Inequality is only bad if you're in a zero-sum game. The rich do have the power to extract rents and "rig the system" to cement their wealth and power. Those are things Graham is clearly against. But an entrepreneur who gets rich by reducing waste and improving productivity by harnessing technology deserves our praise. They're not causing the "poor to get poorer".
And comparing the wealth distribution of today to that of 1980 is pretty silly. We're in a global economy now, so if you want to be fair, you need to look at it from a global perspective. Almost all Americans are going to fall in the top 10% of earners globally. And global poverty has collapsed since 1980. Yes, you no longer get a comfy middle class life just by virtue of being born in the US (regardless of skills) anymore. I personally don't believe that an unskilled worker in the US deserves to be paid 10X what an equivalent worker in Bangladesh makes just because they were lucky enough to be born here.
You could have this today in the US, it exists elsewhere. Yes, it would probably cost a bit more for the wealthiest people.
Until then, I believe we should not try to justify inequality based on irrealistic theoretical arguments. I see just a ploy to preserve the current situation by people in a good situation.
Because inequality and poverty is all too real. It hurts real people, unfairly. In the US. And it could change.
No, at least in those places you mention, it costs more for the middle class. And I'm not sure it's just "a bit" - the difference in taxes between the US and the multiple European countries I've lived in is quite significant.
It's fine if you believe that's part of a fair social contract. I'm European and I do, mostly - I certainly want everyone to have access to quality education and healthcare. (It's some of the other public expenditure I despise... Public TV in this day and age, seriously?)
At any rate let's not pretend Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Bezos can shoulder everyone's education in the US.
Only when everybody you care about has a stable health/housing/food/(work) situation you get a chance to do something for yourself. Only if people around you are privileged enough to they have time to invest in you. You can start to build wealth. I don't mean with investing money. Maybe just by
- Lending you their garage
- Allowing you to work without income for a few months
- Taking care of your kids while you work a few times a week
TDLR: if all you and your surrounding is doing is directly aimed at surviving you cannot build wealth.
I strongly disagree with this and I think it runs counter to human nature. You're looking at quality of life as if there were some kind of absolute measure of it, but it really doesn't work like that. Quality of life is always measured relative to the people around us or to whom we are exposed in media or social media.
If you look at modern Americans they have fabulously lavish quality of life in comparison to 19th century factory workers or 11th century peasants. Even people in the poorest quintile have access to safety, food, housing and entertainment that would have made people from centuries past gasp in awe. Antibiotics! Virtual reality! Same day shipping!
But what really counts is how we perceive we are doing versus people we can compare ourselves to. That's where the suffering comes from. You have running hot water but your neighbor has a spa tub. You have the iPhone 6 but a friend just got the 12. You have a safe job that pays your bills but a classmate vacations in Portugal. I've been in other countries where the average quality of life was much lower than the US, and no one knew the difference or had any shame or sadness in their smaller cars, smaller bathrooms or lower square footage.
If there were trillionaires but they all lived on Mars or some faraway continent and we knew nothing about them then they wouldn't cause us social suffering.
What I read recently made the case for "relative poverty" being more psychologically damaging than "absolute poverty". e.g. if everyone one in your society is the same poor then it isn't as bad as being poor in a society of wealth. This made a lot of sense to me as I tasted relative poverty a few times, and there seemed to be a feeling of shame around it. Not that anyone tried to shame the (relatively) poor but it just felt shameful. I never wanted to invite my millionaire family classmates over to my tiny, run down house for example, as it was too embarrassing. I eventually moved back to a place where we had similar levels of income and there was only a single millionaire and it felt a lot better.
For something to be human nature, I think it needs more time. And if peasants knew that comparing themselves to the king just does not make sense, maybe we can learn to have the same attitude towards Jeff Bezos.
The fact that Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have won so many medals without (hopefully) juicing or bribing officials is great, and maybe even a cause for celebration for the human race, but it absolutely does not mean that anyone can do those things.
But if significantly more people tried to do those things, I'm sure some of them would beat those champions.
A plumber in West Virginia is not unhappy because Bezos is so rich. He is unhappy because his welder brother-in-law just got paid after a better paying contract job (or is heavily in debt) and bought a used Audi.
Technology has generally always created inequality.
We should choose a system that gives one guy a billion dollars and everyone else a million, if the alternative is one that gives everyone 100k.
This is an analogy for lifestyle, the actual implications of supply demand are being ignored here.
If you're looking for validation and happiness based on what you see in social media, quality of life is the least of your concerns.
Instead of accepting this as a matter of fact, why don't you look inward at the culture and ask yourself if this is a productive attitude to have, rather than trying to coerce the world to fit your view on human nature.
Wealth, and power carry a social momentum. Antipodal to that is the high amount of frictional cost associated with change at scale. Those properties of our current economy effect what change is possible and when.
The modern economy exists in this unequal hodgepodge for the same reason some animal look alien to you, because it was not planned. Unfortunately for us, unlike animal evolution, the rate of change of the economy, tech progress, political winds, and all the social tendrils that stem from that unholy amalgam grow rapidly and defy organization.
You can call it the expected end result of human nature if it eases you. But. to me, it looks like a problem looking for some good engineering.
One sweet day when everyone is guaranteed the most basic of human necessities, maybe then we'll start caring about the anxiety a (small-minded) percentage of us feel when our neighbor has two Teslas and we only have a Leaf.
This is a crucial point that gets missed in these debates. Labour price inequality is a driving force of globalisation. That is how Nike pays 1$/day wage to Bangladeshi labourers to manufacture shoes and sell them at $500. And the reason people in Bangladesh are OK with it is because they don't have alternatives and the government is happy to flout all sorts of labour and environmental rules to retain Nike.
To elaborate, there are two conditions under which globalisation works to generate massive profits. Low barrier for the international movement of goods and capital and huge barriers (insurmountable in most cases) for free movement of people across the border. If one follows international trade agreements and immigration policies over last 40-50 years a clear pattern emerges where trade/capital movements restrictions have been continuously whittled down and immigration criteria have been tightened. The net result being incredible profits for multinational corporations.
For sure, the manufacturing countries have benefitted from the newly created jobs. India and China are good examples. China, in fact has been enormously benefitted to an extent where hundreds of millions have emerged out of poverty into middle class. To an extent where China's middle class now is a forced to be reckoned with and many believe the next wave of growth will be driven by Asian consumers.
The flip side though is the divide between rich and poor has reached unheard of levels in, paradoxically, the richest country on earth. Not only that, the poor just don't have a community or governmental support to fall back on. It boggles my mind to see the richest nation's health infrastructure crumble in the wake of COVID-19.
From my perspective globalisation is fundamentally broken. Restricting labour flow with unrestricted capital flows between countries is a destabilising force in both economics and politics.
China is also a special case as they fully understood the game that America and the West was playing and hence had a good counterstrategy. The West would promote free trade resulting in investment in developing countries. In return they open up to capital flows and their internal markets, which is what China kept resisting. With the amount of trade deficit most western countries have with China in the past 2 decades, the Chinese market should be a lot more open than it is at the moment. By delaying this the Chinese hope to avoid the middle-income trap that many developing countries fall in to under the globalisation model.
Isn't it? Even when taken to extremes?
Wealth inequality is in direct conflict with a core value of democracy: one person one vote is reduced to a bit of a joke when there are people who can easily afford to pay an army of hundreds of political operatives to flood public discourse with their opinion.
A little inequality doesn't hurt, but the existence of billionaires (even 100 millionaires, really) is a problem for democracy.
90% millionaires and 10% billionaires means the billionaires have 99.1% of the monetary power.
Even if you have 99% millionaires and 1% billionaires, the billionaires still have 91% of the wealth.
So you're saying we need a 100% estate tax? Because the same applies to those lucky enough to be born into rich families.
Extracting more work from the poor is often veiled under the guise of "improved productivity", so this measure of praise is not particularly helpful.
When companies measure labour productivity by the bottom line "Revenue output per Wage input" rather than "GDP output per worker" this ignores a subtle distinction that has severe societal impact.
There are ways to mitigate the negative effects there, but you can't get rid of it entirely; there's only ever so much land around. The more money the affluent have, the worse off the working class are, even if the working class' wealth itself stays constant.
You tend to see this with home prices in booming areas: if your income stays constant as the metro's economy booms, you'll end up worse off than you were before, unless you managed to buy a house before the boom.
Most people are still at the mercy of the zip code they live in. The "global" economy has pushed wages down and made cheap goods cheaper, but claiming that a bottom 10% American has a good life because they are still the top 10% globally is idiotic.
A full-time worker deserves to be paid enough to live, period. Unskilled or not. They deserve a roof over their head, food on the table, and basic healthcare. Cost of living varies greatly based on locale, and comparing that number to the poverty wage in Bangladesh is what the invisible hand does, yes, but it's absolutely not what's fair or what's deserved.
I think the basic issue is: people will disagree vehemently about what "enough to live is", and so your sentiment, while well-meaning, becomes an empty platitude in public discourse.
It'd be a decent start. Yes, America's destitute have enough food, and yes, the "enough-to live" line is arbitrary: if you're poor in France, the government will provide you with a computer and an internet connection. I'd be happy to have a debate about whether we as a society want to pay for something like that.
But providing all citizens with basic shelter and healthcare should be non-negotiable in the richest nation on earth.
Even if "enough to live" is greater than the value they generate?
If paired with robust social safety nets, we can absolutely require jobs to pay a living wage.
I firmly believe that any currently "unskilled" worker can re-tool and become much more productive if given the opportunity.
It's also worth saying that a very easy way of increasing the QoL of those at the bottom is to take a tiny fraction from those at the top.
And generally, people aren't talking about the average small business owner who makes $200k/yr profit. We're talking about people who have more than $50m in a big money vault. It's a straw man to replace people like pg with like, the people who run email octopus or your local credit union.
"Those at the top" don't generally have that much cash. They have shares in companies, often ones they started themselves, which happen to be worth a large amount on paper. If you wanted to distribute that in a form people could actually spend (not just moving shares around) you would have to liquidate the companies those shares represent. In the process you would destroy far more wealth than you distributed and eliminate services and production capacity which were previously working for the benefit of the very people you're claiming to help.
People like to complain about public companies and their alleged focus on short-term gains, but that's exactly what this proposal represents: a short-lived and highly diffuse gain in short-term consumption for the masses at the expense of long-term capital investment and productivity.
> And generally, people aren't talking about the average small business owner who makes $200k/yr profit. We're talking about people who have more than $50m in a big money vault. It's a straw man to replace people like pg with like, the people who run email octopus or your local credit union.
If you have a "small business" in your assets worth $49m, no worries! If you have one worth $50m, that'll be 2% please. This affects something like the richest 100,000 Americans, and they're not going to have to like, sell bricks out of the family's car wash business in order to pay it. They may spitefully lay people off or raise prices rather than pay out of their personal/business assets, but that's capitalism for you. I wouldn't blame taxes, I would blame jerks.
The amount of catastrophizing and backseat economizing around a wealth tax is super strange. Income and wealth inequality in the US is by all measures extremely high. 66% of Americans support a wealth tax, including 55% of Republicans. Does anyone really think it's better to have billionaires than universal health care?
You are looking at this from a world where that isn’t the case. Money would be worth less in that scenario, and that 10% owns 99% of the wealth, which is still going to cause problems.
So even if inequality would be wild, nobody would worry about “issues of the poor”, like food or healthcare bills.
It's a gadget, a depreciating asset.
Actual wealth produces more wealth, which is why the very rich get richer even while they sleep. A gadget makes its owner a tiny bit poorer every day as it depreciates.
> Actual wealth produces more wealth
I used my computer to learn to program getting a higher salary than I"ve ever held previously. It produced quite a bit of wealth for me that would have been unatainable without it. Does that impact your stance in any manner?
Well, "poor", no. But if someone who inherited vast wealth used it all up on depreciating assets (even if it is superyachts instead of phones) then yes, they'll eventually end up with no wealth.
Of course, for sufficiently large amounts of wealth, it is effectively impossible to use it all up so it may take many generations. Jeff Bezos kids will never be able to be poor no matter what.
> Does that impact your stance in any manner?
No. The computer (depreciating asset) didn't produce any wealth. Your hard work and learning, while using it as a tool, is what produced wealth. The computer itself depreciated to zero.
No amount of hard work and learning would have been sufficient without the computer though? The computer is an absolute requirement to become a programmer. No computer, no wealthy career in programming.
You're still trading for a home and land even if you rent. It's just a more temporary arrangement.
But that doesn't account for the decline of opportunity in the USA. As the article points out at the end, just because the rich aren't directly inheriting their wealth doesn't mean that they aren't inheriting opportunities that are restricted to a narrow class, and there's a lot of data showing that to be the case .
Which we are, because inequality enables advantages in grabbing pieces of various natural monopolies. Land is a prime example; real estate is a zero-sum game (the oblate spheroid we call "Earth" has a finite geographical area, and therefore so does any portion thereof), and rich people are able to play it by "investing" in real estate (read: hoarding land with the understanding that its value will increase perpetually on average due to the fixed supply and population-scaled demand). This is inherently exploitative of anyone lacking such an ability, and inherently results in the transfer of wealth from the working class to the ownership class - both directly (via rent) and indirectly (via opportunity costs).
IMO the biggest problem is Z axis and the infrastructure enabling it (public transportation) for example.
However, since Z axis is stuck, we choose to suburbanize and infinitely expand beyond reasonable sized cities effectively making unlimited supply of real estate. Look at Phoenix and Houston.
So, what you're talking about is real-estate in places like Bay Area and New York cities. Which is not a general argument.
The French Revolution disproves this.
IIRC it's only extreme poverty (i.e. living off $1.90 a day) that has collapsed; other poverty has seen more modest reductions.
The absolute rate of other kinds of poverty have not collapsed. But that statistic hides the fact that the population who are that poor has changed. People who were there moved up and out, while people who were poorer have moved up to that bracket.
It is only after people stop moving out of extreme poverty to the tune of a quarter million per day that we can expect to see reductions in less severe poverty brackets.
These sorts of discussions also always seem to skim over the surface in many ways. For example, you make statements like this -- "an entrepreneur who gets rich by reducing waste and improving productivity by harnessing technology" -- as if the reasons someone got rich are by reducing waste and improving productivity, in a way that is clearly demonstrable, when the validity of this assumption is the very thing in question. There's a circularity to these kinds of assumptions that is of the form Person A is rich by virtue of their position at X, which has been associated with an increase in efficiency; therefore Person A caused the increase in efficiency at X, and therefore deserve to be rich. The problem with this argument is that not only is the "do they deserve such wealth given the other assumptions?" complex, it's also the case that the "did they cause these desirable things" and "did they alone cause these things?" is in question.
I agree inequality isn't necessarily a problem in itself. What is a problem is inequity, or lack of correspondence between income and "true merit" in a idealized sense (including one with true competition). My sense is that this is the real argument: is it fair that someone like Bezos has the wealth he does, even as one of his workers is struggling to make ends meet? (Consider what would happen if all Amazon workers left their positions simultaneously and permanently, and could not be replaced. Is Bezos responsible for Amazon's operations?) The inequality per se is one level of argument, but the real argument is something more like "is Amazon a good or bad thing? Should Bezos as an individual deserve the credit for whatever net goodness Amazon has accrued? Is it the case that whatever credit he does deserve, do to his actions per se, or the circumstances he found himself in?"
I suspect that in a fair world, incomes would be much less disparate, even globally, and there would be much more movement up and down, and back again. There's too much idolizing of the individual, as a static unchanging thing, one way or another. I think a lot of societal ills stem from this sort of perniciousness, including "cancel culture" and many other things: the fruit you see beneath the tree is due to that tree, and will never change one way or another, and cannot be changed.
I think the lives of the bottom 20% could be improved, and I think that we should ask those at the top 10% to help them out.
I think there are other more specific things we could worry about, like house prices out of control, nobody is paying to clean up the waste they produce, governments baling out rich people etc.
Talking about "inequality" in the abstract is not worthwhile.
> Talking about "inequality" in the abstract is not worthwhile.
I thought the connection between the problems you state and inequality was obvious. I guess it has to be spelt out: inequality means the super-rich become literal rent-seekers by buying houses - not to live in, but for speculative investment purposes - hence current cash-only offers at ridiculous, above-asking prices. They don't care about negative externalities because they want more money now, and there is nothing to act as a check on their desires (since that requires money) so there's a lot of uncleaned waste. Lastly, the government bails them out because they are king-makers and politicians come to kiss the ring during election fundraisers. Elected positions are at risk ever so often during election season, but being wealthy is usually a lifetime "appointment", and wealthy people have more solidarity than politicians - and that's to politicians disadvantage.
Inequality results in power imbalances; the societal problems are second-order effects of the power imbalance. It is not "abstract" to point out that the first-order effect is problematic of, and by itself.
I think there are issues with our Democracy and our Media, not with our Capitalism.
PS: if we wanted to, a democracy could simply make it illegal buy investment property insuring that everybody had somewhere to live. Freeing people from the burden of rent. The government could probably even provide mortgages "at cost" so that the bank leaches didn't take their pound of flesh too.
We could examine our society at large and free ourselves of rent seeking behavior.
The question is, how do you stop Capitalism from subverting Democracy and the Media to perpetuate itself? I think one can successfully argue that capitalism is a human-scale paperclip maximizer, but for capital.
> PS: if we wanted to, a democracy could simply make it illegal buy investment property insuring that everybody had somewhere to live. Freeing people from the burden of rent.
Only if the wealthy allow it. You don't have to look very hard to find dead-in-the-water concepts/projects that have the support of a large majority of Americans across the political spectrum, but are hated by the wealthy, and therefore their politician proxies. These tend to die despite public popularity - alas, that's the downside of representative democracy.
You craft a set of rules that Capitalism must play within. We have a pretty good set of rules now. No murder, no slaves, no obvious pollution. But there is room for improvement.
My suggestions are... 1. More media diversity (Media ownership rules). 2. Cap political donations to something that everybody can afford. (Say for example no more than $500 per person per year, no company donations)
I also sometimes suggest that the media (and social networks) should be held more accountable for the things they print and broadcast. (it's an unpopular opinion)
America is a lot bigger than where I am in Australia. Here, I'm optimistic that we can see small incremental changes that will help us balance power. regardless of the opinions of the super rich.
With a diverse media, enough pressure can occasionally be applied in key areas.
Also, housing prices aren't "out of control" at all. Inflation is reducing the value of the dollar, and it's showing up in the real estate market. Inflation hurts anyone on a salary, not people with income dependent on assets that appreciate alongside inflation.
Also, the they in the "waste they produce" is referencing the richest business owners. They are reaping the benefits of the production processes and leaving everyone else with the pollution.
The root cause of all these things is the upper class either feeding on or taking advantage of the middle and lower classes. "Inequality" is just a term used as a window to look between the different classes.
Here in Australia, house prices are rising significantly faster than inflation. My personal suspicion is that its because everything else is so cheap, the middle class can afford borrow and spend more of their dual income salaries on their houses.
Yes sure, the "they" is business owners, but its expected that the business owners should then pass that cost down to the consumers that buy the products. Yes, the business owners are reaping the rewards, but so are all of us consumers. (It's future generations that will pay the price.)
The root cause may be that we allow some people to have too much power in our society. But the amount of money they have in their bank accounts is irrelevant. We live in a democracy so we can make rules that balances power, but we choose to allow people with a lot of money to have a lot of power.
I think its much more interesting to look at inequality of power than inequality of money.
I think inflation is rising a lot faster than you think. They don't admit there's actual inflation until it's already been here for a while.
> We live in a democracy so we can make rules that balances power
Not true and never has been. This is a pipe dream for suckers. The golden rule is that those with the gold make the rules.
> inequality of power vs inequality of money
Money buys power (lobbyists, legal bribes, media access, etc), so these are basically the same thing if someone with lots of money is interested in spending it on obtaining power.
How does that account for items we have today which were unavailable 20-30 years ago? E.g. even if I were rich in 1990 I wouldn't have a super computer in my pocket with access to infinite knowledge and entertainment.
> Inflation hurts anyone on a salary
And anyone with savings.
> They are reaping the benefits of the production processes and leaving everyone else with the pollution.
A CO2 tax would be more burdensome the further you go down the chain. Everyone is reaping the benefits there. Sure, _some_ mega corp executives get extra benefits, but in general waste producing fossil fuel burning ecosystem destroying processes have been the literal thing that has lifted people out of poverty. (To be clear I am very pro environmental regulation, climate change, etc, but am skeptical the impacts won't be felt the greatest at the bottom of the income brackets)
Anyone with savings that they keep in a mattress, or keep long-term in a checking account designed for short-term savings.
>> the lives of the bottom 20% could be improved, and I think that we should ask those at the top 10% to help them out
Governments are taking money out of people's pockets by running a printing press / increasing taxes and using them for personal gains. Solution? Ask the government to take even more money. They will be ashamed and start working in the interests of every citizen.
The "economy" is so much more than just the extraction of natural resources, and it's not a zero-sum game in general. Maybe you're conflating "money" with "wealth"?
a) it's impossible for everyone to be a (successful) businessman: somebody has to be an employee and do the actual work, y'know?
b) to be "actually rich" -- which is not just "being on the level of personally comfortable standard of living", it's more of "having certain level of personal influence" -- you have to own a share in a commercial enterprise and get the dividends from it; rare exceptions like a prominent lawyer or a genius surgeon notwithstanding.
These two are mostly empirical observations, and you can frame it very differently depending on your liking; the "exploitation of the worker class" is only one such frame, there are many other.
Also, should we perhaps count the people who didn't manage to live to be over 65 in this percentage calculation of "20%"? That'll move that number down quite a bit, I am afraid.
> The rich people today were more often than not the poor and middle class of yesterday.
Well, poor people today are more often than not were the poor and middle class of yesterday too.
And yeah, the common populace did object to the higher-ranking party members and bureaucrats having those privileges. One of the slogans of perestroika was "away with privileges", I kid you not -- people would rather elites be as poor as them. Well, the irony is palpable: thirty years later, the common populace is not much richer than it used to be (teachers used to be able to easily travel by plane on their wage, not anymore), but the top-level government officials are way, way better off than they used to be.
And it's because you can always come to the line personnel and tell them: "Don't you just hate it that while you do most of the actual work, the upper-ups earn hundreds times as much as you? Well, here's a solution: ..." And this solution was socialism and trade-unionism in the XIX century, communism in the XX, heck, even capitalism was sold as one in the very late Soviet Union, no kidding — it was seriously argued in the media that privately-owned firms would pay workers better than the state-owned enterprises, just look at the West, and many people actually belived that, really.
Of course, none of those solution ever worked, and that's exactly why they will always be proposed, in one shape or another — socialism itself didn't appear out of nothing, "when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" was uttered in 1381. So there you go: the spectre of communism will haunt us all as long as inequality exists, that is, until the humanity stops existing.
What country are you describing, pal? In Soviet Union it was "вольнодумство" ("freethinking"), which was a bad thing, to own personal cars / dachas by the highest members of partocracy only. Because that raised questions concerning their loyalty and belief in the system. But even they bought all that under the name of their wives and children. We've got plenty of memoirs of their scions to stop perpetuating the lies.
The person who "earns by investing and working in both nearly equal proportion" doesnt really exist beyond outliers, this is empirical, the 1% owns as much wealth as the entire middle class, this is where their yearly income comes from,they get money because they own stuff, not by being superworkers, otherwise the inequality wouldnt be growing.
The vast majority of the 1% and 0.1% get most of their income from labor nowadays. This is a phenomenon called “The Rise of the Working Rich”. This looks like CEO compensation, top athletes, too musicians, business owners, and so on. On average, the 0.1% gets about 20% of their income from investments and 60%+ from their actual labor.
70% of the Forbes 400 are self-made, the vast majority of millionaires receive $10k or less in total inheritance, 11% of Americans will be in the 1% for at least 1 year in their lifetime, and the majority of Americans will be in the top 20% for at least 1 year in their lifetime. If you chop off the top 1% in developed countries, their Gini coefficients are very similar, implying that the US doesn’t have exceptional levels of suffering from inequality, it just produces a lot of rich people.
You're correct, but inequality would be far, far lower than it is today.
Check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_wealth_eq... Inequality has nothing to do with standards of living, freedom and human rights, or how well developed a country is. It's a completely irrelevant thing. Sweden has more inequality than the Ukraine and most of the world; however, many people will vote to live in Sweden than anywhere else.
Because they have family obligations that take priority.
Because they live outside high-income countries.
Because they have no access to support network, so when they fail, they fall all the way to bottom.
Because they may have made a crippling mistake in their pasts that now prevents them from reaching their full potential.
And so on and on. While I would still recommend everyone to pursue the dreams over never trying to do so - being poor is the single most powerful force that prevents people from doing that.
Imo forget being "rich", just growing up in a relatively sane environment is an advantage.
It took a long time to get out of that, and material problems were an issue for sure, but I would say the biggest obstacle for me was that I had no rolemodel and was forced to discover everything on my own. In retrospect I had plenty of opportunities to get out of my situation way earlier and I could have done a lot of things better, and it was pretty common sense to most normal/functioning people - but I didn't have a lot of those arround me.
And that wouldn't change if you gave my parents money - after my grandparents died my mother inherited some land and a house, in a year she managed to squander it away with terrible spending decisions and no long term planning (coupled with the sense of entitlement and expectation that things will just work out).
I also never viewed school as something relevant, teachers were hardly authoritative figures (from my perspective their job was to babysit me and they were poorly paid - why would I accept them as authority on anything).
So I don't think it's something you can solve with money alone, having functional parents is always going to set you up to do better in life.
Reading your comment nearly made me cry, because it (strikingly) reminded me of my own story. You are not alone.
Keep your head up (as you seem to always have done), and if you can, make peace with the past and your parents. This took me a LOT of time, but it helped me.
Thank you for sharing your story.
I was harsh on my parents in that post, they were dysfunctional but my mother loved all of us in her own way and spent her whole life arround us, and I can't say a lot of good things about my father - dealing with my mother in those days would break anyone.
I'm on good terms with them now and they are in a better place now that we're grown up and independent.
Hard to optimise through political solutions, unfortunately. Just handing out money probably won't help so much, like you observed. Generous parental leave rules might be useful.
I grew up in similar circumstances, and it still affects my mindset. It's changing, but slowly.
It helps a lot to read others' stories.
"Scarcity: Why having too little means so much" is a great book on this.
In essence it is not that people in poverty have less innate executive control / cognitive capacity, but that the situation of poverty causes anyone to lose some significant points of executive control / cognitive capacity.
There are some illuminating (but terryfing) experiments in the book, where they show you can literally sabotage a low income persons score on an IQ test by mentioning a hypothetical car repair of 2000 dollars before they take it.
Imagine two rooms, each with a caged bear. The bear is not happy being in a cage. A rich man, and a poor man, are ushered into their respective rooms, and told that the lock on the cage isn't all that reliable.
I'd wager that they'd both suffer roughly equally on a provided IQ test.
If you can't afford it, that car repair is an existential threat.
You don't get that car fixed, you don't get to work, you lose your job, and then everything else that goes with that. Not to mention figuring out what you're going to do while your car is in the shop. Maybe you skimp on the repair, just do what you need to get it running again, and hope it doesn't turn into a bigger problem down the road.
If you can afford it, it's an inconvenience.
You drop your car off with the mechanic, get a rental or just Uber it to work, and pick up your car when it's ready. You'll pay to fix things properly, of course, because you can.
I think it's not scarcity itself, but constantly living under existential fear that causes so many problems.
Correct: it's not money per-se, it's about desperately needing money in a society where money are crucial for survival.
Often economists make the mistake of equating poverty == no money.
Instead, not all economies are money-driven.
Modern humans have existed for something like 100,000 years give or take a few tens of thousands, and yet we only started building anything particularly innovative in the last ~10,000 or so. So we spent 90% of our species' history doing very little in the way of cognitively challenging innovation.
I wonder if this might not be the reason. Some have observed that hunter-gatherers often had better nutrition and were healthier than at least early civilized humans, but maybe they also lived under a perpetual cloud of fear about the next famine, raid, or plague. Maybe that basically shut down their capacity for higher cognition. Maybe they didn't have any time to sit down and think and do so free of concern about the future.
In my limited experience with these people, they are absolutely capable of higher cognition, including planning into the distant future.
So, what to do if you are conservative politician and want more voters? Do you try to make poor people better or worse off given these two data points (whose scientific validity I am not able to judge, but I have to admit, they do seem to make sense)?
These days I‘m studying physics and mathematics while having a cushy engineering job and I‘m so genuinely happy that I can sit down and study for hours without having to worry about making ends meet at the end of the month. It’s a blessing.
I’m thinking of the story “The Chinese Farmer” as told by Alan Watts.
-People who wait with having children till their situation stabilizes are now subsidizing those who don't. I think this is simply immoral and will result in more productive/responible/better educated people having even fewer children.
-the money goes to often dysfunctional parents and is spent on pointless consumption and alcohol. It's not a meme that if you want to see a lot expensive brand clothes or shoes you just need to visit a poor part of the town (I live in a very homogeneous country so no race/religion/culture undertones there).
I would much prefer the money to be spent on infrastructure making life better for the kids. Making sure children can get quality food, educational materials, help from social workers, can spend quality time outside of their dysfunctional homes and maybe get exposed to different ways life could be would be in my view way more helpful.
Making sure preschool children have their needs met is a more difficult problem. Still I think giving people free access to quality nutrition, clothes, medical care, toys etc would be a better way.
Sure there is a % of people who w can manage money and prioritize their children but those people would do well anyway if the money came as free stuff you can get for your children instead of buying it yourself.
Since (very modest for western standard) ubi like program was introduced we have seen huge raise in tourism and alcohol consumption. The numbers are there. It's just people who end up in bottom % economically are usually very bad with money and decision making.
I guess we can live with that one we can afford ubi for everyone but for now the priorities should be about giving children of shitty parents a fair shot at life. Good unfortunate parents will be able to use other programs as well.
It is much easier for me to be functional and caring parent when I am happy and content. It gets harder when the period is stressful. I would be failing at that way more if I had one of those real big problems.
Do you think your parents being in poverty (if they were) or a similar situation made it as difficult for them as it was for you? It seems to be an obviously vicious cycle that is difficult to break without education and opportunity for people in these situations.
Emphasis mine. Pretty unambiguous that it says money is necessary but not sufficient. This is on you for misreading it.
Much worse problems. When I see people in the US advocating semi-socialist policies, I wince.
PS I grew up in Bulgaria. I live in the US since 2007.
The Nordics are not nearly as socialist as you might think. 
In the general case, I think a lot of the items you listed are good ideas.
The devil is in the details, as always.
• 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor, May 27, 2011: (https://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-nobody-tells-you-about...)
• The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor, January 19, 2012: (https://www.cracked.com/blog/4-things-politicians-will-never...)
• 4 Things Politicians Will Never Understand About Poor People, February 21, 2013: (https://www.cracked.com/blog/4-things-politicians-will-never...)
The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor:
This is absolutely true!
> This is largely because families in poverty tend to also abuse their kids at higher rates (this includes mental abuse) or at least foster an extremely unhealthy environment due to the stress it causes.
This could be true with some families, but most parents try at least not to go below the financial level they are at. I remember my parent use to get all jittery even at a slight stress on the finances fearing that they will not be able to sustain. They had prioritised education, food, clothing in that order. Unfortunately, after education and food nothing was left! I remember wearing same set of clothes for almost a decade. Even now, even though I can afford to spend, I got into that habbit of wearing same clothes most of the time. I still use clothes that are almost 10 years old! I remember we(I and my friends, they too were from the same financial status) use to wear same worn-out/torn school uniforms by doing something called "rafoo". That made us kids understand value of money and the determination to get out of the situation as soon as possible. The problem we faced was lack of information and support network. We had to build it ourselves from scratch, most of the time stumbling. It also dents the confidence as you don't know how long it is going to take to achieve your goals, if at all it can be acheived!
Also, not to make excuses but I think in the mental abuse case people don't always know they are doing it. They do what their parents did or learned from those around them who also didn't know what they were doing.
Somehow I have a wider range of friends and family than most people, and the thing that is missing from this conversation is that most people by far don't know anyone wealthy, especially if they're not themselves wealthy.
The issue with that isn't just the money and connections themselves. There's a cultural gap of "I couldn't do that, only people on TV do that" whether it's starting a startup or pursuing one of those one in a million type careers like acting or sports.
There's a risk behaviour that is also affected by background. Basically you're pushed to not take too much risk: your parents' entire productive output has gone into your education, you can't just take a chance on it.
Case in point is my family. The parents all got spread around the world as refugees back in the 1970s. Everyone worked really hard but they told their kids to go the safe route.
I have a cluster of cousins in the bay area, what do they do? None of them do startups. Doctors, nurses, and Google.
I wouldn't describe this as risk-averse behaviour. The simple fact is in the modern startup ecosystem, even if the startup has a successful exit, even early stage engineers will see very little wealth having been massively diluted, and would have been much, much better off having worked for an established company over the same time period. An early stage employee takes all the risk but all the reward goes to the founders and the VCs. It's not worth it.
Which is kinda surprising, but I guess for all the noise they make it's still a pretty small network.
On hn, there is sort of bubble of people who think that working for startup is best thing ever and everyone else is selling the soul. What if it is not true and some people really wanted to be doctors/nurses or find their job at google happy place?
Keep in mind that as an immigrant you also you also only know a few traditional things a kid can do. The main thing that would get you into a startup is probably a CS degree, which what not high on the list for my aunts and uncles.
This might also be something about American society. People seem to cluster very closely with similar people. At least when I go there it seems that way.
HN, for obvious reasons, over-estimates how likely it is a startup will succeed, and over-estimates how much an early-stage employee will make on an exit, and also over-estimates how many valuable experiences an early-stage employee will be exposed to. Vastly.
Thank you for this. I love when HN provides a view outside a typical Western middle-class cohort.
At a larger scale, I think the same thing could be said to an entire society. In a poor society, your small mistake might lead to loss of healthcare, loss of voting rights, arrest by secret police, mob lynching, public shaming, or other forms of social bullying. There are many rich people who live in such a society, but they're always in a somewhat precarious position. I don't envy that.
Starting with distant relatives that got into trouble and suddenly found a familial love for them, continuing with various false friends, gold diggers of both sexes and people hustling investment opportunities. Ending with lawyers and doctors who might induce you to undergo procedures that are more expensive, but not necessarily in the best interest for you.
The price for being rich is being on constant alert and distrust against "luck" that isn't really luck, but a veiled threat.
Edit: OK, I get it, not everywhere is Eastern Europe. Countries with old money have systems in place that mitigate this problem. (Although I am not so sure about mafia-heavy countries like Italy.)
You also have access to specialists. You can hire a lawyer, people to help you with research, people to help you present yourself on social media.
In the end, you can extend your day and improve your productivity significantly, resulting in more hours available "to get lucky" effectively. I mean, being lucky when washing dishes does not help a lot, but being lucky when shopping for business opportunities...
Your friend who owns a house in Chamonix and will let you use it for free during your vacations, your friends CEO of a big company who will give a high level internship to your son, your friends starting a new company and asking you early if you want to invest in it, etc...
When you're rich, you get to swing several times at the ball. When you miss, you fall back to your wealth/family to support you while you save up for your next swing. Then, when you finally hit, as you're running the bases you can boast to everyone about how self-made your success is.
When you're filthy rich, you have infinite at-bats, and basically it doesn't matter how good a baseball player you are, you're going to win.
What I was speaking about was the simplistic "more of X, more of Y" approach of the OP, though I understand that it was mostly sarcastic in nature.
I would even argue that there is a sweet spot where you have enough money to live comfortably, but not enough to be a promising scam/crime target.
- If you don't have to work two jobs to survive, you have the time to pursue other things, and you're more "lucky".
- If you have the ability to not work and can spend a year/two/five working out of a "garage", you're more "lucky" than those who can't.
- If you have the ability to send your kids to an expensive college without you or them going into life-long debt, then those kids can create lasting connections (a.k.a. networking) and be significantly more "lucky" than those who can't.
- If you have the money for good food, leisure, home, travel, medicine, etc., you're significantly more "lucky" than those who have to balance those things, and may not even have access to those things with all the consequences: chronic illnesses, stress etc.
I cannot afford a vacation in Macchu Picchu, but it does not detract from my feeling of being lucky/unlucky. Local vacations in Europe or even in my own country are fine. If anything, Covid era was a good teacher in what really matters.
And the college and networking is begging the question (IDK if I use the expression correctly). I do not doubt that Harvard graduates have it easier in general, but they are probably less prepared for a possible black swan event after which their degree won't have the weight it currently has. Shelling out enormous money for getting connections is a conformist (expensive and lazy) way of building career. I do not find much luck in that.
The question isn't about feeling lucky/unlucky.
It doesn't matter if you can't take a vacation in Macchu Picchu.
- Can you take a vacation any time you want?
- Can you take a vacation for as long as you can?
- Can you afford to take a full year (or more) to work on a passion project? Or on any project? On a startup idea?
See, the more money you have, the more readily your answer will be yes to all the questions above.
> Shelling out enormous money for getting connections is a conformist (expensive and lazy) way of building career. I do not find much luck in that.
You can spend enormous money and have all the connections you need in four years. Or you can work your entire life and still never get those connections.
> but they are probably less prepared for a possible black swan event
Something tells me that Harvard graduates "survive" any and all black swan events significantly better than many others.
Out of your questions: "Can you take a vacation any time you want?" is an interesting case. This depends on your career a lot, not just on net income. Some well-paid careers are notorious for being time-intensive and competitive to the threshold of burning out. You can take a long vacation, but your job might not be there when you return. I opted out of this rat race a long time ago.
"Something tells me that Harvard graduates "survive" any and all black swan events significantly better than many others."
Where I live, the Holocaust and the Communist coup were two notable exceptions. People who had a lot of property to lose often hesitated too long before GTFOut and found the way shut after rationalizing the first warning signs away.
It is possible that the USA is protected enough that something like this will never happen there.
This might be some of the actual disagreement in this thread.
Feeling lucky and being lucky is not always related. You can feel lucky for having met "the one" in your life or for finding $100 on the street, and none think that luck comes from hard work. The part where many underestimate luck regarding success in business is how much luck is needed on top of hard work, and having the right knowledge, and being at the right place at the right time for any business to be a huge success.
The success stories from business always are about the hard work that was done and not about the incredible amount of luck that also was involved (Thinking fast and slow have a chapter about this)
Black swans are by definition uncommon. Being a Loyalist in America of the 1770s was a huge black swan, for example. While their counterparts a little bit to the north in Canada did just fine.
Prague is full of big villas and other real property whose original owners perished with their entire family. There was literally no one left to claim them after the war. Same in Poland or Germany.
People back then did not want to believe that something as barbaric will be done to them, until it was.
I do not think that exact stats exist how many rich and poor survived the Holocaust, but considering the vast amount of abandoned valuable property after the war, including the infamous sleeping accounts of Switzerland, I do not believe that most rich folks escaped successfully.
Surely they had better chances to act in time, yes. If they had the foresight to do so. One of my points is that once you are a part of the conventional elite, you are motivated to try to weather the problems in place, because uprooting yourself and your family is a huge loss.
> because uprooting yourself and your family is a huge loss.
Once again: unlike the poor folks which have the foresight and the opportunity to act in time, right?
I am partly influenced by my own personal history. I grew up with a single mother and no child support from a father that lived abroad. We were somewhere in the lowest fourth of the income distribution.
Yet it helped me to be an independent person, paradoxically. I never had to take into account what my neighbors or rich, soon-to-die relatives think about me, what are "suitable" careers for a young man of X years and Y parents, what kind of real property binds my feet from moving anywhere. No one was interested in me and it felt very liberating.
Knowing my colleagues from school who were restrained by all those concerns and had to play a "role" instead of being themselves, I did not envy them the least.
And yes, everything, from having a computer at 10, not at 18 to unconstrained ability to travel would've helped me significantly more than the proverbial "having to pull myself up by bootstraps".
And this has nothing to do with "being independent" or "feeling lucky".
The CEO of a company I worked for came up with the idea for his company while having a year-long sabbatical from the university while traveling around (literally around) the world with his friends.
At university I was often chosing between buying a new T-shirt or (exclusive or) cheap bread.
So no. Luck has very little to do with where you are now. Money does.
And yet I do not believe that if my single parent was richer, I would have been a better programmer or writer. I made some money teaching well-off, but pretty dim youngsters whose parents, even though rich by my standards (which meant middle class, probably), were concerned about their future. Even private tuition only gets you so far.
That said, the fact that I was born with a fairly good brain that could soak up both English and mathematics/programming easily, is by no means my own work. It is precisely random luck, together with the fact that I was born precisely at that period of history when such skills are considered useful and marketable.
This has nothing to do with your belief.
The level you're at now? You could've reached it a decade earlier, had you had money. As could I.
Poor people fail significantly more than rich people. For every one of you or me there will be 100 others who couldn't make it. At a certain level of wealth, however, it does't matter if you're a "better programmer". You will still be able to enjoy life and achieve fulfilment, but at a vastly reduced timescale.
> It is precisely random luck
Yes. There are random chances, such as where you're born. Apart from that the chances of misfortune decrease exponentially with money.
- You're Einstein but born in poverty? Hello, malnourishment, no access to good education, menial jobs until the end of your life.
- You're a regular Joe, but born into well-to-do family? Hello, happy childhood, good education, necessary connections, largely stress-free life of your chosing.
There's 150 000 shades in bteween, of course, but luck has little to do with chance, and has a lot of to do with money.
It does not make any sense, too. Harvard graduates are globalists, who are more likely to allocate their assets globally, which is what saves you from such events.
It is. But in the context of the discussion, the question is mostly around access to opportunities. And this access increases with the money you have.
> This depends on your career a lot, not just on net income. Some well-paid careers are notorious for being time-intensive and competitive to the threshold of burning out.
Once again, it means that you may not have enough money to afford having a vacation at any time.
> Where I live, the Holocaust and the Communist coup were two notable exceptions.
Ah, yes. Because these events are so common that Harvard graduates are uniquely unprepared for them. Unlike, you know, common folk.
If my memory serves me right, most rich folks successfully escaped both the Holocaust and the Communist coup. Unlike those who couldn't afford it.
I'd say that's largely a new-rich problem. People born in rich families generally have the wealth management groomed in. I'm far from being rich, but that's something I'll teach my kids, as I believe one major driving factor in poor families staying poor is lack of education in economy and finance.
That is a possible explanation for why I see this pattern fairly frequently, while other commenters seem to disagree.
Here you see that happening the most with lottery winners, particularly because people playing lotto are generally poor, and most among them financially illiterate.
Top special price of the state lottery is around 500k€, and some stats showed that 90% of the winners lost 50% of that wealth within 2 years, while just putting it in some fund and sitting on that money would easily double their income while keeping their wealth.
On that line, certain wealthy people tend to win the lotto a lot! It's a sign of fraud: they buy the tickets from the winners for a bigger amount than the prize, so they can insta-launder large sums of money. Then the actual winner sits on a slightly larger amount of money that can't be used for anything other than spending it, which financially is a terrible deal. But they all seem happy to do it, because they don't know any better.
When you're poor, you're also a constant target of other people. When you're rich, perhaps that single aspect is the same but everything else in your life is so much better that it's kind of disingenuous to ignore it.
source: Me. ~Veteran~ Survivor of 3 failed startups ;)
As opposed to a successful exit. No matter the above, it’s still a successful exit.
That said, I'd love to have a graph or model (or book even) to describe the tipping point at which things become increasingly better and easier.
I observed that in the crypto bubble. Once you lifted off (fortune by accident maybe) you can comfortably ride the game from the back seat and pick what kind of new wealth you're gonna pick up this month.
It's difficult to understand unless you lived in it, and I only had a small taste of the bad. Urgency forces you to lower places where you get less and less acceptable conditions and you don't even have time to think about getting rich.
I live in a country which will be categorized by western countries as a developing country.
There is no social support system in my country, you are pretty much on your own. Nobody is coming to help you.
And I have made serious mistakes when I was in school which resulted in not being able to go to a good college which makes things in my country ten times more harder. Even today if I were to apply to a good company (There are Google, Amazon Dev centers in my country), my resume would not get through the first pass, because I do not have a good college name on my resume.
I make 5 times what my school mates and my college mates make, which makes me a lot more successful, atleast financially.
When I meet anyone from my school or college they tell me the same things that you are writing here. They attribute my success to -
Having no family obligations
- Which is BS, My parents are middle class, I have been taking care of them since I got a job.
Having good parents, support network
- I have zero support from my parents, they were downright abusive. Since, I have been a teenager, there has not been one week where my father has not told me that I will be failure in life. My mother tried to pressure me to commit suicide on numerous occastions.
- I had the same education that my peers had, same economic level. Same razor thin opportunites that they had.
The only differentiator is that whatever tiny opportunity I got however small, I fought tooth and nail to capitalize on it. Worked for 15 hours every day, only 5 hour sleep. Ate one meal a day to save money and time.
I hate it when people like you, my school friends, my college friends try to attibute it to some external factor. You will attibute my success to anything in the world, except my relentless hardwork.
I have taken huge risks whose downside was total ruin. There is no social security checks, some benevolent relative waiting for me to fail. If I fail, I die, my family will perish. That's how high the stakes are.
Everything I had, I earned it with blood, sweat and tears. I have spent 12 hours coding in high fever just to make the release.
I will close off this rant with one last statement.
It all comes to down to how much you want and how much are will sacrifice and work hard for it. Rest are just excuses.
This sounds like a motivational cliche but it is true.
For some reason it reminds me of what some political philosophers think is the most interesting subconscious axiom that divides and subtly defines the ‘left/right’ political debate; and that is the belief in free will (versus determinism).
Those on the left tend to default towards determinism, while those on the right point to stories like yours as proof that people can rise above their circumstances. (And then the left will retort that your particular circumstances determined your success somehow etc etc)
This debate opened my mind to why there is disagreement on almost every political issue. It is also an amazing starting point to many great discussions on being human.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your humanity.
As a person who is successful in terms of money, but sacrifised my health, I suggest you to start taking your health seriously (sleep, nutrition, gym, air quality for you home). The problem is that nobody can tell you when you will start having real problems with it.
without attempting to belittle your story, i'd place a large bet that for every one of you, there are tens - if not hundreds - of people with a better start/more luck in life, that have worked harder than you, and have less than you do.
Most people don't have family and friends able to lend them a few thousand dollars, let alone tens of thousands, to invest in a complete moonshot (given that we all agree that most startups fail, i.e. lose the investment).
This makes the startup scene extremely self-selecting. Even if you pretend that Elon Musk is a rags to riches story because he says he had to sleep in the office when he started out, he wouldn't have had the millions of dollars to invest in Tesla if he hadn't had an extremely lucky exit with Global Link and then again with X.com. Not to mention that he had previous access to both UPenn and Stanford, which also means massive networking opportunities (assuming he had access to those networks, which again requires a certain inherited status).
Rich people with supportive networks of course can pursuit their goals easier.
Occasionally people from not very good families can do this as well because they're so screwed by the environment and tried to get rid of everything in (the book 'Masters of DOOM' is an example assuming it doesn't try to be too dramatic).
It's much harder to do the same as middle classes with a lot of life obligations, distractions, and most importantly they are by default need to follow linear career developments - it's much harder to be adventurous to had drastic improvement compared to previous categories.
Wealth is not synonymous with intelligence. And certainly not with motivation.
A lot of people who are wealthy will never be as smart as ... nor as motivated.
> I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.
For me and probably most of the people I know, I do not know where to begin, most average income people networks are not investors type, so we do not have a clue, where to even find people who are willing to listen for a five minute pitch, without feeling that you are begging for money...
In that regard poor or middle class will never be the same as rich, it is amount of struggling to keep up the daily needs.
If rich person gets bankrupt, he can easily bounce back, with connections he has, he can turn few phone calls and again pop up on the ladder, issue with other people they are not even close to ladder, until you get to ladder, there is path through swamp, forest, dark cave, and dragon on two ...
How can you compare Elon or Steve Jobs wealth level to well anyone?
There are CEO's of successful companies that worked their whole lives and never got to that level. Aiming for that is well crippling. People should aim to have a good life...
I know what I want from life, and what it costs, and I don't want extravagance. I don't have the capital to spend the 4-12 years training to increase my earning potential. My lack of capital is no fault of my own, I lost the womb lottery, why must I be relegated to live a meager life toiling for decades and have nothing to show for it while these billionaires you mentioned steal more money in a month than I'll see in 10 lifetimes?
>No amount of charity and spending such fortunes can compensate in any way for the misconduct in acquiring them. -Teddy Roosevelt
General background reading/listening
There's a severe lack of small businesses in the USA. Totally fixable. So many low hanging fruit. Affordable health insurance and childcare would be revolutionary.
I forfeited my fledgling software startup, just as it started to gain traction, once we got pregnant. I needed insurance for my family.
For decades, young parents have struggled with health insurance, day care, and other really basic stuff. 30 years ago, cost of childcare was ridiculous, and very hard to find. Today, it's completely insane.
Of course new business formation is at historical lows. (Pre-pandemic, of course, in anticipation of the inevitable pedantry.)
Sometimes being less fortunate is what motivates people to become rich. The truth is I had a huge amount of stuff holding me back as a child, and still do, but imo that is why I managed to succeed (relatively at least) where others I knew who had similar intelligence and better backgrounds did not. Even in my own family the difference between my sister and myself is massive, she's probably in the bottom 10% and I'm probably in the top 1-2%, yet she has almost the exact same background as myself.
Being poor might just be the single greatest motivator. It also teaches people a lot of valuable lessons for acquiring wealth such as how to save and ration. If you look at wealth statistics in the UK some of the wealthy people here are immigrants or second generation immigrants from India and East Asia which doesn't really fit with this narrative of rich people get rich, while poor people stay poor.
I understand sometimes people are so unlucky that the obstacles in front of them are insurmountable, but I also don't think this paints a full picture. I also generally agree with the article, although I think it's easy to criticise without providing answers. It would have been nice to see some suggestions on how to fix the problem of wealth inequality, because unfortunately many of the popular solutions (raising taxes, expanding welfare programs, etc) could just make things worse.
It's vastly easier to become rich if you don't care about employees, customers, tenants, and co-workers, or if you can persuade yourself that people who don't take risks and succeed are somehow inherently morally inferior and deficient.
In fact a good safety net is likely to increase entrepreneurial activity, because it makes it possible to fail into a safety net instead of failing into homelessness and catastrophe.
Tax increases are a separate issue. But generally wealth inequality is politically as well as financially toxic.
You want to reward smart, clever, inventive individuals. But you do also want to make sure they don't automatically get privileged legal or ethical treatment which encourages destructive narcissistic and authoritarian behaviours in the culture as a whole.
How would you address this? It seems that you're making a point that if a person became rich AND they didn't have a safety net — they are most probably toxic individuals. If I understood you correctly, it feels that such rhetoric penalizes the "smart, clever, inventive individuals" that come from poor background. As someone coming from poverty I find these statements unfair and paternalistic.
One of the most motivating things I did to get a well-paying job and work hard to earn it was by having a deadend job as a kid. There is nothing that has motivated me to study hard as much as the realization that some people will be stuck stacking boxes their entire life.
Motivation makes a big difference, but obviously those who always think about how to make rent and still have food on the table don't always have the opportunity to live a better life...
Amassing that type of wealth depends on many other people embracing your ideas, and random events that are entirely beyond your control working out in your favor. There are ways to improve your odds of reaching this level of success - if you never start a business, your odds are zero. But luck is the ultimate decider of who becomes a "self-made" billionaire out of those that are actively trying to become one.
 To be clear, I very much view this as a failure given how much richer the US has become in the same period. Nevertheless, it is not true (or at least not clear) that the portion of people who are able to actualize their potential is falling.
The poverty line for a family of four is defined as a household income of $26,200. Any reasonable person knows it's impossible to pay rent and feed and clothe two adults and two kids on less than $2200 a month. Nevermind owning a home, having a car, saving for emergencies or retiring. Yet the U.S. government does not consider that to be poverty. From Wikipedia:
> Most experts and the public agree that the official poverty line in the United States is substantially lower than the actual cost of basic needs. In particular, a 2017 Urban Institute study found that 61% of non-elderly adults earning between 100–200% of the poverty line reported at least one material hardship, not significantly different from those below the poverty line. The cause of the discrepancy is believed to be an outdated model of spending patterns based on actual spending in the year 1955; the number and proportion of material needs has risen substantially since then.
The reality is that poverty in the U.S. is increasing. It has been for decades.
Step outside of your bubble. This is very feasible in low CoL areas all over the US. And remember that’s the line so it’s going to be difficult, but it can be done.
I’m talking about basically every city outside of the Bay Area, LA, Seattle, and NYC. $1000/mo can you a livable apartment in most of the US cities.
In a thread that is all about having hurdles/challenges in life, what does your comment contribute here if the above is the case?
$2200 is the income, not the purchasing power. Purchasing power is income normalized by domestic price level. This isn't to nitpick, it actually means purchasing power is quite different when compared to other rich nations. For example PP in the US is 25% lower than in Germany: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/PA.NUS.PRVT.PP?location...
In other words: With a household income of $2200 in the US and a household income of $1650 in Germany you can buy about the same amount of things.
The more important point however: Most rich countries use the concept of relative poverty as the poverty threshold. This has the nice benefit of automatically updating itself if wage and thus price level increases. It usually is defined as 60% of the median income.
US median income in 2019 was $31133. For a household of two adults that means the poverty line for the US should be set at $3113 - quite the difference.
 $31133 * 60% * 2 adults / 12 months = $3113
Germany is one of the top world powers. For the purpose of this discussion the US and Germany are equals. I was thinking more of Ghana, Argentina, South Sudan, Kazakhstan, etc. you know, the other 95% of the word.
This is so out of touch I barely have the will to argue :/
After taxes someone or 2 someone's making 26,200 would be taking home 835 every 2 weeks. Realistically speaking even if anyone would rent to you, which they wont, you couldn't afford to pay rent, keep the lights on, and eat.
You are right of course if they could figure out a way to make french fries at McDonalds remotely while living in some poorer part of the world they would totally have substantial buying power.
you live in Ghana and make $3.5k/y. are you poor?
This is the same reason you see people talking about the .1% and then billionaires. Because they or people they care about fall into the 1% or the .1% so they have to push the boogeyman further out.
There's a graph in TFA showing that, after adjusting for inflation, the per-individual wealth of the middle and lower classes decreased by 20% and 45% respectively between 2001 and 2016. The individual wealth of the upper class increased by 33% in this time period.
You can be the “Elon musk” of your world, that is you can hit the ceiling of what you were offered. Don’t compare yourself to Elon musk, compare yourself to what was possible for you.
Maybe that’s depressing for some people but I see it as liberating.
IMO this is what offsets the dystopia of the coming human IPO market. Many millions of humans would economically benefit from having their own board of directors.
It doesn't matter if wealth acquisition was "fair" or "warranted".
It doesn't matter if the process that allowed wealth to be acquired resulted in a net gain for society.
When a group of people become incredibly more wealthy than the general population, their interests diverge and it breaks society apart.
It's even worse when said group is not diverse but is instead composed of just the same privileged people as it has always been.
If that were the case, then there would be no disparity.*
* That is, unless luck is a function of circumstance. Which is kind of the point of the OP.
As for Jobs, he started Apple for a few hundred bucks. It's a pretty low bar.
Plus free time. Plus motivation and energy which is probably in short supply when you've already done 8 hours in a supermarket / your second job / a full day of childcare / etc.
> a few hundred bucks. It's a pretty low bar.
For a lot of people in the US, a few hundred bucks is the difference between eating that month and going without. Or being able to pay the rent and not be evicted. Or being able to afford transport to/from their job.
Show me any group of founders and you can point to a few outliers but people who have had jobs like grocery store clerk by and large do not go on to make a business. The bar is lowered enough for upper middle class only, with few exceptions.
That doesn't mean they're poor. I've known many, many people with zero savings living paycheck to paycheck. They had new cars, nice houses, good furniture, expensive clothes, took vacations, and ate regularly at restaurants.
They simply spent it all.
According to google, the percentage of Americans in poverty is 9.2% for 2020, not 63%.
Finances are quite tight overall - for the upper middle class that might mean living in an expensive area. For the middle class that might mean holding onto house and childcare payments. Those are choices sometimes, and others not.
What is also very common is to want a different job but not have the skillset people need, and no way to sacrifice the time it’d take to gain that skillset. Also age, if you wanted to be a programmer at 40 you could go to school for 4 years only to find there’s almost nobody willing to hire you at that age. This leads to people basically being stuck, unable to change their situation and certainly not able to have the runway to try to build out a business without an old fashioned bank loan.
Software engineers have a completely different set of problems than people who don’t work in tech.
These were middle class people, paid much more than myself.
They had no money, but they had plenty of income. They just spent it all. And there were a lot of them. I can give you many, many real life examples.
As for unemployable ancient programmers, I'm one of them. I know about it.
The solution is hire yourself. Nobody can stop you from buying a computer and hanging out your shingle. Companies are much more likely to hire an older person as a consultant than as an employee.
Contribute to open source to build a reputation. Several companies regularly scan the D programming language forums looking for people to hire, and they'll often hire remotely.
Everybody has some opportunities that are closed off to them. But they do have avenues that are available to be exploited. Focus on those.
> Everybody has some opportunities that are closed off to them. But they do have avenues that are available to be exploited. Focus on those.
Are you sure about that, honestly? Or is it that it worked out for you, with your particular set of prerequisites and willpower? I too believe there are more opportunities for people than they realize, but much of my adult life has been doing all I can to mentor and help people find and hop onto opportunities. I've done this enough to see a lot more failures than successes. It makes me think that people, while they may think its "hard", still really underestimate how much further ahead they were of people who weren't doing as well as them. Mental health and childhood trauma being one of the biggest factors that people don't end up considering, but also just how deep the cycle and mindset of poverty gets ingrained into people.
Yes. People have free will. They can choose. They are not condemned to fate.
I started my first business while working for Boeing 50 hours a week (they had mandatory overtime for years).
Similarly, "all you need is a computer" is still very much an indicator of privilege on a global level. Good luck if you live in a favella in Brazil or slums in South Africa or India. It is easier than it was in the 70s, but by no means universally available.
Last week, here in the US, I bought a decent laptop for $40 from the pawn shop. It was marked down to $40 because the battery didn't work (it worked fine on the charger) and there was cosmetic damage to the underside.
The US is a country where nearly everyone has a computer in their pocket that is thousands of times more powerful than ones in the 1970's.
If I recall correctly, Woz hand-assembled his early Apple software. That implies he did not have access to a computer running an assembler. Hand assembling code on notebook paper is tedious, but is certainly possible.
By the late 70's, there was a Byte shop within walking distance with many different PCs one could buy, and a heluva lot did and started businesses. Apple and other PC makers' success did not come from selling computers to the 1%.
If they (in the above story) were so smart and motivated (towards starting corps and getting rich), why'd they:
Make a family and let that get in the way of that?
Not H1B or student-visa / postgrad it to "high-income countries"?
Not cultivate and create their support network?
Not overcome "crippling" mistake?
And so on? And endless list of weak excuses for why they'll only ever be mediocre, but hey, they're just as smart as Elon Must and Steve Jobs. That idea can buzz off. If they were, they'd be doing like them.
Did Musk and Jobs always "have it easy"? No, they got back up. Take 100 Musk and Jobs clones, I think only 25 will make it to the same approximate place they did. The rest will get done in by random stuff, and scattered across various levels of successful but not super successful. But I think only 1 or 2 will be "failures" or "average people" without any major success.
That's the character of these people. Succeed anywhere. But the "story" about it in the above comment, this story make it like choices don't matter.
A story to excuse "they"s own failure. A smug content, well, "coulda shoulda woulda" while wrongly taking the responsibility away from "they" and the "Musks and Jobses" for what they each got.
Consolation that disempowers. It's bad to do so. To tell people "poor is a state that something else decided for you. You have not much power to escape."
A person I think must have had it so easy to never have to work out how much you can accomplish if you commit and persevere.
This sort of "smug, content, rich country attitude" that people in "high income countries" can afford to take, because everything, even the "poor levels" are so comfortable.
Easy times, so they never have to get pushed to learn to take themselves higher. Symptom of privilege and an easy, unchallenged life to have these armchair opinions that success is meted out by powerful forces outside the ken of individuals and their choices.
If one comes from adversity, one is more likely to learn their own power. But the easy-rich-country folk can choose to give themselves adversity to make up for this. Sad to see delusions like the above story. This delusion is the poverty of privilege, a sickness of the easy-riding armchair theorists content to coast through effortless existence.
Adversity does crush, and does demoralize, but I bet you 10 folk from "low income countries" have twice the mettle, grit and heart that 100 folks from easy-riding "high income countries" with their easy excuses, and zero-cost "regrets" can afford. Give me 10 of the first lot anyday, better than the whining mewling of ne'er-do-wells too lucky to know how impoverished they really are in spirit, and how much they could have accomplished had they wanted it more.
Heavy sigh. All these loser excuses the above "story" describes here pathetic and not the stuff that these "Musks and Jobses" would let get in their way. I think from the way you write about it, you have no idea.
I think you, and many others, are blind to the absolute smug arrogance (and waste via consoling thinking) of telling yourself sure that guy could be as good as Musk but he didn't set it up that way, and made all these mistakes he couldn't recover from, is blaming externalities when he had choices. How dare you take that from them. How dare you take that from yourself. What you chose.
Musk's hardships: awful father, abusive father-son relationship, no SA support network, social anxiety, had to leave SA over "crippling mistake"
Jobs hardships: didn't know his real father, never felt belonged to the adoptive family, no support network had to go his own way, had child early and paid for the "crippling mistake" of abandoning that family, no money in 1976
Bezos hardships: didn't know his real father, bullied in high school, had kids early, made plenty of mistakes
Others: Keanu Reeves, Meghan Markle, you think you can take these people and just say, "they had it easy, the cream floats to the top", any woman who's been successful (has to have 10x the grit of men to move through all the shit they get), any person who gets successful (has to have 10x the grit of non-successful people to get there, and stay there).
Again, I'm sorry this is not at you, but this story that poor stops people, is such a broken story.
Free enterprise seems to allow some tiny fraction of such highly motivated geniuses to excel, lets say 0.0000001%. Other systems seem to allow 0% of these people to excel, or at least to do so anywhere near their full potential. The comparison seems to be between a horrible system where almost nobody can excel and more horrible systems where absolutely nobody can excel.
You occasionally get historical anomalies where bureaucratic or authoritarian states innovate, such as when the state machinery of the US and USSR raced to the Moon or the burst of innovation in Nazi Germany. In that case the forcing function was war (or Cold War in the US/USSR sense), and war seems the only thing capable of motivating bureaucracies. I guess the other source of historical anomalies is when you have the explicit blessing of a king or someone really close to the throne, but the bandwidth for that is strictly limited and you often get long periods of idiot kings where nothing happens.
Without war or extreme will at the top all you get is meetings to plan the meeting to do a study on the effectiveness of more meetings. In more militaristic/fascist state regimes you also get a perpetual "game of thrones" at the upper echelons.
Maybe what we need is a more egalitarian socialist system coupled with a perpetual threat of alien invasion? Wait... isn't this sort of how you got the Star Trek socialist utopia? We need some Klingons.
Edit: the trouble, I think, is that innovation and achievement are antisocial. We often like the result, but the act is always a form of rebellion. It's often a rebellion limited to the mind of the actor, but it's rebellion nonetheless. All human social systems act to suppress deviance, so what you need for innovation is a system that tolerates deviance and manages to do so in a peaceful way.
Interdependent social structures of any kind suppress rebellion and channel human effort into social game playing such as the "meetings about meetings" and "game of thrones" phenomena I mentioned.
Capitalism is the only system I know of that allows non-violent antisocial acts of innovation at scale. By violence in this context I am including lies, bureaucratic subterfuge, and fraud. (Yes you do get those in capitalism but they're not required. There is a way to get there without them.) In all the other systems you have to hack your way out of the social jungle with a machete to innovate... or you have to be king and there's only one of those.
In any other system Elon Musk would probably have had to engineer a coup at the space agency by getting its present head thrown in prison for "corruption" (as they do in China) to assume his position and have an opportunity to get Falcon or Starship built. To get them across the finish line he'd probably have to focus a great deal of his energy on planting knives in the backs of his bureaucratic challengers. There would be only one space agency so there would be only one such throne to fight over, so if Elon's approach failed there would be no Blue Origin or RocketLab.
Basically we suck at politics. Every political system is horrible. I think this is largely because politics is still pre-scientific. We think in terms of political ideologies (fantasies more or less) dreamed up in an irrational evidence-free manner by arrogant mountebanks or populist meme wars. Instead we should start with game theory. AFAIK game theory and simulation have never even been leveraged to cook up a hypothetical political system.
You can't just take an Uber to a rich country. You have to do a lot of work to get there. All that work is wasted years compared to someone who was just born there in the first place and can focus 100% on their actual path of getting rich.
It's not 1900 where you can just jump on a boat. Comments like the one you quoted just seem completely divorced from reality.
How am I detached from reality when live in it?
That's an exception due to the freedom of movement rules which don't really exist anywhere else.
Its not to different in many other countries. The thing is, if you are somewhat valueable (i.e. learned a job that has a higher need) you have a realistic chance.
People are not paying their life savings to get smuggled into Europe on a small, overcrowded boat because it's easy to move here.
Yes without education, no chance.
None i guess, but gladly many people have the possibility to get some kind of degree these days. Just because you come from a poor country does not mean you have no means of learning a job.
I totally agree that this is not possible for everyone. Even in Switzerland a percentage of unfortunate people never really had a chance based on their inability to help themselfs or function within the system.
BTW, Malaysia is a middle income country. Visit some of the displaced tribal communities in India and you will have a different perspective.
Half the women in this Indian state are illiterate.
There are 2M college graduates in a population of 100M. That's almost 1/3 the size of US population.
For some of us, no amount of work is enough. You're simply at the mercy of whoever is supposed to process your papers.
Oh no! I have to do work? Guess it is time to roll over and just die. You can't expect me to work for something!
> All that work is wasted years compared to someone who was just born there in the first place and can focus 100% on their actual path of getting rich.
All your work of getting rich is wasted years compared to someone who was just born rich in the first place and can focus 100% on their actual path of getting uber rich.
How's that sound? Maybe instead of focusing on some abstract definition of rich you should focus on what amount makes you happy?
First step to happiness is to stop having destructive mindset of "bah, he started with more money than I did".
I probably won't buy Ferrari in my life, and I'm okay with that. I probably won't buy luxurious house or start unicorn startup. And I'm okay with that. But I will achieve relatively wealthy and good life and be content with that.
It's unfortunate, but yes it's your mistake and your mistake alone, not any outside factor like genetics. You should work harder, get stronger, be better to reach your potential and achieve the dream.
B) not sure what your sarcasm means in this case, that chances of me becoming next Tyson are non-existent? I acknowledge that, and found passion in something else. And you don't see me complaining everywhere that it is Tyson's problem that I didn't become world champion in boxing. Like it is a zero sum game somehow.
That's very easy to test, by comparing social mobility in countries with more or less progressive tax rates. I think the results say the opposite: progressive tax rates encourage greater mobility (because those taxes go to pay for free higher education, better public transport, mobility initiatives etc)
Perhaps in terms of tax you are right (though I know of at least 10+% differences even between the richer countries, so I doubt it), but the cost of living varies dramatically even within Europe. You don't need to move to a poor/bad part of Europe to profit either, as for example Lissabon is relatively cheap.
Let's say you have some system where your taxed 0% for income < $20k, 10% between $20k and $40k and 30% for $40k+. You currently earn $39k. You have to pay 10% of $19k so $1900, you keep $37.1k after tax. You're offered a $2k raise. Lot of poor people think that you'll suddenly have to pay 30% * $41k so $12k and lose money. But the 30% is only applied to the portion of revenue you get over $40k. With your raise you know have to pay 10% of $20k + 30% of $1k so $2.3k so you keep $38.7k after taxes, so your raise end up being $1.6k. You have not lost anything.
Now the problem comes from social benefits which usually are not regressive and work on a all or nothing system.
The reason more people aren't richer is because of private property and the capitalist system. As a whole, humanity is pretty rich and is severely destroying the environment to make sure of that. Only a fucked up economic system with all the wrong incentives makes sure some people starve when we produce more food than needed to feed the entire population, sleep on the streets when there's millions of empty/abandoned housing units, etc.
So, to be honest with you, i don't think taxes is the solution, because as long as money and private property are a thing, taxes will only be a band-aid on this cancer. Arguably, taxes are also often misused to fund more human misery in the form of military and police services and other harmful institutions we should entirely get rid of. But i would say claiming high taxes is responsible for poverty is really missing the point of how capitalism works.
This is a false dichotomy and huge oversimplification.
> Extremists are always wrong.
Another one. Who defines what's moderate and what's extreme? Completely rejecting slavering was called extreme, as universal suffrage was.
The current economical system is destroying the planet and hence completely unsustainable. We need radical changes to survive.
Exactly. It is more or less the oversimplification Americans thinking about socialism do.
You are taking my human sentences and try to work with them like code. This conversation makes no sense. There is even an obvious nitpick counter to your slavery example (are/have been) but you are not interested in what I originally said anyway.
Absolutely true, but the sad reality is that after a while with a comfortable living situation people tend to vote against their own self-interest. This then leads to dismantling of safety nets, which certainly doesn't help radicalisation.
There's probably some truth to that, but i don't think getting cozy is the only explanation. The "engineering of consent" is a thing, and in an era of mass corporate media owned by vicious psychopaths, proper information/journalism is hard to come by. Noam Chomsky has plenty to say on that topic, if you're interested
Capitalism is only called "least worst" by capitalists themselves. Much of humanity considers capitalism "the worst".
> Give a viable alternative that doesn't descend into fascism
So, to give some historic perspective, capitalism is precisely the root cause of fascism. All totalitarian systems are capitalist by essence, and historic fascism in France, Germany, Italy, Greece (etc) was pushed not by popular support but by industry leaders. Mussolini himself even argued fascism should be called "corporatism" because such was its true nature. If you'd like to learn more about this, i strongly recommend a documentary called "Fascism Inc".
Now, i'm guessing you believe the USSR was a fascist alternative to capitalism. As an anarchist, i understand the USSR to be a form of State capitalism, not communism. Communism is when power and resources are shared, which is what the Soviet (workers councils) revolution was about before the Bolsheviks (Lenin's sect) seized power and murdered the revolutionaries to establish their dictatorship ("of the proletariat", or so they say).
To people in the USSR, the police was the same. The prison was the same. The factory was the same. The same cult of control and productivity plagued their lives under Lenin as it did under the tsar. And the same political persecution hit them with Trotsky's Red Army as with the Tsar's Okrana. If it looks like capitalism, that's because it is capitalism.
So, now that "dictatorship of the proletariat", "fascism" and "capitalism" have been ruled out as potential candidates for making society better, what about an actual democracy (anarchy)? What about a society in which nobody has to worry for a place to sleep and food to feed their children? In which nobody has to work side gigs to pay for education or health bills? In which regulations are decided not by a national parliament full of the worst psychopaths this planet holds, but by a local assembly of peers where people can decide for themselves?
Our current political systems in the west claim to be democracies but those claims fail any form of scrutiny. The designers of our political systems (in France and USA at least) were either slave owners or colonization advocates, and were in any case strongly opposed to women having political rights. For example Jules Ferry, who is revered in France as the founder of public schools, is less famous for his take on how "superior races" had a duty to civilize "inferior races"... which explains how and why the french public school system was used as a tool of colonization to destroy local cultures.
If you really think you live in a democracy, think about it. Were you given any occasion to vote on actual topics? If your neighborhood opposes a national law, are you free to have your own local regulation supersede the national law? Are you free to study how power applies in your country, and to report on it for your peers? At work, are you free to decide with your peers how to manage the company, or is a boss deciding for you? Are you reaping the benefits of your work, or is a boss and some shareholders reaping them for you?
This system is hated by most because it's ruining lives and killing millions of people. Capitalism is just as rude as Mao's rule, you just can't see it if you're part of the tiny privileged elite (as most of us on HN are). If you're looking for alternatives, please read some anarchist/liberation literature. There's centuries of social criticism and ideas on how to improve things... it just so happens the people formulating these are hunted/jailed/assassinated by those in power. A few names to get started: emma goldman, kropotkin, bell hooks, noam chomsky, david graeber, angela davis...
> What about a society in which nobody has to worry for a place to sleep and food to feed their children?
We have this society, today. There are a few outliers, and yes, life is tough for many (most?), but we are way way better off as compared to any other time in history.
> In which nobody has to work side gigs to pay for education or health bills?
This is an issue with America, not capitalism. Fight for single payer and to cap student loans to ~$10,000/year like most other countries did.
> Communism is when power and resources are shared, which is what the Soviet (workers councils) revolution was about before the Bolsheviks (Lenin's sect)
This is an issue in itself though. If state violence is required to force people to share, then anyone who co-opts control of the state is suddenly in the position of a dictator, with effectively unlimited power over all resources. Capitalist parliaments are a magnet for psychopaths, true, and it's worse in a communist system because the only way you can survive is by making sure the ones in charge like you.
> Capitalism is just as rude as Mao's rule, you just can't see it if you're part of the tiny privileged elite (as most of us on HN are)
Excuse me, but I make ~O(£20k) per year. I am not rich, nor am I poor, but you can fuck right off calling me part of "the tiny privileged elite".
To be honest, after that statement, I cannot any further path for good faith debate here, so I will leave it at that.
There's ample evidence otherwise in the body of social sciences. Cooperation is a fundamental characteristic found all across nature and is a pillar of human civilizations throughout the ages. I would argue it takes a lot of resources/energy to coerce people into NOT sharing, like when school teachers will try to make you believe copying is cheating despite your guts telling that helping one another is perfectly fine.
You could read Kropotkin on Mutual Aid, if you're interested on more information (though outdated by over a century of research) on how selfishness is definitely not a natural state of things.
> This is an issue with America, not capitalism.
No, it's a problem with money and profit and does not only affect America. The same issues have reached the UK and every other place where "neoliberalism" got a foothold. In fact, even in France where neoliberalism isn't quite established just yet and education is still rather cheap (<500€/year in public universities), most students are forced to have a sidejob because the study grants they receive are not enough to live (hardly pays for rent) and the student status does not grant you other social benefits (need to be over 25 to have support from the State).
> If state violence is required to force people to share
It is not. In fact, state violence can only be used to PREVENT people from sharing. If there was no police, there would be no poverty because we'd have expropriated the rich long ago, as the vast majority of people agree that's the only sane thing to do. Or do you know a lot of people defending banks and billionaires? Personally i don't know a single one in my neighborhood.
> I make ~O(£20k) per year (...) calling me part of "the tiny privileged elite"
So depending on where you live you're either very rich or rather poor. In the UK that's definitely not a rich income, but in other parts of the world £20k/year makes you a rich person. In any case, any form of salary in the Global North makes us considerably richer than most people in the Global South.
Also, please note i did not call you part of the tiny privileged elite, as i do not know you. The "you" employed was a generic, impersonal you. The tiny privileged elite was "most of us on HN", which you and me are apparently not a part of (i make < €10K/year).
EDIT: Also worth noting about the human tendency to sharing. Marxism-leninism never was a form of sharing. There were richer and poorer folks in the USSR, as in every "dictatorship of the proletariat". In fact, the political police hunted down people who wanted to share, such as the peasants cooperatives of Ukraine (defended by the Makhnovtchina peasant's army) or the soviet of Kronstadt... both of which were eradicated in blood by Lenin and Trotsky's red army because they were actual communists and not power-hungry tyrants.
Selfishness absolutely is a human characteristic too. We are not inherently bad, but we are not inherently good either. Our entire evolutionary chain is defined by ruthless competition, wars, etc... We as humans do not tend to play well with more than a few dozen people outside "our tribe". It's the reason I would die for my one individual in my family, but don't bat an eyelid at Covid death statistics.
> No, it's a problem with money and profit and does not only affect America. The same issues have reached the UK and every other place where "neoliberalism" got a foothold. In fact, even in France where neoliberalism isn't quite established just yet and education is still rather cheap (<500€/year in public universities), most students are forced to have a sidejob because the study grants they receive are not enough to live (hardly pays for rent) and the student status does not grant you other social benefits (need to be over 25 to have support from the State).
Higher education is supposed to be an investment. Not free. Personally, I love the idea of becoming an indie developer, but until I've produced something valuable enough for others to enjoy, why should I get to do it without having another job alongside? Remember, as a student, the taxpayer (your parents, your grandparents, friends, enemies, friendly robots, etc...) are all paying for you to go to university in the first place. It's not for you, but for greater society as a whole.
The fact that school is cheap in France is a boon for arts and culture. There is nothing wrong with having to put in hard work for dreams.
> It is not. In fact, state violence can only be used to PREVENT people from sharing. If there was no police, there would be no poverty because we'd have expropriated the rich long ago, as the vast majority of people agree that's the only sane thing to do. Or do you know a lot of people defending banks and billionaires? Personally i don't know a single one in my neighborhood.
Stealing from the well-to-do is a really generous redefinition.
Let's say we gut the 1% and take everything they have. What happens next? Some of that money will undoubtedly go towards building businesses, etc... and then the next 1% comes around. The smartest ones will flee the country, because they know that any success will be punished by having their life work taken by the state. It actively dis-incentives any innovation or development that isn't rewarded top-down.
I don't know any of these guys, but I know plenty of people who got much farther in life than me because they were simply better than me in some respect.
I also know some people who got farther by pure luck, but the thing is, when I look around me, I find more cases of merit- than luck-based advancement.
So, yes, this, or that or that can hold you back in life. But, conversely, when you don't succeed in life, we always find excuses, don't we? It's never "I wasted hours on social media sites", it's "I didn't have the same connections as Gates".
Bartz for instance
"Bartz was born in Winona, Minnesota. After losing her mother at a young age, she moved with her brother to her grandparent's farm in Alma, Wisconsin. She took a job at a bank at age 15 to help support her family. Good grades in high school earned her a scholarship to William Woods, a prestigious all-girls college in Missouri. She transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked her way through college as a waitress. In 1971, she earned her degree in computer science."
Being poor can work as the single most powerful force for people to get out of poverty and pursue their dreams.
Not to be rude, but for those who want to find excuses will find excuses. Those who want to break out and go get things done, will find no excuses.
Bullshit. Many people are constrained by things they cannot control.
Your mind is in your control. Keeping your body and brain healthy is in your control but for medical conditions though.
>being poor is the single most powerful force that prevents people from doing that.
IMO absolutely wrong. The real reason is people dont try and risk it all. And they search for reasons why they would not be able to make it, including the oh so unfair starting points in this "game". Yes its unfair very very unfair even. But it is so for almost everyone. And more importantly it can not be changed and even if it would, it would not retroactively have an effect on existing people.
Everyone has one life and the number one reason to not reach a set goal is if it was not set and not attempted. You can make up all the good reasons why you would not attempt it because life is unfair but that doesn't change the fact that you yourself reduced your chance to reach it to zero by your own decision to let circumvention stop you from trying.
>Because they have no access to support network, so when they fail, they fall all the way to bottom.
Failing is an possibility if you try, if you dont, its certain.
Also what exactly is so "scary" about failing? Do people think they end up homeless under a bridge or something? I see a practically zero chance that could ever happen to someone who fights.
You need to have some serious mental health problems and probably drugs to fall this deep. And given that health in unfair too you may get this anyway so even more reason to get yourself in a poison where health problems wont make you fall to the bottom.
Ive financially failed before, as long as zero is the bottom (I dont make debts) is just a setback its not stopping me. I certainly had a good start in life but money was never given to me. I started form zero as a teenager and I almost went back to zero in my early twenties partially do to circumstances outside of my control partially due to bad decisions. I could have another 50 years trying so why would that stop me.
My goals a higher than ever and the speed at which I chase them only got faster.
Well this is just not true. You have a fantasy view of life that does not ally with reality.
I see that you're also presenting one single case known to you; this is effectively meaningless, and you know it.
The example I bough up may be anecdotal but It wasn't mean to show that people can get out of homelessness if they mess up and end there but rather to underline my argument that homelessness in general is only an "option" for a very niche type of person. There are also way way less female homeless people and it certainly isn't because females are somehow
more capable to avoid total failure.
The person I worked with was homeless due to his family abandoning him (they where part of a religious sect) before he ever had the chance to stand on his own feet. But he was not the type of person that would accept homelessness and that's the sole reason he isn't anymore.
In the end people are scared to fall really low by trying to go high but while you indeed fall longer and further down when you fall from high you dont really end up lower. It just hurts more especially if you worked very hard to get up. With the exception of age/metal decline and health problems you very very likely get back up higher than where you started no matter what causes you to fail.
>Because they have family obligations that take priority
This is on you. If your serious about it you should see this coming. Elons familial situation isn't exactly all flowers and roses. A lot of my friends who managed to start successful business started yong precisely because they saw this coming and new it would be difficult to do with a family. I would argue the exception is if you have parents who are sick or need heavy financial support or whatever. If this is the case, would be a fair argument in favor of being rich (or at least middle class) helps you get rich.
>Because they live outside high-income countries
I would argue this goes both ways. If anything a lot of countries are trying to pile into developing countries now cause that's where the growth is. Similarly I used to work in hk where living costs are absurd. Then I was relocated to China and after a while I quite my job to try my own thing because it was affordable to take the risk. You could live decently by being frugal with some savings and the benefit is still vastly in favor of being an owner than an employee. Access to education might be a differentiator but so many things are available for free online now.
>Because they have no access to support network, so when they fail, they fall all the way to bottom
I think this is related to two somewhat. It's also totally feasible to position yourself so that even if you fail you can still land on your feet, you just have to be conscious of it.
>Because they may have made a crippling mistake in their pasts that now prevents them from reaching their full potential
Again this is the same for everyone and is on you personally. Don't do anything stupid.
But like I said, I generally agree that being rich or middle class definitely helps you become rich, but if you can go on and on about all these reasons your probably want to adjust your mindset as well
People tend not to note positive environment factors if they lived all their lives with them. And if you got burned through externalities beyond your control, you tend to be a bit sceptical on fairness of the game.
Last, but not the least - "don't do anything stupid" is easy post-hoc, but think of your teenage mistakes and consequences of "doing stupid" during those years.
Not that it takes away from any of his achievements, but you are failing hard at realizing what things actually look like.
> It's also totally feasible to position yourself so that even if you fail you can still land on your feet, you just have to be conscious of it
This is the famous “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” said by someone who’s obviously never had to.
But fair enough, I'm not going to argue too much. Reading through the comments it seems that access to decent education and a stable family seems to be a generous assumption for many people around the world. I would say where I grow up in Asia, cases of abusive/dysfunctional families tends to be less than the west, and people in general have decent access to and awareness of the importance of education. There are a fair number of successful entrepreneurs who used to be villagers, mostly because a fairly large portion of people were farmers back then