I’m really disturbed by Sam’s new blog post. As always, he is articulate and challenges the conventional wisdom and I really respect his insight even when I don’t entirely agree or know the specifics to be sure on certain issues. This time, however, he’s not impressing me by abandoning his usual scientific and objectively rational arguments. All the questions he poses are valid but his conclusion seems based on several, IMO, mystical and ultra Christian type precepts. I did a double take to make sure Sam in fact wrote this or was it actually Jesus making his first blog entry? Here are just a few of the trillions of RANDOM questions running through my head…
Who decides what’s too much money? Is there such a thing as too much money if it is acquired legally and by ethical means? Should Lady Gaga make up to ‘x’ amount of $ and then forced to return some of the revenue to consumers or ship it to D.C. for redistribution? How will this work? Has it ever worked anywhere? Can we confidently trust the elected officials and non-elected/appointed bureaucrats that are running the government to make these decisions? Do we need to take it on faith that they will always do the ‘right thing?’ Are we talking confiscation of wages by brute force? What are the penalties/punishments if a minority of citizens don’t go along (our government has actually executed citizens for not paying taxes!)? Should everyone make the same amount of money regardless as to how much they work or produce? Is there an incentive for someone to keep working hard and hand over the fruits of their labor to those that don’t or can’t? Is collectivism a proven ideal? Where is the evidence?
Won’t even the most seemingly honest public servant eventually be corrupted if they are granted unlimited power over or access to citizen’s earned wages? How does Sam’s concept work with what we scientifically know to be human nature at this time?
Does government, by some divine right or insight, know how best to re-distribute or spend revenues? Are they doing a good job now with the meager trillions they have at their disposal? Have the results of central planning throughout all recorded history been tabulated and the result is overwhelmingly positive? If so, Sam does not cite ANY studies or statistics. Have the THE WORST acts and atrocities EVER committed on the face of the earth been committed by governments and/or groups or individuals?
I tend to think that if a few Hollywood celebrities got together, they could actually eradicate EVERY ghetto in the U.S. If that was achieved, would that eradicate poverty and ghettos for eternity? Why can’t a group of billionaires like Warren Buffet voluntarily donate money to solve all the country’s problems? What’s stopping them? Is it illegal at this time? Why does a law or regulation seem to always be the solution? How many laws and regulations have been scientifically proven to be effective? Does the wish to do ‘good’ always/sometimes result in good? Who is more responsible for raising our standard of existence- politicians or scientists?
I also believe that Sam’s idea only makes sense if you believe in an afterlife and/or an almighty power who judges you and awards brownie points that wins you some sort of salvation. Should individuals be ‘forced’ to care and love their neighbors? Can we not legally/ethically dislike our neighbor and not want to help them and still not infringe on their rights and still be a law abiding citizen? Who will force an individual to re-prioritize his/her ideals/ethics and labor hard to help the ‘common good’ or bail out the debt-ridden government? Should every failed organization or enterprise be helped or bailed out? Must we all spend our limited lifespans to solve this problem? Why would any individual give up his money or property not knowing how long he will live and if financial or some sort of personal crisis might strike him the next day? Is it unethical for an individual to decide for him/herself what to ‘care’ about in life or must it be mandated from ‘above’ (god or government)??
Also, I think it’s way too easy to demonize the Tea Party. Yes, there are horrible elements within it but it also contains other factions including atheist libertarians. Some of the most unlikely alliances are forming in Congress between perceived leftists like Barney Frank and Dennis Kucinich and Tea Party members. It’s too easy and wrong to stereotype them as a right wing group.
I have so many questions and I don’t claim to have the answers. But I could never think the answer is as simple as Sam leads us to believe. I will not take anything on faith and I feel like Sam is asking that of me.
I don’t think you get it.
Having spent the past decade working for several of the wealthiest people in the history of the earth, I have no doubt whatsoever that they do not care about any of this. They hire people for that. They also regularly fire people (not me, I should point out) and appear to derive great satisfaction from doing so. While the rest of us look on their wealth in amazement, they are far more interested in power. For them, the government is something to compete with for power. This year, I have decided that enough is enough. I will not go back to working for them. I wish there was a way to work against them, but doing so just invites their ire. They will simply hire somebody to deal with you and hardly give it another thought.
These people must be reined in. If you think that they are going to stop accumulating on their own, you are wrong. If you think they are going to work for the advancement of society, you are deluded. If you think their goal is to create jobs that provide a decent living, you’re not paying attention. They will always try to pay less. Actually, they hire people to make sure that they are paying less. When their gardener goes on food stamps, they don’t even know or care about it. What they do care about is getting a better deal on gardening than their neighbor (I was not their gardener).
I have often heard these people express their pride in having made other people rich. This would turn my stomach in disgust every time for my first thought was always of how many had to be ruined or run off to the benefit of their close associates. I didn’t get rich, but I did well enough. I didn’t get cheated, but I probably would have done better working elsewhere. I was drawn to their interesting projects, but no longer. My opinion now is that the right thing to do is quit working for them.
I am very happy that Mr. Harris is taking up this topic and I hope he runs with it. We really need people with some intellectual heft to get on the bandwagon. I think this is the most important problem facing this world today and I don’t have a solution. We are allowing an aristocracy to form and this time it will be irreversible and revolution-proof. For the sake of humanity, they must be stopped.
“For the sake of humanity…”
This is the part I just don’t get. At this moment in our country how can we possibly trust the corrupt system that is not working and bankrupting us? It seems that increase in central planning has made things worse not better. The question is what’s the solution. We can tax all the rich 100% of their earnings and nothing would be solved. Do the math!! This can be scientifically calculated. Since when is more money the perfect absolute answer? There never seems to be enough so just keep taxing? Won’t the rich just take their money out of the country? Giving money to the poor will suddenly make them productive and rich? Yes, the topic is important and the tax system is a disgrace. But Sam doesn’t offer a radical proposal to change the tax code. Without that, why would any sane homo sapien give our joke government another penny for any reason? Our politicians at this moment in our history are inept and inexperienced with not a fraction of the brains that the founding fathers had. I just expected Sam to propose a scientific approach. This is the same rhetoric the Pope spews in every speech!
The wealthy (at any level) would do better to start non-govt. schools and give out plenty of scholarship awards and “work/study” appointments to counter the terrible public schools, where they exist.
ANYTHING govts do is either very inefficient or downright counter-productive.
I enjoy helping my fellow-man, but on a private charitable way.
If this is Sam going off the deep end, I’m jumping in right after him. But I want to address just two points.
First, it used to be the case that the wealthiest Americans depended largely on the American economy for their success. That meant needing a vibrant middle class that spent money, since consumer spending is about 70% of our economy. The internationalization of world economies has changed that, creating a fundamental misalignment of interests between capital and labor in America. It is appropriate for Government to take a role in realigning them.
Second, I want to address one particular remark that Sam makes in his Addendum of 8/19.
I’ve worked for a variety of companies, large and small, in private enterprise for essentially all of my adult life (and I’m approaching retirement age, although not approaching retirement.) Sam writes “Yes, I share everyone’s fear that our government, riven by political partisanship and special interests, is often incapable of spending money wisely.” But my experience is that the same is true, in spades, for private companies. The interests of the decision makers in these companies are rarely the same as those of the shareholders (even with incentives like stock options) and their ineptitude will often match or exceed that of any government organization. And it’s not always the case that such ineptitude - or, in some cases, criminality - is punished by the markets, at least not in a way that punishes the inept. How many Enrons, Madoffs and Lehmann Bros. are still going on undetected, reaping wealth for a few, providing zero or negative value for the economy as a whole, and destroying the wealth of stockholders and the retirement benefits of employees? These are not isolated incidents. They are consistent with the modern American business ethic, in which conflicts of interest of the sort encouraged by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (which repealed key provisions of Glass-Steagal) are the norm.
Whom do I trust to spend my money wisely? Nobody, including myself. But when I compare our nation’s finances, social welfare policies, and attitudes towards wealth with those of other industrialized nations I can only say: Read My Lips: More New Taxes.
Has Sam gone off the deep end?
I also agree with Sam’s original post.
When I was a Mormon missionary in Alaska, in the single & double wide trailers of Mormon member homes that I’d visit in small towns like Clear and Nennana, I met first hand with John Birch Society type people. People with a conspiratorial view of the federal government, and people who called the IRS the Infernal Robbery Squad. But even then in 1989, as a believing Mormon on a Mormon mission, I viewed such people as nuts.
Now the nuts have taken over the Republican party, and now it’s not possible to >not< be a son or daughter ideologically of the John Birch Society and get elected in Republican primaries. Tea baggers are basically direct ideological descendants of the John Birchers, thanks in part to nutty & dangerous idiot fear-mongering Mormon gas bag Glenn Beck. And we’ve also got hoards of old and young idiots listening every day to another fat bastard: Rush Limbaugh.
Yes the rich should be taxed more - a lot more.
No Sam hasn’t gone off the deep edge.
Who gets to decide? We do. It’s the price you pay for living in a community, for being a social animal.
Ayn Rand was an idiot social darwinist, and she’s loved by rich greedy snobs of all stripes.
There’s an apparent tension between wanting to be part of a community or not. It’s too bad that the bulk of the regular people in the Republican party, in this regard, seek to cut off their noses despite their faces. They are being used and abused by the rich who cynically manipulate them via using hot button conservative social issues. Push the stem cell button to get hoards of tea baggers onto the streets. Push the abortion button next. And the gay button next. The rich in this country have the common folk in the tea bagger ranks on a string.
Jonathan, Give some reasons why these “birchers” are wrong.. All you said was that they were nuts, and that Republicans were crazy etc. Be cool, amigo.
He hasn’t gone off the deep end. But I think he should learn more about economics before he posts about it given his stature. Quite frankly his post is embarrassing to him. In his amendment he asks for a economists reply to future breakthrough technology destroying jobs. So here it is:
If technology reduces the need for labour to make a product, the product drops in price by an amount equal to the labour wage (so long as there is free market competition). Consumers thus save money and some unemployment occurs. However the consumers will spend their saved money, driving demand in other sectors, which will employ people, reducing unemployment.. The two balance out perfectly.
The end result is that employment is the same, pay levels are the same, but the consumers now have higher living standards (the original product is cheaper and they can afford more!). THIS IS THE VERY BASIS OF HOW THE FREE MARKET CAPITALISM HAS IMPROVED LIVING STANDARDS CONSTANTLY! Yet so few people (even Sam Harris it seems) even realise it.
Don’t take my word for it. What Sam describes has happened before. As late as the early 19th century the average western person spent 90% of their income on food and about 90% of them worked in agriculture. The industrial revolution destroyed the majority of the jobs in agriculture. Food was driven down to just 12% of peoples income. The average person then started spending the rest of their money on other things, such as buying real-estate, entertainment, holidays, personal activities etc. Most of these things were completely out of reach of the common person until the industrial revolution. The technological break through did not increase unemployment.
The only way new technology can create unemployment is when the government gives the inventor a monopoly on its use. In such a situation there is no free market competition to drive the price of the product down by the value of the labour saved.
Taking money from the people who profit is considered a bad idea because it will reduce the incentive for competition - which is necessary to drive the prices down by the value of the labour saved. This is why economists will get up in arms over taking rich people who got their wealth through free market competition.
Lastly, unemployment strictly speaking depends only on minimum wage. Minimum wage *is* unemployment. Any work where the labour is worth less than the legal minimum is not viable, which causes unemployment. THERE IS NO UNEMPLOYMENT WHERE WELFARE SYSTEMS DON’T EXIST - as minimum wage and dole payments create unemployment. Again I doubt most people (Sam Harris included?) even realises this. The kids who pick up coal from old mines hoping to make 10 cents per day in south africa are not unemployed. However if the government just paid them 20c per day they suddenly would be. My point is that unemployment has nothing to do with well-being. It is simply a result of a social system that involves welfare. It is a measure of the amount of people who cannot find work because the government handout or government law requires a minimum amount. This is why we can NEVER have 0% unemployment in modern welfare states - yet unemployment did not exist for most of the 1700’s.
Sam should stick to neuroscience and philosophy.
When he ventures into politics and economics, he sounds just like the irrational people we are so opposed to.
“Leaving aside fears of government ineptitude, please tell me why it would be a bad idea for the rich to fund such a bank voluntarily.”
The rich would not contribute to such a bank because they realize the money would be squandered by the inept and self-serving politicians who would run it.
Sam needs to start discussing the basic premise of why equality is desirable. I’m not convinced it is. Can freedom and equality/fairness co-exist? I think not, IMO. Let’s discuss. Society is a modified version of the natural world but should acknowledge natural scientific laws. Can a perfectly equal society EVER exist? Is the attempt worthwhile even if it fails miserably. What’s the score according to recorded history? Success or failure? Look around you! I think this particular country was founded on freedom and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ - these are revolutionary concepts that TOTALLY go against the grain of EVERY religion and mystical philosophy. Sam is just starting with the bull@#*%^ Christian assumption that we should all suffer or sacrifice to be equal and that that’s the self-evident, non-debatable common goal? Is it? I think that’s Jesus, Allah (insert any other invisible god or lowlife prophet in here!) crap that sounds nice if you buy into the bogus afterlife lie. Unless he can prove an eternal afterlife where we can party and be happy for eternity, I’m not buying it! The equal, centrally planned, highly regulated society has been tried in EVERY other country and system throughout history. Where did it work? Do we have genius level technicians in government to achieve this at this period in time? Is that what we really want? Speaking for myself, no f@#$ way!
Who gets to decide? We do. It’s the price you pay for living in a community, for being a social animal.
>>> That’s a price I’m not willing to pay and that’s NOT what the United States of America is about. There is supposed to be a balance to prevent tyranny of the majority. WE don’t decide. This is NOT a democracy. It is a republic where elected officials make decisions based on the Constitution, not on mystical scrolls or what’s right for the ‘common good.’ I don’t believe there is such a thing as the ‘common good’ or a collective ‘we.’ This is a nation founded on individual rights. Nobody should be treated differently based on class or anything else. If you disagree, fine, but these basic premises need to be debated BEFORE you can come to the conclusions that Sam leaps to.
Jonathan, Give some reasons why these “birchers” are wrong.. All you said was that they were nuts, and that Republicans were crazy etc. Be cool, amigo.
Birchers are wrong because not everything the government does is a conspiracy. And being in the U.N. is not an evil thing. And doing away with the Federal Reserve may be bad. And having an “originalist” view of the constitution is nutty, misguided, inaccurate, fundamentalist, and dangerous.
Strangely there’s also conspiracy theorists on the ultra left (http://www.democracynow.org drivel - for example their latest response to the Libyan rebel victories, & Amy Goodman’s ultra-left buddies stating that it’s all about oil money yet again, and making non-sequitur comparisons between Iraq and Libya - it’s disgusting).
Glenn Beck is a perfect example of Bircher ideology. John Stewart’s refutations are quite accurate.
The Republican party has been subverted and taken over by non-rationalist tea baggers. In the primaries it’s only the evolution denying science denying reasonable economics social justice denying pro-rich-even-if-they-are-poor gun toting pro-social-darwinist people who have sway.
One only needs to turn on the TV, or to watch the news to make note of the current state of the Republican party.
Look, all I have to do is sit back and let all this stuff wash over and I can feel and see the nut jobs quite easily. When ideology trumps rationalism and science and calm thoughts about life, the universe, and everything, this is readily apparent.
Looking at America from an outsider’s perspective, I’d say Sam is onto something. It is quite amazing how much power and influence your corporations have regarding decision and policy making while it seems majority of US citizens have no idea of this due to very successful propaganda. I’m always hearing “land of the free” where individuals can aspire to do anything if they work hard enough, etc, but that is total nonsense because that would largely depend on socio-economic status - which never seems to be acknowledged - and is a rather convenient myth to spout if you are a politician or person of prestige willing to gain public support. Socialism is a bad word too apparently (referring to Obama as one is laughable) because it’s what the US supposedly fought against during the Cold War even though the USSR was not socialist in any sense of the word. If not that extreme, socialism just means “taxes” or “infringements” on individual liberty, which again is nothing more then fear-mongering - creating an enemy/opposition that doesn’t actually exist to confuse and trick people into supporting you. Wouldn’t the penny drop, for example, when people who are the most fervent anti-tax happen to be the most richest? That speaks for it self I believe. I agree with Sam, taxing the wealthy in proportion to their earnings is common sense and only fair.
Consider the following Model.
A Universe in which the only occupants are two people, and the only things in existence a food machine, a road, and a truck. Oh, and each person has a house. One a one room home, with simply a bed and a table at which to eat. One of the men lives here. In the other house lives the other man. He is a wealthy man who owns the Food Machine and the Truck (roughly 50% of the wealth in this universe). His house is a massive four roomed mansion. In one room is the food machine, in another room (the Garage) is the truck, and the other two rooms are living rooms.
Every day, the Wealthy man must send the truck (it drives itself), on the PUBLIC road, in order to deliver food to the other man. And he drives on it a second time every day just for the run of it. The other man’s only job is to make trinkets that operate the food machine. In other words, he has to work for a living. He doesn’t do anything at all except wait for the food truck to show up, and watch the rich man drive by on the road on his joyride.
The Food thus is “Bought” by the “Working Man.” He is poor. But, every year he gets to go on vacation to the rich man’s second room, and thus uses the road that one time.
Here we have a situation where there is public infrastructure that is being used.
Obviously, it is in the best interest of BOTH parties for this road to be maintained.
It is the PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE.
But, we can see from the situation that the Rich Man is using the road incommensurately more than is the poor man.
Thus, if it came to a question of Taxes, he should pay more for the maintenance of this road.
This situation is no different than the world in which we live now save for the existence of another (approximately) 5,999,998 people. We have a situation where many people work for a living to support themselves, while others consume most of the infrastructure via the wealth they both have and create.
Of course, this universe is grossly imbalanced, as there should probably be 99 other working people for this one rich person (I am actually working on such a computational model. It also has a more advanced infrastructure with actual food production, a highway and five roads, in three towns and one city, and an elected government, and a public servant.), but it still depicts basically the same situation we are in.
And, if that rich man should ever find that he wants to not pay the taxes to maintain the road so that the worker can live (by having food delivered to him) then he will find that he will have to learn to make the trinkets that operate the food system himself… And he will also have to find a way to protect himself (and the food machine) from the worker, who might just do what happened in France in the 1790s and in Russia in 1914-1918… Or… What is happening RIGHT NOW in the Middle East in the Arab World where a great many people have grown tired of the inequality in their systems.
Sam is right.
The cost of NOT supporting and raising people out of poverty PALES in comparison to what it would cost to raise people out of poverty.
All it would take would be a single well educated and capable person (who was a bit saner in their methodology) such as Theodore Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh to create a situation where the Wealthy would suffer losses that would make their wealth meaningless.
If society collapses, so does the wealth that it is based upon.
And… I happen to be the same sort of Libertarian that Sam claims to be.
Only most people are not ready for a Libertarian Society.
What is described above (and I imagine Rod Serling narrating it!) is NOT the system we have now. We don’t have a fair tax system that taxes usage and spending. Yes, the rich should logically be taxed more but not because they are rich! Our system has evolved into something straight out of the Twilight Zone, an unfair, corrupt system run by career politicians who dole out favors to their cronies. We tax investment. Throwing more money to a centralized government has not worked and good intentions don’t make it work any better. Sam is really feeling the heat on this issue because he has not thought this one out the way we’ve come to expect. Usually if I ever disagreed with Sam, I could always 100% respect his sound, logical reasoning. The question he poses is so philosophically wrong. It’s like saying how Tall Is Too Tall? That’s not a logical basic premise to begin with. He also shows a superficial understanding of Objectivism (it doesn’t consider altruism a “flaw”, it just doesn’t consider it a virtue). and it’s not relevant in this discussion (Hey, when a book won’t open, don’t pretend to understand what’s inside it. Sam gave the bible and koran more rational, in-depth consideration). Sam should have approached this scientifically and calculated this one on the moral landscape.
What is described above (and I imagine Rod Serling narrating it!) is NOT the system we have now. We don’t have a fair tax system that taxes usage and spending. Our system has evolved into something out of the Twilight Zone, an unfair, corrupt system run by career politicians who dole out favors to their cronies. We tax investment. Throwing more money to a centralized government has not worked and good intentions don’t make it work any better. Sam is really feeling the heat on this issue because he has not thought this one out the way we’ve come to expect. Usually if I ever disagreed with Sam, I could always 100% respect his sound, logical reasoning. The question he poses is so philosophically wrong. It’s like saying how Tall Is Too Tall? That’s not a logical basic premise to begin with. He also shows a superficial understanding of Objectivism (it doesn’t consider altruism a “flaw”, it just doesn’t consider it a virtue). and it’s not relevant in this discussion (Hey, when a book won’t open, don’t pretend to understand what’s inside it. Sam gave the bible and koran more rational, in-depth consideration). Sam should have approached this scientifically and calculated this one on the moral landscape.
Not Considering Altruism a virtue is a defacto presentation as a flaw, especially as presented by such people as yourself.
If his logic is so flawed, then it should be pitifully easy to show those flaws in a clear manner.
And, the model that I described above makes it clear that the majority of the stress on the infrastructure comes from those with money who have not been paying their fair share for that usage.
And, if not the Federal Government, then whom?
Would you rather wastefully duplicate the process 50 times in each state of dealing with failing infrastructure and the wealth disparity?
Not dealing with wealth disparity has, shown, many times in the past (France 1790s & Russia 1914-1918) and RIGHT NOW in much of the Middle East its deadly consequences.
Are you saying that private companies can do a better job (I believe he directly addressed this in his response)?
“Yes, I’d love to allow you to fix the Wealth Disparity in the USA Mr. Madoff, here is 30 billion dollars to get started. I see that you have Mr. Skilling here to help you.”
If the Private Sector can do something about dealing with the CRUSHING POVERTY that many in this nation face (and which is not an easy thing to get out of), then nothing is currently stopping them except their failure to realize the usefulness of investing in future generations because they can’t get an immediate profit off of it.
And, if you want to talk ALTRUISM, then absolutely nothing is stopping these corporate giants from just giving money to those who need it, or simply paying for their education and health care if nothing else.