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Secret Fears of the Super-Rich (theatlantic.com)
255 points by gammarator on Mar 24, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 195 comments

We recently figured out that a major problem with the SIAI Visiting Fellows program has been that we don't give Visiting Fellows a context in which they know how well they're doing - they're picking up rationality tricks of the trade, but there's no counter that goes up when they do.

I suspect that rich people who aren't just measuring their progress by net assets, acquire this problem with their entire lives - now that they're not holding down a job, they no longer have any sense of what constitutes "progress".

Existential angst mostly just consists of having one or more problems you don't know how to identify ("My life lacks obvious progress indicators" having not even occurred to you as a hypothesis for describing what's wrong) and so you find that everything you do to try to address the problems you think you have, never solves the real problem. http://lesswrong.com/lw/sc/existential_angst_factory/. If there's anyone out there who's reading this and thinking "Yes, that's me", you can go ahead and email me (Eliezer Yudkowsky) because problems like this really should be solvable. Similarly, now that we've figured out what was wrong with the Visiting Fellows program we're going to try to fix it, etcetera.

Another possible problem with the Visiting Fellows program is that you're selecting for fairly unambitious/non-driven people. See this Less Wrong thread:


And this Robin Hanson blog post:


(Which suggests that the personality development agenda the Visiting Fellows program is currently pursuing may not succeed in transforming Visiting Fellows in to folks who are more driven and productive.)

I and at least 2 other people who have had a decent amount of direct contact with the Visiting Fellows agree on this.

Of course, another possibility is to make being a Visiting Fellow more like having a job--even relatively non-driven folks seem to be able to frequently get stuff done in job-like contexts. It's just that the portion of the population that's able to succeed in deadline-free not-intrinsically-fun self-directed activity seems to be pretty low. (And FWIW Eliezer, I am pretty sure you are part of this portion of the population--the fact that you're frequently disappointed with the amount you get done is a strong indicator. The real problem is when a person isn't disappointed with the amount they get done because their bar for themselves isn't set very high.)

I have experienced a lot of the lack of progress indicator angst you mention. I'm nowhere near rich and it isn't that important of a goal to me in itself, but since leaving college at 19 (I'm nearly 26 now), I haven't had a 9-5 job. I played online poker professionally for 4-5 years and I've been a developer for the last 2. My development work has either been a set my own hours/work from home arrangement or contract work. I'd say the struggle to live with some kind of structure while also maintaining the high level of freedom and flexibility that I can't stand to be without has been the defining challenge of my life so far.

I'm very glad that I've been able to get out of the box and do my own thing, but it's also made life a lot more difficult in many ways. It's been harder to develop consistent social circles since these tend to center around college and work. Even though I'm pretty good at making friends, at least for a fairly introverted person, I rarely feel like I really fit with whatever groups I fall in with--I tend to go back and forth between feeling insecure and being bored and annoyed by others' seeming conformity and lack of imagination. A bit of social anxiety is involved as well.

I've also never been able to maintain a consistent circadian rhythm. At this point I've just given up on worrying about it and regularly stay up for 30+ hour stretches when I'm not tired or have a lot to do. I've found it easier to just go with it than trying to force myself into the 'normal' way. This also contributes to feeling weird or different from others though--just feels like I'm on another wavelength a lot of the time.

Not sure why I decided to share this exactly. I can definitely imagine having a lot of the same issues as a billionaire. I suppose that's why it doesn't seem a particularly worthwhile goal to pursue. I'd rather focus on finding a good creative writing group or learning to meditate or finding a place/way to live that helps me find more balance and belonging. Things that would have a tangible impact on my day to day being. Making a lot of money seems beyond a point to get in the way if anything.

I don't know if there's anything in particular to blame, but our society is quite exclusionary in many ways toward folks who go off the beaten path, even if they are otherwise kind and productive people with plenty to offer. Generally reasonable people can be very judgmental about things like not having a college degree or a normal job or typical sleep patterns. I've learned to take it in stride for the most part, but it leaves sort of a bad taste in my mouth. I suppose wealthy people may have to face some irrational prejudice from others as well.

I think the best way around this is to join a team sport. You can quickly get a social circle without a lot of time commitments. At the same time you get to feel what success is like when there is a real risk of failure. If you can find something with a reasonable exercise component you can also relapse a lot of boring workouts with something far more fun.

However, as much as people might dislike them the most accessible team sport is Raiding in an MMO. People get addicted because they fill some basic human needs that the average modern life does not.

Well, it sounds like you know the problem (you haven't found a community you like yet) and have ideas about how to solve it (finding a good creative writing group; I would also try science fiction conventions, hacker dojos, a Unitarian church and your local Less Wrong meetup). I can't think of much else to say - if you know where your problems are coming from, you know how to solve them better than I do.

Thank you, it's encouraging to get the sense I'm on the right track. Those all sound like good ideas. I think living near a hacker space would be ideal as a way to work independently but still be part of something. Some of my relatives are Unitarians and I've always admired the philosophy--it's like religion distilled down to the good parts. I haven't heard of Less Wrong but I'll check it out.

I'm going to move soon, most likely to SF or Oakland, where I don't have any real friends or contacts to speak of. I'm very excited at having the chance to fully restructure my life, but the wimpy worrier in me is worried that being alone will cause me to freeze up. Ah well, suppose all I can do is try :)

How many people are there losing money on poker that you could afford to live off of it?

The vast majority... 90-95% as a rough guess.

It's funny that people consider the thought that they are composed of dancing particles depressing.

I mean -- we're made of dancing particles! That's hilarious!

"Existential angst mostly just consists of having one or more problems you don't know how to identify ("My life lacks obvious progress indicators" having not even occurred to you as a hypothesis for describing what's wrong)"

This has nothing to do with existentialism, much less existential angst. Don't know where you got this definition.

Can you explain in more detail what you disagree with and why?

I believe he was using it as a synonym for ennui.

"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship - be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles - is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things - if they are where you tap real meaning in life - then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already - it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power - you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart - you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing."


If "worship" means anything it means an unconditional, faith based obeisance.

If you define "worship" as merely seeing something as larger or more important than yourself, then yes, everyone "worships something". But this "observation" is not profound but rather a verbal card-trick leaving you with nothing useful. What interesting is the difference between worshiping a God, formulating a rational, ethical system, attempt approach reality scientifically, cultivating the "be here now" attitude and what-all, rather than the comforting new age claim that "all beliefs are really the same".

"If "worship" means anything it means..."

Whoa, there, stop right there. Meaning flows into definitions, not the other way around. Worship can mean many, many things, and when specified by the author (as it seems to be reasonably, if implicitly, done here) unless they're trying to do something really stupid like redefine worship to mean "purple", you pretty much have to take the definition as given.

Declaring "No, the word worship really means X" does nothing to counter the original text, nor does it further your understanding or anybody else's. As evidenced by the fact that your second paragraph strongly suggests you were too caught up in enforcing a wrong meaning to even see the point, as "all beliefs are really the same" is very contrary to what you are replying to, which is a discussion on the very different results that different beliefs can have! And I would note, at no point in the quotation as given did the question of "truth" come up, it was simply talking about beliefs and their results. (Right or wrong. I'm not defending it per se except inasmuch as I'm suggesting you completely missed it. The full context may contain the idea of truth of the belief, I don't know.)

Similarly, to use another example I've seen more times than I can count, logically defeating religion requires substantially more than to simply declare that "by definition, faith is belief in something that doesn't exist" and QED your way to victory in the next sentence. Not everybody uses the term in that way, and all you can do with wordplay like that is preach to the choir, you'll convince nobody who didn't already agree with you with that sort of thing.

That is a weak defense of an equivocation fallacy. Claiming he didn't play along "hard enough" doesn't undermine -his- point that the original statement is an equivocation fallacy.

While there is no platonic definition of the word, any two people communicating have some definition, and each has some sense of what the other's definition is. Intentionally violating that is acceptable in certain cases when you are careful to ensure you don't poison the conversation. No such care was given here.

It's a shifted definition of the word "worship" which then shifts the definition of the word "atheist" which then shifts the definition of the word "belief" in your post, and which then shifts the definitions of the word "faith". We've created an entire parallel vocabulary which will do -nothing- helpful to the conversation.

And two posts away you have this: http://news.ycombinator.org/item?id=2365864

A guy talking about how atheists have faith. Except it's not atheists, it's "atheists". And they don't have faith. They have "faith". The equivocation fallacy is complete.

This is what happens when you let someone poison a conversation with an equivocation.

"We've created an entire parallel vocabulary which will do -nothing- helpful to the conversation."

You haven't created one. It already exists. I'm not proscribing, I'm describing. This is well within normal definitions of worship, which is a fairly fuzzy word as it is. Go ask ten people on the street to define it and see what you get. You'll get at least one that fits this close enough. "Spending ones mind and body on that which you prioritize the highest" is not that far out a definition, which is at least close to the sense used in that quote; when one talks about "worshiping money" we do not generally mean that a Benjamin has been placed on a literal pedestal and one is literally bowing in front of it and expecting favors from Mammon, yet the phrase is clearly in common use and has some sort of meaning.

The quote does not equivocate and you've misdiagnosed the fallacy. Equivocation is when you change your definition halfway through. There's no change in that quote. It starts with a certain (though as I said implicit) definition and it carries it through. If you think it changed, again, I'd really suggest reading it more carefully and considering the possibility that it is in fact not out to trap you in linguistic wordplay but actually has something to say that is in fact not even particularly religious (or perhaps more accurately supernatural) in nature. It's an observation about human nature that can still be true in a purely mechanistic universe. I'm not even sure what better terminology there might be.

The conversation isn't being poisoned with equivocation, the conversation is poisoned by people being simply unclear by their word usage, and refusing to grant the author any benefit of the doubt because they have their own baggage surrounding certain words. (That's two distinct things.)

English sucks. If you agree that there are no platonic definitions of words, then you need to be willing to follow through with the implications of that and bend a little to follow people in good faith. You're getting caught up in particular definitions and also appear to consequently not actually understand what the quote was saying. Right or wrong (because I'm not sure I 100% agree with it as is), how can you fairly judge it if you choose to not understand it?

It is a Rene Girard line of thinking - worship is closely related to envy. If you think about envy - it is not really unconditional but it can be seen as such.

I can't stand this platitude that there are no atheists in foxholes. I have been inches from death and never questioned my atheist beliefs.

The foxholes platitude, as I understand it, posits that when faced with death, everyone turns to spirituality. I don't think that's what the parent's quote was really about. It seems to me the quote is saying that you can stop worshipping the spiritual world, but you can't avoid worshipping something... money, prestige, science, comfort, fun, etc.

While I disagree with the "worshipping anything other than god will eat you alive" sentiment... in general I agree with the concept.

The idea that you could rid yourself of unexamined, culturally imprinted beliefs is a charged mixture of hubris and absurdity.

Atheists shed some small set of (generally preposterous) beliefs, and then imagine they are free of faith. It's like rich white kids eschewing BMW's and designer clothes and thinking they've escaped privilege.

Atheists ... imagine they are free of faith.

Don't assume.

you can't avoid worshipping something

Don't assume.

Anyone who comes to a conclusion about something inevitably in the end has faith. The fact that I sit in a chair right now, I know obviously that the chair can support me. But at the end of the day, I don't know for sure, so that knowledge is also rooted in faith that it will continue to support me and won't spontaneously break. And I've had chairs spontaneously break on me before too, so there's physical evidence in my history that my conclusion isn't a sure thing.

The only people who don't have faith are skeptics, and I'm talking about skeptics who are skeptical about everything here. Like they aren't even sure of their own existence.

Faith is a logical requirement of any personal conclusion whether you like it or not.


Even if you experiment to beyond reasonable doubt, you still risk that you could be wrong. Any true scientist trusts in the scientific method, but the scientific method itself leaves things open to new questions, new evidence, and new experiments. That's what makes the scientific method wonderful. But that's also why any conclusion by the scientific method also in the end has a final requirement of faith for any immediate conclusions.

You've moved the goalposts considerably with your definition of faith being merely a reasonable acceptance of a proposition based on evidence. This is far from the prescribed as well as the descriptive definition of faith.

Pick your favorite ancient European or Middle Eastern religious or philosophical writing and look at the actual usage of the word "faith" (or the word translated as "faith"). You'll find that its definition is something along the lines of "reasonable acceptance of a proposition based on evidence" with the followup of "acting upon that proposition in the face of emotional uncertainty". Or, more simply, classical faith is the triumph of reason and experience over emotion and fickleness.

It's only been about the last 140 years (with the rise of Christian Fundamentalism and the associated mysticism and anti-intellectualism) that "faith" has been used to refer to belief without reason or evidence. The parent poster is moving the goalposts, but he's moving them back toward where they actually belong.

Not much longer than 140 years ago, /nice/ had pretty much the opposite meaning it does now.

You can't just pick a word's meaning from hundreds of years ago (worse, a foreign-languag equivalent) and drop it into modern conversation without stating that that's what you're doing.

Let me state it more strongly: the definition of faith I gave is not only the historical standard from prior to 140 years ago, it's also the modern standard among religious scholars and in most religious traditions. It's only in the last 140 years, within one particular anti-intellectual religious tradition (and among critics whose primary experience is with that tradition), that "faith" means the other thing. Their usage is decidedly in the minority. As such, I think it's perfectly fair for people to use the more correct definition, and it's unreasonable for those who are ignorant of that definition to cry foul when presented with it.

It doesn't matter where you think the goalposts should be. Moving them in order to make a counterpoint is a fallacy.

It's not a fallacy to move the goalposts back to where they belong after someone else has misplaced them. It is only a fallacy when the same person places them in one place and then another.

Maybe we're not seeing eye to eye on what was being said. erikpukinskis defined faith as "unexamined, culturally imprinted beliefs". Okay, fine. Then he states that atheists imagine they are free of those. crasshopper's comment basically means (correct me if I'm wrong), "don't assume that atheists imagine they are free of unexamined, culturally imprinted beliefs." I agree. At most, atheists claim freedom from a more severe subset of those kinds of beliefs specifically regarding religion. PakG1 then stretches the definition of faith to include even those beliefs which are examined and based on knowledge and past evidence. Let me know where you think the first misplacement was.

The first misplacement was long before this comment thread. But erik was the first to explicitly state it and use it in an argument (arguing for a position I would not agree with.)

That said, PakG1 is not stretching the definition of faith, he's correcting it. It is appropriate to classify erik's position as incorrect and his definition as lacking, but not to classify Pak's correction as a fallacy.

I doubt it? Take the following statement, "I have faith in your ability to get the job done." Do not such statements arise from reasonable acceptance of a proposition based on evidence?

You're playing a semantic game with the word faith here that makes it indistinguishable from the word "believe" in every single one of its definitions. A typical next step from there is to equate an atheist's acceptance of a scientifically supported theory to a religious person's belief in a supernatural claim. Thus all belief is faith and all faith is belief and everyone is equally justified in it.

Nobody is playing semantic games here, nor have the goalposts moved, because faith is the application and confidence in a given belief.

From a Christian perspective, the Bible defines "faith" as confidence in that which we hope for and that which is unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

That's pretty simple, and secondly, that pretty much lines up with every "dictionary" definition of faith -- i.e. a confidence (or an assured belief) in that which cannot be presently assured. Everything in this world has differing degrees to which we must use faith.

When I drive my car, I don't need much reassurance of faith (i.e. confidence in a belief) that when I turn the wheel left, the car is going to make the turn. (My belief being in the car's ability to make the turn). However, if you were rationally honest, you would agree that just because the car turned left 1000 times prior, that does not truly give you a reason to be 100% rationally confident that it will continue to do so.

Why? Because the environment and every single factor has changed. The road is different, the car is older, the wheel bearings may be a little less greased, the tires have worn, the gravel lays differently, the weather is different, thousands of tiny different universal factors have changed, which really forms an entirely unique model for the 1001st left turn you are about to make. Not to mention, you aren't God, so you have no possible way of knowing all those factors. The perfect mathematical model exists for determining whether that car will make the turn, but you will never know it, so you can only generalize based on prior experience. So you go on, ignoring that tiny little chance (using faith -- a confidence in a given outcome) that the car will not perform as expected.

Faith is the confidence in an expected (hoped for) outcome, don't make it out to be more than it is. Some things in this world require larger doses of faith, like whether or not God exists. Empiricism helps to make faith easier.

So you have defined faith as the thing that fills the gap between the amount of confidence we can reasonably have in a proposition based on evidence/knowledge and the amount of confidence we would like to have. Let me be the first to rush to the common ground here, as I believe this to be a useful definition.

Some things in this world require larger doses of faith, like whether or not God exists.

Exactly. To put an even finer point on it, it would also take a great amount of faith to confidently assert that there are dragons in your basement.

Ok, so you've facetiously applied our correct definition of faith to include dragons in basements. However, under further analysis, we also realize it takes an equally great amount of faith to claim that science can rationally answer questions that cannot be empirically validated. Existential questions like:

- Where did we come from?

- How did we get here?

- What happened X billion years ago?

- etc, etc.

We can establish mathematical and physical models in the present, but knowing present models does not rationally give us any clue as to whether those models were the same in the past, especially as we go farther back in time. Even knowing present rates of change do not establish whether that delta was the same throughout history. Extrapolating present models into the past functions on several underlying assumptions (oh hey, faith!), and ultimately we realize we truly have no way of empirically validating the past.

So yes, I think it's good we've come to common ground on a definition of "faith". Now apply it to your own models of thinking, and you can see why on existential issues we stand on common ground of faith. I'm all for science, but it's good to recognize the limits of empiricism.

I don't know if you're trying to denounce the scientific theory of evolution or if the question you're really trying to get at is, "What is the universally applicable cosmic meaning of our existence?" If it's the latter. then I'd suggest to you that the problem lies in the question.

As far as your past versus present comments go, I cannot tell whether your indulging in philosophical navel gazing about the Problem of Induction, or if you actually have a particular scientific theory in mind that you think doesn't stand up to the evidence. In the former case, you can quickly reason that accepting any scientific principle takes as much faith as picking your nose, which renders the conversation meaningless and contradicts your given definition of faith to begin with. After all, you don't know that the universe wasn't created 15 seconds ago with all of our memories intact. If it's the latter case, and you really believe that there are some important underlying assumptions in a specific area of science that scientists have not stated up front, then I think the best thing to do would be to contribute your insights to the scientific community by writing a paper on it. If you can demonstrate previously unknown shortcomings in a widely accepted scientific theory, then you will be listened to and heralded. If you cannot, then your vague accusations that scientists overstate their assumptions and thereby use "faith" to back up their research are baseless.

Eh, I think I may have somewhat got off track about the original "Atheists ... imagine they are free of faith." statement.

Regardless, I think we both came to agreement that faith is a necessity.

After all, you don't know that the universe wasn't created 15 seconds ago with all of our memories intact.

You're being absurd. What I was trying to get at is that empiricism has its limits (and that everyone uses those "large doses" of faith). The only valid past that can be legitimately (i.e. rationally) studied is the past which has been subjected to empirical observation.

We cannot rationally establish beliefs about a past which we have not (nor any human) ever empirically observed. The scientific method relies on empiricism to validate its claims. Therefore science which attempts to describe a past that nobody has ever experienced is functioning on faith (origins, existential answers, etc). Pretty simple and really all I was getting at for a typical atheist's worldview.

I think you're worried about me lumping blind faith and assured faith together as one thing. I don't think that's what I'm trying to do here. Also, I think it's erroneous to dismiss all religious faith as blind faith, and that most people haven't thought through the logic of that. But that's a lengthy debate that shouldn't be done here. This comment alone would probably be enough to get me downvoted plenty. :)

It's not a "semantic game" to present the correct definition of a word when someone else has misused it.

It is, however, a fallacy to poison the well by suggesting that the person who has presented the correct definition is about to engage in the "typical next step" of making an erroneous claim that the person hasn't actually made.

Ever hear of the philosopher Charles Pearse? Or the school of American Pragmatism? You're touching on some of what he was into. "Links in the chain of credibility".

I like that XKCD gets cited in rhetoric here. =)

While an interesting personal anecdote, your comment has nothing to do with what DFW is talking about. He touches on multiple platitudes throughout his speech (and names them as such): this is not one of them.

It relates in the following way. DFW presumes to know the internals of other people's minds, and to instruct them on how to be better. Same with the no-atheists-in-foxholes conjecture.

Is this serious? After reading my comment did you even bother re-reading the speech? By your analogy, every philosophical, psychological, sociological, et al text relates to the platitude your originally mentioned. The actual meaning of your original comment still has absolutely nothing to do with DFW's speech. This whole thread is like watching a student defend a paper about a book he never read and doesn't understand, but whose opinion is bolstered by yet more students with even less comprehension of the text than him.

No need to get upset, mon. I'm sure they just feel similarly.

I dislike this: Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.

To me that says people cannot choose what to do with their own minds. Like the atheists-in-foxholes saying, it denies a freedom that I cherish and denigrates a goal that I aspire to.

This is all very much a sidelight. We're just messing around on the internet, right? No hard feelings.

Your harsh words have been bothering me so I'm writing again.

* I did re-read the speech.

* Not every text relates to the foxholes platitude.

* Even if you don't think there's a connection between what I said and what DFW said, so what? We are on a tangent off a tangent off a tangent in the middle of the internet.

* I feel like you maybe are frustrated at somebody or something else and taking it out on me via the internet. Not nice.

Maybe not a foxhole but a child of ours who was very sick. Since then I just don't partake when there is an argument about the existence of something bigger than ourselves. Each to his own.

What an interesting thing to take away from the quote, maybe I assume too much because I've read the whole speech but certainly I did not think he meant to say what you are implying.

What I took from it personally is that people tend to find meaning in life from something - a deity, a job, money, fame, looks, their own business - and that it doesn't really which of those you choose you're essentially taking a leap of faith that it will deliver happiness.


I find DFW's perspective interesting but overly didactic.

The above was not meant as a takeaway or summary of what he wrote.

I always took it to mean that atheists were too smart to wind up in a foxhole in the first place.

I regret so very much that David Foster Wallace is no longer with us. I'd love to see an E Unibus Pluram for the internet.

Btw, the best way to experience this is the original audio recording of DFW's speech: http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAudiob...

So a "set of ethical principles" are "spiritual-type" even if constructed in pure reductionism.

Such a stupid nonsense ...

Could you elaborate?

The word 'worship' has a widely accepted meaning (as defined in dictionaries, etc.). This quote tries to change the meaning of the word, while having no useful information/ideas.

I don't know what's more disappointing, the fact that your original comment, which added absolutely nothing of value, was voted up or that this explanation has even more votes.

All it takes is a simple Google search to show that the author of the quote uses worship quite routinely in one of the word's many "widely accepted" meanings:


The only contentious thing he has done is draw parallels to atheism, the definition of which is not so sensitive to context. The merits of doing so I think would have been a good talking point, but instead all you contributed was "a stupid nonsense."

The comments here to this overall incredible speech are very surprising. I can't argue that it doesn't have any useful information/ideas, that is a subjective value judgement (as crazy as it seems to me); however, in what way is he trying to change the meaning of the word? One of the examples given in merriam-webster is:

extravagent respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem <worship of the dollar>

I found it an interesting read, perhaps a cautionary tale. I suspect that if you are an entrepreneur 'to get rich' and you succeed and find you are depressed all the time because you don't know who your friends are, some (possibly material) portion of your new found wealth will go toward counseling.

I had the non-unique experience of being a multi-millionaire for 2 weeks in the summer of 1999. Which is to say that on paper, in terms of options and restricted stock, and stock which was currently owned but embargoed (due to my companies acquisition) was 'worth' millions.

I really had to sit back and think hard about what that meant, would I retire in 4 years?, keep working ? join a venture firm? The stock went from $120/share to $0.83/share before I could sell any of it so I never had to actually answer those questions but I found that how I felt when I was 'rich' was different than how I thought I would feel. I don't know if that is a common experience or not.

I find the idea that someone wouldn't really feel financially secure unless they had $1b in the bank sad. But I looked at what Google paid for Eric Schmidt's 'security detail' and I realized that at some point you become a 'soft target' for people who would acquire money through violence or extortion. I would hope to avoid becoming one of those targets. I've heard that if you are ever in danger of acquiring too much wealth you can 'fix' that by buying an airline. (with props to Sir Richard Branson)

Reminds me of the evergreen Joseph Heller anecdote:

"At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, 'Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . Enough.'"

this is becoming a cliche!

That is an awesome quote. The viral r-factor here is at least 1.

What does that term mean?

Of every person told this quote, they tell it to > 1 other new person on average.

So the "r" stands for what, repeatability? Where did this jargon originate (and more importantly, why do web searches only turn up insulation values)?


It is a math model for infectious disease http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_modelling_of_infec...

For a virus, the average number of people a sick person infects. If r < 1, the spread is self-limiting. If r > 1, it spreads exponentially until r drops (because, say, enough people develop immunity).

So the r-factor more or less measures the capacity of a word/phrase/blurb to propagate itself as a meme?

You remind me of a great Chris Rock skit on the difference between Rich and Wealthy. Specifically the line where he says "if Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah's money, he'd jump out of a fuc*in window".

Wealth is relative. Rich people have problems too. Rich people can be unhappy. At the heart of this is that we're all human. I'm still struggling to figure what exactly we're trying to prove by asserting otherwise... This article, and all like it, are just so silly.

Remember that documentary from about 5+ years ago about spoilt rich teenagers? I think it was called Born Rich. Anyway one of the things that one boy said really stuck with me (not sure what his name was but he was generally unhappy, and I think he later sued the publishers):

'People think because I'm rich I must be happy. But they don't realize that my happiness is connected to so many material things, if just one of them goes wrong it can ruin my day.'

Or something to that effect. More material comforts = more dependency for happiness = greater likelyhood of misery (or at least, 'peevement' or angst). He was talking about all the expensive toys that had to be maintained properly, special meals he liked to have, elaborate plans for essentially simple social occassions, and so on.

I highly recommend everyone watch this documentary. It was produced by Jamie Johnson (as in the heir to Johnson & Johnson) who interviewed his friends for their candid feedback on what it's like to be wealthy. None of them knew this would be a public documentary so they were pretty open without the typical political correctness.

Somewhat surprisingly to me, I found the most mature amongst his peers to be Ivanka Trump. She acknowledged her wealth, but at the same time made it clear that given her head start in life, she planned to work hard to make her own path in life. And judging from accounts from a couple people who went to school with her at Penn, she's pretty sharp. I liked her.

But most of the others seemed to fall into two groups:

1) At a loss for what they should do in life given the massive amount of wealth they knew they had at their disposal. One of the main concerns for this group is just not to lose the family's money. (Jamie Johnson himself and his father fell into this category)

2) An arrogant disdain for those not in their self-determined "class". This disdain is not necessarily reserved for the middle/low classes, but could also be applied to "new money" or those with just single/double digit million net worth.

All around, great documentary. Go see it.

Thinking back, that documentary did kind of disabuse me of a few notions (like 'having enough money to never need to work = paradise', 'super rich people can't realistically have anything to complain about'). Although I probably would have figured those things out sooner or later. But it was a powerful film I agree. Another insight was when they said they only date their own class because they need someone else who understands their background (ie. not out of snobbishness, but more out of the need to be understood).

Just checked, it's on Netflix Instant Play. Just added it to my queue. Thanks for the recommendation.

Also added, and thanks here as well.

Saw the movie last night after the recommendations on this thread.

What stood out the most for me is how Warren Buffett disowned his grand daughter, Nicole Buffett, for taking a part in the movie.

Here is an exert from the article[1]:

"Buffett said she received a letter -- in response to one she sent asking her grandfather to explain why he disowned her -- in which he told her she had "never been considered a real family member, that I have not been legally or emotionally adopted" by him. Nicole Buffett reads from the part of the letter in the documentary."

[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/02/21/us-wealth-buffett-...

ianhawes below also recommended "The One Percent," which is a newer documentary by Jamie Johnson.

Found it on Hulu, for those without Netflix.


Watched it on Hulu. Great documentary. I love how one of his prime subjects sued him after the primary shooting was complete.

I like this part:

One respondent, the heir to an enormous fortune, says that what matters most to him is his Christianity, and that his greatest aspiration is “to love the Lord, my family, and my friends.” He also reports that he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank.

I think this guy needs to crack open his Bible, and read a bit of Matthew 19:20-22...

[20]The young man said, "I have obeyed all of these. What else must I do? [21]Jesus replied, "If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in Heaven. Then come and be my follower." [22]When the young man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.

I can't think of anything more to say. I just hope I didn't just start a religeous flame war.

I would add that most commentators on this passage don't draw the conclusion "having money is evil," but rather, that Jesus saw that this man's attachment to his wealth was a problem. In hearing this command, the man realized that his wealth was his god, and though he wanted to follow Jesus, he could bring himself to give up this rival god.

This may sound like a "soft" interpretation because it allows for being rich and also spiritual, but then again, it also means that Jesus' implied indictment may apply to non-millionaires like me. If my focus is money or prestige or whatever, I'm in the same boat. You can't follow Jesus half-heartedly.

To your point of advice: it does seem that if you've got $50 million and it's causing you anguish, you could certainly get rid of it and do a lot of good in the process. And I imagine the stigma from regular people would largely turn to respect.

I'm very suspicious of this piece. On the one hand, it's an interesting thing to read for those of us who aren't "super-rich" (if a bit... obvious). On the other, it feels like it's an apologia for the ever increasing class divide. "Don't worry about not having money, you wouldn't be happy anyway".

Honestly, I would be quite fine with a shitload of money and a meandering purpose in life. I think that's true of most people, including the larger subset of the "super-rich" that didn't choose to whine in an article in the Atlantic. Most people have a meandering purpose in life anyway, and mixtures of reliable and unreliable friends. It's not something special royalty gets to lay claim to.

The primary difference appears to be that the royalty can choose who they want to be, where-as not all of the plebeians have that luxury ("dream it, live it" self-help bullshit aside, one still has to pay for food and shelter and dependents). And the poor rich children are depressed because they have all their options open to them...

I seem to be saying this a lot, but here it is again: cry me a fucking river. :-)

"Honestly, I would be quite fine with a shitload of money and a meandering purpose in life"

I think part of the point of the article was to say, "no, you probably wouldn't."

And my point is that I understood what the article is saying on the surface, but there's a definite subtext here aimed at those who are not as fortunate enough to be able to (easily) discard one ill-fitting "purpose"(vocation) for another that fits better.

Or in essence, I don't believe what the article is implying, and it has nothing substantial within it to make me believe it.

How about this take.

Happiness is relative, and your personal happiness likely settle down to the same place. So if you get a huge windfall (millions of dollars), you will be happier for a short term, but ultimately, your happiness will fall back to your normal levels. At that point you have different concerns, but you still have concerns.

"At that point you have different concerns, but you still have concerns."

Concerns differ in terms of criticality. "I lack motivation because I don't NEED to work" is a very different concern from "I work 60 hours a week and still can barely put food on the table". The former may seem like a major concern when it's happening to you, but from a non-relative perspective, it's still much less serious than the latter.

And now you can't socially complain about those concerns

"mo money mo problems my ass, you'se a naive cat if you still believe that, thats just some shit they tell you to keep you where you at" -ODB

This strikes me as an article written for people who don't have money as a means to explain why they don't have money (pretending money would just make them miserable). I'm reminded of the Norman Maclean passage about fishermen (and their wives) who pretend to prefer small fish because it's easier than admitting they can't catch big fish.

No, I'm not rich. But I'm not one to pretend I prefer being poor because it's easier than admitting I can't make money. Come hell or high water, I'll one day catch big fish.

There is nothing wrong with being rich and in many ways it can be a positive good in the life of any person to have the ability to shape one's time in optimal ways as opposed to being a slave of financial necessity.

But the perils of being rich are legion, as detailed in this interesting piece.

As I grew up, I always had to work for most anything I got and, in retrospect, I believe that the financial necessity that drove a good part of this was actually a big part of my character development. I always wonder what it would have been like on that front if I were continually faced with the temptation, as a rich kid, of bypassing the pain and difficulty of such challenges in favor of indulgences that were readily at hand. This must be an enormous problem for young people who have inherited significant wealth.

In any case, this piece portrays those with some measure of wealth from an interesting angle and nicely highlights that all that glitters is not gold, even if it literally is gold.

"But the perils of being rich are legion,"

Your perils are legion when you're suddenly the target of a squad of ninjas, or surrounded by a hostile armed gang. There being a social stigma attached to being rich or there being higher expectations on you because you're rich are miles away from a legion of perils. "My friends look at me differently" or "I tend to take the easy road whens stuff gets hard" are drastically less severe of problems than "I can't afford my kid's medical bills" or "I'm having a hard time providing for my family while saving for retirement". Yeah, their lives have problems, but that inevitable - if our lives didn't have some risks or tradeoffs, we'd go insane from boredom. But their tradeoffs and risks are very far removed from their physiological and safety needs.

I think you're taking the situation too lightly. Is the threat of death worse than wanting to be dead, for instance?

If something makes you intensely unhappy, you would resent somebody else saying "bah, that's not a problem."

Relevant discussion/quote from pg from previous thread on "fu money":


"One thing you learn when you get rich, though, is how few of your problems were caused by not being rich. When you can do whatever you want, you get a variant of the terror induced by the proverbial blank page. There are a lot of people who think the thing stopping them from writing that great novel they plan to write is the fact that their job takes up all their time. In fact what's stopping 99% of them is that writing novels is hard. When the job goes away, they see how hard."

When you can do whatever you want, you get a variant of the terror induced by the proverbial blank page. There are a lot of people who think the thing stopping them from writing that great novel they plan to write is the fact that their job takes up all their time. In fact what's stopping 99% of them is that writing novels is hard. When the job goes away, they see how hard.

That seems to be what college (esp. summers and spring break) is for, at least at a good school: giving you a sense of what life would be like if free from economic bullshit (as it is for the rich, the only people attending college 150 years ago). It's better in most ways, as only the most successful or wealthiest adults actually enjoy adulthood more than college, but college is not perfect. I had fun, but I wouldn't want to go back. And how many college students are writing novels, or even engaging in the amount of reading and writing that an aspiring novelist needs to be doing? A few, but not as many as who "want to write someday".

It's not the same, though: with summers, spring break, and even college, you know that you're time-limited, and have to scope your projects appropriately. With creative work, you have as much time as you're willing to pay the opportunity cost for.

A quote attributed to Rudyard Kipling that's been floating around the internet:

"Some day you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are."

"But just as the human body didn’t evolve to deal well with today’s easy access to abundant fat and sugars, and will crave an extra cheeseburger when it shouldn’t, the human mind, apparently, didn’t evolve to deal with excess money, and will desire more long after wealth has become a burden rather than a comfort."


Power attracts the corrupt, and it does corrupt. This is why handguns are (for a certain type of person, i.e. those who are explosively impulsive) so dangerous. Holding one gives the power of life and death.

Being in power tends to make people arrogant, short-sighted, and less creative than they'd otherwise be. Power relationships are generally negative on both sides, thus worse than zero-sum.

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

-Abraham Lincoln

Early in his academic career, Schervish was a committed Democratic Socialist. But around 1990, he began interviewing wealthy people and decided that his Marxist instinct to criticize the rich was misguided.

If Schervish had felt this way, it’s because he didn’t read Marx carefully enough. The whole point of Marxism is not “rich people are bad”—the Communist Manifesto is brutally critical of those who think that capitalism could be reformed by making rich people nicer. The point is that capitalism as a social structure is bad, because even well-meaning members of the bourgeoisie have incentives to oppress the working class, and those who do not follow those incentives will eventually find themselves at the bottom of the heap.

(I am not a Marxist myself, but this misreading is one of my pet peeves.)

Great Read!

I am experiencing the awkwardness of a change in personal wealth as we speak.

I have a friend I met at 16 via a t-shirt venture. We would hang out & work on his company. As time progressed we would hang out off and on. After an extended gap in communication, I emailed him to get his number & he came by to pick me up.

We drove for about 15 to 20 minutes until we reached an office warehouse. He then told me, "welcome to his company". He had started what is now one of the country's top promotional products companies. He now owns a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, $3M home, and more.

I feel awkward around him & I think he feels the same at times. We are both entrepreneurs but he has had more success financially. I've since taken a major interest in philanthropy. I recently asked for a contribution toward my non-profit & it was amazingly awkward as well. LOL, I was sweating... I felt like a panhandler.

Lastly, when I ask how he's doing & about other things outside of business I feel fake. It's usually a general response as to not seem ungrateful as mentioned. But, I genuinely want to know.

Anyway, that's my experience with this issue.

Has there been any research into why knowing this information in no way reduces my desire to be super-rich?

It's going to be different for me.

because most people secretly desire to be rich - that desire is in our cognitive makeup, so is the desire to bash rich people.

Nearly everyone who chases positional goods in a global context is bound to end up depressed. When you're in the habit of evaluating your wealth in comparison to people who are wealthier than you, two overarching considerations necessarily define your value:

* You're not wealthy enough; and

* There's always someone wealthier than you. [1]

[1] Caveat: In principle, someone has to be the wealthiest in the world, which means the other ~7,000,000,000 people are not.

There seems to be a self-similarity at play where society looks roughly the same from a very wide range of vantage points. The elite see the elite within the elite and feel like outsiders in comparison. An important Buddhist meditation is a prayer of gratitude for being born human; how often do people remember how lucky they were to have human births, on a planet where we are 7 billion out of ~10^30 living beings (counting bacteria and plants, which Buddhists generally don't consider sentient but which are living).

Anyway, at the three-digit millionaire and billionaire level, it's all about score-keeping and social status for those who care at all. Most billionaires are not quite at the pinnacle of the social elite, and no one stays at the tip-top of that for very long. Wealth is more stable, at the upper tiers, than social status, which is lost to age if nothing else takes it away.

Has anyone ever studied wealth distribution to see if it's fractal based? It would be interesting if human interaction followed the same design principals as natural formations.


"Pareto found that the distribution of income was well approximated by a log-normal distribution, except for approximately the upper 3 percent of wealthy individuals."

The Pareto distribution goes as a power law -- the same distribution as self-organizing processes.

Moreover you can generate a realistic wealth distribution via random auctions.

(Hopefully you are becoming inspired to do some agent-based computational economic modelling! It's fun.)

I wonder how this article would read if one were to substitute 'smart/intelligent/clever' for 'rich'. I think I do spend a lot of time chasing knowledge to compete with others, only to find that I don't have 'enough'. As much as I like it, it does feel like I am living 'a life of quiet desperation'.

Really? I think having a hunger for knowledge is great. Knowing I'll never be satisfied ensures I'm not going to drift aimlessly.

The key to happiness for us grown unhappy is really good psychotherapy/ personal growth systems.

This was one of the more intriguing and thought-provoking articles I've read in a while. As someone who always had enough to get by, but never enough to spend without consequence, the goal of "being successful and having money" was always one I sought to obtain. While younger I always assumed all my problems would be solved by such a venture. I've learned that will never be the case on my own, but the concerns the wealthy state are interestingly complex - much more so than the standard concerns of a middle-income family/person. I can imagine the shock of a life of toil to get rich, only to find that your life and problems are exactly the same or even more complex.

The sole reason why being happy with the present will do more for you than anything else.

My favorite part is towards the end, "rich stare into the abyss a bit more starkly than the rest of us."

Not being rich, but being able to use my imagination and reason to figure out logical conclusions, I have come to realize that it is not about what you have, or who you are, but about how you're being. In the end everyone dies naked and alone regardless of how much or little money/friends/love/whatever you have.

Is this really "the first time" the super rich have spoken candidly about their lives? The film Born Rich is a counterexample.

Actually, the article contradicts itself: the byline says "the first time" and paragraph 2 says the studies have gone on since 1970.

The thing I kept thinking of, especially whenever they were talking about "enough to be financially secure" was a quote from Ted Turner just after he donated a billion dollars to the UN. (I can't find the quote online, I saw it on TV)

It went something like this: "I've found that a person really can't spend more than $200 million dollars in their lifetime. Even if you make no attempts to save it or spend it wisely, it's very hard to squander $200 million so badly that you are left with nothing" (that was the gist, at least, but this is from memory)

The refutation to Ted would be to spend some quality time at the Bellagio poker room.

Then again, Ted's likely just referencing people who at least have shreds of sanity in them.

How did Mike Tyson do it? He reportedly blew $300 million.

Bad advisors, bad friends, and bad investments.

If you've really got a fortune to squander, that's the way to do it.

That was only half of his problems. Divorce, a decent chunk of change. Battery assault? Rape? Decent chunk of change. People literally stealing money from you.

Tyson's problems had nothing to do with money. Money just made his problems more expensive.

One could invest in something like Color 5 times in 5 years.

Also consider watching "The One Percent". It's about wealth and the expanding class differences. It's available to watch instantly on Netflix.

> The fact that most people imagine it would be paradise to never have to work does not make the experience any more pleasant in practice.

The financially independent often choose to work anyway - so why not just choose work you enjoy (or rather, find worthwhile/meaningful) in the first place?

The issue is a non-issue, but still legitimate and interesting.

Stress, poor decisions, emotional tumult, and being flung into life itself are inexorable, and as unavoidable as breathing when you have a pulse.

Money is tangible, and as far as tangible things go..May well be at the top of the food chain.

In day to day life, and superficial observation of others, the tangible is our primary prism of experience and thought. It's not that this issue isn't "real".

The mind is so complex and our emotions so strong, we're (benignly) selfish and self-consumed to the point that day to day living and observation is done through the "tangible", as our primary prism of experience and thought.

Money/wealth takes on significance. It simply is significant. And always will he for those with and without.

But if we admit the ubiquitous behavioral pattern of our selves (as applicable to money as seeing an ultra good looking person walk down the street; or someone walk around with a 145 scored IQ test on their shirt..), we aren't dealing with wealth and money, per say.

A deeper but likely impossible study would be having the recording of therapy sessions with these people; and then juxtaposed with therapy sessions of non-SuperRich.

Dollars to donuts that those who are 'happy' and Super Rich bear striking resemblance, and actual distinct cross overs, to those 'happy' and not Super Rich. The converse being true for those 'unhappy' and all in between.

Perhaps there is a tipping pt in both poor/rich directions, at certain extreme ends; but in these instances, what are we dealing with, aside from the perks or poisons of 'luck' in a distilled form, that is life's ace up the sleeve and trump card.

And when it's just as possible to meet your wife while getting a latte, or choke on the biscotti you get with it...luck shouldn't be taken for granted, either.

Cliff Notes: when I am Super-Rich and still neurotic, i will simply blame myself, and move on in finding a year or two respite while penning an epic book and psycho-behavorial study on the rich and poor, vis a vis therapy sessions.

The takeaway I have from this is that people are people, no matter their status: not sure if what they're doing is what they should be, insecure about other's love for them, never satisfied.

It reminds me that we're all people, all human.

Also reminds me of a bible verse (Ecclesiastes 9:10): "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom."

Whether rich or poor, happy or not, we all die.

we all die.

That will probably be changing soon.

it will be changing to "some [ who can afford it] will not die"

Anti-aging, once developed, will be cheaper than geriatric care: the "ounce of prevention" effect. Governments will be pushing the treatments on people and opt-outs may eventually be denied social services (especially once the knowledge of how to treat advanced pathologies that are now common geriatric conditions fades away).

Very few people want to live to 100000, much less forever. What will produce the very long lifespans is the day-to-day iterated decision, which won't be life vs. death or stay-young vs. get-old, but well vs. sick, where there's an obvious victor: being well. There's the saying, "Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die." I disagree. Everyone wants to die (at some point in the future, possibly millions of years off) but no one wants to get sick.

Why would governments encourage people to stay alive longer? I can think of several reasons not to do so:

-there is an associated cost per citizen that may not be offset by revenue/taxes -this will spur population growth, with all the associated problems

Advanced pathology will probably always require human labor to treat (liability, moral issues) and therefore it will always be expensive. Anti-aging treatments will start out expensive but be very cheap within a generation: a $2 pill every month. Technology's pace of change is accelerating, not diminishing.

Aging and dying costs the medical system about $500,000 per person. Then there is the loss of that person's productive potential. Anti-aging treatments are going to be incredibly cheap in comparison to death.

Post-aging population growth is likely to be closer to linear than exponential. Would you really want to deal with 5000 kids for a million years?

There will be a lot of problems with post-aging humanity, but they aren't the ones people propose, especially not the ecological ones. Humanity's ecological load on the planet will max out some time early this millennium. As a cautious transhumanist and a deistic Buddhist, I worry about spiritual emptiness. I think post-aging, post-scarcity might look like the realm of the devas and ashuras in Buddhism (often mistranslated as "gods" and "demigods") which may exist only as metaphor now, but is likely to become reality (for some) in a few hundred years. I see no need and no way to prevent these changes (end of aging and death) and we have no right to do so, but they do run the risk of allowing people to lock themselves into sub-optimal and stagnant states. Also, I may be wrong about the post-aging world and I hope I am. A world with a 50,000-year lifespan may be a spiritual paradise, a pure land. Currently, we have an 80-year lifespan and people only get to use 10-20% of their living time due to economic needs, so we have a world where most people don't develop much at all.

I think none of this will happen, but if it does, another problem I'd forsee is personality decay.

We all accumulate quirks. If you're mauled by a dog, you will understandably be afraid of dogs afterwards. Probably excessively, irrationally so. If you live through a depression, you may become obsessive about saving. If you have a great time polka dancing, you may scoff at electric guitars.

Eventually these things build up to the point where you're a curmudgeon. We say old people are "stuck in their ways." But young people, for all their foolishness, see their parents viewpoints and habits and virtues and prejudices, not with objective eyes - they have their own faults too - but with fresher ones.

If humanity ever consists mostly of people with thousands of years of life experience, accumulated habits, etc - well, that sounds like a pretty miserable existence to me. And maybe a fragile one if larger threats arise. How will you "think outside the box" to respond if you've been building your box for centuries?

Very, very interesting reply. I think that this "personality decay" is a risk worth concern, but I don't think it's as bad as people think it is. Old people become "set in their ways", I think, because with less life to live there is less risk people wish to take with new modes of thought. (Yes, thinking is risky. See: the link between creativity and mental illness, or the fact that substances LSD, despite its physically innocuous nature, can, if used unwisely and with a bit of bad luck, have devastating psychic consequences.)

I don't think this personality decay will be a major problem. When people have nearly infinite life left and all physical manifestations of aging can be held back, I think people will retain all advantages of youth, without the disadvantages after 40 years or so (although behaviors of 100-year-olds in post-aging world may be considered "immature").

Part of why I feel this way is that, as a Buddhist, I don't see much difference between spending (say) 100,000 years in 1200 bodies or in one of them. Impermanence is constant regardless of life span; constantly, thoughts are being born and dying. It's not that different: short lifespans vs. long ones. The current arrangement just shakes us up a lot more. We have 20 years (+/- 15 depending on how terms are defined) of uptime before we are fully formed and spend our last 10 years "unwinding" and not very productive, with this process culminating in a complete loss of physical memory (and complete submission to the force of karma and the will of God-- Buddhism doesn't require belief in God, but I'm a deist) every 80 years or so.

Most changes humanity has made have been slightly positive, but have only enabled and made easier (not guaranteed or enforced) happiness and spiritual progress. In this regard, their improvements to the human condition have been non-negligible but have only increased what is possible, not so much what is realized. I expect post-aging humanity to be similar. Life may become more comfortable without losing all of one's memories (and facing, since no one knows for sure what happens after death, the possibility of nonexistence) every 80-100 years, but it won't become better unless people make spiritual progress, which can't be imposed upon people or "given" through technology. People have to take it up on their own when they are ready. My concern regarding a post-aging and post-scarcity world is that people will just turn into spiritual procrastinators.

The Brooklyn Bridge authority is on line 2; they say they have a great deal for you.

Singularity is not going to eradicate death. Aging, yes. That will probably be gone by the mid-22nd century, if not before. Death of the whole brain will always mean what it does today: the end of one's earthly existence. Mind uploading assumes there can be physical control over qualia, and there's absolutely no evidence for that.

In the middle 3rd millennium, aging will be gone and death will be rare (very rare, and exponentially declining so as to make humans post-mortal) but extremely traumatic when it happens. "Breaking News: 134-year-old honors student dies in lunar train crash." 4th-millennium humans will probably store their brains in very safe repositories and control robotic, replaceable bodies through electronic telepathy. Some people alive will probably live to see this, and if I take my next rebirth here, I probably will as well. But I kinda hope not to "make the cut". A hundred years in good health I'd love, but I don't really want to wait around till the heat death of the universe to pass on.

Mind uploading assumes there can be physical control over qualia, and there's absolutely no evidence for that.

Well, the alternative is magic.

My religious viewpoint, as a deist who believes existence in a higher power to be the most rational belief but denies the existence of "miracles", divine interventionism, prophecy or revealed religion: qualia is a miracle, probably the only one in this world, and the only one we need.

In the middle 3rd millennium, aging will be gone and death will be rare

In several comments here, you use the word "will" a lot. It's possible, but it makes you sound like a crazy prophet. No-one knows for sure how the future will play out.

Replace "will" with "will probably, based on a variety of assumptions, most notably continued technical progress in the long term". Economy of words.

'A vast body of psychological evidence shows that the pleasures of consumption wear off through time and depend heavily on one’s frame of reference.'

I loved this single,succinct line.

"He also reports that he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank." ... "Such complaints sound, on their face, preposterous."

It may be preposterous for most anyone to feel financially insecure, given that it's possible to survive through couchsurfing and dumpster diving and what a high historical standard of living this would provide.

The super-rich aren't the only ones who keep seeing their standards go up.

Agreed. Coincidentally this high historical standard of living is why it's possible for so many people to start companies on their own without needing access to large amounts of capital.

Although it might not seem like it compared to our super-rich peers, we are rolling in wealth.

A little off-topic but can anyone tell me why this story never took off when I submitted it 16 days ago?

(I've read the FAQ). Moderators please feel free to delete it if this is the wrong place.

what time of the day did you submit it?

In the early morning

Humans are natural born problem solvers and we can't deal with not having any problems to solve.

It seems to make sense for people to continue working after getting rich, presumbably in a position of responsibilty, to give us a regular set of fresh chalenges. e.g. Steve Jobs doesn't quit even though he is extremely rich and also ill, he feels a responsibility to that position.

Worth noting that many Silicon Valley nouveau-rich seem to derive great satisfaction from their activities as angel investors.

It seems to me this is similar to those in the article who "satisfactions of philanthropy", with the added bonus of having people who listen to your advice.

For the most part, money doesn't create problems, but it can certainly enable and magnify them.

^ Best argument for progressive taxation.

Even better argument for communism, no?

Not at all what I meant. I'm proud to live in a capitalist society with a safety net. You can take a chance on a business knowing that you have limited liability and food stamps awaiting you at the "bottom" rather than something much worse.

I merely meant to imply that large amounts of wealth make a small (negligible?) improvement to the top .001%, and that much smaller amounts (like food stamps) can mean the difference between life and death to the poor. The productivity gains (due to dampening entrepreneurs' risk aversion) caused by refactoring wealth from the top to the bottom are another pro-transfer argument I meant to reference.

Communism does not create wealth as well.

the irony here is a lot of people will read this...nod their head...and then get busy trying to get rich :)

What I learned when I read this was that most rich people's lives are defined (just like most others' lives) by money, which is a depressing thought. A starving person's life will be defined by food-- organized around getting access to it, with constant intrusive thoughts about it-- but for most of us, it's not. We only think about food when we're hungry, we eat, and then we think about something else.

Most people who want to be rich want escape from money's grip, and it seems like that rarely happens. Either that, or freedom from money is not a monotonically increasing function of one's allotment and these people have overshot some sort of "sweet spot" at the level of the middling wealthy.

The grand takeaway was that living in a society ruled by money sucks even for those who have a lot of it. I wish the world were more like college in the sense that, when I was in college, I had no idea whether what my friends' grades were, and people weren't stratified into socially insular tiers based on GPA. The difference between a 3.9 and a 3.2 wasn't socially divisive in the way that the difference between $20 million and $7.50 net worth is.

> Either that, or freedom from money is not a monotonically increasing function of one's allotment

Well said. Freedom from money is a combination of factors: how much you have and spend in the present, and how much you expect to make and spend in the future. As people get more money it's very easy to ramp up your lifestyle and expectations to put more pressure on the future (instead of less). On the other hand, I know people who by focusing on what's important to them and adjusting their lifestyle feel fairly free without having millions of dollars. So (once you get to a decent threashold of earning) a lot of it is attitude as well.

>freedom from money is not a monotonically increasing function of one's allotment

This is linked IMO to the studies mentioned in this video, which find that motivation and drive at work are similarly not a monotonically increasing function of pay, but in fact there is an optimal pay rate beyond which drive begins to decrease.


Relevant: http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/pay-more-get-...

There are a lot reasons why executive overpay makes CEOs perform worse at their jobs. Foremost among them is that it enables them to make short-term plays that are risky or harmful to the company in the long run. A $500,000-per-year job is one that an executive desperately wants to keep. A $25 million-per-year job, with four years' pay as a golden parachute, is one that can safely be blown up after a couple years. (No CEO intentionally blows up, but many take stupid risks driven by ego and status-based avarice that they would be less inclined to take if paid modest salaries and thereby more attached to their jobs.)

There are two reasons why executive overpay exists. The first is self-dealing by a small, socially closed elite. They do it because they can. The second is to motivate younger people who greatly overestimate their chances of ascending to such ranks: printing dreambucks, I call it. I would argue, were it not for the cultural corrosion the overpay causes, that executive pay is actually a very, very cheap mechanism for achieving the 2nd goal. Overpaying executives does motivate people to want to get to that rank. The problem is more subtle and cultural: what does it motivate them to do? Be more creative? No. Be more ethical? Certainly not. Be more ruthless? Sure, but "ruthless" is a hair's breadth away from psychopathic and workplace psychopaths (cf. Fiorina) can destroy companies.

Why do you believe corporate risktaking is harmful to the company in the long run?

If anything, I always thought the common criticism of big corporations is that they are far too risk averse. E.g., rather than taking a risk and betting it all on Maemo (an early linux-based smartphone OS), Nokia instead went the safe route and have now stagnated. Similarly, when problems arise, many big companies layer small fix after small fix on an existing system - it's much safer than investing $250M in a complete renovation.

Risk-taking isn't one of those things that's universally bad or universally good. For entrepreneurs, who have little to lose and a lot to gain, most risk-taking is good. For established companies, which have a lot to lose and a lot to gain, it's much more of a balancing act.

There are a lot of risks that have a moderately large upside and a huge potential downside, that tends to be delayed, that a lot of CEOs are given a lot of incentives to take. Mark Hurd with HP comes to mind: it's pretty risky to cut payrolls, gut R&D budgets, and focus mainly on really high-margin products like overpriced ink. The upside is a big bump in profits, but the downside risk is making your employees hate the company and getting killed when someone else starts selling slightly less overpriced ink. The downside tends to be delayed a bit, though, so CEOs who make $25m and get a golden parachute don't need to worry about it.

I'm not sure how you can characterize reducing costs and making short term profits a "risk-taking". If anything, it's the safest thing Hurt could do. Research is risky. Big, ambitious projects are risky. Selling toner isn't.

Also, most CEO's incentives are medium to long term, anyway. Compensation is usually a mix of cash and restricted stock, all of which goes down the drain if the company tanks. Take Ed Whitacre as an example - his pay is $1.7M in cash + $7.3M in restricted stock. His fortune is strongly tied to the medium-term (several years) value of GM.


The amount of risk isn't as important as the kind.

R&D project: if it fails, you paid people to do something that wasn't commercially viable. You have a lot of talent and knowledge under one roof. If it succeeds, upside potential is tremendous. You can move those smart people to another project that might have better odds of taking off.

Laying people off, not because you need to, but because you don't have the vision to make decisions you didn't study in business school: saves costs and usually pops the stock price for a few months, but causes the best people to leave when they can, trashes the culture, and fills the company with mediocrities and yes-men. Upside is minimal; downside is potential loss of the whole company.

When you phrase it this way, there is no incentive for anyone (CEO or shareholder) to prefer layoffs to a big R&D project.

With the R&D project, the CEO gets a big payoff if it succeeds, and loses only his stock options if it fails horribly and takes down the company. Big upside, no downside. With layoffs, the stock price pops for a few months and goes back down years later when the CEO's restricted shares are allowed to be sold. The upside to the CEO is truly minimal in this case.

You write as if the CEO is malicious and willing to lose money in order to ruin a perfectly good company.

Actually, it's more like this. Most CEOs aren't going to start R&D projects because (a) they'll pay off later, during a successor's tenure, and (b) vision can't be taught in MBA programs.

On the other hand, cutting the R&D projects and saying that "unprofitable operations" (even if they were profitable) were slashed will pop the stock price in the short term.

You're naive if you think CEOs don't have ways to benefit from temporarily popped stock prices even if their restricted shares can't be sold until much later. If they want to be a bit sleazy and secretly sell early, they can ask a spouse or sibling to short-sell or buy puts on the open market. Or they can use foreknowledge of the pop to hand one-day gains over to their friends. Illegal? Probably. (The reason I don't say "yes" is that insider trading has a technical meaning that most violations of the law's spirit don't meet.) Unethical? Yes. Likely to lead to jail time? No. Common as dirt? Yes.

It's pretty rare for people to commit insider trading violations for their own accounts, because it's easy to get caught. Instead, they tell their friends what is about to happen as a means of favor-trading. With that, it's pretty much impossible to get caught.

I don't think most corporate executives are malicious, so much as avaricious and narcissistic. Will they help their companies if it suits them? Yes. Will they hurt their companies if it suits them? Most of them will. The "we are the nobility and you are the peasants" mentality prevents most of them from caring too much either way about their companies; they care more about themselves, their friends, and maintaining their social class.

Risk-taking isn't one of those things that's universally bad or universally good.

Thank you. Degenerate risk-taking is bad enough, but criminal when other people will suffer most of the consequences.

Good risks generally have limited downside. For example, R&D projects and startups that, if they fail commercially, only cost the money put into them, are good risks. Bad risks are generally those that have huge downside and low upside, that are taken because the consequences can be pushed off onto other people. An example of this would be eschewing a $500,000 safety device on an oil rig under a mile of ocean, thus admitting (realized, thanks to BP) risk of ecological catastrophe.

Corporations are notorious for externalizing costs but where they really shine is in the externalization of low-frequency, high-impact risks that most people can't evaluate. They're great at that.

I think that corporate executives often find themselves in a place where boredom gets the better of them. In dysfunctional companies, a well-studied executive can add value. The reward for this is moving on to a better job at a better company. Eventually, the executive ends up as the CEO of a great company like HP before some awful CEOs did it in. Problem: the company is running well and doesn't really need a CEO. People are already doing great work without direction. Result: CEO gets bored. I know a day trader who increased his profits by refusing to work between 10:30 and 3:00. He could find good trades in the first and last hour of the day, but "boredom trading" in the bland middle injected noise and didn't make any money for him. Most big-company executives are bored traders: making capricious decisions that just add noise, just to feel useful and fill time.

> Corporations are notorious for externalizing costs but where they really shine is in the externalization of low-frequency, high-impact risks that most people can't evaluate.

So true. This reminds me Feynman's investigation of the Challenger crush.

He said "risky or harmful to the corporation in the long run" so I don't think he believes there is a causality connection there.

No longer trying to speak for the GP here, but I think that for many of the people that hate 'golden parachutes,' it violates their sense of justice. The entire company faces negative consequences when a high-risk maneuver fails, except for the CEO that decided on the maneuver in the first place. When a startup fails, I imagine it's very hard for anyone involved to avoid consequences, for the same reason it's easy to tell who in a startup is creating what value.

Also, how many millions does a CEO have to make before it qualifies as a 'golden parachute'? The last CEO of Nokia (Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo) had a sallary of 4.8 million euros [1] and the current one (Stephen Elop) got a $6 million signing bonus along with his $1.4 million salary [2]. Evidently, this amount of money wasn't enough, although I realize golden parachutes also involve severence packages that may not be disclosed at this point.

The real question on the effectiveness of golden parachutes is this: Are there any examples of large companies with golden parachutes taking high risks that paid off? Apple might count, but I'm not sure if Steve Jobs feared the consequences of failure after he had already been ousted as CEO once.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olli-Pekka_Kallasvuo [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Elop

The main purpose of a golden parachute and cash comp is to allow a troubled company in trouble to get good talent.

Lets say Nokia's chances of success are 20%, but you have the ability to improve them to 30%. Suppose your pay package is 100% incentive based, you only get paid if Nokia survives. Why would you take this job? You have a 70% chance of getting nothing. It's much easier to go back to MS, and get a guaranteed paycheck.

In a few years, it will be easy to blame Stephen Elop and claim it is unjust for him to be paid even while Nokia tanks. But it isn't his fault that Nokia is in trouble (he's been CEO for 13 days) - he might be their best hope for survival. If he wasn't getting paid cash up front, he would probably just turn down the job and Nokia would be in even worse trouble.

(Not trying to endorse Elop, I know very little about him or Nokia. Just putting a face to the situation rather than speaking in the abstract about CEO A and company X.)

The main purpose of a golden parachute and cash comp is to allow a troubled company in trouble to get good talent.

At $1 million or more per year, you can get all the talent you need. I have more talent than 90+% of big-company CEOs in the US and I will work for less. What is actually being paid-for in getting a big-ticket CEO is connections and reputation. Don't misuse words like that, at least not the word "talent".

Reputation is another way of saying "estimate of ability based on past accomplishments."

I'm sorry that, in spite of having more talent than 90% of CEO's, you haven't actually accomplished enough for people to trust your self evaluation.

Reputation, in this specific case, refers to fame within a small and socially closed set of people who care more about contacts and image than accomplishments.

How long have you been running this conservative/troll schtick? It's entertaining and I commend you for your excellent execution of it. Let me guess, you also post on Autoadmit pretending to be a biglaw partner, right?

Maybe you could back up this claim with some information about yourself? Your HN profile doesn't link to your blog (which I found by googling what I guessed was your name), and your blog's prominently featured 'about' page is the Wordpress template. All I know about you is that you have opinions, express them well, and make up card games.

>Sure, but "ruthless" is a hair's breadth away from psychopathic

The literal meanings are identical. "Ruth" is an archaic word for a feeling of pity, compassion or remorse.

The way the money is made, and whether something must be done to sustain it, has an impact. If you're an executive in a traditional corporation, you're end up having to keep an absurd lifestyle because you're a professional social climber and, the minute you retire from the shenanigans, your earned income drops dramatically. If you made your money in a lump-sum acquisition, or have a high salary because of talent and skills rather than social advantage (it's rare, but it does happen) you're in more of a position to enjoy your money.

At the upper tier of wealth you have people who aren't social climbers per se but are really competitive. Next down, you have most of the social climbers trying to turn their money into status (which begets more money).

Actually I was an executive at a traditional corporation (a GM at Microsoft) and before that a founder/CTO at a venture-funded startup ... You're very right that there's a lot of competitive pressure (and social climbers) but we always avoided it.

I wonder if there's a selection effect at work here, in that the majority of people who end up being very rich are those whose lives are defined by money. After all, why would you work your ass off to make more money than possibly can have a meaningful influence on your life unless you were driven by the idea of money alone?

It depends on the person here.

1. Imagine a dude who just wanted to build something cool. Craig Newmark, of Craig's List fame, for example would fall under this category. He's got enough money to retire, yet he still works customer service, because that's what he enjoys.

2. Now imagine, someone who just wants more, more, more, more. It appears Donald Trump might fall into this category. I don't know for sure, but he seems to be purely driven by money and power.

You can become wealthy 'organically' in the sense that you didn't set out to be wealthy. You can so get wealthy from the expressed intent to get wealthy.

True, but I don't see Craig Newmark getting angsty because of his wealth.

Are you agreeing or disagreeing with the post you responded to? It appears that you are expanding on the same point.

Any person I know who is rich and has become so through their own hard work bristles at the thought of spending a lot of money on anything, even a cup of coffee.

I've know some who want a Mercedes but hate the thought of paying so much for one and some who have taken out the motor and put in a Chevy motor to save on repair costs.

People with money don't spend money they have, people who don't have money spend money they don't have.

I think people tend to go into that game being decent and come out of it corrupted. In high school and college, they wanted to be writers. But investment banking seemed safer. Some failed out, but others got all their promotions, their MBAs, their first millions at a ridiculously young age, and started drifting away from their "interesting" (but poor, by banker's standards) college friends and into a certain money-centered social circle. People don't like to admit this, clinging to the notion of an atomic "self", but a few years in that kind of environment changes a person into someone unrecognizable by the younger, better person who went in. People who were once fascinating to talk about about all kinds of topics with devolve into defectives only capable of talking about mergers and acquisitions, people who talk fast and sound intelligent but, if you actually listen to the words they are saying, have almost no content in anything they say.

An unbroken pattern of severe wins and losses in the working world is usually corrosive to one's personality. Losses make people bitter and they either collapse or deeply desire, even at psychopathic cost, to win. Too many wins, especially those of the "windfall" kind and much less those that come from genuine hard work, make people shallow, childish, and impatient.

Have you considered the possibility that some people might enjoy investment banking?

The douchebag count on Hacker News is, especially by Internet standards, very low.

Writers are not necessarily better people than bankers, too.

Writers vs. bankers.

One set lives in a world where the assessment of one's work is extremely subjective and changes with political fads, a world in which 90% of the most successful (who are never the most talented or best) are social-climbing charlatans and cerebral narcissists who cultivate defective personalities in the hope that their flaws will be taken as proof of creative genius. This they do while creating elaborate fictions, plots, and intrigues, selling nothing of true use, while their products occasionally inspire heinous crimes and suicides.

The other set tries to sell you their books.

It's the bankers who sell you books, right?

Enormous wealth takes care of so many day-to-day concerns, that the remaining ones grow that much more frustrating.

It's hard for me to be sympathetic about this. They forget that the non-super-rich have all their same frustrations, plus the day-to-day "concerns" (read: money worries).

The main difference between the stresses of the super-rich and the stresses of the super-poor is that the rich have problems that they choose to have, and the super-poor have problems that are forced on them.

The rich people could eliminate 100% of their stresses if they simply chose to change their lifestyle.

The super-poor can't really eliminate their stress by a simple change up their lifestyle, if the mortgage isn't getting paid, the car broke down and you need medical procedure you can't afford and have no options, then these stresses are WORSE stresses than the rich have.

The rich may have it worse, but it's their own darn fault for making it worse.

The real poor would love to worry about mortgages and cars.

The rich people could eliminate 100% of their stresses if they simply chose to change their lifestyle.

I generally agree with what you're saying, but how should they do this? They have reputations that could be ruined but can never be "given away" and friends with expensive tastes. How many people willingly uproot themselves, after age 30, and move to another country where they don't know a soul? Not many. Those who do may find the transition rewarding, but it's still stressful, and a lot of people would prefer to stay put. So the idea that rich people can just eliminate all their stresses with lifestyle changes is wrong. A lot of stresses aren't even financial. On the other hand, I agree that wealthy people who are willing to live more frugally can be happy.

link bait. "Super-rich" in the title when it was only 25M threshold for the article. 25M is hardly getting one into "rich" category. At 4% draw it is 1M/year, just 5-10 times a salaried employee level and even less than that if a family of 2 earners is considered.

The average person in the united states makes 2-3 million over the course of their entire life.

yes, in 2004 the income was median - 44K/year, mean - 60K/year, which is only 25-16 times less than 1M/year (25M equivalent at 4% draw). 20 times more than average isn't "super-rich", it is even hardly just "rich"

Hey, out there, i'm cool and creative and you can feel a normal human being with me no matter how rich you are. feel free to contact me


"Why should we labor this unpleasant point? Because the Book of Mormon labors it, for our special benefit. Wealth is a jealous master who will not be served halfheartedly and will suffer no rival--not even God: "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." (Matthew 6:24) In return for unquestioning obedience wealth promises security, power, position, and honors, in fact anything in this world. Above all, the Nephites like the Romans saw in it a mark of superiority and would do anything to get hold of it, for to them "money answereth all things." (Ecclesiastes 10:19) "Ye do always remember your riches," cried Samuel the Lamanite, ". . .unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities." (Helaman 13:22) Along with this, of course, everyone dresses in the height of fashion, the main point being always that the proper clothes are expensive--the expression "costly apparel" occurs 14 times in the Book of Mormon. The more important wealth is, the less important it is how one gets it." - Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley

“The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth” - Brigham Young

"Men of wealth among us, as elsewhere, who command their tens and hundreds of thousands, who have their every want supplied, have more anxiety, care and perplexity than many of you, who have to struggle for a comfortable living. And if you were placed in their position you would be a great deal more uneasy than you are now." - John Taylor.

Money is much more dangerous and troublesome than most people realize. These three quotes testify to that, as well as most of the production generated by rich people. Wealth destroys many who finally get it.

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