Friday, February 25, 2011

the limits to personal wealth

I just posted this on Twatter:
What's the most wealth any individual should be allowed to accumulate? I can't imagine any ethical purpose for more than ~$50 million.

I really can't. I consider the relentless accumulation of wealth by the mega-rich to be inherently sociopathic. Its inhuman. I mean, where's the humanity in accumulating bigger yachts, more houses and flash cars- not to mention considerably more power? Its inherently undemocratic because of the power obscene wealth can buy. Its unequal for obvious reasons. Its antisocial because the abuse of power inevitably harms broader society. 

Lets not fuck around here. If you, dear reader, or I had $50 mil in the bank then we'd certainly be enjoying the good life but would we just jack in the day job and sit on our arses growing fat and doing too many drugs? I would have no aspirations to invest that money offshore with the intention of doubling it in a couple of years. My personal conviction is that speculation itself is fundamentally sociopathic. Wealth should be earned, not effortlessly harvested. We all have a responsibility to earn a living by contributing productively  to society. Living off interest earned on a fortune, whether that fortune itself was earned, inherited or won on the lottery, is personal stagnation and should be viewed with contempt. It lessens

However, personal development can only be so rewarding and so I have argued myself in a circle because I suddenly find myself subconsciously empathising with those who feel they have a contribution to make to society; an course of action open to them to change things for the better. The problem, of course is that people are notoriously fickle, not to say delusional! I would happily rule the world, laying waste to inequality and injustice and labouring tirelessly to construct an earthly utopia but I imagine the Daily Mail readership, finding themselves living in such a world, would find it repugnant for its absence of petty malice and prejudice and would join together into some sort of vitriolic resistance movement to overthrow my enlightened rule and reestablish the cancer-curing plutocracy.

This post started out with such a grand vision but, as with so many of mine, has deteriorated into introspection, navel gazing and tail-chasing. So, if you ignore the last couple of paragraphs, do you agree with my initial proposal and if not, why not?



  1. It's a weird one all right. When the mega-successful (in monetary terms) reach $50m in the bank (or whatever limit we set), would we make it illegal for them to be economically active in any way? Or would we impose a 100% tax rate on all earnings of anyone with $50m in the bank? Which, for a lot of people would amount to the same thing. I have no doubt that there are some multi-millionaires out there who would continue to "work" even if they received no monetary return, but I suspect the majority of them view the further accumulation of wealth as a necessary, even if not a sufficient, condition for working.

    Not that I'm disagreeing with your initial proposal. The world would probably be a far better place if wealth were capped in that manner. I love this quote from Gregory Bateson's Bali: The Value System of a Steady State where he describes a particular indigenous tribe he studied as an anthropologist...

    "In their economic transactions the Balinese show a great deal of carefulness in their small dealings. They are 'penny wise'. On the other hand this carefulness is counteracted by occasional 'pound foolishness' when they will expend large sums of money upon ceremonials and other forms of lavish consumption. There are very few Balinese who have the idea of steadily maximizing their wealth or property; these few are partly disliked and partly regarded as oddities."

  2. What a daft cunt. He ought to go to Bali proper and see what they want.

    Another thick white middle class cocktard who knows what the brown folk want better than they do themselves.

    I wonder whether he "steadily maximized" his wealth or gave it away and lived like an indigenous Balinean. Course he fucking didn't.

  3. Jim, I agree that 100% taxation leaves no incentive for further work. Certainly a few workaholics and control freaks might feel it necessary to continue to labour under such conditions but that's their choice. Part of my justification for this concept is that such people are terrible for society. They have no concept of maturation- something that people forget is intrinsic to the concept of growth. We grow, we mature at an optimal size and we stop growing (physically, at least). Those whose ego continually drives them to hoard wealth and the influence associated with it are generally dysfunctional, an undesirable trait in anyone wielding such power, I think. They are also so detached from the reality affecting us little people that they have no social awareness. Not social as in manners, but social as in socety. Real society- not what those people call society, i.e. black tie balls, dinner parties on superyachts, brandy and cigars in the drawing room with associated networking, etc. They can still have a vote for all I care but their influence on broader society should be limited. They've "made it". For the good of themselves, their families and the rest of us they should take their money and run and leave the rest of us to keep struggling on. To even desire to continue to accumulate wealth is bizarre to me.

  4. Anonymous, I was going to answer your post in a rational manner. Then I realised that you're just a troll who doesn't have the faintest idea what you're talking about and doesn't even have the balls to sign a name to your ignorant witterings. So decided to save myself some time and just write this instead. Enjoy your ignorance.

  5. So, you've met my pet troll Jim. Don't worry, he only rants like that now and then. Often his contributions are pretty interesting- at least I'm assuming I have only one regular, ranty, anonymous commentor.

  6. If people can't be bothered to sign a name (I'm just talking about a consistent pseudonym here), it reduces their credibility. When their comment is so ill-informed as the one (above), it removes it completely.

    He ought to go to Bali proper and see what they want.
    Bateson's been dead for 30 years which makes that difficult.

    But as it happens he spent several years in the 1930s living on Bali. So unless brave "Anonymous" knows which tribe is involved, or has also spent several years living with a group of people in transition between hunter-gatherer and basic agrarianism, then I suggest he/she should at least concede that a man who has done so to study the cultural dynamics might have something valid to say.

    Another thick white middle class cocktard who knows what the brown folk want better than they do themselves.
    To have read the work of Bateson and characterised it in such a fashion would be bizarre. Therefore I can only assume "Anonymous" hasn't read what he/she is commenting on. To be so proud of ignorance is very sad indeed. Or maybe "Anonymous" is a teenager going through an awkward phase, in which case I suppose they can be forgiven and later in life will look back with appropriate embarrassment on their time hurling foul-mouthed insults at random strangers of whom they know nothing.

    The essay in question, incidentally, contrasts the value systems of a Balinese tribe, the Iatmul people of New Guinea and Western capitalism to make some revealing points about the dynamics of complex cultural systems... it's not a commentary on a particular culture despite the title. Though you'd have to have read it to know that.

    I wonder whether he "steadily maximized" his wealth or gave it away and lived like an indigenous Balinean. Course he fucking didn't.
    Actually. He kind of did. But again, you'd need to read more than some web pages and an occasional issue of The Daily Mail to know that.

    Bateson wasn't a financially successful man. He never set out to be. He spent early adulthood living among hunter-gatherer and early-agrarian peoples believing it was vital to make some kind of record, however imperfect, of their cultures and value systems before they were over-run by the west (which, in most cases of course, has now transpired). Like me, he believed these cultures contained wisdom from which we could benefit. Far from being the kind of white imperialist that "Anonymous" implies, Bateson felt we had a huge amount to learn from such cultures... "if we have anything to offer the East", he once said, "it's a terrible warning". People like "Anonymous" who suggest we have nothing whatsoever to learn from other cultures are the real racists.

    Either "Anonymous" feels we're superior in every way and have nothing to learn from such cultures, or believes that we do have something to learn but that we shouldn't, because that makes us thick white middle class cocktards. It's a bizarre position which again leads me back to the awkward teenager hypothesis.

    Anyway, after his time as an anthropologist Bateson spent years working as a psychotherapist dealing with alcholism and Post-Traumatic Stress at a public hospital. Not really the kind of thing one does if the "steady maximizing of wealth" is an aim. There, he developed a ground-breaking theory of schizophrenia.

    Later still he lectured extensively on systems dynamics and ecological theory and was years ahead of his time in these fields (indeed, it's questionable whether ecological science has truly caught up with him yet). In his final years he was a wise and experienced man; someone who would have been granted due respect as an Elder in any of the cultures he studied as a young man.

    Unpleasant comments like those of "Anonymous" are ample evidence of just how much we could learn from such people.

  7. Sorry Jim, your last post got fielded as spam. Now sorted.

    And yes, I know he's childish and puerile but so is some of what I write so I can't blame my anonymous friend for joining me in sweary and reactionary polemicism. Your critique is flawless, though.

    Antelope-buggering fucksticks.

  8. You can do all of those things that Bateson did and still be a thick white middle-class cocktard Jim. Which he obviously was.

    I am an ecologist and have lived in the third world too. He didn't have a clue about the science of ecology - just the ideas that white middle class cocktards have about what it is.

    Oh and Jim, don't spend so much time on the internet - it's clearly not healthy.

  9. Hey Jom,

    another thought

    do you live like those people he romanticised or have you realised he was a thick, patronising to the nice brown fellas, white, middle class cocktard, and do you have a fair share in western capitalism too? You doing alright? Ho ho, of course you are!

  10. You must be in a lot of pain, Anonymous, to have adopted a default position with strangers that is filled with such poison and aggression. And I suspect you may not even be aware of it.

    Of course, that's the psychoanalyst in me talking. All the same, you might want to ask yourself why you choose to shriek your hatred across the digital wasteland towards people who are simply trying to discuss the world in good faith.

    You advise me not to spend so much time online, but I think most people reading this exchange would come to the conclusion that it's your venomous attitude that speaks of the lack of socialisation that so many have succumbed to thanks to the internet... the idea that it's somehow OK to be deeply unpleasant to people just because you can't see them.


Feel free to share your opinions of my opinions. Oh- and cocking fuckmouse.