward the poor with as little wealth as they can, no matter how much value the poor are actually producing.

2. If the poor wish to obtain value they must go to those with the means of production. This means that only the rich get to participate in the agreement of what value is worth, and the poor must give up whatever wealth the rich say their value is worth. Of course, the poor can find another wealthy person to obtain value from, but the wealthy have no incentive to accept less wealth than their competitors as long as there's enough wealth from the poor to go around. It should be no surprise that the wealthy choose to reward themselves with as much wealth as they can, no matter how much value they are actually producing.

All this means that once a person has obtained adequate ownership of some means of production, that person no longer needs to produce value in order to obtain wealth. Rather than those who produce value being rewarded with wealth as Rand idealized, the poor produce the majority of the value and the rich are rewarded with majority of the wealth.

Redistribution of wealth isn't based on the belief that the rich are less moral than the poor. On the contrary, the reason so many poor are on board with Randian economics is that they believe they can obtain wealth and then behave the same way as the wealthy.

Redistribution of wealth is based on two beliefs: 1. Those who produce value should be rewarded with wealth, and 2. Those who wish to produce value should be enabled to do so. "Free" markets oppose both these beliefs, because 1. They allow those with wealth to amass more wealth without producing value, and 2. They allow those with wealth to determine who is allowed to produce value.


My guess is that the article is fiction, or a highly modified version of the truth to make some point.

It is interesting to think about societies that can handle strong shock. Looking back, my guess is that the modern West doesn't have that capability built in. A proven model is one of a very strong hierarchy (monarchy perhaps) with strong social glue.

That isn't to say that you shouldn't go on extended vacation at your estate in Spain when a slave rebellion starts up near your place in Capua.


I think the article hits the nail on the head. The problem with climate change and the threat to humankind is not about technology, nor politics.

It's about values. It's about consciousness. It's about understanding that we humans are still a part of nature, not apart from nature.



Damn thought this would’ve been the link to the advice on how to stop my robot guard from being installed with a virus via radio waves and slitting my throat at night.


They’d probably just go with a hunter seeker like Dune given drones and CV


Not sure what are they so worried about. Las Vegas exists in an environment totally dependent on the outside. Paying guards is trivial when you pay them out of providing another service.

If they were actually in a bunker because of nuclear fallout, just be the guy with the promises a few can believe in, and use them to keep the others in line. It's not a few guards with guns that keep prisoners the world over from revolting, it's hope.


Recap: Hedge fund managers asked Rushkoff for thoughts on how to "hire" loyal people during the doomsday. His answer was something like "treat them and their families nicely".

I thought the answer was obvious: Start a prepper cult. Or buy your way into the upper tiers of an existing cult.

Quakers are a reasonable bet. Mormons are the best available bet. Plus you get your own planet to rule.


I guess it's nice to know that these super rich guys think about exactly the same stuff as I do when I'm taking a stroll.


This is a really good article. I fail to understand why it does not create huge discussion forum on HN where people seem to actively promote climate change discussions.

Because its an old article ?


Maybe because:

> You've completed your member preview for this month, but when you sign up for a free Medium account, you get one more story.

Not gonna happen.


Anonymous mode? Alternatively, this URL has the exact same text: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/11/survival-of-the-richest-the-...


eh saying the "others" are the enemy is as old as civilization. If you think people wealthier than you are the enemy just wait until you hear about people less wealthy than you.


Billionaires aren't the enemy. That's far too simplistic.

But the difference between the billionaires and the "unwashed masses" is that the latter hold far less power. Even if you don't have any influence to begin with, if you have enough money you can buy influence and thus power -- if you have enough money, you don't even need to spend it to exert influence as the mere threat of using that money (or simply moving it elsewhere) can be enough.

The wealthy do however routinely use the poor as scapegoats to distract the ire of the not-quite-as-poor. Especially when it comes to immigration, social welfare and other social issues.

The rich are not a marginalised and victimised minority. They're the very opposite of marginalised. Because they control the economy, they can influence politics directly whereas the poor have to trust the promise that their individual voice might sway politics one way or another as long as enough of them share their personal opinions.

EDIT: Point is, unlike what Ayn Rand would have you believe, billionaires are no different from those less fortunate and "their" wealth is not their just reward but the direct result of extracting value from society, leaving everyone else less poor. Jeff Bezos isn't an evil mastermind, he's just a selfish man who through a mix of luck and ruthlessness managed to get away with amassing a fortune out of mostly other people's efforts.


>If you think people wealthier than you are the enemy just wait until you hear about people less wealthy than you

what? one of these groups has the power/influence to systematically rig the law in their favor and the other... doesn't. how can you possibly compare the two?


To those less wealthy than you, you are part of the category "those more wealthy than me" - that is, part of the enemy. They aren't joining with you to fight against the people richer than you. They're intending to fight against you. (At least, I believe that's chasd00's point.)


If you even think thoughts like "... making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival" you are unworthy of your wealth in my eyes. Apparently they are also unworthy in their own eyes, I mean they have very little faith in their ability to reason with people and get a fair (micro) economy going based on fair capitalistic principles without any coercion of free minds. These are not people you want around when rebuilding society and not people that have an intrinsic feeling for the "golden rule". I have the feeling the author met a particular small group of rich sociopaths. I wouldn't want to insult any social rich people by grouping them with this kind actually.

In any case, someone will kill you while you are putting that collar on someone else.


I'm not sure it's that they're "unworthy in their own eyes" as much as a belief (a) their current worth depends on property rights existing; and (b) that their other skills, while they may be vital to a developed economy, aren't that valuable in one based on subsistence agriculture.

Everyone knows in zombie movies every band of survivors is riven with conflict and factions who end up fighting, after all!


I think it's because for the most rapacious capitalists, the human experience is solely governed by 'might makes right'. For them, the only reason people cooperate or do something kind, is either for some reward or to avoid punishment. These are the people that got to the top by being ruthless and/or immoral, so their world view is built on naked self-interest.

Without governments to enforce the law or money to keep people in line, they believe that things will immediately revert to the law of the jungle.


Tell me, how does one get 85k claps on medium?


eat the rich


I can't defend billionaires proposing having their employees wear shock collars, but I still think the article is unfair in 2 important ways.

1) The capitalism he decries is making the poorest people in the world much, much better off. Here's life expectancy: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/life-expectancy-globally-..., but if that doesn't appeal to you there are lots of other L-shaped charts showing good things happening in poor places in the last 50 years. There's an argument that middle class people in wealthy places are worse off today over the last 50 years, but there is not a credible argument that poor people are.

2) I completely understand the discomfort of being around billionaires speculating about how to save themselves when everything goes to hell, but it doesn't mean they want or expect things to go to hell. Investors are trained to think about the effects of plausible worst case scenarios, separately from considering probabilities. If you have a billion dollars it may be worth spending a million dollars preparing for societal collapse, even if that's a very unlikely outcome. The sad fact is that societal collapse is normal in human history- most currency that's ever existed has become worthless, most governments that have formed no longer exist. Rich countries since 1950 are an exception to this rule, but accepting that it's possible they will collapse doesn't mean it's any more likely now than it was 50 years ago. I think a billionaire spending some time thinking about how he would handle societal collapse is reasonable, even though focusing only on their individual survival rather than how they could help society is not especially admirable.




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