Back to: Roe v Wade v Sanity

The impotence of the long-distance trillionaire

(In other news, I finally send off the novel manuscript I've been working on for the past 18 months. Taking a couple of days off before getting back to work on a novella I started in 2014 ...)

(Disclaimer: money is a proxy for control or power. I'm focussing on money rather than political leverage only because it's quantifiable.)

To you and me, a billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. It's on the order of what I (at peak earning capacity) would earn in 10,000 years. Give me just $10M and I could comfortably retire and live off interest and some judicious siphoning of capital for the rest of my life.

So are there any valid reasons to put up with billionaires?

There's a very fertile field of what I can only describe as capitalist apologetics, wherein economists and others try to justify the existence of billionaires in terms of social utility. Crude arguments that "greed is good" are all very well, but it begs the question of what positive good billionaires contribute to the commonweal—beyond a certain point the diminishing marginal utility of money means that every extra million or billion dollars changes nothing significant in the recipient's life.

For example, Steve Jobs had pancreatic cancer, as a result of which his liver was failing (after he underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy ). As a very rich man, he could afford the best healthcare. As a billionaire, he could do more than that: he reputedly kept a business jet on 24x7 standby to whisk him to any hospital in the United States where a histocompatible liver for transplant surgery became available. (Livers are notoriously short-lived outside the donor body. Most liver transplant recipients are only able to register in one state within the USA; Jobs was registered in two or three.) But at that point, it did not matter how many billions he had: once you've got the jet and are registered with every major transplant centre within flight range, no extra amount of money is going to improve your chances of survival. In other words, in personal terms the marginal utility of money diminishes all the way to zero.

So, personal wealth has an upper bound beyond which the numbers are meaningless. Which leads to the second common argument for tolerating billionaires: that they have the resources to undertake tasks that governments decline to address. For example, there's the Gates Foundation's much-touted goal of eliminating childhood diseases of poverty in South-East Asia (which I haven't heard much about since COVID19 hit—or, for that matter, since the allegations of a Gates-Epstein surfaced in the press). Or Elon Musk's avowed goal of colonizing Mars.

Contra which, I would argue that in planetary terms a billion dollars is peanuts.

Gross planetary GDP (GWP—gross world product) is on the order of $85Tn— that is, $100,000 billion—a year. It's hard to pin it down because it's distributed among multiple currencies with varying PPP, so it could be anywhere from $70Tn to $100Tn.

Anyway. Those insanely rich guys, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos? Each of them is worth less than the growth of GWP during 2019. The richest billionaires are barely visible when you look at wealth on the scale of GWP. Collectively, along with Gates, the Waltons, Putin, et al, they represent only about 1% of GWP.

They can fund lobbying groups and politicians, rant about colonizing Mars, and buy midlife crisis toys like Twitter or weekend getaways on a space station, but their scope for effecting real change is actually tiny on a global scale. Even Putin and Xi, who are at the state-level actor end of the scale (individually they're multi-billionaires: but they also control nuclear weapons, armies, and populations in 8-9 digits) have little global leverage. Putin's catastrophic adventure in Ukraine has revealed how threadbare the emperor's suit is: all the current gassing in the Russian media about using nuclear weapons if he doesn't get his way actually does is to demonstrate the uselessness of those nuclear weapons for achieving political/diplomatic objectives.

So I conclude that they probably feel about as helpless in the face of revolutions, climate change, and economic upheaval as you and I.

Which in turn suggests something about the psychopathology of billionaires. They're accustomed to having their every whim granted, merely for the asking, as long as it exists within the enormous buffet of necessities and luxuries that are available in our global economic sphere. But they're all going to grow old and die. They can't really avoid the threat of creeping disablement within their own body, although they can buy the most careful attendants and luxurious bedpans and wheelchairs. They can't insulate themselves from objective reality, although they can pretend it doesn't exist and buy their very own luxury apocalypse bunker in New Zealand.

So they're likely to succumb to brutal cognitive dissonance at some point.

Elon Musk turns 50 this year. He's probably finally realized that he is not going to have a luxurious retirement on Mars. If the Mars colony isn't established within 20 years, he'll probably be too old to make the trip there (and I'm betting 20 years isn't long enough for what he'd want).

Vladimir Putin turns 70 this year. He's been treated for thyroid cancer, and may well be quite ill. Only one former Russian or Soviet leader lived past 80 in the past 400 years, and that's Mikhail Gorbachev (who was out of office, and insulated from its premature ageing effects, after only 5 or 6 years). My read on the situation is that Putin hadn't been impacted by external reality for decades before his Ukraine "peacekeeping operation"; his 70th birthday present to himself, intended to secure his legacy by re-establishing the Russian empire, has turned into a nightmare.

Jeff Bezos is 58; keep an eye on him in January 2024, that's when he's due to turn 60. (He seems to be saner than Musk and Putin, but his classic midlife crisis year falls around the start of a presidential election campaign in the US and he might succumb to the impulse to make a grand gesture, like Mike Bloomberg's abortive run on the presidence.)

More to the point?

Granting individuals enormous leverage can sometimes be socially useful. But before you point at Musk and Tesla or SpaceX, I need to remind you that he didn't found Tesla, he merely bought into it then took over: SpaceX's focus on reusability is good, but we had reusable space launchers before—the only really new angle is that it's a cost-reduction measure. Starlink isn't an original, it's merely a modern, bigger, faster version of 1990's Teledesic (which fell victim to over-ambitious technology goals and the dot-com bust). Meanwhile, billionaires can do immense damage: the Koch network has largely bankrolled climate change denial, Musk's Mars colony plan is fatally flawed, and so on. We inevitably run into the question of accountability. And when one person holds the purse-strings, we lose that.

I can't see any good reason to let any individual claim ownership over more than a billion dollars of assets—even $100M is pushing it.

Can you?

1471 Comments

| Leave a comment
1:

Administrative note:

You are not a billionaire.

You will never be a billionaire. You're more likely to be struck by lightning.

Arguments of the form "but muh freedumb!!!" will be mocked -- or, more likely, simply unpublished, especially if you're a drive-by commenter without a track record here.

This is not a capitalism-friendly site. It's not specifically hostile, it's just that we don't worship Mammon here.

2:

The only good answer I see is that the cost (politically, economically) of preventing them from getting beyond 100 million / a billion is higher than the price of having them.

3:

Seems like the argument you make lays out their utility - they are paths for inflicting extreme damage on a state. The Kochs and Epstein and Sheldon Adelson do a lot of damage to America and the American hegemony, but that takes as a given that your goals don't align with theirs and that you don't also want to do harm to the given hegemony. No reason to take that as the case though.

I've seen writers describe America's corruption problem from it's billionaires described as "the sick man of the world" noting that the ability for billionaires and international groups to buy influence (and correspondingly, blackmail of the corruption) makes it so the modern regime is destabilized and locked from things like addressing climate change or pandemic response,or anything but be beholden to the billionaires.

I mean it doesn't take a lot of looking to see where the influence of billionaires drives the stars to doing intensely damaging things to their benefit - the Bush administration and Iraq War for example.

So they would be an effective weapon against another state in the modern world. It's just a matter of getting a handle on them, either through ideology or other means (eg Epstein's ties to intelligence agencies)

4:

There’s the Marxist argument that workers should be entitled to receive the value of their work. Steve Jobs’s work was worth at least $100 billion to Apple; why should Apple’s other shareholders get all of that value and not him?

5:

I don't buy that argument because Steve Jobs' work would have been worthless without the willing cooperation of everyone else at Apple, who followed his lead.

He was certainly worth a lot extra to Apple, but only as the leader of a team effort.

(Also, he's a bad example to pick on because at the time he died, Apple hadn't completed its growth spurt to become the world's highest-valued corporation by market cap.)

((Also-also, the way we value corporations by market cap is fucked. I mean, right now Tesla is valued higher than VW, Toyota, and Ford combined: really? Markets are largely irrational and I don't think they can be reformed.))

6:

Seems like the argument you make lays out their utility - they are paths for inflicting extreme damage on a state.

Putin would also be an example. While OGH is obviously correct to say that "Putin's catastrophic adventure in Ukraine has revealed how threadbare the emperor's suit is", Putin has succeeded in demonstrating his ability to cause great harm. Primarily to Russia and Ukraine, but all the economic turmoil is causing a lot of damage (i.e., food prices becoming unaffordable for folks with less money) further afield.

7:

Putin has killed tens of thousands, exiled millions, and caused a global food price spike that will kill at least tens of thousands and possibly millions.

This is before we get into actual war crimes territory ...

8:

A hard cut off is undesirable. What there should be is an increasing tax burden that has as a result that being a billionaire is expensive. With NO exceptions. It's the exceptions in the tax policy that are the real problem.

Of course, as long as "money is speech", lobbyists will prevent this from happening, but it's the way it needs to be addressed. Even then you'll get collections of the extremely wealthy gathering together to collaborate on things that benefit only the extremely wealthy, but I can't think of a way to prevent that that isn't worse than not doing anything about it. Anti-trust law is about as close as we can come (and that needs to be enforced more rigorously).

HOWEVER, I suspect that "Corporate greed" is worse than the whims of individual billionaires. (Antitrust law addresses part of that.)

9:

Putin has succeeded in demonstrating his ability to cause great harm.

Tossing a grenade through the door is always easier than building a house.

10:

"markets are irrational" -- certainly in the short term, markets are moved by emotion, but in the long term, a market with a large enough number of participants will come up with a pretty good estimate of what the price of something should be. It just takes a lot of computation to figure this stuff out.

I think billionaires (and dictators) are a special case of the Socialist Calculation Problem. A single individual human just doesn't have the computational capacity to determine how to effectively use all of that money. If you spread the money around, then you recruit more brains into deciding exactly how it should be spent, and the hive mind will tend to come up with better solutions that do more to improve human weal. This implies that we should have universal free education, universal basic income, and unabridged access to accurate information (freedom of speech and robust journalism, but sans liars polluting the information space for personal benefit, e.g. Murdoch, Qanon, et cetera).

11:

For reasons along the lines of what's discussed here I have long been in favor of confiscatory taxes on income over a certain amount. The number I picked for Americans would be income in the neighborhood of $30M/yr: once you're making that much, your next dollar goes 100% to income taxes. Historical evidence seems to point in the direction that basically nobody will bother with income-producing activity that gets taxed at 80+%.

For a long time, I felt less urgency about the existing great fortunes. I figured that with a decently structured death tax and a confiscatory income tax they would eventually evaporate via regression to the mean.

I don't have any good suggestions about how to prevent the accumulation of fortunes like Gates' and Jobs' and Musk's, which they got basically by increasing the valuation of something they already owned.

12:

I don't see that there is a huge difference between a personal billionaire, someone who has effective control over an organisation worth 10 billion, or someone who has effective control over a country worth 100 billion. Yes, the latter two temd to be temporary appointments, but that's all.

However, personal billionaires have a slightly better record as charitable patrons, especially for less popular purposes. It's a marginal benefit, but matches your request.

13:

I don't know much about most of the ultra-wealthy but most of them have appeared to be worse than useless and to positively do harm. I do have a soft spot for Tesla and SpaceX and hence for Elon Musk's achievements. In his favour he does not do the conspicuous consumption thing, (but is Twitter an exception?) but on the other hand many of his public comments are very easy to dislike. Would SpaceX have made the progress that it has without Elon's wealth?

Beyond a certain point of wealth the only thing you can do with it is to drive vast projects or just sit on it. A few of these projects are probably worthwhile but most are either evil, pure virtue-signalling, wasteful or are just window-dressing. It seems to me that the people who do manage to successfully play the trillionaire game do not generally know what to do with it.

14:

Tying together a few items.

When my daughter did a year of schooling in Germany back in 2009-2010 (17-18 years old) her friends would talk about how they could be successful in Germany but to get rich they would need to move to the US. Which struck my daughter and myself as odd. This was a group about to graduate from the German Gymnasium system into college/university.

This weekend I listened to an US Public Radio News story about Germany's auto industry. How the major auto (and industrial) firms are wildly rich but tend to ride under the daily consciousness of Germans. (I have no idea how true this is.) But apparently there's a lot of white washing of the Nazi past of all of these companies by their owners/founders. And not being out front about just how much money these family firms have.

15:

However, personal billionaires have a slightly better record as charitable patrons, especially for less popular purposes. It's a marginal benefit, but matches your request.

2nd (or was it 3rd) generation Rockefellers yes. Much involved in public service. Next generation just faded into the background of rich folks living the easy life.

Sackler family and Amway folks, not so much.

16:

Let's be clear about what a billionaire represents - a potential systemic economic and political threat to the millions of individuals in the general population and the economy they foster.

The political elites of the world's major governments have, over the last forty years, all demonstrated themselves to be vulnerable, via the disease vectors of lobbying and political donations, to the influence of dark money. While this has not been exclusively driven by super-rich individuals, much of it has - Russia's various gangsters, the Koch's, the Mercer family, Murdoch and his spawn. Many of the major social and political problems of today, across the Western world, can be directly attributed to their influence.

We've deliberately "opened up" our economies (to use the accepted parlance) to a class of hyper-wealthy neo-aristocrats, whose wealth-induced sociopathy has been plain for us all to see. Doing so has set in motion a self-perpetuating cycle - a process I've termed in the past "Libertarian Rot".

Imagine a parasitic infestation rotting away the structure of its host economy. The very first thing a parasite typically tries to do when invading its host is to disable or co-opt the host's immune system, so the first vector of infection is typically the media of a country. Next follows regulatory capture and infiltration of institutions.

The final stage, as with many parasitic infections, affects the hosts executive functions - altering it's behaviour in a way that benefits the parasite, even if it negatively affects the host. So, you foster a ideological cult within the political elite of the country via a long term process of radicalisation through "think tanks", and electoral manipulation, through legitimate funding and open corruption, to weed out obstacles and generate a particular culture.

Added bonus - when the host starts to 'sicken' as a result of the parasite, you use the co-opted immune system to encourage the host to attack the wrong organ. Pick a scapegoat.

I'm sure there are billionaires that have wonderful qualities, although I'll be sceptical as to the proportion that do, given that numerous studies have shown that increased wealth typically leads to decreased empathy. But even if 95% of billionaires were saintly, that would still represent too much of a threat to the general population. A billionaire is a disease vector, a loaded gun, a big flashing red button in a nuclear reactor. All it takes is a small proportion of the super-wealthy using said wealth to subvert our nation-states, and history has shown that they will wreak havoc. They will collectively rot away our economies, infiltrate and subvert our institutions, and pit us against one another.

We simply can't afford them.

17:

Tossing a grenade through the door is always easier than building a house.

Stephen Jay Gould spun this thought out into an entire essay.

18:

Paras 1&2 - I was just about to type almost exactly that; Seconded should do it.

19:

I have long been in favor of confiscatory taxes on income over a certain amount.

Personally, I prefer wealth taxes. The problem with both, of course, is that when you provide billionaires with an incentive for hiding (or legally shielding) their income/wealth, they're gonna hire folks who are very, very good at it.

20:

From what I can tell, the argument for extreme wealth eventually rests on humanity's social hierarchy wiring. We have to give a hand full of people the power to end all life on Earth because social status unlike wealth or happiness, is a zero sum game. The people in the middle of the social ladder who scream whenever anyone talks about curbing the power of the ultra rich feel threatened by anything that restrains the privilege of those above them or seeks to better the plight of those they see as below them because they are insecure about their own social status. It's not that they think they might be billionaires themselves, it's that they are terrified that Those People are coming from below to steal their status, and that they are terrified of the idea that punching can go in any direction but down. That those with higher social status can abuse those with lower status is so fundamental to the understanding of how the world works that any general increase in common wellbeing is a threat.

(This is me trying to sum up both Innuendo Studios' Always a Bigger Fish video and Altemeyer's The Authoritarians)

How can we either find a way for the status-driven to get their status fix without giving them so much power over others, or correct for the status-seeking cognitive bias? There's also numerous studies showing that wealth imbalance induces sociopathic behaviour in the wealthy (elite panic etc.) so if we're re-wiring brains, maybe we can hit that one while we're at it?

I am wary of a political solution to wealth/power concentration because people with power change the rules to allow them to accrue more power. If we take as given that we're operating in a capitalist democracy, where more capitalism means less democracy and vice versa, then we'll always have to keep fighting to try to make sure the pendulum swings towards democracy at least occasionally.

If we put a wealth limit on, that's a moving target - how much power can you wield with $999 million and how can you use that power to get more power?

I think the primary argument for billionaires is that someone has to be at the top, and once you accept that power imbalance we're just quibbling over degree.

21:

However, personal billionaires have a slightly better record as charitable patrons, especially for less popular purposes. It's a marginal benefit, but matches your request.

This is like saying the Oaxaca Cartel has a net benefit because their money laundering operations provide liquid capital to small businesses.

Further, billionaires do not have a better record as charitable patrons. A regular person gives a much higher percentage of their wealth to charity than any billionaire does, and the collective efforts of regular people - democratically enacted social programs - completely dwarf the contributions by billionaires.

Never mind that most billionaire "charity" is in fact purchasing power and control eg Bill Gates to WHO and it playing to his goals on intellectual property rights

22:

Ecologist here. Parasites are both a central example of what billionaires tend to do, AND a dangerously misleading metaphor for how they should be treated.

We tend to abhor parasites, but nature doesn't. About 70% of species on this planet, probably more if we include prokaryotes and viruses, are parasites and pathogens. The critical thing to realize is that this in itself isn't bad, especially on the ecosystem level. Diverse systems tend to be full of parasites and pathogens. This isn't a feature or a bug, it's a central function. As an article in Hakai magazine pointed out a month ago, loss of parasites can be a really bad thing. The article's about the Puget Sound area, where the diversity of fish parasites has dropped by 90%, both the ecosystem and the fishery suffered, because the few remaining parasites exploded in number, making some fish unmarketable, and also because parasites modify nutrient flows. They can cause their hosts to die young or get eaten faster, thereby speeding up nutrient cycling through a system (nutrients flow by things getting eaten). This favors different species and sometimes more diversity, since organisms do different things when they don't get sick and die young.

In human civilization, there are two ways to mimic the roles of parasites in ecosystems. One way is to use bureaucracies to regulate things and collect taxes. When billionaires complain that the tax men are parasites who should be exterminated (all tax is theft), from the perspective of their money, they're right, their fortunes are being eaten alive. From the perspective of the societal ecosystem, that theft is essential, because it changes the way money circulates through society in ways that ideally prevent other problems. Taxing billionaires to provide free services to the poor may be essential.

The other way to regulate an economy without rules is through theft and violence, where you get held up and pay protection money instead of paying fees and taxes. Normally, people favor regulation backed by a powerful regulatory system of some sort, rather than threatened or actual violence. But both taxes and robbers redistribute societal resources in ways that mimic nutrient flows in ecosystems.

So yes, billionaires are parasites, to the extent that they skim money off and return nothing for it. The key question is what Charlie asked: "Do billionaires do anything good by existing?"

Turns out (surprise!) that's hard to answer with an affirmative. Is that because they are useless, or because we're not looking closely enough? This is where we need to follow the example of the parasitologists (the few, the proud). They're still mostly in the business of fighting parasitic infections, but they've accidentally learned over the years (as have the ecologists working with them) that parasites may be bad for their victims but essential at a systemic level.

So we also need to ask the ecologist's question: "What happens when you remove billionaires from a system?" We don't really have good worked examples of this, but I'd advise thinking about it quite seriously. Do billionaires backstop things on which global civilization depends? I'm here thinking of international shipping, the internet, and communications and weather satellites. Venture capital may be another key billionaire service, to the degree that VC ever produces genuinely useful companies. A few buy ranches and turn them into parks or conservancies, or fund research facilities and hospitals. Do they do this better than governments do?

Now the answer may well be that removing billionaires actually makes things better, as dispersing their fortunes allows others to make better use of their money and power than they do. If so, the only reason we have them (per Martin S above) is that, like the feudal lords of old, laying siege to their financial systems costs more than we'd get from them.

Or billionaires may turn out to be essential for civilization as parasites that regulate the movement of resources in ways that ultimately benefit most of us. I think they're mostly useless, but I don't know. Both Charlie's version and this counterfactual version do need to be asked, I think.

23:

In his favour he does not do the conspicuous consumption thing

I dunno. What about flying a private jet 31 miles rather than driving that distance?

Tesla chief Elon Musk’s corporate jet flew more than 150,000 miles last year, or more than six times around the Earth…

…Some of the flights were recreational getaways for Musk or his family, while others involved moving the plane from one side of Los Angeles to the other to help Musk shorten his commutes…

… In September, a few days after calling fossil fuels “the dumbest experiment in human history,” his plane burned thousands of pounds of jet fuel flying 300 miles from L.A. to Oakland so Musk could view a competitive video-gaming event…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/elon-musks-highflying-2018-what-150000-miles-in-a-private-jet-reveal-about-his-excruciating-year/2019/01/29/83b5604e-20ee-11e9-8b59-0a28f2191131_story.html

The flight left San Jose, California Friday morning and landed in San Francisco just 9 minutes later, according to the automated public flight information software powering the account. Followers on social media were quick to criticize Musk for what many said is a wasteful trip that flies in the face of the billionaire’s supposed goals.

https://futurism.com/the-byte/elon-musk-private-jet-elonjet-twitter-miles

24:

I mean, right now Tesla is valued higher than VW, Toyota, and Ford combined: really?

Yes, really.

Electric cars are mechanically simpler than ICE ones, and cost 1/3 the labor to assemble, so Tesla has a much leaner workforce and will never incur the same crushing pension liabilities the legacy car makers have, that are deducted from their enterprise value to yield their market cap.

Furthermore, Tesla is at least 5 years ahead of the competition and accelerating because of the complacency of the legacy carmakers, along with their inability to master software because it is scattered across an ecosystem of suppliers. It's not just the electric powertrain, just look at how they have been revolutionizing the way chassis are built with their casting machines and bespoke alloys. Who thought metal-bashing still had innovations left in 2022?

25:

"Income" doesn't exist, over a certain threshold: billionaires structure their assets to that they have control, but it's all through trusts and shares in shell companies and many of them are hosted offshore.

To end the billionaire caste without violence you need:

a) A global tax regime with teeth

b) A progressive wealth tax, not income tax

c) Mandatory declaration of indirect holdings so that they can't hide behind cut-outs/shells/trusts

d) Auditing/accounting standards with teeth so that weaseling out of paying the tax is more expensive than coughing up

e) A global ban on opaque cash-driven political lobbying (ha. ha. ha.)

The EU made very tentative steps towards (a) and (d) and Brexit was the consequence. I doubt we can get (b), (c), and (e) short of a world government.

26:

I do have a soft spot for Tesla and SpaceX

Just noting that Tesla allegedly has a horrific racism problem at some of their manufacturing plants.

Musk grew up in white South Africa under apartheid, and corporate culture tends to propagate from the top down, so I have a nasty feeling these things might be connected.

27:

Electric cars are mechanically simpler than ICE ones, and cost 1/3 the labor to assemble, so Tesla has a much leaner workforce and will never incur the same crushing pension liabilities the legacy car makers have, that are deducted from their enterprise value to yield their market cap.

To which I reply, all three of the firms I mentioned are transitioning to EVs now. And their pension liabilities are a significant social good -- if they didn't show on the balance sheet of the employers, who'd be paying those workers' pensions? (Answer: most likely, the state -- or they'd be doomed to penury in their old age, while the shareholders/owners would be riding high on the hog at the workers' expense.)

As for Tesla being five years ahead ... I'll grant you that it looks that way, and their software/systems integration is light years ahead of the incumbents, but by the same token, Tesla is going to be stuck with a boatload of crufty legacy products to support in 5-10 years time, cars they no longer want to support because they're moving on to the newest and best stuff. Whereas Ford, VW, Toyota et al are already there. That competitive edge at Tesla is simply down to them moving on a market niche first. Whether they can sustain it is an open question -- and it's certainly not indicative that a relatively small car manufacturer should have a market cap exceeding firms that make orders of magnitude more vehicles globally.

28:

Also worth pointing out that with billionaires, the person and the corporate person aren't precisely the same thing.

For example, with Musk buying Twitter, a lot of text has been spilled about Musk ego-tripping and blah blah blah. There have also been quieter notes that financially, he may be making his fortune less volatile than it was before, because of the way Twitter stock performs.

Both might be true. While it's possible that Musk is a real-life Bruce Wayne, masquerading as a socially awkward, playboy billionaire while being a secret financial and technical wizard who's remaking the world to right some wrongs, it's more likely that he's a socially awkward billionaire (his physical persona) who has collected a team of really good technical and financial advisers (his corporate persona), and he's smart and knowledgeable enough to work with them at a sophisticated level. In the later case, most of the talent that makes him so formidable isn't in his head. But he can use it.

This becomes a critical point, because heirs typically are less smart than their parents. They may inherit the corporate personae that go with managing billions, but if they're not smart enough to work with their financial and other managers at any sophisticated level, they may not do very well. Musk may do okay. But his children?

29:

“Just noting that Tesla allegedly has a horrific racism problem at some of their manufacturing plants.”

I used to (‘91-‘04) live a few miles south of the NUMMI plant that Tesla bought as their original factory, which is the one I’ve seen complaints about. It’s not on the SF peninsula but what is called ‘the east bay’ and is very much the working class area (remember, British, so using terms in that sense and not the somewhat twisted US form) of the region.

Whilst I don’t recall seeing actual swastikas there very often, confederate flags on pickups are/were common. Racially base assault was pretty common in the news. Anybody thinking that SJW-woke-siliconvalley-leftism means it’s all harmony needs a reality check. I don’t find it at all hard to imagine shop floor level workers, supervisors and line managers being prone to both ignoring and taking part in racist behaviour, whether or not any higher management is involved.

Is it Musk’s responsibility? In the sense of him being the boss, of course. In the sense of causing it? I suspect not, not because I think he’s a wonderfully nice guy but because it is inefficient and wastes effort in pursuing the dream; which appears to be an obsession.

30:

The main edge that Tesla seems to have other than a bit of a name as the big mover in the field, is that special Tesla charging network.

If I were in the market for an EV right now, as a car the current lot of options all seem ok to some extent and Tesla isn't necessarily that far ahead, but I would be stupid to not consider them for their much better charging coverage. (Especially given no charging capability at home.)

31:

I think the ecological viewpoint, or maybe more fundamentally an evolutionary viewpoint, is a good kind of lens for this.

However, I think it is wrong to limit the discussion to only human individuals who are billionaires, because organizations who are billionaires are found in the same ecological niche.

There may be a pattern where the organizational billionaires tend to do more good, but not necessarily less damage, than individual billionaires.

Take for instance AT&T's Bell Labs, which carried out a shitload of fundamental research, paid for by the 2% "Telephone Tax".

That may also be a better lens to use: Does the accused entity effectively have "taxing power" ?

The list of examples is too long to repeat here, but here are a few of the most egregious examples, to outline the problem space:

  • The price of the F-35 fighter, and it's lack of competition.

  • The price of insulin in USA

  • The "Microsoft Tax"

  • The "PayPal Tax"

  • The impossibility of escaping total electronic surveillance by Amazon/FaceBook/Google and their ilk.

If one believes that prevention is better than curing, then the thing to talk about is "market power" rather than the wealth it is abused to build.

In many ways "market power" is worse, because it paves the road to corrupting things like IETF protocol standards, something which would be comparatively hard to do with money.

(I totally fail to understand, how a single billionaire taking Twitter private, is not illegal under anti-trust laws.)

But one way or another, what's missing is negative feedback on the steep part of the growth curve, so let us add that to Capitalism-2.0:

In any organization under which there exist more than 50.000 paying customers or where more than 10.000 peoples personal information is processed, at least 60% of the governing board, by voting strength, must be democratically elected by and from the affected customers and persons.

It's far from perfect, but it will do a lot of needed damage to the "exponential startup religion"

32:

As for Mammon worship, if money's a god in global capitalism (akin to Inari Okami in Shinto, perhaps?) then billionaires are the saints of Mammonism.

I'm pointing to Inari, because the question "who/what is Inari" really has a lot of similarities to he question of "what is money?" Rather than derail this post into a discussion of "You [deleted], money is [whatever] for [reasons]," followed by endless rounds of "No, you're wrong, because [argument]," I'll just point out that the nature of money is multifaceted and ambiguous, and some of its nature does overlap with how some polytheistic systems treat their gods.

This doesn't make sense? Let's try a more concrete example: is water a god? Try living without it. Since you depend on water for life, if you were a polytheist, you might regard water as a god. And I'd actually suggest that treating clean water as sacred is one of the smarter things you can do, but that's beside the point. Try living without money. Not only is this hard, thinking about things without attaching monetary values to them takes more practice than you'd think.

Money is, in some ways, a god in our current civilization, incarnated as dollars, euros, gold, cryptocurrencies, and many other forms. And those who are greatly favored by Money? Billionaires. And if you practice that whole system for the purpose of manifesting Money more in every aspect of your life, you're practicing Mammonism.

Remember, we can argue about the nature of money once we pass post 300, and I think Charlie would be happier if we did. So back to the original topic: what are billionaires good for, outside of being Mammonic cult heroes?

33:

I have not heard about Tesla racism. For sure Musk is a very mixed human being.

I think Tesla has significantly advanced progress towards electric vehicles, and SpaceX has significantly advanced rocketry. I regard both of these as good things. And Tesla and SpaceX would not be where they are without Elon Musk.

As I understand it most of Musk's trillions come from his Tesla incentive deal being triggered by the sky-high Tesla share price. I suspect that similar progress would have been made with a much less generous incentive deal - in other words Musks trillions do not actually have a good reason for existing.

34:

Excess corporate Jet use maybe: but no Yachts or expensive houses or football clubs or private islands or ...

35:

Disagree somewhat: I think it's the battery factories.

But it's hard to be sure. One thing Musk's companies get very right is that they try to create vertically integrated technology stacks, if not monopolies. Tesla make their own batteries, for example: SpaceX make their own rocket motors and payload fairings. Compare with Ford or GM, and with ULA. Outsourcing taken too far becomes a disease and the big market incumbents all got a surfeit of it between roughly 1980 and 2020.

36:

Given that Musk lives in the vicinity of south-central CA, I'm surprised he doesn't also have a helicopter for getting around. Cheaper to buy and operate than an executive jet, and much more suitable for stuff like hopping between cities. Yes it's significantly slower at top speed, but it can also go center-to-center rather than stopping at an out-of-town runway.

37:

I think there is a potential utility for very large amounts of personal wealth, which is that you can choose to do things with it which are very high risk / very high benefit which governments generally can't do because the risk of failure is too awful to contemplate.

As an example, Jobs could have chosen to throw all of his wealth at some approach to curing or ameliorating whatever specific cancer he had. In the unlikely event that this paid of he might have been left merely wealthy but, on the other hand, alive, and as a side effect many other people might have been saved. If it didn't pay off, well, he doesn't need to care because he's then dead in any case.

You could argue that that's what Musk is doing with Mars, but I don't think it is: he might think it is but I think that's because he's not understood that science fiction is in fact fiction. For such a thing to qualify it has to have some chance of doing something actually useful, and I don't think either landing some people briefly on Mars and declaring victory, or watching a colony slowly die there is useful.

And a stronger argument against this is that governments can in fact do the same thing: they can't do it with all their money the way a person can, but they can spend as much money as a very rich individual can spend on each of many individual high-risk high-benefit projects, of which enough will succeed to make it worth it. That's kind of what DARPA did (does?) I think.

And the sort of people who become very rich are almost always the sort of people who have some defect in their mind which makes it impossible to stop once they have all the money they could possibly ever need: that same defect also probably makes it impossible for them to make good decisions about this sort of project, which governments perhaps can do.

So I think I'm wrong: there's a theoretical case, but it is probably not a real one.

38:

One thing Musk's companies get very right is that they try to create vertically integrated technology stacks

It seems to be feature of driven companies led big a very strong "brilliant" single person.

Ford (River Rouge Complex), Apple's Jobs and Now Cook not farming out much of anything but things they just can't do better. Heck, American Airlines under Robert Crandall transformed the world's airlines (for good or bad)

The problem with all of these things (harking back to an earlier comment) is when control gets diffused these companies seem to coast at the top for a while then start falling behind. Some course correct. Some don't.

LockMark. NASA. IBM. General Electric. Sun. DEC. Etc...

When the corporate offices get taken over by a board with financials as the main factor, things tend to go south. Sometimes it takes a while and at times it happens in a hurry.

Oh, most billionaires don't take much of a salary. Too many tax issues. They funnel their stocks and other assets into trusts, retirement accounts, and companies then borrow against those assets and live off those borrowed funds.

39:

As an example, Jobs could have chosen to throw all of his wealth at some approach to curing or ameliorating whatever specific cancer he had.

Problem: cancer is a diagnosis. It turns out that it's a label we stick on a whole bunch of conditions which show similar symptoms but may actually be the result of radically different mutations in the genetics of the cancerous cell line. (Which is why we know of a whole bunch of genes that indicate elevated risk of "breast cancer", for example -- they're actually different malfunctions that manifest in the same manner, as aggressive replication and de-differentiation with loss of contact inhibition in breast tissue. Twenty different cancers flying in very close formation.)

You can sometimes get results by throwing money at a medical problem, if the problem is well-defined. Look how long it took to develop vaccines against COVID19 -- once they had the genetic sequence development was ridiculously fast, and most of the delay was due to the requirement for clinical trials (however abbreviated they were compared to business as usual). Again, the recent finding that Epstein-Barr Virus is a major contributing factor to Multiple Sclerosis suggests that suddenly a whole bunch of new pathways to MS treatment may open up, from antiviral meds to vaccines.

But the pathway to rolling out any medical treatment involves numerous critical path bottlenecks, due to the need to avoid harming large numbers of people (for why we do this, see also: Thalidomide).

40:

The problem with all of these things (harking back to an earlier comment) is when control gets diffused these companies seem to coast at the top for a while then start falling behind.

Clayton Christensen anatomized this in The Innovator's Dilemma. Steve Jobs' peculiar brilliance -- for which he's earned a long-term niche in the B-school studies -- is that when he went back to Apple he repeatedly disrupted his own company rather than letting some outsider eat his lunch first. The iPod and iPhone were ballsy enough moves: the iPad threatened to cannibalize the entire Mac market -- but Jobs didn't balk at it (and they successfully extended Apple's reach, down into cheaper computing devices without forcing them to enter a cost/quality death spiral with the high-end Mac kit).

41:

The wealth of the current crop of multibillionaires is predicated on a perceived 'value' of the shares they own in various companies. Musk owns X shares in Tesla, Tesla shares sell for $Y ~ Musk is 'worth' X * Y. If Musk were to sell more than a tiny fraction of those shares, their price would drop precipitously and his 'worth' would also crash.

The same applies to most of the other billionaires, at least those who are not also rulers. The wealth of the Houses of Saud or Windsor are fundamentally different from the wealth of a Bezos or Gates. The older wealth tends to be hidden and quiet, though they show up here and there (i.e. Anderson Cooper is a Vanderbilt).

I am not sure how much of an answer there is to the billionaire infestation we are currently dealing with. The impetus to start new things and create companies that innovate can be a very positive thing for the world - I have zero doubt that if Musk and Tesla had not forced EV development the legacy car companies would be continuing to delay and ignore as long as possible. Thew prospect of profit from investing in innovation is a strong motivator, and the general success rate (low) of such investments mean that a lot of wealth gets transferred from people with too much (Angel & Venture Capitalists) to people working on new things. The occasional huge payoff is a side effect of the overall development of new things.

I think for the discussion to be useful there must be a separation between billions acquired through the creation of new things, and billions acquired through an accident of birth. For better or worse, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs facilitated the rise of the personal computer. Their children had no role in that, their grandchildren even less. An inheritance tax of close to 100% would be just fine with me.

42:

Does it even make sense to think of these people as billionaires in the sense that they have access to that much wealth? They don't. Very few of them (Putin and the state-level actors might be the exception) have access to even tiny fractions of their net worth in anything liquid form. This doesn't make them poor of course, far from it, but if Bezos could put his hands on even $5 million in cash in less than a weeks time I'd be surprised.

When they buy their $100 million mansions and their $200 million yachts, or even just some $1 million sports car, my understanding is that this is all financed out the wazoo. A bank hands them the cash, as a loan, and they go get what they want. And what bank wouldn't? They're good for it, and they'll pay it back with interest.

Thus, at this level of wealth, their net worth doesn't really indicate how much money they have access to but instead how much control over various corporate entities out there in the world (and, to whatever political influence that control provides).

I don't think this is a meaningless distinction either. If this money is so virtual that it doesn't really exist (except as power/control), it has effectively become untaxable. How do you confiscate Musk's money, if it's just shares of stock in Tesla and SpaceX, and what would it mean to confiscate those shares? Does the IRS now control those companies, are they in charge of all the decisions Musk used to make?

Whether or not I agree with the wealth taxes discussed in this thread or not, I don't think there's a practical way to attempt them and that there hasn't been for a long while.

43:

Yes. My wife has worked in this area all my life, and a HELL of a lot of time and effort goes into finding a treatment for one cancer, that works on some people but not others. Very rarely the researchers strike lucky and find a near-cure; sometimes they find something that works to some extent; sometimes they simply fail; that's research for you. Get landed with the one I have, where a few tens of people get it every year in the USA, probably ten or fewer in the UK, and it's currently impractical to do more than "it's a bit like X - let's treat it like that."

44:

Given that Musk lives in the vicinity of south-central CA, I'm surprised he doesn't also have a helicopter for getting around.

I would think that helicopters would get an extra 10-15 minutes just for clearance... don't big corporate jets still need to wait for a runway to take off from, or to land on another? Or do they get to pre-empt commercial flights?

Hell, he could board the helicopter right outside of the building he's currently in, rather than having a driver shuttle him off to the private terminal at the airport, so maybe more than 15 minutes bonus on that.

45:

Given that Musk lives in the vicinity of south-central CA, I'm surprised he doesn't also have a helicopter for getting around. Cheaper to buy and operate than an executive jet, and much more suitable for stuff like hopping between cities. Yes it's significantly slower at top speed, but it can also go center-to-center rather than stopping at an out-of-town runway.

Um, not any more, if ever. Musk's current permanent residence is a $50k mini-house near the Space X facility in south Texas. He claims he doesn't own a home, merely couch surfs at friend's houses. And he might.

South-Central LA, by the way, is the land of Compton and Watts. Beverly Hills is the west side, Palos Verdes is the south coast, and Pasadena's in the east-center of the County only because LA County goes over the San Gabriel Mountains (largely vacant because they're effing steep. Pasadena's at the foot of the mountains), and into the Mojave desert at Lancaster and Palmdale.

Geography aside, the LA basin is dotted with small airports. There's one in Compton, for instance. Most of them serve private planes and helicopters. However, a helicopter has a range of ca. 250 kilometers, so even coptering from LA to Vegas (236 miles, plus going up to 10,000' over the San Gabriels) is pushing it a bit. San Francisco is about 400 miles away. So if, like Musk, you've got business in the Bay Area and South Texas, you need a plane, not a copter.

46:

Problem: cancer is a diagnosis

Yes, I really did mean whatever specific thing he had: whatever the specific underlying thing was, not the symptom. It would be astonishing if there turns out to be 'a cure for cancer', but there might be a cure for whatever killed Jobs. Of course it may not have been known what the underlying thing was for the cancer which was killing him, but still 'here is x billion dollars for you to find out what it is and spend on curing it' had some non-zero chance of succeeding I think and if it had (or even if it had failed in its immediate target of keeping him alive) it might well have helped many other people either directly or via other results of the research.

More generally my argument is just that this kind of moonshot thing is something very, very rich people could choose to do. (ut, well, the US government did actually do a moonshot thing, and they knew that they could afford for it to fail, which is one of the reasons I think my argument is wrong.

47:

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs facilitated the rise of the personal computer. Their children had no role in that, their grandchildren even less. An inheritance tax of close to 100% would be just fine with me.

B&M Gates said a while back that while their kids would have no issues with money (unless they become very stupid) most of their wealth will not go to them.

48:

"I would think that helicopters would get an extra 10-15 minutes just for clearance... don't big corporate jets still need to wait for a runway to take off from, or to land on another?"

It's complicated...

Helicopters are generally not very welcome in the airspace near large busy airports, so they are heavily discouraged by regulatory means, one of which is a very sharp focus on the "where you come down rule": The pilot of a plane with lifting surfaces has a lot of time to pick his crash-site, whereas rotor craft just fall down where they fail.

For airports limited by runway capacity, corporate jet traffic causes a hit to their 'passengers delayed' metrics, so service-fees for non-schedule flights tend to be very high, in order to discourage them.

That will never stop rich assholes, but it does keep the more mundane kind of corporate jets and personal planes away.

Many metropolises will have one or more small airports specializing in non-route flights, and because the passenger density is nearly nothing, they can be as small indeed: Just a runway, parking area, and a fence. Tower services may be provided remotely.

49:

Answer: most likely, the state -- or they'd be doomed to penury in their old age

Probably the latter.

In many American states, the education system deals with pension obligations by firing teachers before their pensions vest. A teacher can go from award-winning to fired-for-incompetence in a single year, if its a year or two before their pension vests.

This is praised in Republican circles for reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

50:

Yes, I really did mean whatever specific thing he had: whatever the specific underlying thing was, not the symptom. It would be astonishing if there turns out to be 'a cure for cancer', but there might be a cure for whatever killed Jobs.

Jobs had pancreatic cancer for which the outcomes are terrible compared to most others. Which in themselves are terrible.

51:

However, I think it is wrong to limit the discussion to only human individuals who are billionaires, because organizations who are billionaires are found in the same ecological niche. There may be a pattern where the organizational billionaires tend to do more good, but not necessarily less damage, than individual billionaires.

I quite agree. Billionaires, possibly with the exception of Gates, are business entities. Whether they own a company or merely run it may be a less relevant question.

As for taxes versus money flow versus charging rents, they're variations on a theme of who moves money from whom, to where, for what purpose, and how fast.

But who controls it? Remember that Trump was legally elected in the US, and Republicans are doing a skillful job of hanging onto power by manipulating elections. Democratically electing the heads of powerful companies sounds like a good idea, but in practice it's far from perfect.

To be clear, I don't think there's a theoretical optimum. Bill Gates, for all his sins, arguably does a better job of managing the Gates Foundation than Donald Trump ever would, so one can't argue that billionaires are automatically the optimal solution for philanthropies. Some co-ops (like Costco) do very well in many equity measurements. Others are cautionary tales that unfold slowly and painfully for all involved. I think it optimal control structure does depend on circumstances, and the best possible control structure for a particular corporate entity really is contingent on what you have to work with and what problems you have to solve to get it going. Sometimes, as the old Roman Republic demonstrated successfully for a couple of centuries, you need to appoint a dictator to solve a problem that democracy can't solve, even when democracy normally works better.

One thing billionaires can do that democratically-run corporations struggle with is responding rapidly to changing situations. Even pre-dating capitalism, Muslim merchants put a huge store in reputation and honor, because their reputation for back-stopping deals by putting their wealth on the line to honor their commitments made their trading possible by reducing risks. Similarly, a billionaire will not have all their fortune liquid and ready to spend, but they can manage and backstop deals in the billions, because they have the capacity to mobilize the resources if things go bad. Unfortunately, both bureaucracies and democracies take much more time to do the same thing, due to required processes, due diligence, and coalition building. While I agree that a group process often leads to a better outcome, it is slower, and sometimes that matters.

52:

Very interesting analysis... which leads me to this idea: they really want the US to lean whichever way they want... because the ultrawealthy are their own nation-state, and the US, controlled by them, is its military fist. One superpower is so much easier to deal with than multiple ones, who might fight each other.

53:

Tesla, worth more than Ford, VW, and Toyota, really?
Agreed. I did the kind of things most folks in arguments don't... I just looked it up. This is worldwide production of vehicles:
VW, 2021, around 8.3M
Ford " 3.9M
Toyota 7.6M

Tesla 930,422
In what possible way is it worth more? In the shell game of stocks, not in the realm of actual profits.

54:

But, Charlie, what the hell is "corporate greed"? Is it some big building, with their logo on it, being desirous of more buildings?

No. It's the execs who want larger bonuses (which, btw, are not taxed the same way as salary in the US), and more stock options?

And if you think I'm exaggerating, I remember a column back in the nineties, commenting on the fad of downsizing, "which CEOs will keep doing until the market stops rewarding them for doing it." Notice there is *no corporate good in there.

55:

How much of that is hard-wiring, and how much social training over the last 10k years? From what I've read, a lot of "primitive societies" don't have permanent wealthy leaders, giving out gold rings to their followers.

56:

Just a couple of notes. There are (thousands? Tens of thousands?) of cancer types, a few of which are even contagious.

Pancreatic cancers can be treated if caught. The problem is, due to the nature of the organ, it's difficult to catch them in early stages, and once they're symptomatic, they're difficult to impossible to treat. Alzheimer's works the same way.

The Koch Brothers, ironically, did it better than Jobs did. David Koch dumped $100 million into NY Presbyterian hospital. This is actually a normal thing for billionaires to do: fund medical centers. Irwin Jacobs chunked $75 million for a new hospital at UCSD to house oncology, Ob-Gyn-Ped, and advanced surgery. All this comes under the principle of "the life you save might be your own."

Yes, this is part of the screwed-up US health care system, and public money really should fund hospitals. However, this is one example of billionaires doing stuff that, in the US at least, government really struggles to do well.

57:

I don't see any reason beyond - ok, I've been debating myself as between $20M/yr and $50M/yr. Once you've got platinum-plated titanium toilet fixtures, and hot and cold running prostitutes every night of the year, what do you do with the money? The US cut taxes on "job creators"... with the result that they moved jobs overseas, where they could have sweatshops again, with more ROI.

58:

I think you may be missing what I was trying to say. A cure for cancer is like a cure for dying: it's not going to happen (I think). But a cure for whatever killed Jobs, while still very unlikely (at least soon enough to save him), is less absurd. And even if it failed, just doing the research might have spinoff benefits.

Jobs could probably have funded a project on the scale of the Human Genome Project ($3 billion), and it's hard to see such a thing not having some side benefits.

59:

Charles H
YES
Gradualism is the way to go, but it must be as loophole-proof as possible.
As Charlie & others have said, it's not what you "OWN" or how much "Money I have", but what you CONTROL. - Oops - see Charlie @ 25!
Putin must be the extreme poster-boy for that nasty little quirk.

daniel r
"Libertarian rot" - Classic example in the UK:
The Water-supply industry & it's disposal. This has been bought out ( "Privatisation" ) followed by total regulatory capture ( OFWAT is utterly toothless ) - & what do we have now?
Rivers & beaches literally full of shit, whilst the owners make vast piles, of not-brown stuff.
It's actually got so bad that even our current corrupt guvmint are showing signs of concern, though I doubt if they will actually DO anything.

LAvery
"Wealth Taxes" ...
1: Do NOT work - there's always a work-around.
2: They, all too often catch the wrong people, because a "wealth tax" almost always includes real property, such as someone's "Principal Private Residence" - err, no, let's not go there?

H
"What happens when you remove billionaires from a system?" - Answer: Stalin, or Pol Pot?

David L & Charlie
"Vertically Integrated companies" - this is how the late C-19th really big boys, the Railway companies, operated,
As much as possible was taken in-house, for better control & lower costs, whilst producing an acceptable standard for the customers.
Yes there were specialist outside contractors, who supplied "stuff" for overload periods, usually Locomotive builders & Carriage suppliers, but, even so, as much as possible was "in-house" their own hotels, their own shipping lines, their own road "last-mile" distribution services, etc.
Outsourcing everything is a disaster.

60:

Disagree. For one, many "startup" are not created by someone with money, they're bought, and the person who buys them becomes the Big Deal.

For another, the humanitarian contributions they make? For one, all the others scream that they don't want to spend their money on poor people, and so the state can't use tax money to help. And then there's the other side of the "humanitarian aid": think of all the money they're putting into research, etc! Yes, let's. How much are they putting in every single year? As a matter of fact, as of several years ago, the US' NIH's budget was coming up to $30B EVERY SINGLE YEAR, and something like 60% or more of ALL basic medical research in the US - we're not talking about creating variants of existing drugs because the patent's about to run out - is either done by the NIH or is funded by grants from them.

How many billions were donated last year by private individuals for that?

61:

Oh, an income tax would be nice. But in the US, ALL income should be taxed at the same rate, not special lower rates to capital gains and dividends and interest.

But also... decades ago, artists and authors got hit with a new tax for what they had in stock, not sold. So... let's tax stock options at the median rate for the year since they were given. And I'm talking top brackets of 72%... except when the value was over $1B, 95%.

62:

Your governing board is a lot like my "if a single company is more than 25% of the economy, voting shares are part of their taxes.

63:

Vertically-integrated. I see, like most US companies used to be... before the MBA got big, and the Big Idea was "outsource", so we can kill unions, and make each divisions a profit source, and there should be no profit sinks (sort of like 3rd form normalization of a d/b).

64:

How much of that is hard-wiring, and how much social training over the last 10k years? From what I've read, a lot of "primitive societies" don't have permanent wealthy leaders, giving out gold rings to their followers.

Quite agreed. A fair number of societies apparently believe that the cure for sociopathic greed lies in a club to the back of the head or similar.

Even in highly stratified societies like Republican Rome, after dumping their last king they deliberately designed a system that made it as hard as possible for one person to permanently seize power. Two censors, two consuls, senate, dictators only empowered to deal with specific crises like fighting a war, and so on. It took over 200 years before things fell apart so badly that Pompey and then Caesar were able to corrupt the dictatorship system and seize power.

So yeah, it's not hardwired. What is "hardwired" is authoritarian leaders paying historians and artists to immortalize them, so that we get this distorted notion that authoritarian rule is normal because it leaves behind the most historically and archaeologically visible evidence. Historians and archaeologists are becoming wise to this dodge, incidentally, so don't believe the old books as much.

65:

Perhaps a limit to control. No organization can control over, say, $50B without public elected control as a majority.

66:

Bill Gates, for all his sins, arguably does a better job of managing the Gates Foundation than Donald Trump ever would,

As far as I can recall the Gates Foundation is not managed by Bill and Melinda Gates, it's run by professionals who understand how such an operation works at all levels. Bill and Melinda Gates provide an ongoing cash stream to fund the Foundation's operations and do grip-and-grin promotional work as well as some judicious arm-twisting to get other well-heeled philanthropic billionaires to contribute too (like Warren Buffett, IIRC). They may promote particular operations the Foundation funds and supports but the day-to-day administration is, like most things, best left to people who have experience and knowledge of tax law, money, research funding, academia etc.

Some folks think the Gates Foundation is some kind of tax dodge on Bill's part, maybe because he keeps on getting richer year by year despite giving away billions of dollars to Good Causes. I think it's more that he had a bucket when it was raining money in the computer biz a while ago and unlike a lot of company owners back then he has kept hold of the bucket to this day.

67:

Fair enough re: Gates.

I think the original point, that it's dangerous to treat billionaires as a class of managerial geniuses, still stands. Ditto democracies. There's no one perfect system.

68:

I really hope Graydon shows to weigh in here, as his take on wealth and societies is compelling in ways I am still working to grasp. I frequently think his Commonweal series very slyly uses 'magic power' as a stand-in for monetary power.

The second sentence of OGH's original post states that 'money is a proxy for control or power'. That is the core of our problem - if we start talking about money alone we are missing the point.

How do we tax power and control? A better question would be how do we create systems to constrain power and control, or better yet direct it to positive ends. It isn't by fiddling with money, which the discussion here and elsewhere has shown is largely imaginary, a shared consensual delusion that can change in an instant and often does. Our day to day lives are structured around acquiring, using and distributing money, and yet its value changes hourly relative to everything around us.

Military power is a form of control, but even that is imaginary to a great degree. The most powerful military in the history of the world was unable to successfully effect meaningful change in one of the least developed 'countries' in the world (Afghanistan). That failure was only the most recent example of the weakness of attempts to use military might to impose anything at all aside from death. I can think of no way to tax military power - the notion is absurd.

Legal power is another form of control, which works as long as everyone agrees the legal structure is legitimate (and it has proven to be quite resilient despite a massive industry dedicated almost entirely to subverting it for personal or corporate gain). I have no idea how to tax legal power.

The billionaires have a grip on some forms of power and control, and enough money to minimize the grip of other forms on them. Musk routinely has legal troubles that would bankrupt most humans, ditto many of the others (Trump). They are not immune, and even while Trump was president of the most powerful country in the world he was constantly bedevilled by legal problems - his endless fear and ranting about them are evidence enough.

69:

"Historians and archaeologists are becoming wise to this dodge, incidentally, so don't believe the old books as much."

The Indus Civilization lasted for over a millenium and had no evidence of large palaces or temples, and apparently a lot of evidence of large public structures for common use. This was over 1000 towns and cities with a shared legal system, shared weights and measures, and shared language.

70:

That makes a BIG difference; even if it is caught early, treatment is not always successful, and there are multiple types of pancreatic cancer, too. It's a notoriously hard cancer to treat.

71:

As far as I can recall the Gates Foundation is not managed by Bill and Melinda Gates, it's run by professionals who understand how such an operation works at all levels.

Not really. Day to day the pros get things done. But Bill decides what will be done at a high level. And the reports that leak out say he does it with an iron fist.

72:

You should read what I post before responding. I shall not respond to your ridiculous comparison.

I was comparing them with megacorporations and superstates, and they DO have a better track record than those. If you think that their money would end up in the pockets of the public if they were abolished, I suggest that you study some history. Also, if you study the harm done by individual billionaires and multi-billion corporations, you may get a shock.

Even if compared to the public, they are a better bet for less popular charities, unfortunately; those that have tried going to the public have usually ended up spending more on collection than their purpose, even in the absence of corruption and gross incompetence.

No, they aren't good, but they ARE better than some of the alternatives. God help us all.

73:

Whole genome sequencing is increasingly used for cancer diagnosis in the most advanced locations.

74:

Wrt. the water cos in the UK -- you may have missed that in Scotland the water boards are still in public ownership.

And provide better service than in England, for a lower price (yes, it's loaded on top of council tax so the household bill is higher, but overall we pay less).

75:

But in the US, ALL income should be taxed at the same rate

Wrong, that's a regressive tax. Ideally you want income tax to be progressive, banded so that above a certain threshold you pay a greater percentage of your income in tax.

I'd like to see the top marginal rate of tax go to 90% or higher: that's where it used to be, and it didn't seem to demotivate entrepreneurs but it did reduce income inequality within a society.

76:

Does it even make sense to think of these people as billionaires in the sense that they have access to that much wealth? They don't.

Here is a fun take on this question: https://medium.com/@squarelyrooted/on-becoming-a-trillionaire-in-2022-962791d31a1

77:

"the "where you come down rule": The pilot of a plane with lifting surfaces has a lot of time to pick his crash-site, whereas rotor craft just fall down where they fail."

That's not entirely accurate. I'm not familiar (nor is Google) with the "where you come down rule" but I know the "land clear" rule, as stated in UK legislation at least (YMMV):

An aircraft shall not be flown below such height as would enable it to make an emergency landing without causing danger to persons or property on the surface in the event of a power unit failure.
  • and:
An aircraft flying over a congested area of a city, town or settlement shall not fly below such height as would permit the aircraft to land clear of the congested area in the event of a power unit failure.
  • but:
Any helicopter flying over a congested area shall be exempt from the land clear rule.

Thanks to autorotation, if the power unit or tail rotor fails, the engine can be disconnected from the rotor system, which continues to rotate and provide lift, so the helicopter can be safely landed. Unlike fixed-wing aircraft it doesn't need several hundred metres of runway to land, so it can be put down in quite a small space.

78:

"Any helicopter flying over a congested area shall be exempt from the land clear rule."

I'm not the least surprised that the worlds most criminal tax-shelter has gotten helicopters permitted :-)

Other capitals not so much.

79:

Charlie @ 74
WHAT a GIANT SURPRISE! ( Not actually, of course.... )
... & @ 75 ... Top rate of about 70% - BUT it must be strictly enforced - that last is always the difficult bit.

80:

which continues to rotate and provide lift, so the helicopter can be safely landed. Unlike fixed-wing aircraft it doesn't need several hundred metres of runway to land, so it can be put down in quite a small space.

Not quite. In auto rotate you disengage the transmission then adjust the rotor blades so as you fall they pick up spin speed. Then just before you hit you reverse the pitch so the angular inertia provides enough rotational speed to give you enough lift to live. A good pilot in reasonable conditions (altitude is a big deal here) can do a nice soft landing. I know folks in the US Army who have lived but the copter wasn't in that good of shape afterwards.

81:

The difference is that it is entirely plausible that Ford/VW/etc will have essentially the same sales next year, but Tesla may well triple. The stock market has a real thing for anticipation of growth. And even more so for anticipation of anticipation of growth.

82:

But not anticipation of anticipation of anticipation of growth. That would just be silly.

83:

Charlie, you misunderstood me. In the US, interest and dividends, and capital gains, are taxed separately, and at a much lower rate - they're in a separate bucket. (See Romney's defense in '12 that he was paying about 14%, while his secretary was paying about 38%). I mean all of those rolled into the bucket called "income", and then taxed, per bracket, at the same rate as every other form of income. That means someone who makes $10M a year, and has $100M in capital gains, gets the top tax rate, while someone with $60k gets far lower.

84:
a grand gesture, like Mike Bloomberg's abortive run on the Presidency

My belief as to Bloomberg's "run" for President is that he was being a dog in the manger to avoid any sort of win by Bernie Sanders. Bloomberg spent about $500M on the run. If Sanders had won the Oval Office, the tax consequences for what Sanders was advocating would have cost Bloomberg about $4B the first year.

History of US federal tax rates.

A first step towards eliminating billionaires would be to restore the 70% top tax bracket. A more effective step would be eliminating (or at minimum, having a phase-out if your income is too high) the capital gains tax. Far too many of the ultra-rich keep their wealth in stocks and other assets (like paintings) and then borrowing money with the stocks/paintings as collateral. This is part of Musk's attempt to finance his purchase of Twitter. A tax on transactions would be a much more effective method for de-fanging Wall Street.

In most states, teachers are responsible for their own pensions. The 403(b) system is the public employment version of the 401(k) defined contribution retirement scheme. When teachers "retire" the lump sum in their 403(b) accounts are supposed to go towards purchasing annuities. Fancy presentations and high fees tends to plunder both the 403(b) and 401(k) accounts. This is why the financial industry constantly tries to get Congress to "privatize" the Social Security system - so that the financial industry gets to charge $50-100 per person per year fees. When you multiply that by about a hundred million workers per year, you start talking big money just in annual fees. 401(k) & 403(b) plans have to file annual reports (which are publicly viewable) with the Department of Labor and it would be a smart thing for workers to take a little time to learn how to read the reports. For most companies' plans, the fees that employees get charged are hidden from the employees and only by reading the annual Form 5500 can you figure them out. This is also how you find out if your pension plan has been loaning money to shady organizations.

Disclaimer: I used to work in the pension reporting industry as a software developer. Our company wrote software for filing 5500 reports as well as an annual manual for accountants on how to report the data.

[[ retrieved from the spam folder - mod ]]

85:

One thing Musk's companies get very right is that they try to create vertically integrated technology stacks

It seems to be feature of driven companies led big a very strong "brilliant" single person.

Ford (River Rouge Complex), Apple's Jobs and (n)ow Cook not farming out much of anything but things they just can't do better.

Lemme tell you a story, passed on from my late daddy, an Iowa farm boy and colonel's son, who worked his way through the University of Michigan. He read for the law, passing the Ohio Bar so he could be a bag man for Standard Oil, carrying black bags of cash to Columbus to the Ohio Legislature, and carrying empty promises back to Rockefeller's minions in Cleveland.

While at Uni, he had occasion to visit The Rouge; saw boxes of batteries for the Model T come in. Unlike other boxes of parts which were roughly taken apart, the battery shipping boxes were very carefully dismantled by journeymen carpenters, and carefully stacked on wheeled carts. The wood pieces were also not the typical packing pine, but were made of hardwood, and unusually well finished.

Being a quite curious lad, he followed one of those carts, to find the hardwood box boards fitted into the chassis of Model T trucks to become its floorboards.

Stealth outsourcing. The battery makers had no idea why Ford had been so exacting in the specifications for the shipping boxes, but when Ford spoke, you listened.

86:

David L @ 15:

However, personal billionaires have a slightly better record as charitable patrons, especially for less popular purposes. It's a marginal benefit, but matches your request.

2nd (or was it 3rd) generation Rockefellers yes. Much involved in public service. Next generation just faded into the background of rich folks living the easy life.

Sackler family and Amway folks, not so much.

Third generation according to Wikipedia, but you have to consider INCOME Tax Rates were much higher then (up to 90% marginal rate) and the rules on what you could claim as capital gains were much stricter then. So there was a lot more tax PRESSURE for Millionaires to be charitable.

The Sacklers & their ilk are not facing that kind of tax pressure. The parts of their income & wealth they can't hide in some off-shore tax haven can be catagorized in ways to make their tax liability lower ... so much lower as to be non-existent.

I'd favor a tax law that treats ALL income the same. You could have much lower rates for most everyone, but I also favor a steeply progressive tax on incomes/wealth as you get towards the top 1%. And if "corporations are persons" they should have to pay the same tax rates as natural persons and none of this shifting profits off-shore to avoid taxes. I believe those who benefit the most from our system should be paying more to support that system.

87:

I would think that helicopters would get an extra 10-15 minutes just for clearance... don't big corporate jets still need to wait for a runway to take off from, or to land on another? Or do they get to pre-empt commercial flights?

Musk does not have to deal with SFO and does not have to queue up for scarce runway slots.

Corporate jets don't often use major airports, but instead nest in small corporate jetports. Look at the Intel Air Shuttle, which does not fly from PDX like us plebes, but instead from HIO in its daily trips to Chandler, Arizona, and San Jose, California.

88:

And in the UK. It's a disgrace - and I benefit from it (slightly). We have a lot of experience that very high marginal rates have serious social downsides, but a progressive tax scheme that strongly encouraged charitable donations allows a somewhat higher effective rate before the reaction sets in.

89:

Charity... no. Billionaire charity donations sound great. Then you look... and ten years ago, the charities such as food banks, etc, were screaming in the US that they were overwhelmed. Only taxing the rich, and the government, can take care of people who need help. The rest, take off your cap and tug your forelock, thank'ee, sir, for the crumbs.

90:

Charlie Stross @ 36: Given that Musk lives in the vicinity of south-central CA, I'm surprised he doesn't also have a helicopter for getting around. Cheaper to buy and operate than an executive jet, and much more suitable for stuff like hopping between cities. Yes it's significantly slower at top speed, but it can also go center-to-center rather than stopping at an out-of-town runway.

Does he need to own a helicopter or just have one available any time he wants to go somewhere in it? Which I'd bet he has.

I'd say the same applies to the corporate jet. He doesn't need to own one, although it might serve the company to have one that he can use whenever he wants to. And I'd bet both are LEASED by Tesla, rather than owned by Musk.

91:

Thank you for saying it so clearly and so well!

92:

A friend of mine is a professional artist, the kind of person who's work you've seen in major advertising campaigns, and he decided that his most economic work platform was an Ipad with 128 gigabytes of memory, so YAY DISRUPTION (or something.) But Jobs definitely got it right!

93:

I think an important counterpoint to that is: nearly all of that utterly vast GWP is hand-to-mouth. It achieves a lot, but that "a lot" looks like a steady state of "people get fed, trade moves around and infrastructure exists". You can't spend it on a Mars colony, flawed or otherwise, there'd be famine. Not that that excuses billionaires - it makes them worse, they control a really egregious slice of the world's disposable income and they direct it towards whatever cockamamie vanity projects they wish, without the vast majority of humanity having any choice in the matter.

94:

You want a progressive tax, but you also need a minimum tax that's also progressive, i.e. if you make a million dollars this year you pay a minimum of thirty-percent, if you make a billion dollars this year, you make a minimum of sixty-percent. Figure out where you want billionaires to spend their money and make it really difficult to actually achieve the minimum, so bragging rights are involved.

95:

@68 Rocketpjs:

I really hope Graydon shows to weigh in here, as his take on wealth and societies is compelling in ways I am still working to grasp. I frequently think his Commonweal series very slyly uses 'magic power' as a stand-in for monetary power.

Sometimes it doesn't bother with the metaphor. The series occasionally refers to the fact that, in the Commonweal legal system, being rich is a capital crime. If you're that much better off than your neighbors, your existence reduces them to a state of serfdom. Doesn't matter whether you intended it; that's how wealth operates. Slavery is illegal so off with your head.

Yes, I think about that too. Much of our economy operates the way Jeff Bezos wants because he found a rule-breaking strategy and pumped it for twenty years. Musk isn't at that level but he can turn a popular commercial product into his personal playground at whim. Nobody else gets a meaningful vote. (Twitter's board and major shareholders get votes but it sure looks like money dictates the result.) That's some kind of autocracy.

@42 John Oyler:

if Bezos could put his hands on even $5 million in cash in less than a weeks time I'd be surprised.

We're seeing that play out in real time with Musk, right? He couldn't put his hands on the necessary money in a week's time -- but he did line up $21 billion in cash in less than a month. He could have gotten more if he'd been willing to damage Tesla more. Now he's in the process of syndicating that $21G bill off to other folks (Saudis!) before the actual sale.

It is fiscally possible to tax these people. The problem is measuring the wealth when they're not flashing it around, which is what Charlie was getting at in @25.

96:

I mean, right now Tesla is valued higher than VW, Toyota, and Ford combined: really?

FWIW, the NFT bubble popped a while ago - sales down 92% since September. All the people who got into it and didn't unload in time to suckers are SOL.

Tesla, unlike NFTs, actually produces something of demonstrable value. It's just that their market valuation may be bubbled as well.

97:

He doesn't appear to have a helicopter. The three executive jets are owned by a company called "Falcon Landing" and are also used to move SpaceX employees between the various sites in California, Texas and Florida.

Note that SpaceX had to get special permission for the Falcon-9 on display outside their Hawthorne headquarters due to being right alongside Hawthorne Municipal Airport.

98:

Get landed with the one I have, where a few tens of people get it every year in the USA, probably ten or fewer in the UK, and it's currently impractical to do more than "it's a bit like X - let's treat it like that."

For what it's worth, you have my sympathies. I was around people suffering from rare diseases for about half my life.

99:

I think it fairly likely "Tesla is highly overvalued" is what the twitter purchase is actually about. If Musk sold Tesla stock to buy index funds with the money, the market would take that as proof positive that the valuation is a bubble, and it would crash. But a purchase he can pretend is just him being political? Far less of a hit, which means more of the nominal value diversified.

The question about what to do about all the tax evasion.. Most of the tax havens are tiny places of no significance other than their tax schemes. If there is a political consensus to break the system of havens and trusts, they break. Heck, they break if there merely is a consensus to not actively defend them.

If the Cayman Islands holding the stolen wealth of the misgoverned lands of the world meant they would actually have to worry about the coast guard of "Color Revolution Republic of xxx" showing up and asking for their taxes back at gunpoint... well, they would give up that game right damn quick. Because they would not be able to repel them.

100:

it's possible that Musk is a real-life Bruce Wayne

A violent thug who went round brutalising innocent people and destroying public property to fulfill a weird vigilante fantasy?

I was actually thinking about him in the context of "even a billionaire can't meaningfully reduce crime in a single city" but then I thought... well, not that way. But a series of comic strips about working with city government to implement anti-poverty programmes wouldn't have quite the same BIFF! POW! SHAZAM! to it.

101:

RE OGH's comment "...although they can pretend it doesn't exist and buy their very own luxury apocalypse bunker in New Zealand."

See https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/property/128522034/peter-thiels-luxury-wnaka-lodge-idea-rejected-by-council-planner - not saying their own luxury apocalypse bunker hasn't happened, but...

102:

Tesla seems to have other than a bit of a name as the big mover in the field, is that special Tesla charging network.

Which according to one EV-using fan is a big problem. In Australia at least a lot of Tesla owners also want cheap electric cars, or an electric van, or something else that Tesla doesn't make. So they're buying a non-Tesla as well, sometimes more than one. Then they rock up to their usual public EV charger and they're in exactly the right position to observe that while their Tesla gets 20kW out of the "universal" charger, their BYD gets 6kW.

Apparently there are a lot of chats over the charger, and more than a few grumpy Tesla owners who think it's bullshit and are actively looking for something, anything, else.

The other thing that's happening is VTL and VTG being built in to basically everything. The new BYD van doesn't apparently advertise it as a feature, but it comes with a plug-and-powerstrip so you can run a couple of kilowatts of AC appliances off the vehicle battery. Or, you know, with a smart enough charger and some setting up, you can feed your house (with proper net feed setup) or the grid off the vehicle as well as charging (at least in countries other than Australia, because here you need to pay through the nose to be allowed to feed from batteries to the grid. Yes, we're fucked in the head)

103:

a stronger argument against this is that governments can in fact do the same thing: they can't do it with all their money the way a person can, but they can spend as much money as a very rich individual can spend on each of many individual high-risk high-benefit projects,

That's half of it. The other half is, per OGH, that billionaires ain't all that. While Musk could implement a UBI in the USA, he couldn't make it large enough for long enough to be useful. Likewise he can't implement public health-care, or even a congestion tax, and we all remember his foray into public transport. And I'm only talking about the money side, the force majeure side is yet another way that just having a bit of money doesn't really help.

When billionaires push those kinds of things they often fall flat because the billionaire and minions don't have the experience, or the reach, to deal with the actual problems that prevent whatever they want from working. Like Bill Gates "fixing" public education... by privatising it in a particularly brutal and short-sighted way. That not only didn't work, it can't work, at least not as public education. It can sort of work, for a while, as a disruptive influence that might help prod public education to improve... but as implemented it steals resources from public schools to enrich the few and if we're being charitable we have to assume that's exactly the opposite of what Gates wants.

104:

Fixing public education is very simple: Require everyone to attend a government school and choose within a ten-mile radius by lot.

105:

worldwide production of vehicles: VW, 2021, around 8.3M Ford " 3.9M Toyota 7.6M ... Tesla 930,422

As mentioned, one easy measure is worldwide liability to provide warranty now and parts+service later. Tesla: fuck all of nearly no cars ever made. Everyone else: millions of cars all over the world are still under warranty.

This is already a problem for Tesla, they are improving rapidly but as I understand it, it's often cheaper to give someone a whole new recently-made Tesla than to try taking apart their old one to fix whatever the hell is wrong with it this time.

106:

How exactly would Bill Gates do that? He can't pass laws directly, let alone amend the constitution.

107:

a progressive tax scheme that strongly encouraged charitable donations allows a somewhat higher effective rate before the reaction sets in.

What shocks me in Australia where our peak marginal rate is only about 40% is the people who whine about the high taxes but don't do anything at all to mitigate them. The employer-takes-tax-out people whose tax amount is carefully calculated so that if they claim the mandatory deductions ("work related expenses, claim up to $250 without receipts") they are very close to zero net at the end of the year... who every year have to pay a few hundred dollars to the tax office. Meanwhile I donate a few thousand dollars to charity and get ~1/3 of that back as a refund.

I was surprised when I first moved to Australia and discovered that I could "salary sacrifice" into compulsory superannuation* as much as I wanted. Salary being progressively taxed so my overall rate was over 30%, and super being taxed at 15% on the way in and 0-15% on the way out. So for a few years I got paid about $50k while my super balance went a bit mental. A taxable income of ~2/3 the median full time income pays fuck all tax and by some twist of bureaucratic stupidity qualifies for a bunch of low income support.

Admittedly if I'd bought a house that would probably be worth more than my super, but it would also have involved a lot of lying to get the mortgage and other pissing about. Superannuation is very fire and forget.

(* there's a mandatory percentage you have to put in, was 8% and rising to 12% over decades. You can put in extra, but now I think they've capped the total low-tax contribution at $25k/year. Not so much to stop povo scum like me, but to address the few dozen people with tens of millions in super)

108:

I would like to add into the mix one of the more toxic products of billionairedom, perhaps the most toxic product, that is their children. The poster child for this is Donald Trump. The Kock brothers are also descendants of a family fortune.

The children of those making a fortune are often neglected by their parents as the parents are too busy making money/social climbing. Instead of love and attention, they have money thrown at them. Often staff are humiliated in front of the children teaching the children that you don't have to respect the little people. Parents also use their influence/money to get their children off the hook or to buy advantage for them teaching them that they are above the rules. Also, very little is denied them so they have an absolute sense of entitlement. It's a rare parent in this category that has the moral integrity, discipline and fortitude to teach their children humility and gratitude for their position in life.

The result is a little sociopath whose main concern in life is wealth and status. Now, we have lots of sociopaths concerned only with wealth and status, but they can't weld the influence that the children of the wealthy can.

109:

I have a relative who was the head of a private school for the progeny of the very wealthy. He had endless troubles with parents who thought they could solve everything their little shits did by throwing money at it.

Because they were staff, their kids also attended, and despite the truly top notch education, the primary thing my cousins picked up was that it is essential to be a big shot. One still lives with the folks in her mid 30s, the other is barely further away.

110:

parents who thought they could solve everything their little shits did by throwing money at it.

That is to a large extent socially determined, though. A country doesn't have to go the full Norway on this and fine people a week's income, just build a society where buying your way in or out of trouble isn't acceptable.

I grew up around a couple of people who were unreasonably wealthy and while the kids knew it, they also knew that the personal price they would pay for needing to be bought out of trouble was not worth it. Not worth it in all caps with exclamation marks.

One woman dented her parents car when out doing the usual high schooler stuff. Yes, she was being somewhat silly. And no, it was not a particularly expensive car. But she faced at least the same consequences as the rest of us did. With bonus "explain to granddad what you did". Sure, via the private jet taking her to Auckland but TBH I'll take not having to do that any day. I've met her granddad...

Sadly it was the "slightly richer" kids that were the problem. My mother has accepted that I call one kid I grew up with "Richard the rapist" because she has learned enough about him to agree that at best it's likely he's a rapist. She's thinking of different events than the one that led me to describe him that way. His parents are "own a couple of supermarkets" rich, rather than "have a private jet" rich. And he's grown up knowing that he's better than other people (his parents are also sexist as fuck, which is one reason why his older sister is a former lawyer, former anorexic, now stay-at-parents-home mother). Would Richard-the-rapist be as bad with the wealth but without the sexism? Probably, but in a different way. Parents definitely have the entitlement going on, put it that way.

111:

This is my thinking exactly. (One of the things I've worked out carefully for the books I'm writing is how my nobility makes sure this kind of stuff doesn't happen to their kids.)

112:

How we apply that social pressure to billionaires is a difficult question, and that's where the "mammonite society" is more of a problem than the apparent question. Billionaires are a symptom, in other words. I look at the East India Company and think... was it better because it wasn't owned by a single individual? Would it necessarily have been worse if it was?

Looking at some of the longer lasting civilisations around the world, for what little I know of history, I get the impression that individualism, wealth and mammonism are inversely correlated with durability.

You don't have to be naked savages roaming an empty land... but it helps :) This ties back to previous discussions about producing and storing surplus food (etc), where in a selfish society that immediately requires security, generally force, and soon you've transitioned through libertarianism or feudalism into fascism or monarchy. Or you can go the other way, and say "we're a guest in our land, and when you visit so are you" and emphasise hospitality and kindness. Put your political efforts into finding ways to solve disputes before they escalate past "I don't like you, so there". I'm no expert but as I understand it one of those approaches has produced multi-millennia cultures and one hasn't.

113:

Just as a complete goof, here's the kind of semi-violent thing that could be (humorously and unrealistically) used to rein in some billionaires.

Upon his ascension to the throne the newly crowned King Charles 3 (Horta) decides to rebuild the financial situation in the UK. Since the armed forces declare their loyalty to him, he uses the apparent influence of foreign and disloyal wealth upon British politics to declare military occupations of various UK territories, to wit the City of London, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands, Channel Islands, and Bermuda. The raiders are there to confiscate property of financial managers in these islands and to take local parliaments into temporary custody while the finances that run through the island are thoroughly investigated.

Any financial instrument found that isn't run by and for people who are actual citizens residing in the territories is acquired by the British Crown (e.g. C3H's property, not the state), and appropriate taxes are paid on all these acquisitions. If anyone complains, that's fine, but they have to prove direct ownership of the property in question, they have to take ownership of it in the UK, and they have to pay taxes on it to get it out of the UK as part of any settlement deal. Once all the cases are over, the Crown divests the assets with extreme prejudice and turns the proceeds over to the UK for charity use.

Meanwhile, C3H rolls out model constitutions for the territories that no longer allow elaborate financial tools to be legal. To sweeten the deal, C3H donates substantial royal lands to be settled by any islanders wishing to immigrate, on the modern equivalent of 40 acres and a mule, but under 99 year lease, not ownership.

When the dust settles, control of assets in these offshore financial centers has been stripped, as has political control of these centers by billionaires. Illegal takings are slowly working through the courts, in ways that turn chains of control into chains of taxable ownership, and islanders who are threatened by climate change have a land stake in the UK, but one they can only live on, not one they can use as a financial tool.

Obviously this is silly and simplistic, but no one need die. The soldiers are there to keep order and prevent mercenaries or other paid coercives from stopping the redistribution of assets.

On a more serious note, any attempt to billionaires of their assets needs substantial resources behind it. Like those of the Windsors, for instance.

114:

any attempt to strip billionaires of their assets needs substantial resources behind it. Like those of the Windsors

Ah yes... "I offer myself as sacrifice". Can't see Charlie doing it, even if the alternative is being used as decoration on someone's pike.

More likely a US president would declare Murdoch an agent of foreign influence and "sanction" him the way the US has sanctioned Russia, Iran and Venezuela. "we haven't stolen your money, we've frozen it. And we're spending it".

115:

I think it's interesting that when El*n did his two big, and at least arguably good, things; that is investing in AC Propulsion and founding SpaceX, he wasn't a billionaire. Perhaps that supports OGH's point.

116:

Sadly it was the "slightly richer" kids that were the problem.

Too true...

The Army is ironically a good class mixer [1]; it meant that I have a friend who is rich, as in "inherited several thousand acres in the rural south of England". He's a nice bloke, works hard, spent the years before his inheritance as a regular officer (Commando course[2], a war or two). He's got nothing to prove to anyone; and AFAICT reacts to people according to personality, not wealth. Drives a battered old Volvo around the estate [3], there's a couple of VW Polos outside the big house. These days, works his arse off trying to make sure the estate remains viable for the next generation (the family has been there for a couple of hundred years, IIRC).

Meanwhile, like yourself I've met plenty of snobs who were nowhere near as wealthy; for them, status was "slightly richer than you" as expressed by a flashy car / flashy clothes - both military and civilian.

[1] Even in the reputedly-snobbish regiments of the Household Division, the measure of whether you're a "good officer" is whether you take effective care of your soldiers; at lower levels, it can be quite a socialist environment, as in "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" (pay packet excepted)... for an insight, read George Macdonald Fraser's "The General Danced at Dawn".

[2] AIUI, the regiments who supply most Special Forces officers are the Parachute Regiment (very egalitarian) and the Brigade of Guards (not as class-bound as you'd think).

[3] The commissioning course at Sandhurst is merit based. You don't get a commission because Daddy commands a Regiment; if you aren't good enough, you don't pass. Yes, that applies to royalty too ;) The advantage comes from understanding how the system works - not different from the rate at which lawyers' kids become lawyers, or doctors' kids become doctors...

117:

"I think Tesla has significantly advanced progress towards electric vehicles, and SpaceX has significantly advanced rocketry. I regard both of these as good things. And Tesla and SpaceX would not be where they are without Elon Musk."

Disagree. (Not with the final sentence, of course, but with the rest of it.)

Heteromeles (I think) a few threads back excoriated SpaceX for encouraging and facilitating the blowing of massive wads of energy to no good purpose, which is the sort of thing this present world can well do without, and recommended ceasing to engage in any form of space travel apart from maybe a few weather satellites. I take much the same view - although I would also except unmanned scientific research launches such as interplanetary probes, which after all are pretty rare things - and certainly agree that commercial space launches should cease to happen entirely. Advances in rocketry may be a good thing as an isolated abstraction, but things which are good as isolated abstractions do not necessarily remain good as part of a real-world context.

Nor do I agree that electric Lamborghinis are a wonderful thing as far as electric vehicles in general are concerned. What is needed there is a repetition of what happened at the opposite end of the scale with petrol vehicles: we need the electric Model T Ford, something that's cheap enough for "everyone" to have one and still good enough for "everyone" to want one.

Moreover, it also needs to be durable enough that once you do have one you don't need to buy another one. Simple enough for "everyone" to maintain it and absolutely without the built-in-obsolescence shite that Charlie mentioned above. The environmental impact of cars isn't just a matter of them burning fossil fuels; a matter of comparable significance is the continual unnecessary remanufacturing of endless new ones because people regard a 20-year-old car as horrifically ancient instead of regarding a 50-year-old one as just nicely run in. This means that you have to accept that you can only sell a lot of them until everyone's got one and after that you only sell a few of them and some spare parts. Which is the kind of thing people with more money than a small country could do... but they don't.

118:

... because heirs typically are less smart than their parents.

Whether this is true or not, I don't know. But I'll bet kids that grow up with a silver (or gold) spoon in their mouth have a lot less motivation than their parents.

119:

Yes, and indeed Charlie "demonstrated" that a while back by posting an entry where he hypothetically "gave" us a typical billionaire's wad with the restriction that we couldn't spend it on ourselves, and invited suggestions on what we could usefully do with it instead. Different people came up with very different ideas depending on how much they think like a breadhead, but the one thing that stood out as a common factor was that the scope of what you can manage is well short of the usual brilliant ideas people have, and you have to settle for something more kind of local or niche.

120:

(I totally fail to understand, how a single billionaire taking Twitter private, is not illegal under anti-trust laws.)

There are anti-trust laws on the books. But the Federal Trade Commission is notorious for its reluctance to enforce them. Probably another example of regulatory-capture by giant industries... :-/

121:

Yes it's significantly slower at top speed, but it can also go center-to-center rather than stopping at an out-of-town runway.

Gotta watch out for pilots like the one Kobe Bryant had, though.

122:

The pilot of a plane with lifting surfaces has a lot of time to pick his crash-site, whereas rotor craft just fall down where they fail.

Not true. If the helicopter has enough speed and height, it can easily transition into autorotation and make a dead-stick landing. In fact, it's better at a power-off landing than conventional aircraft, as it will touch down at a lower speed. YouTube has videos of this.

Of course, if the helicopter is low and slow (most likely during takeoffs and landings), it probably gets stuck in a ‘dead man’s curve’ and crashes. But note that conventional aircraft have this problem too.

123:

In what possible way is it [Tesla] worth more? In the shell game of stocks, not in the realm of actual profits.

In the same way Amazon is worth more than its competitors, despite not making profits for many, many years while Bezos focused on undercutting his competition. It's all about future expectations.

Traditional auto makers face a tough transition to electric vehicles, and the stock market has doubtless factored this into their pricing.

124:

we need the electric Model T Ford

Tata make those but they're not road legal outside India. I believe there are Chinese equivalents.

There's even a youtube thing where some US toober buys one "it's so cheap, unbelievably cheap" and discovers that it's basically a golf cart dressed up as a van, complete with IIRC 24V lead batteries.

The electric kei vans have been around way longer and are even road legal in Australia. A mate has one and it's brilliant. Battery is down to ~70% of rated capacity so the range is only 50km or so, top speed ~60kph. But for pootling round the industrial side of town to carry heavy things it's brilliant. Just very slightly not set up to carry a full sheet of timber (2.4x1.2m ... will go on roof, but now you have a 200kg vehicle with 100kg of load on the roof)

BYD are now selling their vans in Australia, and they're way more a proper motor vehicle, and priced like it. Which is about the same as the fossil fuelled version so you end up doing maths (ew!) to work out whether it's cheaper overall than the species suicide special. Same mate with the kei van also has one of these, apparently he ordered it more than a year ago and got it this month. But for him it's magic, with the slow charger it runs off the solar on his roof at home or work, takes a few days to fully charge then does his weekly long trip quite happily.

Best thing: the BYD has 240V AC output so he can use it to recharge the kei van if he has to. So now he's more willing to push the range envelope with the kei. Vague numbers are 45kWh in the BYD, 8kWh in the kei (x70% - 5.6kWh, presumably)

125:

"Oh, most billionaires don't take much of a salary. Too many tax issues. They funnel their stocks and other assets into trusts, retirement accounts, and companies then borrow against those assets and live off those borrowed funds."

Yes, there's another thing that needs to be knocked on the head. They are still getting the income, so they can bloody well still be taxed on it, whether they call it "salary" or "borrowed funds" or anything else.

This is one of the reasons I think income tax is done wrong. It should be rearranged in such a way that for any given employer/employee pair, the amount the employer pays out remains the same, the amount the employee gets to keep remains the same, the amount of tax the government gets remains the same, and the actual giving of money to the government continues to be done by the employer handing over one lump to the government and another lump to the employee; but the bit about pretending the whole lot has been handed to the employee and the tax lump then grabbed back off them stops happening.

(Note that stuff like the practical complexities of changing to such a system, or whether the tax rates themselves also need adjusting regardless of system, are not the point.)

The main reason I favour this is because it stops giving everyone a reason to be personally pissed off at the government every single time they get a wage slip, and stops people viewing income tax policy as the most personally important thing in a party's manifesto. The reason I favour it in this kind of case is that it destroys the basis of the scam you describe. The option to be paid in some way that doesn't get taxed because it isn't called "salary" ceases to exist, because it's no longer down to the person being paid to decide whether or not to pay the tax, instead it's down to the person paying them and they have no reason to be allowed to affect it. It also means they can't just fuck off to some other country (or pretend to) and dodge it that way.

126:

You're right about the motivation more or less, but there are a couple of other things.

One is that humans don't breed true any more than apples do, so it's unusual for the child of a genius to be a genius. One examples is that, AFAIK, only one astronaut who ever flew was the son of an astronaut (actually cosmonaut--they're Russian). This is out of over 550 people who've been at least 50 miles into the sky. You can similarly look for second generation star athletes.

This is a normal, known problem with keeping wealth in wealthy families, where ideally you want an heir who's as fascinated with finance as the founder was, and it's rare to get it. This leads to things like the Cayman Island STAR Trusts, aka dynastic trusts, where the founder of the trust tries to anticipate what their descendants will do and be, and create trust rules for them accordingly (e.g., no more money until the trust beneficiary has a son and heir. If he's gay, why should the trust founder care? The money should be incentive enough for him to perform well enough). A STAR trust basically seems to be a way to rephrase the old rules of aristocracy into the wield of wealth management.

Another problem is that keeping wealth is a different problem from gaining wealth, so a kid who's born wealthy not only doesn't know poverty, they're not well understood by their rags to riches parents. This and the previous problem often combine to lead to a family that's rich for two or three generations and loses it all through mismanagement or neglect.

The third problem is that most people really do prefer to spend money and not practice the austere disciplines of Mammonism. Simply put, it's quite normal for humans to give away a fortune to promote social ties. Being miserly is much less normal, but it's a required mindset for staying rich. For example, one should be charitable and give them appearance of being a philanthropist. However, giving all one can afford to give is simply not done, because it makes the others of your social class look bad and leads to dissipation of fortunes in competition. I'm actually not joking, this is a social norm, and giving more than a few percent of one's fortune is frowned upon.

127:

John Oyler @ #42 writes: "Whether or not I agree with the wealth taxes discussed in this thread or not, I don't think there's a practical way to attempt them and that there hasn't been for a long while."

Piketty and Saez did some research on this question, and as a result recommend a one percent annual wealth tax for the largest fortunes. Suppose Bezos is worth a hundred billion, could he arrange to liquidate a percent of that over a year's time to prepare for his upcoming wealth tax settlement? No question he could do it easily, his fund managers probably trade him in and out of Amazon stock more than that on a monthly basis. Not even an interesting question for examples like him or Gates, Buffett, Musk, Page, Brin, Ellison, Zuckerberg, Starbuck Schultz or Google Schultz, the Waltons, Bloomberg, or any of the other thousands of tycoons enriched by publicly traded stock. Where it gets more interesting would be privately held fortunes like the Mars candy heirs, but if the choice was put to them as pay this amount or a commensurate proportion of your company ownership reverts to government control, they'd find a way to do it, just like borrowing cash for a car, plane or house. No problem, same as taking on debt to fight off a hostile takeover, where there's a will there's a way. And they'd still just keep on getting richer. The real ball-and-chain on social development types, the anchors dragging behind the march of progress, they might see their inherited trust funds slowly dwindle away, but they'll be a hundred years old by the time it really gets small so why worry.

128:

I can't see any good reason to let any individual claim ownership over more than a billion dollars of assets—even $100M is pushing it.

So first off there's ownership, and then there's control. You don't need ownership of something to control it, a strategy commonly used by the wealthy to avoid taxes/etc. E.g. https://www.libertymundo.com/index.php/2021/09/18/use-the-wealth-preservation-strategies-of-the-wealthy-own-nothing-and-control-everything-in-2021/.

But let's assume you also meant control. Now the problem becomes how do you prevent people engineering around using a double Irish belgian waffle tax lasagna or whatever the strategy du jour is called?

We can't just outlaw large companies, and how do you prevent a large (billion dollar+) corporation having a single person ultimately in control of it? You can't not have billion dollar+ corporations, some problems require so much capital and long term investment there's no real solution(*).

And perhaps that is where we should be looking more, how do we build corporate structures to handle these large projects (e.g. TSMC, Intel, etc.) that requires tens of billions of dollars and long term thinking using smaller organizations. But this still runs into the problem of rich people engineering around laws/etc.

Also it's wild to me that people will kill each other over a few hundred dollars, but we think that billionaires with health problems are all going to play by the rules and source a replacement organ ethically. I'm kind of shocked He didn't just pay some poor person a million bucks for a needed body part, a lot of people would happily take that deal to set their families, heck their entire communities up for life.

129:

The most powerful military in the history of the world was unable to successfully effect meaningful change in one of the least developed 'countries' in the world (Afghanistan).

Yup. Now if the Shrub had decided to spend $3 trillion on gifts to all Afghans (not just the leaders) instead of funding the U.S. military-industrial complex, the results might have been quite different.

130:

Wrong, that's a regressive tax. Ideally you want income tax to be progressive, banded so that above a certain threshold you pay a greater percentage of your income in tax.

I think what whitroth was referring to was that some kinds of income in the U.S. (such as long-term capital gains) are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income. Another tax break for our wealthy Americans... :-/

131:

Look at the Intel Air Shuttle, which does not fly from PDX like us plebes, but instead from HIO...

Do you perhaps mean Nike? Their giant Air Hanger 1 in the Hillsboro, Oregon, airport (KHIO) has an entire wall of glass on the Brookwood Parkway side, and as I bike past it - only a hundred feet away - I usually see two medium-sized corporate jets (estimated at about a 40-passenger capacity) inside. Lots of money there...

132:

... he decided that his most economic work platform was an Ipad with 128 gigabytes of memory...

And a GPU that cost the down payment for a house, most likely...

133:

Parents also use their influence/money to get their children off the hook or to buy advantage for them teaching them that they are above the rules.

Thus the rumors that Fred Trump bought Donald his degree from Wharton School... :-)

134:

One is that humans don't breed true any more than apples do, so it's unusual for the child of a genius to be a genius.

True, but is there a strong correlation between intelligence and success in business? I'd think motivation and drive-to-succeed would be a stronger factor than just being smart.

135:

Only if you allow it to cost less to avoid than to pay.

As a thought experiment, if you had a law that wealth was taxed at 1% annually without exception. Anyone who finds hidden untaxed wealth gets to keep 99% and pays the 1%. There is now no purely financial circumstance where it is cheaper to pay someone clever to hide your wealth than to pay.

Allowing very clever people to find loopholes is a choice.

136:

AFAIK, only one astronaut who ever flew was the son of an astronaut

At least three pairs, Alexander and Sergei Volkov, Owen and Richard Garriott and Yuri and Roman Romanenko. The Soviet/Russian cosmonaut corps also has Aleksandr Skvortsov senior and junior, senior trained but was never allocated to a flight, junior has flown twice.

137:

Yup. Now if the Shrub had decided to spend $3 trillion on gifts to all Afghans (not just the leaders) instead of funding the U.S. military-industrial complex, the results might have been quite different.

Nope. Money was not the issue. Culture was/is. Money just lubricated the desired of those who got it. It didn't (and mostly never will) change the culture in anything short of generations. If that.

138:

My own theory is that Steve Jobs got his new liver by inserting an organ harvesting clause in to the Apple End User License Agreement. Some poor person with a tissue match didn't read it all, because no one does, before clicking "Accept". A big price to pay for being able to sync the music on their IPod. :)

139:

I'm pretty sure that was the premise of a South Park episode.

140:

Sure. But the aerodynamics of helicopter flight don't vary according to which jurisdiction you're in :-)

141:

But I'll bet kids that grow up with a silver (or gold) spoon in their mouth have a lot less motivation than their parents.

I rather suspect that it depends on the parents (whether they own a silver spoon, or just stainless steel). I do wonder whether the rate of "trust fund idlers" is similar to the rate of "dole idlers" (i.e. a convenient meme for tabloids to screech about / TV shows to obsess over, blown out of proportion to their actual existence)

That friend of mine, who I used @115 as an example? Silver spoon - you don't pass the Commando course without motivation, you don't command a parachute-trained sub-unit without motivation, you don't attempt special forces selection (twice) without serious motivation. Granted, his dad was SAS in the 1960s/70s... Borneo Campaign and Op CLARET, apparently.

(Note that Prince Charles passed all the P Company physical tests - although AIUI he didn't do the milling...)

142:

There was a Monty Python sketch about that, someone signed an organ donor card and then one day there was a knock on their door...

143:

121 - Depends on the helicopter. A Bell Long Ranger can make an auto-rotate landing and still have enough energy in the rotor head to follow that with a dead stick take-off. OTOH, a Robinson R22 needs to be in auto-rotate at the "B" in "Bang" or it will crash.

123 - So does Citroen (the new Ami), at least as long as you can deal with a 2 seater that has a range of about 50km, and a top speed of 50 km/h. Which is where it fails to meet my use case:-
1 It could have got to Stobhill AGH, but to be sure of getting back here in it I'd have needed to charge the battery whilst there, and there are no chargers there.
2 I needed to do about 8 miles on roads with 110 and 80 km/h speed limits, and I get uncomfortable diving that much slower than everyone else.

144:

No Milling? Can't allow the heir to take that chance?

145:

Heteromeles (I think) a few threads back excoriated SpaceX for encouraging and facilitating the blowing of massive wads of energy to no good purpose,

That was me, acksherly.

I've been a space fan from before Apollo, still am, but human use of energy is why we've got climate change and fixing that is a better purpose to expend energy and wealth than Starlink and Tesla in Spaaaace! and another deep space probe to a comet and so on. If the human race ever goes on to a real war footing to stop burning fossil fuels and start actively decarbonising the atmosphere then fripperies such as space exploration get shunted way down the priority list -- if we (the human "we") can afford to launch a rocket we can better spend that effort, energy and wealth in building some form of non-fossil-fuelled energy source, whether it's renewables, hydro or nuclear.

146:

an Ipad with 128 gigabytes of memory

There is no such thing.

If you want an M1 iPad Pro you can get one with 8Gb of RAM (storage capacity up to 512Gb of SSD), or 16Gb of RAM (the 1Tb and 2Tb storage models).

16Gb of memory is the absolute maximum you can buy in an iPad for the foreseeable future (even with an M1Max setup in a Mac, you won't get more than 64Gb of RAM ... until whatever Apple are planning to replace the Intel Mac Pro comes to light).

They might have bought a low-spec M1 iPad Pro with only 128Gb of storage in the past year; if so, it only has 8Gb of RAM and I'd call that buying decision "unwise" if they're doing serious work.

The 13" iPad Pro is a very potent artist's drafting board, though -- think of it as a really high spec pressure-sensitive digitizer pad. (They've really eaten Wacom's lunch in the creative arts sector.)

147:

The 13" iPad Pro is a very potent artist's drafting board, though -- think of it as a really high spec pressure-sensitive digitizer pad. (They've really eaten Wacom's lunch in the creative arts sector.)

Ummm, no. The Wacom digitising system is waaaaay better than the compromised Apple touch system -- the Apple can't detect rotation of the digitising pen and only just manages angle sensitivity since it only has one position sensor (the higher-end Wacom pens have two transponders). There's also that 13" display limitation from Apple whereas the pros can get a 24" or 32" 4k tablet from Wacom. Apple laptops and desktops are not touch-enabled and have no integral digitiser but the Wacoms will work with them as an add-on device. The MS Studio devices are touch-enabled and digitiser-capable out-of-the-box.

148:

There are anti-trust laws on the books. But the Federal Trade Commission is notorious for its reluctance to enforce them. Probably another example of regulatory-capture by giant industries... :-/

Yeah, well, those same anti-trust laws were more frequently used to bust unions, and are still being used that way.

For more than a decade after its passage, the Sherman Act was invoked only rarely against industrial monopolies, and then not successfully, chiefly because of narrow judicial interpretations of what constitutes trade or commerce among states. Its only effective use was against trade unions, which were held by the courts to be illegal combinations.

https://www.britannica.com/event/Sherman-Antitrust-Act

Is that regulatory capture, judicial activism, or carefully written laws to accomplish one thing despite rhetoric to accomplish another? I'll let someone more familiar with American history like Foxessa weigh in on that.

It is apparently still happening, though. There is now a carve-out for employees, but if you are a gig worker you are apparently still subject to them.

Workers classified as “employees” under federal law enjoy an antitrust exemption and can therefore bargain collectively through unions. But workers classified – or misclassified – as “independent contractors” cannot claim the same legal protection. Twenty million Americans, and growing, fall into that category.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/jun/29/america-insidious-union-buster-government

149:

Also it's wild to me that people will kill each other over a few hundred dollars, but we think that billionaires with health problems are all going to play by the rules and source a replacement organ ethically.

I don't think you fully understand the diminishing marginal utility of money.

The folks killing one another for a few hundred dollars are generally poor. To them, a few hundred dollars represents a roof over their head for a month, or being able to eat and feed their dependents for a week, or to pay off the loan shark whose heavies will otherwise break their legs.

The billionaires can simply register for a transplant in several states and pay the pilots of their private jet overtime to be on standby 24x7 ... because keeping the jet on standby represents a smaller proportion of their wealth as a hundred dollars does to a mugger.

150:

If the human race ever goes on to a real war footing to stop burning fossil fuels and start actively decarbonising the atmosphere then fripperies such as space exploration get shunted way down the priority list

Reminder that a Falcon 9 launch burns as much kerosene as a single 747-400 shuttling between the UK and Australia five times (that is, five returns at 100 tonnes of fuel in each direction). That's about a week of flying time. Yes, a Falcon 9 burns roughly a thousand tonnes of fuel. And they're launching one a week this year so far. But that's the same fuel consumption as a single 747 or A380 class wide-body (of the thousands in service). And that accounts for roughly half the planetary launch capacity.

Oh, and air travel is a low single-digit percentage of our fuel burn for transportation, compared to shipping, trains, automobiles ...

Now, Musk's more megalomaniacal proposals for Starship aka Mars Colony Transporter envisaged two million flights over a 20 year period. That's a roughly 10 gigaton fuel/oxidizer burn (roughly 1:2 by molar weight as it runs on CH4/O2) so 150 million tonnes of methane per year. Turns out that we release about 360 million tonnes of methane a year as wastage (one may assume a methalox-cycle rocket tries to release as little unburned fuel into the atmosphere as possible).

TLDR is the space program is a minute issue, and even if we push it to "let's colonize Mars in a generation!!!" levels of batshittery it's not going to be a major driver of, well, anything.

Whereas the benefits of earth resources satellites, weather satellites, low-latency comsat clusters, and a modicum of science missions (NASA only fly about a dozen a year) are out of all proportion to the cost in planetary terms.

151:

I'm having trouble with this.

Billionaires are obviously evil. (at least on average) The Koch brothers alone pull the average far into the evil side.

So getting rid of billionaires should eliminate all the evil...

Yet I see corporations, with thousands of shareholders being every bit, or more evil. I won't name the most evil corporations, but baby formula companies, tobacco companies, oil companies. They're owned essentially by what our American cousins call Mom and Pop. Is a company worth 300 billion dollars more evil when owned by 1,000,000 investors that average $300,000 each, or controlled by one investor that has 151 billion?

AGL didn't have any investors with more than 10% holdings, yet it's fighting tooth and nail to keep burning coal. One billionaire guy turned up and wanted to take it over to stop it burning coal, and they broke the law in order to stop the takeover (to which the government regulator turned a blind eye).

So we wave a magic wand and no one can control more than say a million dollars in assets. What does this get us as a society? A diffusion of responsibility for evil deeds? A requirement for me to sell my house to a corporation and then rent it back from them. Is the world a better place if I no longer want to maintain my house? Is the world better for having corporations in charge of every moral choice?

Maybe it is, but I'm not seeing how it would be given the abysmal record of corporate behaviour.

Eat the rich by all means, but are they nutritious?

152:

That is misleading, to the point of being more false than true. As with apples and most plant and animal characteristics, there is a significant genetic component; no, I won't get into an argument over how much. More significantly, there are significant inter-uterine and early development components, and that leads to Lamarckian inheritance. The result is that there IS a significant inherited component to intelligence and even genius; there are enough examples from history to show that.

'Making' money is a separate matter, however, and there is a hell of a lot of luck involved.

153:

Billionaires are obviously evil. (at least on average) ... So getting rid of billionaires should eliminate all the evil.

Sadly, billionaires do not have a monopoly on evil.

To eliminate evil you'd have to exterminate humanity, and quite probably a bunch of other species -- say, anything with a central nervous system.

I'm reasonably sure plants aren't evil, although arguably Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato is pretty evil (but if deprived of a host with a central nervous system it's probably both harmless and, shortly, extinct).

154:

It's possible I misunderstood what he told me, but it wasn't the usual Mac you'd expect for such work.

155:

Thus supporting your point about Jobs and disruption

156:

You're a fair bit out on the Falcon 9 fuel usage. There is around 500 tonnes of propellant on board at lift-off, but rather more than two thirds of it is liquid oxygen. There's ~125t of kerosene on the first stage and ~33t on the second. The non stop flight between Heathrow and Sydney by a Qantas 747 in 1989 used 183.5t of fuel on its journey.

157:

But before you point at Musk and Tesla or SpaceX, I need to remind you that he didn't found Tesla, he merely bought into it then took over

While true, this is a bit misleading. Everything of any significance that Tesla has ever done, has been done with Musk in charge.

He bought in, and became chairman of the board, in 2004 when Tesla had existed for less than a year. At that point Eberhard and Tarpenning had nothing but a few ideas (and memories of a test drive in a tzero). Musk's first "master plan" was mid-2006, when he was personally working on the Roadster engineering. He's been CEO since 2008, round about the time the first Roadster (built on a Lotus Elise glider) rolled out of the factory.

He's annoying as hell, and obviously a pretty nasty person, and the fanbois are the worst since Jobs. But he's not the silver-spoon incompetent wannabe that some people like to pretend.

158:

An iMac (Intel 27" model, discontinued a couple of months ago in favour of the M1Pro/M1Max Mac Studio) could well have 128Gb of RAM -- the one I'm typing this on does. (If you're willing to cough up £2500 for a Mac, adding another £600 for the RAM -- third party: Apple wanted about £2000 for it -- makes sense, especially if you're amortizing it as a business expense over about five years.)

A Mac Pro could also have 128Gb, easily. (It maxes out at 1.5Tb of RAM. No idea what the M-series version coming in the next few months will be, but most likely it'll have 64Gb of on-die RAM per CPU and multiple CPU options.)

iPads, though ... they're cheap portables with a sufficient battery life for a day of work on the road. They're particularly good for showing other people your graphic design concepts and making quick sketches. But as a primary working tool they're not terribly high-spec.

159:

"War footing" -- the world's airlines are gutted with unnecessary flights for tourism and business and Thanksgiving and Chinese New Year etc. being forbidden by law. If someone has to fly for some reason, like being a top-ranked surgeon needed to carry out a brain transplant, fine but otherwise do your business via Zoom or email and go sight-seeing on Youtube. Boeing and Airbus take a bath commercially speaking with their engineering efforts and production facilities for people-mover planes going into wind turbine construction and control systems for nuclear reactors. There may be some air freight services, but only essential stuff that's time-critical and no, that doesn't mean fresh strawberries from Israel destined for New York restaurant tables. The rest can travel by electric-traction trains, EV trucks and wind-powered ships and accept that they'll get to their destination eventually. New Silk Route FTW.

Fossil fuel sales are rationed too, no "let's sunbird to Florida this summer in an eight miles per gallon RV!" with every drop of oil and gas extracted and burned requiring a dozen pages of sign-offs and approvals by the Climate Stasi. Biofuels or synthetics are used for aircraft and some other transport operations such as agriculture and launching weather and earth observation satellites. The various national militaries either return to medieval ox-cart standards of movement and logistics or they simply disband, I don't care which, but no more zoom-boom fighters, no more C-5 Galaxy flights, no more non-nuclear warships. Maybe they'll recommission HMS Victory...

When we get to 15TW of DELIVERABLE non-fossil electricity generation worldwide then maybe we can ease up, until then there's a war on.

160:

So getting rid of billionaires should eliminate all the evil...

Why?

It's not like billionaires have a monopoly on evil.

Socrates is an Athenian, so if we kill Socrates we've killed all Athenians. Someone with better training in rhetoric than me can name that logical fallacy — I just know it is one.

161:

TLDR is the space program is a minute issue, and even if we push it to "let's colonize Mars in a generation!!!" levels of batshittery it's not going to be a major driver of, well, anything.

Yes. To me going after space launches is akin to the F1 talking about carbon neutral race cars.

The cars don't matter. What matters is the hundreds of people flying around the world to take part in, manage, watch, go to parties, etc... Plus what has to be a huge number of cargo plane capacity to transport those mobile garages and tech centers PLUS THE CARS around the world every week or so.

Carbon neutral cars is a joke in racing.

162:

Right, well, that makes my point even better: the commercial space launch business that lofts more than half the world's surface-to-orbit freight today consumes in a year about as much fuel as a single 747 servicing the London/Sydney route for a month.

(Even if we count the LOX as weight-equivalent to the RP-1 -- it doesn't liquefy itself, you know -- it's not much worse.)

163:

If someone has to fly for some reason, like being a top-ranked surgeon needed to carry out a brain transplant, fine

If you shut down air travel to the extent you say, there will not be enough infrastructure to support the surgeon's flights.

164:

A few years back there was a company that was making sort-of Hackintosh machines for graphical designers, integrating a Wacom digitiser with Apple laptop hardware for designers who wanted Wacom capability on Apple kit without it being an assembly of parts cabled together on a desktop. It was not cheap (ca. 9,000 bucks fully specced) but it worked and since it was based on genuine Apple hardware it wasn't really a Hackintosh. That may have been what Troutwaxer's acquaintance was using with the laptop-donor's RAM maxed out to 128GB.

Around the same time I caught a thread in a Hackintosh blog about a music composer who had been using a maxed-out Mac Pro (pre-dustbin model, I think) and he had switched to a Hackintosh based on a quad-Xeon CPU rack server with 512GB of RAM to improve his productivity. His comment was that it had paid for itself with the first two contracts he completed with it in terms of time saved (he kept about 300GB of sound samples in RAM at any given time).

165:

To eliminate evil you'd have to exterminate humanity, and quite probably a bunch of other species -- say, anything with a central nervous system.

I'm reasonably sure plants aren't evil

Now we need to define evil. As they say, the devil is in the details. GDRFC

166:

Mibbae aye, mibbae nae. I have flown by Air Ambulance exactly once. The itinerary was:-
1 Paramedic ambulance from hospital to airport, and out onto apron to meet aeroplane (no trip to or through the "security" theatre). (No terrorists, drugs mules or hijackers on the flight either)
2 Flight from local airport to GLA. Short approach that cut us inside the usual air lanes
3 Short landing leaving 05 on a taxiway that took us direct to Gama Aviation
4 Ambulance pickup at Gama taking me direct to QE with no need to pass through baggage reclaim.

Now, why shouldn't our consultant brain surgeon receive service like that?

167:

I tend to define evil as somewhere in the area of malignant narcissism, which I think is largely, but not uniquely, human. Since I think phylogenetic bracketing is a useful exercise, I tend to think that human-like mental traits show up in other, closely-related vertebrate species as well. Cephalopods also demonstrate that human-like problem solving shows up as a result of convergent evolution as well, and that might apply to the problem of evil as defined above.

As for natural evil, I think most theologians have a bad case of CRIS, because they're mistaking problems with scale for evil. Earthquakes and volcanoes are absolutely essential for maintaining all eukaryotic life on Earth, because plate tectonics is what recycles elements that would otherwise get trapped in ocean sediments and become unavailable on the rest of the planet. The oxygen atmosphere that multicellular eukaryotes requires inevitably means we will have wildfires. Having an atmosphere thick enough to block lethal radiation from space inevitably means we're going to regularly have huge storms. Having a big enough planet to do plate tectonics inevitably means we're going to have gravity causing things to fall destructively.

These are enormous forces at play. A hurricane packs the energy of a medium-scale nuclear war. So do large earthquakes and tsunamis. So do large wildfires. Of course people will die if they get caught in the path of these things. They're powerful enough to kill thousands of people.

But without these titanic forces, there is no human life. An earthquake is not evil, it's just part of the necessary movements that keep Earth habitable for us.

But making money by building unsafe buildings around an earthquake fault, while knowing the risk, and not telling the buyers or residents? That's evil. Blaming such actions on an earthquake being divine will or natural evil is also questionable, especially if it's done knowingly.

As an aside, I don't think plants can evil. Some are massively dangerous and/or destructive in some very unsettling ways, but that's not the result of malignant narcissism on their part, any more than you pulling a weed is malignant narcissism on your part.

The nasty questions are whether societies can be evil in some regards, and what to do if you belong to a society that espouses malignant narcissism, and you want to belong without embodying that particular dysfunction yourself. That might be worth thinking about.

Finally, I'll note a particular issue that keeps popping up here. If a billionaire is evil, should he be killed? My general response is the Christian asymmetry, although, again, I'm not Christian. Christ said, straight up, do not oppose evil with evil. I happen to agree, because symmetric struggles tend to be more difficult and more damaging than asymmetric struggles are. It's the difference between pitched battle between equal forces and a raid that hits them where they're weakest. So oppose malignant narcissism with other things that the person is vulnerable, but do not fight their evil with your own.

If at all possible, I think billionaires should not be killed, judicially or otherwise, because the expectation of lethal force entitles them to act likewise. Stripped of assets and made into average people? That's more necessary. Then made to answer for the illegal consequences of their actions, without the insulation of money? Also a good thing. Declaring war on the rich? That's probably a really destructive choice, even if they are smaller than the biggest nation states. Leave that as a very last resort.

168:

No question he could do it easily, his fund managers probably trade him in and out of Amazon stock more than that on a monthly basis. Not even an interesting question for examples like him or Gates, Buffett, Musk, Page, Brin, Ellison, Zuckerberg, Starbuck Schultz or Google Schultz, the Waltons, Bloomberg, or any of the other thousands of tycoons enriched by publicly traded stock. Where it gets more interesting would be privately held fortunes like the Mars candy heirs, but if the choice was put to them as pay this amount or a commensurate proportion of your company ownership reverts to government control, they'd find a way to do it, just like borrowing cash for a car, plane or house. No problem, same as taking on debt to fight off a hostile takeover,

Maybe I'm not clever enough to see it, but this just sounds like the government threatening to burn those businesses down to nothing, out of spite. Whatever tax revenue is gained via this method, surely more is lost due to the long term economic hit. Unless one believes that the government that runs the VA will competently run Mars candy, competently enough anyway that it won't end up dead and thousands unemployed.

Similarly with Amazon. While I think Bezos is a turd and not even necessarily the smartest person who might run it, this just accelerates the decline of such companies that (otherwise) require decades to stagnate and fall apart. Forcing him to sell it off piecemeal inevitably results in more people having it who care only about short term stock price rises so they can cash out. There doesn't seem to be any other type. (It's notable that there is an exception in that, one remarkable specifically because he bucks that trend).

If this is the entire point, to just blow those companies up to spite billionaires, there are easier ways to do it, simpler ways. And that might even be a worthy goal, I dunno.

It just bugs me that some people seem to believe that they'll somehow siphon a bunch of cash out of it, when they'll at bets manage a trickle that dries up much more quickly than they'd believe.

169:

Your situation is making use of infrastructure that is amortized over 1,000s of flights per day. Airport runways, flight controllers, fuel delivery systems, sat tracking, all of it is a shared cost. If you eliminate 98% of the entities feeding into the shared costs the costs for those remaining tend to go up.

170:

Here's a critique on Vox of Bill Gates's new book: The major blind spot in Bill Gates’s pandemic prevention plan/The billionaire’s new book shows why we can’t expect the 1% to come up with solutions for the rest of us.

https://www.vox.com/recode/2022/5/10/23064197/bill-gates-pandemic-prevention-covid

171:

We can't just outlaw large companies, and how do you prevent a large (billion dollar+) corporation

The funny thing is large companies can't even exist without being created by laws. In the United States, most are governed by Delaware state law (since that is where they tend to incorporate). They're sort of blessed into existence by the state department of business.

Now, not all companies that incorporate go on to grow to gigantic sizes. But none that fail to incorporate will ever be anything more than tiny little sole proprietorships. Furthermore, I suspect strongly that companies that didn't incorporate would have to choose between size (what we'd call now medium-sized, at most) and longevity. Corporations have to make no such choice, they can be gigantic and effectively immortal both.

The various shields against liability, the ease of transfer of responsibility from one pseudo-owner (manager/controller) to another, etc. these are all the things that make these companies gigantic.

So you talk about how you can't outlaw them, and I sit here wondering how no one recognizes that they wouldn't even exist without the law allowing them to be created in the first place.

As a libertarian, I wonder how the government (of Delaware, no less!) has the legitimate power to bless these companies into existence, and how it ever came to be that this power was granted without so much as anyone even talking about it in some philosophy textbook.

It feels like this point won't ever be acknowledged because, fundamentally, everyone wants gigantic companies to exist, instead they merely hope/demand that their political faction be in charge of them.

172:

Under this sort of war-footing to fight climate change, a flight to transport a special person or piece of equipment is going to cost, in terms of money and infrastructure, as much as a sub-orbital tourist flight does today. The planes will be small, sub-737 sized large bizjets flying out of secondary "bush" strips rather than major hubs like ATL or LHR which are closed and mothballed for the duration of the Emergency. Since there's little else flying, air traffic control will be minimal to non-existent with the pilots mostly flying VFR point-to-point. There's a war on, after all.

ObManga: Kabu no Isaki.

173:

You're still going to be looking at vastly increased costs. Which tends to make those "fly a doc to where needed" harder to justify.

But in general we disagree. Again.

174:

Various strains of entirely mainstream economics argue that the marginal utility of money doesn't in fact diminish as people get richer. That an extra dollar has exactly the same worth to a billionaire and an unemployed person, because they can buy the same amount of stuff with it.

This is obvious bullshit, for the reasons Charlie has outlined, and because it may mean the difference between skipping a meal or not for the unemployed.

But any argument for policy change based on diminishing marginal utility of money will be howled down by an assortment of Very Serious People because it violates economic theory developed and promulgated to serve wealth.

175:

Maybe I'm not clever enough to see it, but this just sounds like the government threatening to burn those businesses down to nothing, out of spite. Whatever tax revenue is gained via this method, surely more is lost due to the long term economic hit. Unless one believes that the government that runs the VA will competently run Mars candy, competently enough anyway that it won't end up dead and thousands unemployed.

I'm not Keith, but in general, I'm trying to get the businesses taxed, which they mostly are not now. Many billionaires believe "all tax is theft," so these elaborate offshore shell games are designed to keep their assets from being assessed and taxed. The whole point of ownership versus control is that ownership can be taxed, while control cannot be, so billionaires normally control their fortunes, rather than own them, as a basic defensive step.

So I'm not talking about burning the companies down, I'm talking about dismantling the structures that keep them from being taxed. That almost certainly involves nationalization as a first step, but in the US, failed banks get nationalized as a first step. Then the financial pros go through to salvage what they can, and what remains gets rapidly sold back onto the market, usually to another bank. I'd suggest a similar process here: short term nationalization, followed by the company or its parts being spun back in a form that pays taxes.

We're in a situation where we need massive flows of resources going to getting carbon out of the air, and we've got similarly massive flows of resources going to empowering billionaires, resources that do not appear to be available for getting carbon out of the air. As a thought experiment (aka fiction), I'd suggested what we figure out how to get those billionaire resources into a form that helps sequester carbon, or helps pay to sequester carbon. That divests the billionaires from controlling their untaxed fortunes, and it might help save the rest of us.

Charlie's getting at a related point by asking if the billionaires are actually doing anything useful, such that divesting them of their fortunes will cause more harm than good.

176:

Actually it isn't; there are 5 (five) scheduled return flights a day, and a similar number of non-scheduled flights from the regional airport I discussed. Oh, and how much are you valuing a human life at?

177:

Absolutely, it's going to cost much MUCH more to fly anyone anywhere, assuming they have permission to travel that way under the Climate Change War rules. The special talent isn't just a "doc", they're an artist who is the best at what they do on the planet pretty much and the job they are needed on-site for right now is really important. Everyone else makes do with telemedicine and the local hospital, even Steve Jobs and other billionaires, or they take electric forms of transport[1] powered by non-fossil-derived fuels. There's a war on.

[1] Some of the new high-speed rail networks in China have routes such as the 2700km-long Beijing-Kunming connection that can take up to thirteen hours, covering about 2700 kilometres. Most people today making that journey end-to-end would opt to fly which takes less than four hours and costs a similar amount for tickets.

178:

I don't think you want to call it a "Climate Change War" on the grounds that it hopefully isn't a war, where your government will be sending people off to kill or, anyway, come back in a body bag.

Ideas like "Drug War" and "War On Terrorism" (neatly abbreviated "WOT?!") just seem like really bad propaganda. It may damage the meaning of the word, "war", but to no apparent advantage other than making a bad idea sound important.

179:

Charlie noted (about flat tax rates): "Wrong, that's a regressive tax. Ideally you want income tax to be progressive, banded so that above a certain threshold you pay a greater percentage of your income in tax."

It doesn't have to be regressive. The point of such a tax could be to eliminate tax deductions for everyone -- which means the wealthy will finally pay their fair share. At tax time, you declare your gross income (all forms included), and pay tax equal to (say) 10% of that gross: your tax return has only 2 lines: income and 10% of income. Then the government reallocates the tax income to those who need the money most (e.g., by creating a universal basic income). This is nominally what democratic governments should be doing already, although most aren't.*

  • It shouldn't be hard to calculate a tax rate that harvests as much money as the current system harvests (i.e., total current tax revenue divided by total earned income), then increase that rate to bring in enough money to fund poverty alleviation programs.

** The problem, of course, is that the rich can still indulge in regulatory capture and persuade the government that the rich really need the money more than the poor. Not sure how we solve that problem. But it's probably not worse than the current state of affairs.

The usual reason such taxes are regressive is because it's assumed the money goes into the common pot of government spending, which generally means an insufficient share goes to the poor. To make the tax non-regressive, you must reallocate the money to those who need the money most. How to achieve that goal is a problem for any tax system; the flat tax is just a bit harder to avoid.

Of course, this would suck if you're a tax lawyer, but that doesn't bother me in the least.

180:

Here's what I don't get:

About 12,000 organs were sold on the black market, and while the majority of those exchanges involved kidneys, 654 hearts and 2,615 livers were sold for up to $394,000 each.

From 2018: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-04/human-organ-black-market-illegal-trafficking/10579738

I get that money has marginally decreasing value, but if ~$1 million all in to get your liver swapped out with some dodgy sourcing sure, but you get to live... why didn't Jobs just do that rather than wait and hope? I'm pretty sure at that pricepoint you can "ethically" source the donor and have them smiling on camera "yes I happily consent to this!"

181:

Quite. As I pointed out in comment #12. Also, the proponents of punitive taxes refuse to even face up to the fact that, whenever they have been used, they have caused social, often cultural and sometimes ecological, harm out of all proportion to any benefit. Yes, everybody and every corporation should be taxed above a certain level, but going above roughly 50% is counter-productive. Inter alia, that means treading on off-shoring, which COULD be done without harm.

The key point is that the concentration of power in the hands of a few people, or corporations or indeed countries, needs to be controlled. But none of this thread has indicated a viable method that wouldn't be at least as bad as not doing so.

182:

The asterisks used as footnotes seem to have been swallowed. The first footnote, which became a bullet, should be tied to the 10% tax rate; the second should be tied to "most aren't".

183:

Well, one reason is that it wouldn't have helped him.

184:

Most people today making that journey end-to-end would opt to fly which takes less than four hours and costs a similar amount for tickets.

I can fly free to most of the US (with planning) and cheaply around much of the world. And yet I don't like to fly if DOOR to DOOR it's 5 hours. Because I can drive in the same time to usually the same distance. And be in much better shape when I get there with much more control over my schedule, things, and life in general.

But some think I'm weird that way.

185:

Expanding on my observation @173:

All those right wing/ Randian/ neo-liberal arguments in favour of tax cuts for billionaires and against redistributive policies ultimately rest on a denial of the diminishing marginal utility of money. They even implicitly argue that, by some alchemical process, a dollar given to a billionaire has more value than a dollar given to the poors. That the billionaire's thrusting entrepreneurialism will magically result in that money being wisely, productively invested and trickled down rather than squandered on drink and drugs by the underclass.

Again, bullshit. But that's the argument. It's conventional wisdom on the right, and barely controversial in the Blairite centre.

186:

Whereas the one story I've written where a noble was the protagonist explicitly notes that her parents were the exception that proves the rule (that nobility AIN'T).

187:

Troutwaxer @ 91: A friend of mine is a professional artist, the kind of person who's work you've seen in major advertising campaigns, and he decided that his most economic work platform was an Ipad with 128 gigabytes of memory, so YAY DISRUPTION (or something.) But Jobs definitely got it right!

I'd say he got it right for SOME PEOPLE. Others may find different solutions more congenial.

More power to those who do find it the right solution, and more power to those who don't.

188:

Ideas like "Drug War" and "War On Terrorism" (neatly abbreviated "WOT?!") just seem like really bad propaganda. It may damage the meaning of the word, "war", but to no apparent advantage other than making a bad idea sound important.

At this point, I'd half-jokingly hope that the US launches an official "War on Sanity" and a "War on Common Sense." Those might be our best hopes for common sense and sanity winning. Unfortunately, it would take a trillion dollars each and 20 years per war...

189:

Or perhaps a real antitrust law, that no corporate control more than three deep - that is, no corporation can own beyond a corporation that owns a corporation (or real property). That, for example, would put a stop to that apartment building I read about in NYC where the maintenance co had no idea who owned the building, when the city inspectors came after them.

190:

I get that money has marginally decreasing value, but if ~$1 million all in to get your liver swapped out with some dodgy sourcing sure, but you get to live... why didn't Jobs just do that rather than wait and hope? I'm pretty sure at that pricepoint you can "ethically" source the donor and have them smiling on camera "yes I happily consent to this!"

I think the "it wouldn't have helped" is correct.

To expand on that, my wife was just studying the pharmaceutical side of organ transplants and leaving the video lessons on so we could both hear. To make a scarily complex story short, most organs in the transplant chain are some shade of dodgy, and quite often they're unusable for a variety of reasons*. The ways a liver transplant can go wrong are rather horrifying, the additional operations you might need on your GI tract to keep the organ working are similarly complicated, again verging on high-mortality scary (remember, the liver drains into the small intestine), and that's in a normal transplant where everything's aboveboard. I don't know what's going on with the 12,000 black market organs, but that's another level of problems on top of all the other problems that normally have to be managed.

*Two common problems are that whatever killed the donor rendered an organ unusable, and the organ was too long outside a body and no longer viable. The window for getting them from body to body really needs to be as short as possible.

191:

In "MessUp" ;-), asterisk characters are used to start and end text emphasis, such as, say, boldface.

192:

Sort of useless. You think people would not still be unhappy with taxes? Let's look at my phone/Internet bill: um, from memory, open access tax, tax for this, tax for that, yeah, we pay your taxes, Verizon.

What I do agree on is that all income is all income. Toss it all in one bucket, and tax that bucket. You get stock options? The value of those options go into that bucket. You get a $20M 'bonus' (even if your company's going down the tubes?) - that goes into that bucket. You use arbitrage, and held those stocks for .1 microseconds, then sold, that value goes into that bucket. And the bucket gets the income tax on it.

193:

On the other hand, his accountants would change a lot of things if they, and he, knew it would all get taxed. What point is there in trying to cover it up, when the net worth is what's being taxed?

194:

For what little it's worth, I keep an eye on what the economists who study the "value of money" have to say about it - current thinking is that one problem with money is that the value of money is logarithmic, not linear, while accrual is linear or exponential.

First, to make the relationship between money and happiness appear, you need to translate everything to income, not capital - simply owning capital assets isn't going to change your happiness. Second, you need a fairly expansive view of income, which should include not just what the tax man calls income, but also money that you have control over (and thus that will be spent to your benefit). Then, when studied in a large enough study, with rigorous methodology to avoid participants lying, there's three things that appear to be true about human responses to money:

  • There's a minimum amount of income you need to allow money to make you happy at all - you need enough that "predictable" problems like your home heating failing do not need you to cut back on essentials like food to cover the repair bills. If you're below this minimum, money doesn't make you happy, it just goes into covering debt, or building up savings to cover predictable problems.
  • Once you exceed that minimum, you will become comfortable at whatever income level you have, given a reasonable amount of time to adjust; if you increase your income permanently, the happiness gain from that increase is temporary, while if you decrease it but remain above the minimum, the happiness loss from that decrease is also temporary. Note that reasonable is only fuzzily defined here, AFAICT.
  • The change in happiness from a particular change in income is proportional not to the absolute amount of change, but to what %age change it makes to your income above the minimum. If the minimum to allow money to make you happy is $80,000/year (about what one study found for Manhattan dwellers), then the change from $81,000 to $82,000 is the same as the change from $82,000 to $84,000 rather than the same as the change from $82,000 to $83,000.
  • The mathematicians among us spot the fun that point 3 leads to - if my income is $240,000/year (making the "surplus" $160,000/year), then to have the same impact on my happiness as $1,000/year does to someone on $81,000/year, I need to get an extra $160,000/year. This means that to have noticeable impact on the happiness of someone whose income equivalent is $1,000,000/year (under a tenth of a billionaire), you need to be dealing with millions.

    This, in turn, leads to our system producing billionaires as an emergent effect; if I am skilled at increasing my wealth (by the "money that I control for my benefit" definition), and I go from $1,000/year over my minimum to $2,000/year over my minimum in my first year working on increasing my wealth, I'm going to want to keep doubling my increment to my wealth each year in order to get the same happiness fix each time. Practically, therefore, everyone hits their limit at some point - and once you're in the billionaire game, the "happiness maximising" thing to do is to spend that money and reduce yourself to a mere tens of millions, and then rebuild to being a billionaire again.

    Of course, people aren't rational happiness maximisers; there's three outcomes you would expect to see from billionaires, in varying proportions depending on who society permits to exist:

  • I reach a level of wealth that leads to my happiness being good enough, and I accept the decay in money-related happiness over time as long as I remain comfortable. These people hold steady - they hoard what they have, but they neither aim to accrue more wealth, nor spend it at any significant rate - and thus take wealth out of the system, but don't have a strong impact on the rest of us.
  • I am not willing to take any hit to my happiness, so I constantly search for ways to get the same happiness increment I did on my way up. These people are dangerous, because you need to double your wealth to get the same happiness increment as you did on the previous doubling - and the nature of exponentials like that is that you end up trying to accrue everything in the entire world. Worse, when they reach the extremely wealthy end of things, it becomes very hard to keep getting the same money-related happiness hit, and they perceive this as oppression, not as the natural end state of owning most of a planet.
  • I am aiming to maximise my lifetime overall happiness, so I will take a short-term significant hit to happiness to put me back in a position where I can reasonably repeat the happiness gains I had during accrual the first time round, since I'm now trying to go from $250,000 to $500,000, not from $250,000,000 to $500,000,000. These people are not a problem for society, since every time they get rid of a large amount of money, they spend it on interesting risks (think Dolly Parton here).
  • Trickle-down economics relies on the assertion that the very rich are all outcome 3 types, and the other two types are negligible; if the very rich really were outcome 3 types, then their reaction to becoming richer would be to take the hit to happiness that spending everything triggers, and rebuild with what's left after the risky spends don't pay off. If this were true, we wouldn't have billionaires - they'd be spending their way down to "comfortable multi-millionaire" on high-risk, high-gain investments like curing diabetes or decarbonising travel instead.

    Feudal systems appear, from what I can find, to permit outcome 1 types to exist indefinitely in the nobility, and outcome 3 types everywhere in society, but to require outcome 2 types to risk their own lives to keep growing their wealth - and then hope that eventually, the outcome 2 types you do produce die trying to conquer the universe.

    Revolutionary systems tend to execute all outcome 1 and 2 types every time inequality triggers a revolution. Outcome 3 types can, if they see the way the wind is blowing, take the appearance of a revolution as a prompt to take the happiness hit now and thus not get executed, then rebuild once the violent phase is over to be back in a good place.

    One of the deficiencies of our system is that it doesn't have a good way to eliminate outcome 2. We don't execute people, or require them to lead armies, or otherwise take personal risks to increase your wealth, which means that the only limit is your ability to claim more of the world's resources. If you were an outcome 3 type, this wouldn't be so bad, because every so often, you'd have a funk, spend almost everything, and rebuild; if you were an outcome 1 type, it's not great, but it's survivable for society as a whole, since you don't have the tendency needed to try to accrue everything over time. Outcome 2 types, however, are "take over everything" types, and will do whatever it takes to accrue more.

    195:

    You seem to have skipped over a number of posts by several people, including Charlie and me. I mentioned I was debating that wealth stops at between $20M and $50M (2022 value). Above that, we the people take it away.

    You want reasons? Sure: what did that one person do to make that money? They said, "dig a ditch there, to protect the development of housing I built from being flooded." So, the guys who dig the ditch are only worth minimum wage? Didn't they just add a billion dollars to the value of those houses, by fixing it that they won't be flooded?

    There's an old story about the factory that shuts down, and they call in a plumber, who gets walked around and showed the problem, then whacks a pipe at one spot, and everything's good again. Charges $1000. The owner demands an itemized bill for just whacking a pipe. That reads, "whacking pipe, $5. Knowing where to whack the pipe, $995."

    But you don't see him asking $10,000,000 for whacking the pipe. You don't see all his former bosses who yelled at him for not whacking where they told him to. Or his apprentice masters, or his teachers at the vocational school.... The developer, above, said "build me a development"... he didn't do the architecture or the engineering, or...

    Am I approaching Marx's labor value theory? Well... hell, yes.

    196:

    Gasdive, you need to step back a bit. The corporations... "owned" by thousands of people. How many of them have voting shares, and how many DO NOT? And how many people own so many shares that they have 12% or 20%... and effectively, complete control? Those are the billionaires we're talking about.

    197:

    Thanks for admitting to being a libertarian up front.

    You're asserting, as you people do, that the government cannot ever do anything right. Tell me, how many companies have you worked for? You want "companies do it right?" really? I can go on for pages about a Fortune 500 company I worked for, which I have referred to ever since as the Scummy Mortgage Co., and I have literally pages of examples of why, if they were small, they'd have gone out of business in no time.

    You're also saying that the US gov't couldn't fight WWII, or have NASA get us to the Moon. Or hold the national parks, keeping them from, oh, say, Rio Tinto, who blew up caves with native paintings from tens of thousands of years ago.

    And then there was Frank Lorenzo, who hated unions so much that he bought control of Eastern Airlines in the eighties, and literally bankrupted the company to break their union.

    But, as I said to a friend/co-worker who was a libertarian 30 years ago, "so, how do we get from here to this Wonderful World of yours? Do we take everything away from everyone, and divvy it up, like the beginning of (the game) Monopoly, or do we just start from here, with Bill Gates with tens of billions, and you and me with zip?"
    His response was, "we're still talking about that down at the club".
    30 years have passed, and we all see the answer.

    Btw, when has any libertarian, since you apparently now blame it all on corporations, ever tried to outlaw corporations, and only allow companies?

    198:

    Troutwaxer @ 93: You want a progressive tax, but you also need a minimum tax that's also progressive, i.e. if you make a million dollars this year you pay a minimum of thirty-percent, if you make a billion dollars this year, you make a minimum of sixty-percent. Figure out where you want billionaires to spend their money and make it really difficult to actually achieve the minimum, so bragging rights are involved.

    You should look at the HISTORY of taxation in the U.S. There was a short lived income tax during and after the War of the Rebellion, but income taxes only really date to 1913 with the ratification of the 16th Amendment.

    The original income tax (after ratification of the 16th Amendment), the "Revenue Act of 1913" imposed a 1% tax on NET incomes over $3,000 single ($4,000 married), rising to 6% on NET incomes over $500,000. $3,000 in 1913 compares to $87,122.42 in 2022.

    I was unable to locate an income breakdown (quintiles, median, average ...) for 1913, but in 1910 income by
    Occupation:

    • Average of all Industries - $574/year
    • State and Local Government Workers - $699/year
    • Public School Teacher - $492/year
    • Building Trades - 52¢/hour [Working week: 45.2 h.] {$1,170 for 50 weeks?}
    • Medical/Health Services Worker - $338/year

    From Facts & Figures: Income and Prices 1900 - 1999 U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany "About the USA".

    According to PBS "Newshour" (Apr 15, 2013 - TAX DAY on the 100th anniversary of the Income Tax):

    The bottom line: At least 60 percent or so of Americans were exempt from the income tax when it was first introduced. But that’s the most conservative possible estimate.
    If you convert 1913 dollars to dollars today using the highest measure of equivalence — how much was a dollar worth back then as a percentage of the overall economy, compared with today — $3,000 was worth more than $1 million.
    If you read the 1913 form, you’ll see that the tax brackets went up progressively from there: above $20,000 (today’s half a million dollars, at the very least), $50,000 (more than a million) and so on up to the top marginal rate $500,000 1913 dollars, which would be at least $10 million today.
    So clearly, the income tax was designed at the start to be a tax on the wealthy, a way to “soak the rich.”
    --Emphasis Added

    It was always intended to tax the wealthy with the majority of workers (bottom 60% of incomes) exempt from taxation. Those who benefit most from "America" should pay, and those who benefit the MOST of the most should pay MORE.

    199:

    In the UK, most have voting shares. The problem is the large blocks of shares owned by other corporations (often insurance companies and similar). Yes, we should tackle the problem, but simplistic solutions will not work.

    200:

    Vulch @ 96: He doesn't appear to have a helicopter. The three executive jets are owned by a company called "Falcon Landing" and are also used to move SpaceX employees between the various sites in California, Texas and Florida."

    Note that SpaceX had to get special permission for the Falcon-9 on display outside their Hawthorne headquarters due to being right alongside Hawthorne Municipal Airport.

    Falcon Landing LLC appears to be Delaware Corp owned by SpaceX. Musk probably doesn't own the jets personally because of the way multi-billion dollar fortunes are structured for tax avoidance, but he ultimately has control of the jets and gets to use it anytime he wants.

    With SpaceX HQ located at the airport, Musk wouldn't NEED a helicopter to get from HQ to the hanger where the jets are located ... but again, I'm sure he has a helicopter ready & waiting any time he NEEDS one ... even if it's only a rental.

    201:

    I find it bizarre how many people think the megarich got that way solely through talent.

    Imagine this thought experiment - we'll do some magical SF cloning of a member of the megarich - Bezos, or Gates, or Musk. They'll have all their skills and knowledge except for specifically what happens in the future. The clones will be the same age as they were when they first started building their fortunes.

    Now stick the clones in a time machine that sends them backwards or forwards in time by a decade or twp. This time machine will also send them to a parallel world where they never existed (so no name recognition).

    I would suspect that in almost every case, the clones would never reach the wealth of the original. They may do well and reach some level of wealth, but without being in the right place, at the right time, with the right abilities, they aren't going to become the megarich.

    As for if their wealth is beneficial to society, I'd argue that a billionaire with $1B is probably less beneficial to society than a thousand people with $1M each, or 10,000 people with $100k each. If billionaires were the driving force behind a society's success, then places like Russia should be similar to places like the UK (both Russia and UK seems to have roughly the same number of billionaires per capita).

    202:

    I think what that probably indicates is that the US has an unusually large problem with whacking people in the face with taxes. I've sort of vaguely picked up that they do this every time you go shopping, although it's a bit unclear because it's from odd words and phrases in novels that never get explained because the author assumes every reader knows it all anyway, only I don't because whatever is happening doesn't happen in Britain.

    It sounds like what's happening is that your prices marked on things are not the full story because they don't include sales tax, so when you take your purchases to the till, the cashier tots it all up and says "that will be 3 dollars 20 cents plus tax", and then works out what extra you have to pay on top for the tax. Possibly also they do this by some arcane formula such that the customer doesn't know how much it will be until they are told, although this might just be the customers being characters who are shit at mental arithmetic.

    That doesn't happen here. The prices marked on things in British shops have our sales tax (though we don't call it that, we call it by a stupid name instead, but I'll call it "sales tax" anyway because it is) already included, so you can just add the prices up in your head as you go round the shop and know that that figure is equal to the total amount you will have to hand over when you get to the till. Nobody mentions tax at all, and the cashier doesn't have to add on any mysterious extra amounts.

    (There are some exceptions such as builders' merchants which mostly sell stuff to other businesses instead of to people, which do mark the prices without tax because the tax only applies when you are selling to people. But absolutely none of the ordinary everyday kind of shops are like that.)

    Similarly with utilities and stuff - the prices advertised for ordinary people have the sales tax included. There is usually an entry on the bill saying how much it is, but you don't pay any extra, you only pay the figure they told you when you signed up for it. Again, the utility prices for businesses don't include it, but prices for people do.

    Your comment sounds like you sign up for a service that they tell you costs 20 dollars a month (for example), but when you get the actual bill you find you have to pay 20 dollars and a bunch extra for several different taxes on top of that. That's not how it works here (except for businesses); if you are a person and you sign up to a service for people that they tell you costs 20 pounds a month, then 20 pounds a month is all you pay, and that covers the (one) sales tax as well as the service.

    In Britain the two taxes they bash you in the face with are income tax and (even more so) council tax (effectively a fucked-up kind of local income tax). There is a sales tax on nearly everything you buy (except food) and other extra taxes on particular things like road vehicle fuel, but they're all included in the prices they tell you you're going to have to pay, and you basically don't notice them unless you look them up and work out how much they come to. I am getting the feeling that in the US most or all taxes are implemented in a manner that bashes you in the face, which possibly might explain why tax appears to be an even bigger political distraction than it is here.

    203:

    Troutwaxer @ 103: Fixing public education is very simple: Require everyone to attend a government school and choose within a ten-mile radius by lot.

    I don't think "require" would be Constitutional in the U.S. (1st Amendment). But they could provide free public schools** and NOT subsidize private (particularly private religious) schools.

    If you want to spend your money sending your kids to private schools, that's fine by me. But you still have to pay the taxes that support the schools for the rest of the kids.

    ** Up through at least two years of public college AVAILABLE to everyone, since a High School Diploma doesn't seem to be enough nowadays.

    204:

    Dave Moore @ 107: I would like to add into the mix one of the more toxic products of billionairedom, perhaps the most toxic product, that is their children. The poster child for this is Donald Trump. The Kock brothers are also descendants of a family fortune.

    Cheatolini iL Douchebag in particular, because he's the sociopath son of a sociopath who's "raising" a bunch of little sociopaths (and the daughter married another).

    OTOH, although DJT claims to be a billionaire, I see little or no evidence that is so.

    He's a grifter spending other people's money. Someday there MIGHT be an accounting, but I don't think it's going to add up to a billion dollars ... even if he's forced to disclose BOTH sets of books (all three sets of books?).

    205:

    Troutwaxer @ 110: This is my thinking exactly. (One of the things I've worked out carefully for the books I'm writing is how my nobility makes sure this kind of stuff doesn't happen to their kids.)

    That's gonna' be a tough row to hoe, 'cause I don't think there IS any way to make sure. Parents can do EVERYTHING right and the kids still turn out wrong. OTOH, sometimes parents do everything WRONG, and somehow the kids turn out all right. Go figure!

    I've seen it happen both ways and it wasn't always "rich" people's kids, although I think wealthy families sometimes have a harder time turning out good, NOT SPOILED kids ... especially when family wealth is multi-generational.

    206:

    I find it bizarre how many people think the megarich got that way solely through talent.

    Maybe find where those people hang out and ask them why they think that?

    I suspect everyone here is assuming that it's a combination of starting slightly rich, getting luck and having talent (even if that's only a talent for making money). But really, running a business is hard and it's something an awful lot of people will choose not to do if they can. You just have to look at all the "entrepreneurs" and "small businesses" who are trying to unionise and force their suppliers to pay them minimum wage to see that.

    207:

    "Slightly"? People forget Bill Gates, who "started M$ in his garage (yeah, right), got a $20,000 loan from his parents.

    Mid-late seventies. In '72? '73? I bought my first house for $11,500. In late seventies, I had a good job as a library page, and was making $9200/yr in '79.

    Gates' parents were millionaires.

    208:

    Yep. Food does not tend to be taxed (except maybe prepared food, inc. restaurants), but everything else - the stores want to sound lower than it is, and to hit up in the face with taxes. That's part of the plan.

    209:

    "I find it bizarre how many people think the megarich got that way solely through talent."

    I don't. It's standard propaganda that's shoved down everyone's throats from the moment they're old enough to notice that some people have more money than others: "do well at school and pass all your exams and then work really hard and you can be like Bezos/Musk/(insert wanker of choice) if you want". External circumstances don't matter, and there's never even a mention of any other kinds of personal attributes; supposedly there's room for everyone at the top of the pyramid if they were only to exert themselves to climb there, and the lower levels only exist because most people don't so exert themselves (nothing to do with the way the whole lot would fall down if the lower levels weren't there).

    Everyone is taught to think of themselves as a potential Bezusk, they vote for policies that favour the rich and shit on the poor because they still think they'll be rich one day, and eventually they end up knackered and not rich and pissed off at the government because they think it's their fault (which I suppose it is in a way, only not for holding them back as they believe, but for being part of the feeding them bullshit). And yet all too often they are still only too ready to mock comments like "all anyone ever got from hard work is blisters" or "there's a much better expectation of gain from playing the lottery". I don't find it bizarre that so many people swallow the crap to begin with, since it's so pervasive, but I do find it depressing that they are so reluctant to notice that it is crap.

    It's definitely another item on the list of reasons for getting rid of Bezusks, partly because their existence allows them to be held up as examples, and partly because some of them actively participate in the propaganda and hold themselves up as examples.

    "Now stick the clones in a time machine that sends them backwards or forwards in time by a decade or twp. This time machine will also send them to a parallel world where they never existed (so no name recognition).

    I would suspect that in almost every case, the clones would never reach the wealth of the original. They may do well and reach some level of wealth, but without being in the right place, at the right time, with the right abilities, they aren't going to become the megarich."

    Sure. Because when they emerge from the time machine, they're twp.

    (Sorry, couldn't resist that...)

    210:

    AlanD2 @ 120:

    Yes it's significantly slower at top speed, but it can also go center-to-center rather than stopping at an out-of-town runway.

    Gotta watch out for pilots like the one Kobe Bryant had, though.

    It's ALWAYS the pilot's fault.

    OTOH, How much pressure was the pilot under to fly that day despite the deteriorating weather?

    Could he have refused to fly because of the bad weather (and kept his job)? There's no way to know whether a different pilot could have done any better given the conditions when the flight started. The company that employed the pilot and even Bryant himself bear some of the responsibility for that flight going forward.

    211:

    Auto-rotations notwithstanding:

    The thing is, helicopters are different from airplanes. An airplane by its nature wants to fly and, if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly. A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other, and if there is any disturbance in the delicate balance, the helicopter stops flying, immediately and disastrously. There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter.
    This is why a helicopter pilot is so different a being from an airplane pilot, and why in general, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts, and helicopter pilots are brooders, introspective anticipators of trouble. They know if anything bad has not happened, it is about to.

    Harry Reasoner
    Approach magazine, November 1973

    212:

    Do you need that much RAM in an iMac? I keep meaning to upgrade our 27" iMac from 2020 with more than its 8 GB of RAM, but just using it for internet and a bit of photo editing, we never seem to have any slowdowns. I wouldn't even try to book up a Windows machine with less than 16GB in it, but 128 GB seems like quite a lot unless you're rendering HD video or something else resource intensive.

    213:

    Someone I know used to be a helicopter mechanic for the Army. He had a couple of sayings about how helicopters operated -- one was that they didn't fly, they beat the air into submission. The other was that they only stayed up because they were so ugly the Earth rejected them.

    214:

    It's ALWAYS the pilot's fault.

    Was that sarcasm?

    Because it's often not the pilot's fault. Unless "not adequately coping with the emergency" is a fault.

    I've been binging on Transportation Safety Board reports lately, and one thing that stands out is that most 'accidents' have multiple causes — a concatenation of things that went wrong, any of which by itself wouldn't have been a problem, because the system has checks and backups. Reason's swiss cheese model in action.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_cheese_model

    215:

    Do you need that much RAM in an iMac?

    Possibly. When I went from 8 GB to 16 GB to 32 GB I noticed that my performance increased substantially. I'm stitching and editing large panoramas and 32 GB means I can edit panoramas that I couldn't before.

    If I was editing 4k video I'd probably want more memory.

    216:

    EC @ 180
    You too have noticed this ... but still, various "idiots" - including large numbers of correspondents to this blog STILL DON'T GET IT!
    Any tax over about 60% will be cheated on - it's not worth it.

    Rbt Prior
    Try reading a few "RAIB" reports! { Rail Accident Investigation Board }

    217:

    Charlie Stross @ 145:

    an Ipad with 128 gigabytes of memory

    There is no such thing.

    He was probably quoting Apple Marketing speak. Apple calls (called?) iPad storage "memory", so, yes you CAN have an iPad with 128GB of "memory".

    It's an iPad with 128GB of RAM that doesn't exist.

    218:

    Try reading a few "RAIB" reports! { Rail Accident Investigation Board }

    I'm not that kind of engineer! :-)

    219:

    kurtseifried @ 179: Here's what I don't get:

    About 12,000 organs were sold on the black market, and while the majority of those exchanges involved kidneys, 654 hearts and 2,615 livers were sold for up to $394,000 each.

    From 2018: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-04/human-organ-black-market-illegal-trafficking/10579738

    I get that money has marginally decreasing value, but if ~$1 million all in to get your liver swapped out with some dodgy sourcing sure, but you get to live... why didn't Jobs just do that rather than wait and hope? I'm pretty sure at that pricepoint you can "ethically" source the donor and have them smiling on camera "yes I happily consent to this!"

    One consideration is "There is no honor among thieves." The black markets are run by criminals. How do you know that black-market liver didn't come from some junkie with Hepatitis A thru Zed? Or that he actually signed the donor card, or that THEY waited until he died from natural causes before extracting it?

    ... or a slaughterhouse liver taken from a pig with HIV?

    Criminals will rip you off if they can. For a rich person trying to extend their life against some terminal disease, a black-market liver doesn't seem to offer good ROI.

    220:

    Geoff Hart said The point of such a tax could be to eliminate tax deductions for everyone -- which means the wealthy will finally pay their fair share. At tax time, you declare your gross income (all forms included), and pay tax equal to (say) 10% of that gross: your tax return has only 2 lines: income and 10% of income.

    Makes it tough to build anything or trade anything.

    You've invented VAT without VAT input credits. Every transaction gets a 10% charge to the government rather than just the final user being charged 10%.

    Farmer sells wheat to the mill, the fuel, tractors harvesters, fieldworkers, not tax deductibles. 10% tax on gross. The haulage fees to the mill are not tax deductible. Mill sells wheat to bulk wholesaler, 10% tax on the flour plus 10% on the taxes paid so far. The bulk wholesaler sells to the packaging company, 10% tax. The packaging company sells to the importer, 10% tax. The importer sells to the food wholesaler, 10% tax. The food wholesaler sells to the supermarket franchise, 10%. The franchise sells to the franchisee 10%. The franchisee sells to you, 10%.

    Similar things happen to all the materials if you say decide to build affordable housing. If the builder can't claim the cost of the workers and the materials as tax deductions, the price they charge has to go up.

    It means people like company directors who have no inputs pay 10% tax on the money that goes in their pocket, while a builder would pay 99% of the money that goes in their pocket as tax. People who simply control assets don't pay any tax.

    221:

    That is misleading, to the point of being more false than true. As with apples and most plant and animal characteristics, there is a significant genetic component; no, I won't get into an argument over how much. More significantly, there are significant inter-uterine and early development components, and that leads to Lamarckian inheritance. The result is that there IS a significant inherited component to intelligence and even genius; there are enough examples from history to show that. 'Making' money is a separate matter, however, and there is a hell of a lot of luck involved.

    Missed this on the first go-round, sorry.

    I disagree. One ground is that I very carefully did not specify the mode of inheritance, whether it was genetic or cultural. In my opinion, it's both. Billionaires like Gates and Musk grew up in wealthy homes, and fairly obviously learned business acumen from their parents. Similarly, Tiger Woods the golfer has a father who's an avid amateur golfer who nurtured his son's talents. In these cases and more, the prodigy child was better than the parents, whatever portion of it turned out to be genetic and whatever portion of it turned out to be family memetic inheritance.

    The astronaut example works because it's a pool on the scale of billionaires, around 550 people globally, but despite 60+ years of space flight, only three astronaut children have followed their fathers into space, this despite having both the genes and culture in their favor.

    Rather more billionaires are the offspring of billionaires, because, unlike genius, wealth can be inherited. I'd just argue that there's probably a 1% chance that the heirs are financial geniuses on the level of their progenitors, even though they have every cultural and genetic channel to help them inherit the talent. That's something the wealthy and the wealth management industry make a very big deal out of, based on their own experience, so I'm pretty sure it's a good inference using other sources. Heck, I suspect you can even think of a Monty Python skit that makes much the same point.

    Finally, I agree with those, like you, who note that becoming a billionaire is a classic black swan event. It involves not just great talent but great luck. In most cases, a new industry will make some people rich, but in classic black swan fashion, it's impossible to predict at the beginning who will become super-rich and how much they will control when the dust starts to settle.

    222:

    Whitroth said: Gasdive, you need to step back a bit. The corporations... "owned" by thousands of people. How many of them have voting shares, and how many DO NOT? And how many people own so many shares that they have 12% or 20%... and effectively, complete control? Those are the billionaires we're talking about.

    The example I used, the largest carbon emitter in Australia, AGL, had zero people or nonhuman persons who owned 12% or 20%. None, nada, zip.

    See also my comment http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2022/04/holding-pattern-2022.html#comment-2146157

    The billionaire in that story tried and failed to take control of AGL. In later developments, last week they've bought 11% of shares on the open market, making them the largest shareholder.

    AGL is a well known (at least in Australia) large publicly listed company and lots of people have a few shares, and even more have ownership through their pension fund.

    That doesn't stop it being a planet killing monster. Nor does it stop it fucking with our political system. Which was my point. Before we go billionaire hunting, shouldn't there be some strong evidence that what we replace them with is better?

    Heteromeles thinks that taking them over (if they're owned by a billionaire), giving them a good solid restructuring, right up the bottom line, and then selling them off to thousands of shareholders means that they'll learn their lesson and be good corporate citizens from now on. I have grave doubts that would work. Simply because I'm not seeing much in the way of public companies that are acting in the interests of the public (and future generations) over the interests of the shareholders as perceived by the board.

    223:

    Robert Prior @ 213:

    It's ALWAYS the pilot's fault.

    It wasn't really intended as such, just a statement of how a broken "system" for establishing fault works ... sort of:
    Rule #1 - it's ALWAYS the Pilot's fault
    Rule #2 - IF it's NOT the Pilot's fault refer to Rule #1.

    That's why I asked whether the pilot had any real choice to make the flight or not? And whether another pilot would/could have done better under the circumstances?

    Because it's often not the pilot's fault. Unless "not adequately coping with the emergency" is a fault.

    I've been binging on Transportation Safety Board reports lately, and one thing that stands out is that most 'accidents' have multiple causes — a concatenation of things that went wrong, any of which by itself wouldn't have been a problem, because the system has checks and backups. Reason's swiss cheese model in action.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_cheese_model

    The way accident investigations are set up it's the pilot's "fault" if he doesn't recognize the holes in the cheese in time to prevent the accident.

    I've mentioned before I became the Safety NCO for the Brigade when we deployed to Iraq (a job complicated by the Safety Officer turning up non-deployable less than a week before we deployed).

    The last incident I dealt with was a Class A Aviation Accident ($450K damage to a $500K drone). No injuries, just damage to equipment. But because of the $$ involved it required an accident investigation board, and I was promoted to expert on how to conduct an accident investigation board (fortunately there was a manual to tell me what to do step by step).

    The "board" identified a chain of circumstances, including lack of proper equipment for communicating between the launch site & the remote site that was operating the drone and a flaw in the design of the onboard recovery system (a small parachute).

    The remote site made a mistake during hand-off back to launch site that caused the aircraft to shut down during flight, which in turn caused the onboard recovery parachute to deploy - except that the parachute didn't deploy properly (known problem) and instead of gently lowering the aircraft to the ground protecting the optical & electronics packages, the aircraft took a nose dive from 2,000 ft. SPLAT!!!

    After determining what really happened and how the crash had occurred, I was required to write the final report for the board to sign. Who was at fault?

    Answer: Pilot error (directed finding, came down from Division) - the pilot at the launch site was supposed to take control of the aircraft. But he didn't (because it crashed before he could complete the steps required to assume control after the remote site had shut the aircraft down in mid-air) ... but it was still his fault even though he had no control over the event.

    224:

    Robert Prior @ 217:

    Try reading a few "RAIB" reports! { Rail Accident Investigation Board }

    I'm not that kind of engineer! :-)

    Yeah?

    "Let the damn thing jump the track
    And see who catches hell"
    225:

    Unless one believes that the government that runs the VA will competently run Mars candy, competently enough anyway that it won't end up dead and thousands unemployed.

    As a veteran who gets most of his health care through the Veterans Administration, I suggest your implication that the VA is incompetent is generally wrong. Studies show that veterans prefer the VA to private health providers.

    Not only that, but veterans get better health care according to a 2018 RAND Corp study:

    Key Results

    VA hospitals performed on average the same as or significantly better than non-VA hospitals on all six measures of inpatient safety, all three inpatient mortality measures, and 12 inpatient effectiveness measures, but significantly worse than non-VA hospitals on three readmission measures and two effectiveness measures. The performance of VA facilities was significantly better than commercial HMOs and Medicaid HMOs for all 16 outpatient effectiveness measures and for Medicare HMOs, it was significantly better for 14 measures and did not differ for two measures. High variation across VA facilities in the performance of some quality measures was observed, although variation was even greater among non-VA facilities.

    Conclusions

    The VA system performed similarly or better than the non-VA system on most of the nationally recognized measures of inpatient and outpatient care quality, but high variation across VA facilities indicates a need for targeted quality improvement.

    226:

    It looks like I should have been responding to #167, John Oyler.

    227:

    As someone who has recently studied healthcare systems at a postgrad level, I'll second these remarks. The VA is currently one of the few success stories in US healthcare, outperforming pretty much every other US-based healthcare organisation by a significant margin. It started from a poor base with a bad reputation in the early 90s and since then has invested heavily into its own organisational infrastructure, enterprise architecture and service delivery models and has become a model for what a really large healthcare organisation delivering excellent outcomes should look like, world-wide. It's what a US NHS would look like, if it were allowed to be run properly.

    228:

    It's ALWAYS the pilot's fault.

    Unfortunately, it's OFTEN the pilot's fault. Humans have a bad record when things start to go wrong and they suddenly need to do 20 different things in the next 30 seconds to survive - and all 20 things have to be done perfectly. I watch lots of YouTube videos of aircraft accidents (Mentor Pilot in particular), and I'm impressed by how few commercial aviation accidents there are given the pressures on pilots. General aviation, on the other hand, has a worse outcome, as private pilots don't have the ongoing training that commercial pilots do.

    OTOH, How much pressure was the pilot under to fly that day despite the deteriorating weather?

    Lots. But it's the pilot's job to resist passenger / company / his own internal pressure to get the job done, no matter what the possible consequences are.

    229:

    There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter.

    If this were true, there would be no such thing as a successful dead-stick landing in a helicopter.

    230:

    Re Helicopters don't glide/helicopters are always damaged after an autorotation.

    My first lesson I landed an R22 dead stick. The instructor had his hands and feet on the controls (and was looking after the collective and torque pedals) and was ready to take over, so it wasn't totally mad. Really I more followed along as he landed it, but I got the feel. It's very very like landing a hang glider (which I was very current on at the time), just everything happens at twice the speed.

    They glide just fine. I flew the undamaged helicopter away from the landing spot.

    Stay out of the dead man's corner of the speed altitude chart, only fly close to the edges of the air when you can see the edge, do the maintenence as per the factory and they're pretty safe.

    The danger comes from people watching too many movies and thinking that's what helicopters do, and pressuring people to do that. Which killed a different helicopter instructor I had. He got talked into flying low and slow. Tail rotor gearbox failure at 200ft or so while in hover.

    231:

    the prodigy child was better than the parents, whatever portion of it turned out to be genetic and whatever portion of it turned out to be family memetic inheritance.

    I think one of the biggest issues with our claims around genetic inheritance is about difference versus commonality. For instance, even if there were a single genetic coding for, say, playing piano, there are still environmental prerequisites that need to be met before that coding can be expressed. Not just seeing. a piano and working out what the keys do, or even hearing music and being aware of what it is. More what totally apparently unrelated conditions need to happen before that gene can turn on in the first place? Did the subject stop getting mother's milk 2 days later than needed to make it work, or was the ambient temperature just so in the 2nd trimester? I'm making up unlikely things, but you get the point. Some environmental factors approach randomness, but even some apparently random factors have "class solidarity" as it were. And then it is entirely possible that the gene itself is actually very widespread, more interesting for its commonality across the species than for its uniqueness or as a point of difference. But because there are some semi-random and totally class related factors involved in expressing it, it's hard to tell the difference between these cases.

    How about size as an analogy? We know that mostly there isn't a gene for height, rather there is a gene for growth and of the factors that control when the growth gene switches on and off, some may be entirely genetic, some are definitely environmental and some of the environmental factors can be epigenetic and pass through a couple of generations. In humans it seems to be the case that maternal grandmother's nutrition is one of those factors, though I'm sure it's a lot more complicated than that.

    232:

    Speaking as someone who's currently putting off filing sixty pages of tax paperwork (the latest reforms and simplifications added another eight pages, atop the four that were added in the last round of simplification), your proposed tax system sounds downright utopian.

    However, in practice I don't think it'd work well. The UBI solves the problem of "what if we're taxing someone who genuinely can't afford it?", but most worthwhile businesses need to pay wages and buy materials. Right now they deduct wages and materials from gross income to calculate taxable income.

    At the same time, it worsens the original problem of the super-rich having outsize influence: since each time money changes ownership, it's taxed at 10%, megacorps that control all aspects of the supply chain wind up with a lot less tax baked into the retail price of a product than smaller manufacturers do.

    If the flat rate is low enough that it compares favorably to the costs of money laundering, rational money-motivated tax evaders will probably take it legit (if they don't have other reasons to hide the income), but it's not actually HARDER to avoid tax in a flat tax regime.

    My taxes definitely need to be simplified, but your plan is TOO simple. (Shades of a Foundation prequel where, if I recall correctly, the Empire's demise was hastened by Seldon planting a subtle hint in the Emperor's ear that the citizens would prefer the simplest possible tax...)

    This plan also doesn't cover the definition of income (do you include bank loans? Unrealized capital gains? People would, understandably, argue that it's insane to tax unrealized capital gains if you can't offset them with capital losses in future years...)

    gasdive@219: I suspect the most common resolution to the tax situation you describe is some variant on "Facemazon Foods buys the grain, Facemazon ships its grain to the mill, Facemazon ships its flour to the packager, Facemazon ships its packaged flour to its franchisee, the franchisee sells it, Facemazon gives them a commission." (at least during growth phase. Once they have an effective monopoly they'll make the franchisee buy it and let prices jack upwards).

    233:

    My thoughts on the OP, for what they are worth, start out around the idea that, while in some circles it is still controversial whether inequality is bad or good, and some people earnestly believe it's required as a driver for @things, there is actually an empirical answer on this and it's definitely better to have less inequality according to almost every scale we have for measuring things that are good and bad about society. I think quite a bit of discussion about what billionaires are good for is actually subsumed in that, or at least has a different focus, a different relationship of onus and a different concept of "good".

    234:

    The way accident investigations are set up it's the pilot's "fault" if he doesn't recognize the holes in the cheese in time to prevent the accident.

    Not necessarily. NTSB reports are focussed more on prevention than finding someone to blame. Basically "what went wrong" and "how can that be prevented in the future".

    I'm sorry your army experience wasn't the same. "Directed finding" sounds dodgy, frankly. Someone outside the investigation decided what the conclusion was going to be? (And there weren't expert investigators? Not to cast aspersions at you, but an 'expert' who is following a manual step-by-step because they've never done it before doesn't sound like an expert.)

    235:

    Spiky said: I suspect the most common resolution to the tax situation you describe is some variant on "Facemazon Foods buys the grain, Facemazon ships its grain to the mill, Facemazon ships its flour to the packager, Facemazon ships its packaged flour to its franchisee, the franchisee sells it, Facemazon gives them a commission."

    I think you're right, with a side order of buying up the land the grain is grown on. Again, it naturally gives giant tax breaks to corporations, the more monopolistic and vertically integrated the better, and the people who control them.

    236:

    whitroth said: This is worldwide production of vehicles: VW, 2021, around 8.3M Ford " 3.9M Toyota 7.6M Tesla 930,422 In what possible way is it worth more? In the shell game of stocks, not in the realm of actual profits.

    The bare figure of cars sold don't tell the whole story.

    Toyota sells a lot of low cost, low margin cars and has no wait lists to speak of.

    If Tesla makes 10 times the margin per unit, (we don't know, I don't think either company gives out that information) and is making 1/10th the number of units... That puts them on a much more even footing.

    There's also the issue of how much of a "unit" is manufactured. If Toyota buys in 90% of the finished car from outside suppliers (which is possible, Japanese manufacturers rely very much on hundreds of cottage industries to supply everything from wiring looms to indicator lenses) the "manufacture" of 7.6 million units, is really the assembly, and they're only adding a small amount of work. If you decide to "buy Toyota" you're only buying a small percentage of the factories, machines and expertise that builds the cars.

    Tesla has a hard on for vertical integration. Their stated goal is raw materials in one door, cars out the other. Building a million cars a year is much more valuable than assembly of 8 million.

    SpaceX is similar after getting badly burned by an outside supplier shipping struts that hadn't been manufactured or tested correctly that lost a Falcon and satellite. They're bringing everything in house that they can, even down to the cameras mounted on the rocket.

    237:

    My thoughts on the OP, for what they are worth, start out around the idea that, while in some circles it is still controversial whether inequality is bad or good, and some people earnestly believe it's required as a driver for @things, there is actually an empirical answer on this and it's definitely better to have less inequality according to almost every scale we have for measuring things that are good and bad about society. I think quite a bit of discussion about what billionaires are good for is actually subsumed in that, or at least has a different focus, a different relationship of onus and a different concept of "good".

    I happen to agree, with some caveats.

    One of those caveats is that it's not clear to me at least whether there's nothing a billionaire can do that can't be done by someone else. The only candidate I've seen for this is someone stepping in with an absolutely enormous credit line to rapidly (key here) backstop a transaction, to reduce the risk of default to where people are comfortable doing it. I don't think only a billionaire can do this (or that most of them will do it), but it does get at Gasdive's example of a billionaire trying to steer a power company in a better direction by buying control of it.

    Thing is, I'm not sure a billionaire can do this faster than a company can. One good global example of a company is The Nature Conservancy. One of their core functions is to rapidly buy up land for conservation, then sell it to a government entity that turns it into a park. What's going on behind the scenes is that, at least in the US (and probably elsewhere) it takes an legislative act to approve large expenditures to buy land, and as well all know, those take time. TNC and the government (at the conservation bureaucracy level) may (often do) start off in agreement that a parcel should be bought up and turned into parkland. It may take the government years to process this through and make it happen. Meanwhile, TNC can move in months to purchase the land before someone else gets it.

    A billionaire could theoretically do it faster, but if they have any brains, they have a whole staff looking at the appraisal and doing the financials. At the end, it's likely that they can't move much faster than a company doing the same job.

    This isn't to say that billionaires can't do good. The critical question is whether there are global good deeds that only they can perform, that justify having the whole class of them around, or whether the resources they control would be better spun off into less autocratic control systems.

    I don't have an answer to that. I will note, though, that it's akin to the little governance question we're dealing with, whether authoritarian systems are better-adapted to the 21st Century than are democracies. I know where I fall on that, but I'm very far from an unbiased analyst.

    238:

    @167 writes: "this just sounds like the government threatening to burn those businesses down to nothing, out of spite."

    Some of the ultrarich have been decent, exemplary human beings, the Kennedy clan and the Roosevelts come to mind. But their personal virtue or lack of it isn't the issue at all, what's dangerous is just the over-concentration of resources and power in the hands of a small minority.

    Wealth gets concentrated as a built in emergent property of free enterprise, because interest rates tend to exceed growth rates over time, but that doesn't mean we can't modify excesses to fix it. It could even be necessary to reverse wealth concentration just to prolong the viability of capitalism.

    How much concentration is too much is naturally on a sliding scale, reasonable people can disagree, but a preponderant majority of both Democrats and Republicans agree thar now it's gone too far and that the trend needs to be reversed. So a one percent annual tax on mega estates, again open to discussion but I'd say any over a hundred million, would gradually reduce the over-concentration without wrecking the whole system. Churn would definitely increase in the rankings of the ultrarich, but why is that a bad thing. Spite shouldn't enter the argument at all

    239:

    "If Tesla makes 10 times the margin per unit"

    Last I looked, Tesla's actual car-production turned a loss, which was more than offset by the sale of electric car credits to other car manufacturers.

    In other words: Fossil vehicle manufacturers pay "electric car tax" to Tesla, because they all, in unison, proclaimed "electrical cars will never be a thing" and were proven wrong.

    240:

    Now, not all companies that incorporate go on to grow to gigantic sizes. But none that fail to incorporate will ever be anything more than tiny little sole proprietorships. Furthermore, I suspect strongly that companies that didn't incorporate would have to choose between size (what we'd call now medium-sized, at most) and longevity. Corporations have to make no such choice, they can be gigantic and effectively immortal both.

    Well, there's this tiny little Swedish company called IKEA that's still privately owned, has branches in over 40 countries and was founded in 1943…

    241:

    akin to the little governance question we're dealing with

    Well it's more an extension of the governance question. I like the idea that non-government entities with a degree of autonomy can act as key civil institutions. The question is how much protection do they need from elected governments to avoid Trumpian interference, and how does that work with the ability to curtail them if they turn rogue, or at least take off in a trajectory that is clearly not serving any public good.

    Western style democracy has that with the courts in the doctrine of separation of powers and the common law. Common law generally moves along a trajectory, at times this diverges from societal standards and can be corrected by legislation. But legislators don't get to implement and interpret the law, the courts are the designated institutions that do that. While the TNC you describe is clearly fully non-governmental, still it's performing a role that is like an institution for performing certain functions that would be more cumbersome for a governmental institution. What other sorts of functions could be handled effectively by similar non-government institutions, do they need enabling legislation or just funding, how do these various questions work with each other, etc?

    QANGOs typically report to a board rather than directly to officials (elected or otherwise), and that's the basis for their claim to autonomy, but are vulnerable to interference via funding arrangements and board appointments. If the entire board can be replaced at whim (cf supreme courts) then the autonomy is clearly very attenuated. But if you take away the "Q" (quasi, apologies, it's a common term in UK/Aus) and establish organisations with their own sources of revenue and full autonomy, how do you protect against capture or rogue actions?

    And as you say that turns directly back to our discussions about governance. Maybe it's just safer to keep it under the control of governments, even at a bit of a remove and with some mechanisms of autonomy included for form but also as a bit of a buffer, but ultimately trust democracy to deliver a sensible outcome over time. I'm really not sure I'm convinced that's a reasonable expectation, but I do think turning from democratic governance is fraught.

    We talked about technocracy before, and while it's not something I propose in any way at all, I am interested in hypothetically exploring versions of limited franchise based on educational qualifications, given the required training is accessible and free. I think this is still extremely vulnerable to capture, for instance, and other failure modes. But these are the very reason one might explore straw-man type models for things.

    242:

    Are you thinking of LEGO, a little Danish toy company that last I looked the most profit-making toy company in the world? Still privately owned and family members are still part of the day to day.

    243:

    You haven't looked for a while, but that's not the measure I'm talking about.

    I'm talking about the marginal cost to build a car vs what they sell a car for. The number you're looking at includes the cost to build more factories (they plan another 16 gigantic factories before 2030) and product development, batteries, interest on loans and so on.

    244:

    I am interested in hypothetically exploring versions of limited franchise based on educational qualifications,

    You mean beyond literacy, and in many countries "able to afford suitable ID" (where the afford part is often not just financial).

    I like Nick Gruen's fixation on citizen's juries, and also I enjoy poking him about how they're basically the "pub test" dressed up in academic language :)

    (Australian media like to pretend they're somehow linked to the common person in the pub other just just using them as a target, so we have the "would the average bloke in the pub believe that" is a regular topic.And yes, it's always a man, always a stereotype, and almost never involves anyone actually in a pub giving their actual opinion. At best it's a carefully selected soundbite response to a leading question)

    245:

    Since the subject is billionaires, a splendid hatchet job on Bill Gates

    246:

    I'm thinking more along the lines of the MOAR D'MOCRACY participation model they have in the USA with relatively (by our standards) low level stuff going to vote and to committees and stuff. It would be more along the lines that certain responsibilities devolve to direct vote by those with some sort of relevant qualification, or committees made up of such folks, perhaps elected by a broader franchise. It could relate to parliamentary committee systems and fill itself out under some sort of responsible government model, or it could be that these committees are governing boards across larger NGOs that have responsibilities to do certain things, and not an arm of executive government at all. There are lots of models. And also lots of failure modes, some of which are possibly show stoppers hence the hypothetical.

    247:

    But by participation measures the US is barely playing the game. They're lucky to find a winner who got 25% of the represented population behind them.

    My experience in the land of the long white committee meeting was that it takes a lot more time and energy than most people have just to select representatives appropriately, let alone to actually join the committee. Health boards and school boards being prime examples.

    Who would be a good person to be on what amounts to the Board of Directors for a school or regional health authority?

    How the fuck would I know, I've got no experience with either of those things even though I'm very privileged in many other areas. Is popularity even a relevant characteristic for those people? Is wealth, or spare time, or being white? I dunno, what does the job even entail?

    This gets back to one of the problems with citizen's juries, and incidentally also with electing random nincompoops to parliament. Getting people up to speed takes time and effort on both sides, and some people are going to take a lot of both, while a smaller group just won't ever be able to do it (intellectually disabled people, although many mentally ill people do just fine (and not just sociopaths))

    248:

    So participation itself is one of the failure modes, leading to the dictatorship of the people who get involved. The question becomes how do you get more participation, or how to you make what you get representative, or how else could it work? Also, when I said participation above I probably misphrased a bit, I meant more the other side, the number of things that have a ballot process. And I'm not sure exactly what that might open up, really. US elections are already fiendishly complicated as a result, so maybe it's already in a failure mode?

    249:

    I was talking more about 'genius', which I don't actually believe is a major factor in becoming megarich. Luck and sociopathy count for far more.

    250:

    To make the tax non-regressive, you must reallocate the money to those who need the money most. How to achieve that goal is a problem for any tax system;

    People have studied such issues ad infinitum. Politicians seem to be unable to allocate taxes as you describe on any kind of permanent basis. Basically taxes are fungible and will be allocated to where the politicians want them to go no matter what the original intent.

    251:

    Quite a few car companies and hopeful start-ups have been working on electrical vehicles, including personal cars for over a century. They were never successful, the ones brought to market failed, the test vehicles similarly were not practical and the reasons were (mostly) the balance of battery weight and range per charge (big enough batteries for good range were very heavy, light battery packs were too short-ranged). Once lithium-ion batteries became safe enough[1] and cheap enough then the balance shifted to the point where various commercial car manufacturers have started producing useable profitable electric cars, hybrids as well as pure EVs. Basically it's steam-engine time, but for electric vehicles. The advances in electric motor design and control systems have been a big help too.

    [1] Someone on a mailing list both Charlie and I are on used to work on lithium-chemistry rechargeable batteries in the early days of their development. He told of test batteries under charge lighting off on the bench and shooting across the lab like little SpaceX rockets. This doesn't happen too often these days.

    252:

    Two common problems are that whatever killed the donor rendered an organ unusable, and the organ was too long outside a body and no longer viable.

    I will note that the major source of black market transplant organs is China, where executions are carried out by a bullet to the head, thereby leaving the abdominal organs mostly undamaged. There are anecdotal reports of questionable reliability that suggest some corrupt officials will execute healthy prisoners to order for harvesting of histocompatible organs, and there are mobile operating theatres/ambulances that travel to execution sites to get the bodies broken up for spares as promptly as possible.

    Organ recipient pays up then checks into a hospital in the same city. Right before the execution they get wheeled into the theater under general anaesthesia: organ arrives by the back door an hour or so later, a couple of days later one rich foreigner (or party member) checks out with a mysteriously high quality donor organ.

    Whether the prisoners were guilty of whatever they were arrested for is left to the imagination: as everywhere, it sucks to be poor, especially in a corrupt state.

    253:

    Tesla's automotive gross margin is around 30% (32.9% in 2022Q1 - the most recent quarter - but it bobs up and down around there). That's the proportion of automotive revenues (what they sell cars for) which is not spent on producing those cars. Other expenditure (R&D, building factories, loan interest, etc) comes under other headings, but this gross margin is a useful number, and important for investors to know, so it's one of the numbers they publish in their quarterly financial reports.

    FWIW, in that same quarter 2022Q1 they made a net profit (after cost of sales, operating expenses, capital investment, etc etc) of around $3bn, and only received about $600mn of regulatory credits. The idea that they have a loss-making business propped-up by these credits is several years out of date (and was only true very briefly).

    Also for some time now they have been in overall net profit territory: that is, the total of their recent and increasing quarterly profits is considerably larger than the accumulated losses earlier in the history of the company.

    TL;DR: financially, the company is doing extremely well, and continues on a path of rapid growth. This is in stark contrast to other large automotive companies. The shares are over-valued, but it's not completely nuts (and it's not a total scam like, say, Uber).

    254:

    Do you need that much RAM in an iMac? I keep meaning to upgrade our 27" iMac from 2020 with more than its 8 GB of RAM, but just using it for internet and a bit of photo editing, we never seem to have any slowdowns.

    It all depends. I just did a Cmd-Tab on my Mac and there are 12 applications up and active. Which is a bit low for me as I did a restart yesterday late for some reason or another. I'm also a bit weird in that I have Chrome up with 4 or 5 windows with maybe 100 tabs total and Firefox up with 10+ windows and maybe 200 tabs.

    And I'm not even into video editing.

    My 2018 MBPro has 32 gig and once or twice a month complains about low memory.

    Charlie used 3rd party memory to do his upgrade. £600 for the total bump. £2500 for the iMac before that bump. So to only add half that amount of memory would have made his total £2800 or so instead of £3100. I'd have made the same decision.

    Not having enough ram can really mess you up when it happens. £300 or so to be able to ignore the issue for years sounds like a deal to me and, again, I'd have made the same choice.

    255:

    Do you need that much RAM in an iMac?

    Depends on what you're running. Photoshop and video editing, sure. In my case ... it was a cheap-enough way to deal with web browsers leaking memory incontinently (and I wish I was making that up).

    You can run a Mac with 8Gb of RAM these days, but if you like to keep a bunch of heavy applications in play you probably want at least 16Gb.

    256:

    32.9%

    Geeezus

    That's huge!

    I read somewhere that the industry average was 5%.

    257:

    Well, there's this tiny little Swedish company called IKEA that's still privately owned, has branches in over 40 countries and was founded in 1943…

    I don't know the specifics of IKEA or European Corp law but in the US you can be a corporation and be privately owned. The corp is just the legal structure. Being privately owned means the ownership of concentrated in a small group.

    In the US for all kinds of reasons, most businesses become an LLC or other form of corp after revenue gets above a few $100K or even much less. It resolves all kinds of legal issues. So the carpet cleaning business in the little store nearby very likely uses a corporate structure very similar to a large $200Bil a year business.

    258:

    There is a much more basic issue in this case. Pancreatic cancer is invasive and metastatic, Jobs's had already done both, to get transplants accepted the patient is filled full of immunosuppressants, whereupon the cancer's spread speeds up. It would get into the new organ, of course, but probably kill the patient some other way first.

    259:

    as everywhere, it sucks to be poor, especially in a corrupt state.

    Or rich but in the disfavor of those currently in charge.

    260:

    The mess of US sales tax vs UK/EU VAT taxes at the register.

    To be blunt, to a large degree it is what you are used to dealing with.

    And as a second point, sales taxes in the US are much more local than in the UK/EU. (My imperfect knowledge says they are national but I'm not sure.)

    So in the US the sales tax rate can vary by state, country , or even city/town/village.

    But the way it works is what we grew up with so dealing with it is automatic. No crazy, "OMG I'm 7.5% short" at the register.

    And some areas have absolutely no sales taxes. But their local roads and such tend to be falling apart while they brag about low taxes. But that's a debate for a different thread.

    I think my local rate is 7.5% but its a bit cheaper in most of North Carolina. Here in Wake country we have an extra 1/2% or 1%. And we have a special extra 7.5% or so that "tourists" pay that goes to public things like sports arenas and similar. (Don't get me started.) What is a "tourist" tax? Hotel rooms, rental cars, etc...

    262:

    207 - At least in the UK, depends what it is. Steak and salmon (and turbot...) are untaxed when bought in a grocery; snacks like "crisps" (aka chips) and nachos attract a 20% sales tax.

    212 - 3rd one - Helicopters don't fly; they shout at the Earth until it goes away.

    222 - "safety NCO". That's a tough job, even if everyone follows procedures, and I know they don't always for various reasons.

    228 - Agreed.

    233 - That sort of thing does happen in the military, Ok, there was a war on at the time, but see reports on HMS Dasher (D37).

    263:

    Btw, when has any libertarian, since you apparently now blame it all on corporations, ever tried to outlaw corporations, and only allow companies?

  • The first time a libertarian ever gets elected to a meaningful office, I'll be sure to hold them to account.
  • You don't have to outlaw them. That's sort of my point. You just have to stop in-lawing them, so to speak. They (or anything resembling them) don't and can't exist without the laws that allow the government to illegitimately bless them into existence.
  • 264:

    That's the thing about imaginary experiments though. You can imagine the results to be whatever you want them to be... and someone else is free to imagine entirely different results.

    I would suspect that someone with the attitude and personality of a Musk or Bezos would be out there hustling because they actually believe that they can do more than rot in some section 8 housing project. Maybe only 1 time in 1000, of course, will such a person be anything more than modestly successful (but in this case, even modest success has them being some single digit millionaire a few decades later)...

    And if we compare that to some random clone of a welfare recipient, they will have succeeded to one degree or another much more often than that welfare recipient.

    Did talent make any difference? No. Just attitudes and culture.

    265:

    "so, how do we get from here to this Wonderful World of yours? Do we take everything away from everyone, and divvy it up, like the beginning of (the game) Monopoly, or do we just start from here, with Bill Gates with tens of billions, and you and me with zip?"

    In my experience, over last few years Libertarians have been concentrating on the "Non-Aggression Principle", meaning nobody initiates force against anyone else. (Which obviously includes forcible taxation.) They are fine with Bill Gates having his tens of billions, as long as he does not use them to force anyone to do anything against their will.

    That one can "force" someone without resorting to threats of bodily harm, removal of possessions or restrain of travel, they prefer not to think about.

    266:

    "Did talent make any difference? No. Just attitudes and culture."

    That is "talent". (At least, attitude is. Not so sure about "culture" since so many of the interpretations seem to end up being offensive, as is the "welfare recipient" reference.) Characteristics of one's personality that confer the potential for success in some given endeavour. Having sufficient intellect to understand it, by conscious analysis or by "innate skill" or whatever, is one form of talent; having the right sort of mentality to engage in it without going bonkers from how shit it is is another; having the kind of idea of a good time that makes you think the expected results will justify engaging in it is another. The proportions of course will vary from person to person, but you need elements of all of those things plus a bunch more that I cba to try and list.

    This is one of the things that is so silly about the custom of programming people with the idea that "everyone can do it" from early childhood onwards. It's based entirely around considering intellectual ability as the sole and only factor, with the subsidiary notion that even if you don't have that ability you can still acquire it. The importance of all the other necessary factors is not just ignored, but actively trivialised and denied, and painted as something that confirms you as a subnormal and inadequate human being if you do consider it important.

    267:

    That is "talent". (At least, attitude is. Not so sure about "culture" since so many of the interpretations seem to end up being offensive, as is the "welfare recipient" reference.) Characteristics of one's personality that confer the potential for success in some given endeavour.

    Thank you, beat me to it.

    I'd point out that one of the proper purposes of a university education is to expose students to a wide variety of fields. It's sort of the reverse of how vaccinations work: the students get exposed to a wide variety of different thoughts. Most they get intellectually immunized against, and they find some infectious. That's talent in its basic growth phase, recognizing you're good at something and going for it. For esoteric fields like botany (or esoteric specialties in botany, like mycorrhizology), the only way they're populated is by people finding they have a talent for it, pretty much by accident. This is speaking from experience here.

    It's also why everyone who wants things to work does aptitude testing, rather than hiring people at random, yelling at them to have a better attitude, and paying for 10,000 hours of apprenticeship to make them acceptably skilled at a job.

    268:

    or a slaughterhouse liver taken from a pig with HIV?

    I feel like if you have a transplant surgeon who can't tell a liver is not human, you have bigger problems than the organ source...

    269:

    Umnnh...a "progressive wealth tax"? I'm not sure. I think that the "long term capital gains" tax should be progressive, but lower the longer you held the capital, and that it shouldn't be taxed while you held it.

    I'm not certain that this is correct, but I think it is. The problem is that I'm thinking of corporate shares here, but I'm not sure how it would work with "real property". Certainly it shouldn't apply to your domicile. If you live in a place it shouldn't count as an investment. But corporations should value long term gains rather than "the next quarter". SOME way needs to be found to encourage this.

    270:

    I own a corporation largely for liability reasons. If something goes wrong with our business I'd like not to lose our home as a result. Limited liability is an important legal structure for a lot of reasons - I would not have bought or built up my business without that protection.

    I'm definitely open to other structures, and I am of the strong opinion that corporations are not 'persons', nor should they be immortal. The oldest company (per Wikipedia) is the "Japanese construction company Kongō Gumi, founded in 578 C.E is the oldest existing company worldwide, and has operated for around 1443 years." It is an exercise for the reader to determine if that is a 'good' or 'bad' thing.

    271:

    gasdive noted a problem in my suggestion: "Makes it tough to build anything or trade anything."

    My bad for not being specific. I wrote "income tax" by which I meant "personal (human) income tax". I don't consider corporations to be people (U.S. supreme court notwithstanding) because they can't do jail time if they sin, unlike us poor mortals. My suggestion would be difficult/impossible to implement in the U.S. because corporations have been declared to be legal persons. I hope the "citizen's united" precedent will be overturned, but it's not going to happen any time soon if the Democrats don't manage to appoint more new justices.

    Note that I wrote "all sources of income", by which I include stock options, paid junkets, interest-free loans, etc. It would take a bit of thought to list "all sources", since that's a moving target. There will always be efforts to avoid taxation through such dodges, but the tax code can list the more obvious ones and the code can be updated periodically as loopholes are discovered.

    Gasdive: "You've invented VAT without VAT input credits. Every transaction gets a 10% charge to the government rather than just the final user being charged 10%."

    No, because VAT is applied to corporate sales, not to human income. But you're right about this being problematic for corporate investment. There are a few possible solutions. The most obvious is that corporations can be taxed on income after deducting expenses, as they are now. It's primarily the owners of the corporation who receive benefits (salary, shares, whatever) that we're trying to tax so they pay their fair share. Before you ask, ordinary stockholders like me and thee would also be taxed on capital gains. Income's income.

    Spiky noted "your proposed tax system sounds downright utopian."

    Admittedly. And it would eventually be gamed and regulatory-captured. The goal is to make it fairer right now, with full knowledge that it won't stay fair forever and that the system will need to be revised periodically.

    Spiky: "However, in practice I don't think it'd work well."

    I'm willing to try it if you are.

    Spiky: "The UBI solves the problem of "what if we're taxing someone who genuinely can't afford it?", but most worthwhile businesses need to pay wages and buy materials."

    As noted above, I had intended to focus on humans, not corporations, and it would be reasonable to grant corporations deductions for legitimate expenses (i.e., expenses their tax lawywers can persuade the government to allow). The government could certainly go beyond UBI programs, such as paying for higher education for those who can't afford it (as I understand it, German universities don't charge undergraduate tuition). There's lots of room for ways to ethically fund companies to promote things like research and development or adoption of green technologies (e.g., government loans rather than no-strings grants, exchanging stock shares equal to the value of the loans so taxpayers receive a direct return on their investment in the company).

    Spiky: "At the same time, it worsens the original problem of the super-rich having outsize influence"

    Yes, but that's not a problem I'm trying to solve. I'm just talking about taxation. There have been other replies that suggested ways to deal with excessive influence.

    Spiky: "This plan also doesn't cover the definition of income"

    I admit to cheating by writing "all forms of income". But a list of transactions that count as income could be incorporated in the revised tax code. Most tax codes already list these forms. Of course, you'll have a hard fight to include the forms of income dearest to the ultrarich. As I noted, the rich will always find ways to game the system, such as the way the U.S. IRS was crippled by being forced to focus on the poorest citizens (who are easier to audit) rather than the richest (who lawyer-up to create long and expensive audits). That's one reason why we revise tax codes, but we also have to be vigilant about the games.

    272:

    And as a second point, sales taxes in the US are much more local than in the UK/EU. (My imperfect knowledge says they are national but I'm not sure.)

    Nope, US sales taxes are determined by the states. Here in Oregon, we don't have any sales tax. But in Washington state, they do. Which is why lots of people in Vancouver, WA, come to Portland, OR, to buy their stuff... :-)

    273:

    This is a pretty intelligent analysis, but your Type One, Type Two, and Type Threes all need useful/interesting names for it to be possible to follow your ideas.

    274:

    Sorry. I wasn't clear. I meant that I think UK/EU were determined nationally. North Carolina has a state wide tax, a few counties and cities also have a smaller bit they tack on.

    275:

    Sorry David, I thought you were talking about national US sales taxes - not UK/EU.

    276:

    No arguments at all. I think where I break from the conventional wisdom is the idea of a minimum tax payment for each income group, regardless of deductions (particularly for those that make more than a million dollars a year.)

    And of course the rich should pay taxes on both the things they own and the things they control.

    277:

    The base assumption that billionaires have some extraordinary hustle is one that needs to be examined.

    "I work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week" or whatever is a different animal when your work is talking to people and letting other people do the hard thinking, and you don't have to, say, cook, wash clothes, and what not.

    Assuming that what looks like hustle (and to begin with, it's taking them at face value about said hustle) applies when you don't have the advantages of wealth is...not a wise a assumption.

    And I don't mean billionaire wealth. 'Just' upper middle class changes the equation a great deal.

    But then that post had a lot of dogwhistles in it.

    278:

    Yes, 32.9% is pretty high (I think some other big players - Ford, Toyota, etc? - are in the 15-20% band, which is not negligible, but those companies have proportionally much larger operating expenses etc, so their overall position is not so good). One consequence is that Tesla can afford a lot of capital investment without having to borrow (or issue stock) for it. Which is important for their intended 50% compounded growth for the next decade: exponentially increasing numbers of big Tesla factories cost a lot of money.

    Their big margins also give them some scope for competing on price. At the moment they have a long waiting list - they sell every new car they can make six months or so before it rolls out of the factory - so there's no reason for them to cut prices. But if a credible competitor puts a dent in Tesla demand (by mass-producing a better car at a lower price) then they could respond by dropping prices. For now, everyone is waiting for any major player to come out with a really desirable cheap electric car (say $25K USD). Tesla won't do it until they are saturating the demand for their model 3 and model Y and so have factory capacity to spare (because the profit on a cheap car is decidedly less). I'm sure they have the designs ready to go, though.

    279:

    In my books it works like this (and the system will change, negatively, as it ages:)

    “Tell us, Bunny, what is it like to govern a nation of Orcs?”

    “As difficult as you might imagine. If you don’t give Orcs really, really good government, with an obvious and firm hierarchy they will, being Orcs, replace the government very quickly and with some degree of violence. This means that Orcish nobles must be trained very carefully to both understand the needs of their vassals, and also trained to very high levels of fighting skill in case someone decides that a recently made law doesn’t suit them. What that meant for me is that I was trained in arms from a very early age, and also that I was fostered out, both to local families who farmed or ran businesses and to a couple foreign countries where I dwelt in one of their noble houses for a year, spending most of my time in their courts so as to learn their system of governance.”

    “So you’ve butchered hogs and planted carrots?” asked Master Donvald.

    “I wasn’t fostered to a butcher,” said Bunny. “Orcs take too much pleasure in doing their own butchering for anyone to give up that chore – even nobles kill their own food whenever they can – but I’ve planted seeds and harvested crops, milked goats and helped birth their kids – as you’ll recall from the Sagas, Sogg-Modke Shire was Goat-Tribe country when the Seven Bards passed through – and I was also fostered to the family of a seamstress, the owners of a restaurant, a smithy, and an Elven law-bard, and I spent a summer with Sogg-Modke’s Customs Patrol, because the smuggling routes are also useful militarily if we must defend our shire from Elven aggression.”

    “So you’re a jack-of-all trades,” said Master Rankin. He’d raised his eyebrows at the mention of “Elven aggression,” and some of the other men at the table also seemed shocked, but nobody said anything.

    “Not remotely,” Bunny took a sip of her beer. “I certainly couldn’t remember, for example, what order the dinner dishes at a tavern must be washed in, or how to trim a goat’s hooves, but I do remember being yelled at when I washed things out of order and how exhausted I was at the end of every night, or how the goat kicked me when I got it wrong. The important thing was that the children of the families to which I was fostered got to live in my father’s castle while I lived with their parents, and we all saw something of a world with which we were unfamiliar, and everyone went home a little wiser.” She took another sip of beer, “or so our parents hoped.”

    In addition, there is a tradition of preventing unsuitable heirs from inheriting familial wealth or power, which doesn't seem to be the case in the U.S.

    280:

    This is a pretty intelligent analysis, but your Type One, Type Two, and Type Threes all need useful/interesting names for it to be possible to follow your ideas

    I like it too, although (being the negative person I am), I haven't chewed on it enough to figure out whether it's more than just a cool idea. And hopefully it IS more than just a cool idea!

    As for names, I'd suggest something like

    Type One: Old fashioned capitalists, who manage their capital and live off the profits. I'm not so negative about such people, because they're not hoarding money in a mattress. I'd even suggest that traditional Aboriginal culture works this way, if you can stomach treating Country as capital. More generally, it's taking care of your life support structures. If everyone did this with the world, we'd be sustainable.

    Type Two: Dragons is my preference, followed by power addicts and cancers on society. Growth at all costs is a natural phenomenon. In organisms it's called cancer and fought by immune systems, while in ecosystems they're weeds (if uncontrolled) or pioneer species (if subject to predators, pathogens, and parasites).

    Type Three: Old-fashioned human beings, who are willing to sacrifice at present for a better future. I agree that an ethic of generosity and sharing is a normal safety net, especially among the poor, so along with Type One-style resource management, it's a good basis for a sustainable society.

    The general problem, as with cancers, is that it's normal for any living thing that escapes control to try for exponential growth, so there's a need for effective regulatory controls (a la the immune system) or predation on them (parasitic robbers, basically, a la an ecosystem).

    281:

    You still don't understand. 11% can be a controlling amount, if no single other person has that much.

    Oh, about your "nada"? Really? What about the pension fund managers?

    282:

    Um, nope. They make everything? Really? They have chip fab plants, and make motherboards?

    Now you're being silly. And just because they jumped down the throats of their outside suppliers doesn't mean it won't happen again.

    True story about 8-9 years ago, at work, I came out onto the loading dock... and there were a dozen or more people standing there at soldering stations with the loading doors open for ventilation. Seems that HP had sold the NIH 2800 or so extreme high-end servers (to make up biowulf, which has been in the top 100 supercomputers on the planet), and they started getting failures. It turned out that some subcontractor of their Chinese subcontractor who built the motherboards had substituted a resistor? capacitor? of lower standards, and they were burning out. HP decided the cheapest way to fix it was send a team replace those parts on all 2800-whatever motherboards in all those servers.

    And, btw, the woman manager for biowulf was a friend. so I know that this is the true story.

    283:

    Or adjust the rate of the VAT to deal with the lack of deductions...

    284:

    Billionaires. Mostly CEO's. Around 1996, Robert Reich, for a time Clinton's Sec. of Labor, had a commentary on NPR. On one, he asked a question I've never heard anyone answer: what does a CEO do that he gets paid 10 times what the company president does?

    285:

    No, thanks. Do not like Mitsubishi.

    The first minivan we had was a '89 Chrysler Grand Caravan. In '03, I replaced it with a '97. I have never had so much take-it-to-the-shop maintenance as that vehicle, including needing a head job. In '09, I was talking to a friend's father, and mentioned it - he worked in the auto industry, engineer - and he started ranting. A couple years after '89, Chrysler went from their own engine to a Mitsubishi-built one, and he told me how badly designed and manufactured they were.

    286:

    Rand Paul, US Sen. Self-proclaimed Libertarian. And I don't care what you think, he calls himself that, so why should I accept your definition, and not his?

    And you're still under the delusion that a company, rather than a corporation, would not be evil. Like, say, some of the railroads in the US. Or the plantations of the Old South.

    Go on, ask the folks from the UK what it was like for the 90% in the early 1800s.

    Sorry, but it's always "well, that's because we didn't do this", rather than "maybe it doesn't work".

    287:

    In addition, there is a tradition of preventing unsuitable heirs from inheriting familial wealth or power, which doesn't seem to be the case in the U.S.

    The Windsors try to raise their children that way, with the results on display. There's also the normal thing of the owners having their kids do all jobs in the family business before taking over. The problems of kids being found unsuitable after suffering for years in scut work is not unknown as a source of drama. And legal action.

    For the ultra-rich, this can also morph into something like Paris Hilton's The Simple Life reality TV show, which ran for five seasons and made her a star.

    One thing I do disagree on is that unsuitable heirs are a global phenomenon which often seem to result in the ends of fortunes and dynasties. Ways to counter it can get fairly gruesome, sometimes devolving into civil wars among heirs for the throne, which IIRC was not unheard of for the Ottoman Empire. Or see how inheritance of power works in North Korea...

    288:

    You've got that right. Gee, I want a job... and you tell me I have to use M$ products, or I can't get hired. Oh, the Internet's free... oh, sorry, there is one, and only one company in this area offering it, it gobbled up all the others (e.g. Comcast)

    And I have great difficulty believing that if Walmart was owned only by the Walton family, it would be less evil.

    289:

    Corps not doing jail time - what I want is if a company is found guilty of crime that is not civil (such as the gas explosion in India, years back), all the chief execs go to jail, full term for that crime. They led the company, they told it was was acceptable and what wasn't, so it's their responsibility.

    I don't believe that this stack of corporate incorporation papers, or that building with their logo on it, committed the crime, it was the PEOPLE WHO RUN IT.

    290:

    whitroth noted: "Corps not doing jail time - what I want is if a company is found guilty of crime that is not civil (such as the gas explosion in India, years back), all the chief execs go to jail, full term for that crime. They led the company, they told it was was acceptable and what wasn't, so it's their responsibility."

    Fully agree, but I was trying only to be radical by scrapping the whole tax system, not extremely radical by guillotining the guilty. (grin) In the U.S., it's called "piercing the corporate veil" and it's difficult to do. The legal principle originally made sense; if something beyond management's control leads to a catastrophe, and management could not plausibly have prevented the problem, they should not be held responsible. Doubly so when they really did make heroic efforts to create a good corporate citizen.

    Of course, this has long since been weaponized as "I the leader can get away with literal murder, and although the court-imposed fines will bankrupt the company and put 10K people out of work, I'll walk away with millions in severance pay."

    How to reconcile the two extremes? You got me.

    291:

    On the other hand, most people can get the basics (and need to get them.) Most of us can't be mathematical geniuses, but all of us need to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, along with some of the mathematical laws to make sure we don't make mistakes (do the stuff inside the parenthices first, for example.)

    And so on where reading, writing, etc. are concerned.

    292:

    Well, for one, if a company goes into bankruptcy, all golden parachutes are null and void, as are all stock options.

    293:

    Well, I think the basic problem might be the legal notion that only people can sign contracts, and engage in other legal activities. That notion was used to argue that corporations are people.

    Perhaps we need to separate out the notion of what is a person and what can sign contracts. Just playing with ideas, I would suggest the idea of using "liability" in place of person as part of a definition for what can enter into legal relationships such as contracts. Being a person would include the property of being liable, that entities such as corporations could be held liable without having the property of being a person. Expanding the slightly, if a person has no liability for the outcome of an action, they should not have a say, such as a vote, in deciding whether to act on something.

    I am quite sure there are very good reasons why this would not work. This is just playing outside the box a bit see if something else might work a little bit better. One of the nice things about "liability" is that we already have limited liability corporations and other uses for the term liability. Perhaps we could expand on this concept as the basis for what we now call legal personhood, rather than trying to shoehorn too many functions into the legal concept of what a person is.

    294:

    Ok, folks. For the novel I'm currently trying to sell, the trillionaires get theirs. I'm considering, if they let me, adding this - have I missed something? Something impossible? (oh, yeah - I'm using company and corporation interchangeably, which I shouldn't.

    note that all explicit monetary values are in 2022 US dollars


    1. 100% tax on all income over $50M/yr, 90% on all income over $20M/yr.
    2. All income includes bonuses, stock options (at the median value over the previous year)
    3. Any company that is the source of over 25% of the income for a given locality (locality is defined as city/county/state/nation-state) pays progressive tax of voting share (that is, more shares as the percentage goes up) in addition to taxes. There will be an elected board to control those shares.
    4. Corporations may not issue non-voting shares.
    5. Any corporation that is convicted of a felony, the sentencing shall be applied to the chief executives.
    6. Any corporation going into bankruptcy shall pay employees first, suppliers and other creditors second, bond holders third, and stockholders, should there be any remaining moneys. All "golden parachutes" are null and void.
    7. Withholding of existing goods, such as keeping tankers in the ocean, rather than delivering them to refineries, for the purpose of raising or keeping prices higher is price gouging, and all who engage in it shall be charged with that crime.
    8. Planned obsolescence is illegal.
    9. All users have a right to repair, which may not be obfuscated by the manufacturer.

    295:

    You missed a couple of extras:

  • It is illegal for a corporation to employ prison labour or slave labour, or to subcontract labour to another corporation or shell company (if somebody performs work at your instruction, then you are their employer and they have all the employments rights that go with that). If a corporation employs someone in a jurisdiction outsider the state its incorporated in, then their pay and conditions must be the same as, or higher, than the mandatory minimum wage in the state of incorporation (no offshoring for cheap labour!)

  • It is illegal for a corporation to directly or indirectly donate money to legislators ("indirectly" = no political lobbyists or think-tanks)

  • Corporations do not have the civil rights of natural people, in particular they do not collectively have privacy or free speech rights -- for example, advertising can be regulated for factual accuracy and public safety, non-disclosure agreements may be challenged in court on the basis that disclosure is in the public interest

  • corporations may not litigate against natural persons, period (no SLAPP suits): they make criminal complaints, but if such a complaint is not upheld then making false allegations should leave them open to criminal prosecution (and see point 5)

  • binding arbitration agreements cannot be enforced as a condition of trade/purchase; in event of a dispute either party always has recourse to a court of law which can override the arbitration agreement

  • ... Want me to go on?

    296:

    Sure, but as I said, that's a subsidiary matter - it's a requirement for preaching "everyone can do it" from an intellectual ability text to people whether they have it or not, and it has truth values along a continuum rather than the universal binary one as is touted, but that discrepancy is only a sub-problem; the real problem is the promotion of intellectual ability as a sufficient condition for "doing it". It doesn't matter whether that's ability of the "I paid attention in school instead of pissing around and now I've got lots of money" school-learnt type or of the "I pissed around in school and left without qualifications but it didn't stop me working out what to do myself" self-taught variety - those variations are just choosing the ammunition to suit the target - what does matter is that the universality of intellectual ability, whether innate or acquired and regardless of how true that universality actually is, is portrayed as the sole significant factor and thus used to justify the "everyone" part of "everyone can do it", when really it's only one of a whole fuck load of important factors and rarely even the most important one.

    I got this all the way through school right from the start or even before; I believed it implicitly at first and never did really doubt it much, partly because it was such a constant part of the background, but partly also because in the restricted school environment it was actually true: any other relevant factors having been pre-selected out of consideration by the simple fact that we were at the school at all, intellectual ability was the only thing that mattered, and most of the school day was taken up by a succession of reinforcements. With that kind of conditioning it's pretty unfeasible not to end up leaving school with the more or less unquestioned assumption that intellectual ability will continue to be the only thing that matters, and it's also pretty unfeasible to root it out thoroughly enough to not still retain some degree of belief in it even after decades of demonstration in later life that in all but a few specialised sets of circumstances it mostly doesn't matter a wank.

    297:

    A couple things - this was just what we do to end trillionairedom, not control the corps, but I could add something after that...

    YES, please, do go on. This was why I posted. As I used to say when I worked at Ameritech, "I know I don't know all the questions, much less all the answers."

    298:

    It is illegal for a corporation to employ prison labour or slave labour, or to subcontract labour to another corporation or shell company (if somebody performs work at your instruction, then you are their employer and they have all the employments rights that go with that)

    Now write up a law or laws that make illegal sharecropping (or the factory equivalent) or company towns. I've looked into this a very little bit and it's hard to define unless you use the porn definition. "I know it when I see it." Or at least what is porn "to me".

    299:

    corporations may not litigate against natural persons, period (no SLAPP suits): they make criminal complaints, but if such a complaint is not upheld then making false allegations should leave them open to criminal prosecution (and see point 5)

    There are some fascinating problems here, but this is a big one. The problem in the US is that civil law and criminal law are two different things. For instance, environmental laws are enforced through civil action, not criminal action. This means that the non-profit corporation I work for cannot litigate to stop a development. I would have to do that on my own, at $100k plus per lawsuit.

    It gets even more fun from there with all sorts of breach of contract. The end result would be that corporations will refuse to make contracts with people, because they cannot legally enforce the contract. Only people can contract with people, and as Rocketjps noted above, this means all their personal assets are liable to seizure in legal actions over breach of contract.

    Say for example that you want internet service. There's no corporation who will contract with you to provide it, so you've got to contract with Jimmy The Geek, who's part of the Geek network who make internet work in your area. Then, when Jimmy loses everything in a lawsuit to someone else and goes out of business (because he can't spin his internet business of as a separate limited liability corporation), you lose your internet service.

    This is what corporations are good for, unfortunately.

    Also, SLAPP suits are fairly easy to legislate against. California's had an anti-SLAPP law for decades.

    This is why I was noodling around with the concept of liability above. If a contract can only be made with a legal entity that can be held liable for damages if things go wrong, it doesn't matter whether that entity is a person or a corporation. If a person can't be held liable, they can't be contracted with. The interesting bit is that this gets at control, especially if control becomes a central part of the concept of liability. In this concept, if you control something, you are liable for its actions and even its condition. Trusts can still exist, but you cannot be both a beneficiary and control the trust without being held liable for it.

    300:

    It sounds like what's happening is that your prices marked on things are not the full story because they don't include sales tax, so when you take your purchases to the till, the cashier tots it all up and says "that will be 3 dollars 20 cents plus tax", and then works out what extra you have to pay on top for the tax.

    With all due respect, good sir, The States are not all United on this.

    Oregon, along with Montana and New Hampshire, have no retail sales tax, no VAT-like levy on everyday purchases.

    When I lived in states which did have a retail sales tax, the formula was mentally embedded. For example, the 5% sales I grew up with in Florida was easy to calculate. The 5.5% tax (5% for Ohio, 0.5% for Cuyahoga, Lucas, and Wood counties) I learned when I went to uni less so, but still very clear.

    There's no Federal tax on retail purchases, and Federal taxes on retail services (e.g., mobile phone service) are sometimes paid by the carrier, a powerful incentive for those providers.

    States do also levy taxes on real estate, earned and unearned income, but it all varies from state to state.

    301:

    whitroth said: Um, nope. They make everything? Really? They have chip fab plants, and make motherboards?

    No, they don't make everything (and that's not what I said), but that's their stated goal.

    And yes, they do have their own chip fab.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2021/09/22/tesla-flexes-innovative-muscle-by-manufacturing-own-chips-during-supply-crunch/?sh=743d50011618

    I don't think you're getting what Tesla is all about. Some people (me included) are accused of being Tesla fanbois, ie, irrational... If you think Tesla is just like any other manufacturer, but with added personality cult, then that's a reasonable assumption.

    Tesla is not like any other manufacturer. It's literally unimaginably different. Note that you couldn't imagine Tesla makes their own chips. You trotted that out as an example without even bothering to Google it first because you literally couldn't even imagine it.

    302:

    Motherboards? All the other pieces parts?

    303:

    RE: Tesla and its growth.

    It's useful to think of absolute growth rate (percent growth rate) and relative growth rate (percent growth rate/size). Tesla's got a high relative growth rate, which is normal for small companies. The big auto companies have larger absolute growth rates, because they're much bigger than Tesla, and even a small growth on their part dwarfs Tesla's efforts.

    Financial investors look for high relative growth rates, because that's where they can make lots of money.

    People doing things like carbon sequestration look at absolute growth rates, because the rate changes matter a lot less (especially when not much is being done), compared with how much carbon is being sequestered.

    Where we're getting stuck in this conversation is assuming that market capitalization has anything much to do with carbon sequestration-related issues. It doesn't. I'm fine with people chasing profits with Tesla, but until they get to the size of a major auto company, they're not having as big an impact. And I bet that, once they get there, their stock value will be lower than it is now, because they won't be growing as fast due to their size.

    304:

    Motherboards? All the other pieces parts?

    I can right now take my arbitrarily complex electronic gizmo prototype, work up a 4-layer PCB design of it in a CAD tool and submit it to one of several local businesses to make the PCB, either as a once off or in runs of dozens or hundreds, all done locally in Brisbane where labour costs just could not compete with almost anywhere, then I don't think a large corporation would even slow down if creating the same capability in house turned out to be in its interest. The same firms will manufacture the board complete with all the SMDs soldered in, too. Might be cheaper to go to China for large production runs, but again it's possible and these businesses obviously make money. Brisbane isn't special, I'm sure the same is true of any large city in the USA or Europe.

    305:

    Apparently 1000kg, with 350kg payload. I suspect the older ones are lighter due to fewer safety features, but 200kg is an exaggeration.

    It just doesn't feel that way when I'm in it. Not only is it built for midgets (I have to slump to fit and I'm only 1.8m tall), everything feels kinda thin and light.

    306:

    How to reconcile the two extremes? You got me.

    A good starting point would be reordering the claims debtors have in the event of bankruptcy.

    Put pensions and wages first, starting with the lowest-paid and working up. Limit severance packages and bonuses, possibly to no more than double the average yearly income in the company, no matter what the contract states. Have clawback clauses for executive compensation over-and-above salary, such as anything paid within a year of declaring bankruptcy, to limit looting before filing — clawed-back money going to pensions etc.

    Anything left can go to paying other debts.

    Doubt this will happen (limits to executives), but putting obligations to workers first rather than last could easily be done.

    307:

    Well, I think the basic problem might be the legal notion that only people can sign contracts, and engage in other legal activities. That notion was used to argue that corporations are people.

    Why can there not be a limited personhood for corporations, or a new legal entity that has some (but not all) of the attributes of a human person? Laws are human constructs.

    I mean, the GOP seems quite happy with different levels of personhood already — why do corporations have to be cis white men?

    308:

    Compare Morris Minor freight versions, 760kg-odd with 300kg or 400kg payload. So it may be a midget but it's still eaten all the pies.

    309:

    I'd be wary about suggesting ways to weed out unsuitable heirs, if I was you.

    70% of wealthy families lose their wealth in the 2nd generation - that ramps up to almost all of them in their third. That's probably a good thing for the human race in general.

    Consider that even in modern times, the 'investor' class of a country typically does its best to install inheritance-tax averse politicians, to say nothing of the behaviour of wealthy families before modern times. All things considered, I'm rather glad that humanity's nepotistic urges lead to generational wealth redistribution.

    310:

    Why can there not be a limited personhood for corporations, or a new legal entity that has some (but not all) of the attributes of a human person? Laws are human constructs. I mean, the GOP seems quite happy with different levels of personhood already — why do corporations have to be cis white men?

    Possibly so that corporations don't get god-level rights?

    You're right, any answer will likely involve making more categories of personhood for various beings to be slotted into. The lesson of Roe is that those categories can always be reshuffled, depending on who is in power.

    The reason I used "liability" as a term ("agency" would be another) is to try to get human rights associated with personhood, while various legal necessities for making civilization work get separated out as "liability," "agency," or something else. I agree this isn't a better solution that creating categories of personhood, but if all we're doing is talking about alternatives, at least having different terms for different alternatives makes it easier to talk about them without getting too confused.

    I'd finally point out an interesting angle. What if citizenship conferred liability for the Country in which one became a citizen, as a condition for getting to vote? Doesn't that imply that, if you're liable, you should be theoretically voting to keep your Country going, rather than trash it? I know, silliness, but if we want sustainable countries, how else are we going to do it?

    311:

    With this thread being on the topic it is, I find it an amusing coincidence to have just come across this:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12826/12826-h/12826-h.htm

    It seems to be a bit crap so far, but it's highly appropriate.

    312:

    I'm not sure it is totally silly. It sounds more or less like an expansion of the much narrower version of the same idea that some countries express in their military conscription regulations, especially the ones that do the military-or-some-civilian-public-service variety.

    313:

    I'm not sure it is totally silly. It sounds more or less like an expansion of the much narrower version of the same idea that some countries express in their military conscription regulations, especially the ones that do the military-or-some-civilian-public-service variety.

    Yes. I should also point out that I capitalized Country as a gesture towards Australian aboriginal ideas about Country. In capitalist terms, I'm suggesting we treat our Country (land, ecosystems, technosystems, wherever we live) as our working capital, which we preserve and grow the productivity of*, while we live off the profits generated by proper use of that capital. That's a slightly over-simplistic view of sustainability. The advantage is that it does make some sense in a capitalist system, and it has been used in discussions of "natural capital."

    *Productivity doesn't mean alienating resources, but actually caring for what we have so that they provide us better lives. Like good business owners are supposed to do.

    314:

    Yeah, that's also why I'm cautious about saying the older one I've been in is the same weight as the modern one I could find a weight for. The new ones have cockpit decorations and some even have air conditioning.

    It's similar to the difference between the old Landrovers that are all boxy and have exposed metal on the inside; and the new smoothed-off urban things called "Landrover" that have air conditioning and airbags and wotnot. Those don't even have the vent flaps under the windscreen for sampling the insect population as you drive along.

    315:

    "Before you point at Musk and Tesla or SpaceX, I need to remind you that he didn't found Tesla, he merely bought into it then took over: SpaceX's focus on reusability is good, but we had reusable space launchers before—the only really new angle is that it's a cost-reduction measure. "

    I would argue that Musk's achievement at SpaceX is more important than just a moderate cost reduction enabled by reusability. By reducing the cost by orders of magnitude, especially if he's successful in building the Starship in the airline-comparable numbers he anticipates, he shifts the whole basis for access to space, and enables entirely new use of space beyond what we presently do there. The existing price regime maximally limits what can be lofted, and pushes every conceivable feature that can possibly be done so groundside. Any gear that makes it into space then is correspondingly limited and expensive.

    A costing scheme made possible by a working Starship system inverts that, and allows whole new classes of activity spaceside, things that have never been previously possible. A Starship system might well be the key to a workable solar power transmission system, for instance, or provide access to robotically-retrieved asteroid-derived industrial materials. Work towards either of these goals would drive the establishment of orbit-side industrial capacity, and if well executed, provide ever increasing income streams to Elon. As a side product, the people moving into near-Earth space to operate such industry would go a long way towards implementing Elon's purported goal of getting humans off Earth and out of range of Earth-bound civilization-threatening disasters.

    Indeed, it does so well at this that I've begun to question Elon's story explaining his interest in the Mars option. While a city on Mars would be a wonderful thing, in my mind it's way, way down the list of important things the Starship system would enable. Even Elon's explanation that putting humans on Mars confers extra protection to the species by spreading us to a new environment beyond Earth seems weak to me in one respect - could not that same protection be true for a population in near-Earth space, say at the Lagrangian points, or just outside of Earth's gravity well, but still in the neighborhood to the resources they're going to require for decades, but without the year long delay hit one takes in being located at Mars' remove from the mother civilization? And while a near-Earth orbital civilization would not have the same safety in separation Mars offers, it is a much better choice in several important respects. Proximity to Earth presents several important opportunities that Mars lacks simply because it is so far beyond the markets of Earth.

    But if one thinks back to Elon's mindset at the outset of this whole operation, one might begin to believe that this was the point of the operation to begin with. At that time, he faced any number of strong competitors who might challenge him were his actual goals too obvious. He had no way of knowing that Bezos would ultimately prove (comparably) incompetent at the space access game, or that none of the space-access incumbents would decide to play catch up to SpaceX should they figure out his actual endgame and steal his now-proven reusability secret sauce. But, what if he spun a story of cities on Mars that supplied potential rivals with an explanation allowing them to ultimately dismiss his efforts? Is the whole cities-on-Mars this century nothing more than a solar system-sized red herring, designed to throw the competition off the scent of Musk's long range plans?

    Either way, if Musk can effectively make the 'jump to light speed' in getting mankind off the planet, and set us on the path to an off-earth civilization, then this would be one of the greatest achievements of all time, and well worth the money he has acquired. At the same time, having watched his actions in the public eye, or how he treats people in his engineering organizations, I do not believe I'd want to have to live in a society controlled by and/or designed by him - I have no faith for him in those regards. Perhaps a taxation schema that allowed great civilization-supporting projects like Starship would be appropriate?

    316:

    Hetero said: It's useful to think of absolute growth rate (percent growth rate) and relative growth rate (percent growth rate/size). Tesla's got a high relative growth rate, which is normal for small companies. The big auto companies have larger absolute growth rates, because they're much bigger than Tesla, and even a small growth on their part dwarfs Tesla's efforts.

    Crystal ball broken, and even Musk thinks Tesla is overvalued, so possibly right. When it matures as a car company, then yeah. If it was just a car company. It's not just a car company though.

    Which I'll get to in a second, but first, growth.

    Tesla car sales

    Model S,X / Model 3,Y

    Q1 2022, 14,724 / 295,324

    Q4 2021, 11,750 / 296,850

    Q3 2021, 9,275 / 232,025

    Q2 2021, 1,890 / 199,360

    Q1 2021, 2,020 / 182,780

    Q4 2020, 18,966 / 161,701 

    Q3 2020, 15,275 / 124,318

    Q2 2020, 10,614 / 80,277

    Q1 2020, 12,230 / 76,266

    Toyota sales (all vehicles, cars, trucks, buses, Lexus, Hino and Daihatsu)

    2011, 7,948,957

    2012,  9,747,771

    2013,  9,980,091

    2014,  10,230,929

    2015,  10,151,083

    2016,  10,174,580

    2017,  10,385,902

    2018,  10,593,698

    2019,  10,742,122

    2020,  9,528,438

    2021,  10,495,549

    So Toyota increased sales by 2 million in the 2 years 2013 over 2011, which dwarfs Tesla's 200,000 per year increase. 5 times more. However that timeline starts in the year of the Japan Earthquake. So that period is really just getting back to normal. Since then the average growth is less than what Tesla is growing. In number of cars out the door terms, not just percentage. Toyota is averaging about 80,000 vehicles per year growth. Tesla will double the number of gigafactories this year, with Gigaberlin and Gigatexas coming on line (500,000/yr capacity each), and Gigashanghi expansion happening this year as well. If they don't increase production by 500,000 units this year over last year, something very very strange has happened. Q1, before rampup for either of the new factories, is nearly a 1/3rd of a million cars. They're on track to build over 1.2 million cars this year, even without the 2 new factories. That's ~600,000 cars more than last year. Many times more actual cars made increase than the market leader. With the new factories we could see Q4 2022 hit 500,000 cars. Note that Elon said yesterday that all the production slots for Gigatexas are filled for the next 3 years with deposits taken.

    But that's a small part of Tesla. They're planning on going into trucks, and when they sell the trucks, they're also going to be selling the electricity to power the trucks. They make solar panels. A grid level solar farm selling into the grid gets about 3 cents per kWh these days while making a profit, and that's only going to go down as solar panels get cheaper and the market for daytime solar electricity is further depressed. They've said they'll sell at 7c/kWh to trucks via the Megachargers. So they'll make double what any other solar farm makes, plus they'll be paying the cost to build the panels rather than the cost to buy the panels. All the while undercutting any truck competitors by 20-30c/kWh (40-60c/mile). This is huge. They make the trucks, they sell direct, they make the fuel, they sell direct. US trucks cover about 80 billion miles a year on interstate highways. At 14 cents per mile, that's a 12 billon dollar market. Just in the USA. There's a lot of "oh, but truckers won't want to wait to charge". At 14 cents per mile vs 1 dollar per mile, no diesel fueled truck will be able to compete on price. It will kill the diesel truck. No electric truck that doesn't have access to Megachargers will be able to compete on price. The entire fleet will switch exactly as fast as Tesla can roll the trucks out the door.

    They're opening their superchargers to all electric cars with CCS. Same deal, except they're charging ~30c/kWh and still undercutting the competition.

    SpaceX is committed to getting the Sabatier process working at scale. It seems unlikely that wouldn't cross pollinate with Tesla's solar panel factories. That's the natural gas market sown up right there.

    Then there's the grid scale battery market. Australia is proving out the idea that its cheaper to put a battery at the end of a long line than it is to scale the long line to meet peak demand. That's a multi billion dollar market.

    And if they get the self driving working (which is looking more likely every day) then you will be able to send your Tesla off to work during the 90% of the day when most cars do nothing. Why would anyone buy a Toyota at that point? If you're unable to afford the upfront cost of a Tesla, you can get one to come to your house and take you exactly where you want to go for less than the cost of petrol in a Toyota, and if you can afford one, it will pay for itself unlike a Toyota that just sits.

    Thinking about Tesla as a small niche car company with added cult is missing the point.

    317:

    They've said they'll sell at 7c/kWh to trucks via the Megachargers. So they'll make double what any other solar farm makes

    Have they mentioned a delivery charge, or will the 7c rate only apply to trucks who pick up locally? Grid costs can exceed generation costs on some places.

    They're opening their superchargers to all electric cars with CCS

    There is apparently a gap between the service levels available to Tesla cars and povo scum, though. Which irritates the shit out of people whose other car is not a Tesla.

    if they get the self driving working then you will be able to send your Tesla off to work

    There's a gap between "the owner can be a passenger" and "paying customers" that is bigger than you might think just from the scale of Uber's losses. OTOH I suspect quite a few of us would be willing to pay a small price for the chance to shit in a self-driving car.

    318:

    Moz said: OTOH I suspect quite a few of us would be willing to pay a small price for the chance to shit in a self-driving car.

    Well, if that side of things doesn't work out, the Tesla owners will just have to console themselves with being 10 times safer (which is about the difference between a motorcycle and a car) and not ever having to pay parking fees (because the car can drive itself out of the city, all the way home if needed and park for free there).

    Doug G said: I would argue that...

    This. Yes this. There's a perception out there that currently it costs 10 billion and 2 decades to build something for space, and 200 million to launch it, for a total cost of 10.2 billion. When launching costs 2 million the total cost will be 10.002 billon. This neatly explains why that's not the case at all.

    319:

    Moz said: Have they mentioned a delivery charge, or will the 7c rate only apply to trucks who pick up locally? Grid costs can exceed generation costs on some places.

    I don't know. The onstage announcement was simply "7 cents per kWh" [and there was much rejoicing]. (see also the discussion of USA lucky dip pricing)

    What would I do? If I was in charge I'd buy some bit of worthless ground far outside any towns, put up a bunch of ground mounted solar panels. Add some big batteries and never connect it to the grid at all. Grid connection can be half the cost or more of the solar farm. Just don't go there.

    Then I would put up some Megachargers, some superchargers, and build some shops and rent them out to fast food outlets to pay for the security and grounds staff.

    I might even add a CO2 capture and sabatier plant to sop up any excess electricity production if they can be scaled down economically.

    I'm sure that Tesla is smarter than me though, so I'd consider that the baseline, and expect their solution to be significantly better.

    320:

    Worth noting that Tesla's battery factories are joint ventures with Panasonic. The tech in each individual little battery cell is essentially all panasonic's IP. Tesla was genuinely innovative in figuring out how to glom a bunch of those cells together without them catching fire on a regular basis. But they'd have to reinvent the battery from the ground up if they want to break away from panasonic. Or perhaps just buy Panasonic, or its IP.

    Which arguably would make more sense than buying twitter.

    321:

    (because the car can drive itself out of the city, all the way home if needed and park for free there)

    That is the threat that Tesla can use to persuade unruly lawmakers to do its bidding, yes. Most of the damage done by cars is simply from driving them, so until Elon invents steel wheels on steel rails in dedicated corridors the threat to just keep his cars driving around is a serious one.

    The safety argument is currently a furphy. Automated cars might kill fewer people directly than human-driven ones in the future, but right now they don't exist. At least human-driven electric cars are COTS right now, even if in limited numbers.

    And I can't see any way they'll ever be safer than trams, let alone trains. Again, until Elon invents "TeslaTrains" that run autonomously in dedicated tunnels ... I'm sure it can be done, the people who make them seem pretty convincing to me. No doubt someone is sweating in a design office somewhere working out how to attach Tesla branding to them.

    Adam Something has an amusing rant about electric buses if you feel that way inclined. The same argument applies to electric cars, but obviously magnified by the capacity difference between the two. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqHsXv7Umvw (there's a response from EEVBlog and a followup from Adam as well)

    322:

    WreRite said: Worth noting that Tesla's battery factories are joint ventures with Panasonic.

    No. Not for years. In 2019 Tesla bought Maxwell Technologies. It's their cell technology that they're using and it's far beyond anything Panasonic has. Google Tesla dry cell technology. The gigafactories after Nevada have cell lines that are Tesla design and IP.

    323:

    I'm not arguing that cars are better than trains or trolley buses. Nor an I saying that doubling the distance cars drive each day is a good thing.

    We were taking about the crazy value of Tesla. It's going to be selling cars that do things the other cars don't. It's a bigger step change than selling cars that do things horses don't. It changes everything and most people will want one.

    This is the killer app. This is what the cool kids will be using. This is the "go to sleep in the back of your car, wake up at your weekend house, it's just as good as a Niven transfer booth" game changer.

    Like I want to go see my daughter in Sydney, I get in the car at my normal bed time and wake up outside her unit in Sydney. When I am tired after the day out, I don't need a hotel, I get back in the car and go to sleep, waking up in my driveway the next morning.

    Trains might be better, but I can't buy one. I can't make the tracks go where I want, I can't adjust the schedule to suit my sleeping patterns and I can't have one to myself.

    324:

    They're not my ideas - I'm just summarising what I see in various branches of economics research. And the three archetypes keeping reappearing, it's just that no-one's named them formally in the literature yet - mostly because the researchers tend to dismiss the happiness maximisers (type three, Heteromeles's "Old-fashioned human beings") and the steady state capitalists (type 1, Heteromeles's "Old fashioned capitalists") because they quickly establish that in both their data and their models of the world, these people aren't a risk to the population at large.

    That leaves the money maximisers (type 2, Heteromeles's "Dragons", "power addicts", "cancers on society") as the interesting lot to examine; why do most long-lasting forms of social organisation have a way to handle them, and why doesn't USA + EU style capitalism have a way to handle them? What's going to go wrong if we don't handle them (the theme seems to be that something probably goes wrong, else why do long-lasting social layouts get rid of them), and how do we handle them in a less terminal manner than is historically the norm?

    325:

    I'm inclined to think that billionaires are just a symptom of a more fundamental problem - that companies' purpose is to make money. Some companies produce a useful product or service, but that is just a side effect. As their purpose is to make money, they will still try to get people to buy more than they need. Many companies produce stuff that is useless or harmful, but they will use advertising to create a market. So how do we restructure our society so that any organisation or enterprise has the purpose of doing something useful, and improving the world? Any money made beyond the costs incurred and paying its employees a fair salary would be used to improve the product or service (and that could be by getting people to use less of it - e.g. power producers really working for power economy - encouraging insulation, efficient heating, home solar.

    326:

    companies' purpose is to make money -
    Wrong. A company's first purpose is to survive. Making a net profit is simply one of the means it uses to survive.

    327:

    Wrong. A company's first purpose is to survive. Making a net profit is simply one of the means it uses to survive.

    Well, that depends. In Finland, there's a law for joint-stock companies. This law states explicitly that the purpose of joint-stock companies is to make profit for the stock owners, unless the articles of association (I think this is the term) define otherwise.

    Of course, in practice it usually is easier to generate profit, especially in the long term, if the company survives, but this is only an implicit purpose, not explicit.

    This creates sometimes funny situations. Some years ago, there was a stretch of metro (subway) being built here. This being a large public transport project, all the buyers were basically municipal level public entities (here, the cities of Helsinki and Espoo). The cities jointly owned a joint-stock company created to handle all the building stuff, so digging tunnels, building stations and all that stuff. This company was a small one, obviously subcontracting all the actual work.

    However, when creating the company, the cities didn't write anything about the purpose of this company into its paperwork. Because it was a privately owned joint-stock company, the law took priority and so its purpose was to make its owners money instead of, perhaps, building the metro infrastructure. (I did pay a couple of Euros for the public paperwork, and checked this.)

    Of course there were problems with schedules and going over the budget. The investigations were somewhat difficult from the public side as the company was a private company and therefore much of its internal paperwork was declared trade secrets and was not available. I'm not sure if it really made any money, however, and I think that the purpose was not fulfilled. Of course nobody cared but I still think this was one case where the joint-stock company might have had some other purpose than what was written in the law, or even survival.

    Funnily when all the problems with money and schedules started to surface, the CEO of the company said that he doesn't know anything about the problems. There were maybe ten people directly employed by the company and its reason was to keep track of a) money b) schedules in the project, so there was some discussion whether the CEO was lying, not doing his work, or just incompetent. (He left the company almost a year later, so apparently this was not a problem for the owners... I mean the cities.)

    The next extension to the Helsinki area metro line was funded and organized differently.

    328:

    Brief point-of-order comment:

    For some reason, fanbois like to first-name their heroes, and this annoying habit rubs off on the rest of us and spreads like a nasty rash. It was icky with "Steve" and it's still icky with "Elon". Billionaires are not your friends and never will be. Can we agree to call him "Musk"?

    Same for "Boris", of course.

    329:

    IKEA is a BV. Closest translation into American is LLC.

    I.E. IKEA is incorporated.

    Nothing unusual about being a privately owned corporation.

    330:

    327 - I was talking about general economics, not Finnish corporate law. It's still an interesting point though.

    328 - And if I refer to "Alexander Boris de Falafel Johnson" as "Bozo"? It's intended as mockery, not matyness.

    331:

    I don't like your name for type 3 (the build it up, drop back to "comfortable multi-millionaire", build it up again people). Elon Musk is a commonly used example of this archetype for billionaires: if you look at his history, he starts out rich due to an inheritance, risks it on Zip2 which succeeds, repeats the process with X.com (which becomes PayPal, and then succeeds), and repeats the cycle with SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink, Solar City, and The Boring Company.

    In each case, he's spent most of his fortune leaving him with just enough to be comfortable (by normal standards) if all his risks fizzle. And he's now reached the point where he has multiple risks on the go, which can all collapse and leave him merely comfortably off (luxury car, large house in expensive area like SF, passive income from investments meets his needs), but where at least one of them is likely to pay off.

    And it's worth noting that people can move between archetypes; Gates up until the US Federal Government took on Microsoft was a type 2 ("Dragon", acquire the universe type), and has transitioned to being a type 1 ("old fashioned capitalist", hold steady but don't try to grow).

    Indeed, it's entirely possible that what we're seeing with Musk looking to take over Twitter is him moving archetype - and if that's the case, which one he's going to become is unknown.

    332:

    Colonising space (Lagrange points, say) seems to me to be markedly harder than colonising Mars. Where do these space habitats get their propellants and other volatiles?

    333:

    Oh! Thanks. I had no idea Tesla had dry cell (Maxwell, 4680) tech up and running in (limited) mass production. I think I'd assumed it was just Elon bullshitting about some limited, iterative improvement. But no, it's a moderately big deal.

    They are still partnering with panasonic, but seemingly just as an outside supplier building Tesla tech under licence while tesla ramps up its own production over the next decade: https://electrek.co/2022/05/11/tesla-asks-panasonic-speed-up-development-4680-battery-cell/

    334:

    Nick Barnes @328: Just saw your comment after posting. I am not remotely an Elon/ Musk fanboi. I tend to use first names because (a) it's one of many tics Australians use to pretend we don't have a class system, and (b) using surnames alone reminds me of the culture of my private school. Which I hated about as much as Charlie did.

    335:

    Here in Oregon, we don't have any sales tax. But in Washington state, they do. Which is why lots of people in Vancouver, WA, come to Portland, OR, to buy their stuff... :-)

    And a side note to the side note, for the rest of the world: While sales taxes are levied by the states, and different states set different percentages, that isn't the end of the story.

    A quick visit to Google will tell you that Washington state sales tax is 6.5% so does an example Vancouver person pay 6.5%? No; they're in Vancouver, so they also pay another 2% city sales tax for a total 8.5% tax.

    If you were to fly into Seatac International Airport and buy something, that would have a (6.5% state + 3.6% city) 10.1% tax. A few miles up the road in Seattle the same purchase would be subject to (6.5% + 3.75%) 10.25% tax.

    Yes, this is a flaming pain in the lower anatomy. Pretty much everyone wants stores to mark prices in what customers actually pay, yet this does not happen.

    336:

    It turned out that some subcontractor of their Chinese subcontractor who built the motherboards had substituted a resistor? capacitor? of lower standards, and they were burning out.

    Heh. Some years back one of my housemates worked quality control for a well known chip manufacturer (there's a good chance you have one of their products within a meter of you right now). His group had a fault finding quota - with the result that every chip testing station had a secret stash of bad chips, so that at the end of the day workers would be able to show that they'd found an acceptable number of bad chips.

    What you measure becomes what you get...

    337:

    Yeah, from what I can figure out from the cryptic hints that Musk drops, the dry cell manufacture is "working" but not yet ramped up. (much bug hunting). They've released video that shows them making fat cells in Texas. They look like dry cells in the video.

    They're also buying cells from Panasonic, building cells in partnership with Panasonic, inventing their own cobolt free cells, and I think buying CATL cells, BYD blade cells and I suspect, anything they can lay their hands on.

    The lack of cells is the stated reason for the truck delay (though who knows). Could be, if one truck uses the cells that would make 10 cars and they're cell constrained.

    338:

    Yes, this is a flaming pain in the lower anatomy. Pretty much everyone wants stores to mark prices in what customers actually pay, yet this does not happen.

    It seems to me that even if stores would like to do this, no one store will in their right mind do it: their prices would seem to be higher than other stores', so people would not prefer to shop there. Even if the real, paid price would be the same.

    It might even be difficult to advertise this. People often don't look at any signs.

    339:

    WreRite said: Worth noting that Tesla's battery factories are joint ventures with Panasonic.

    No. Not for years. In 2019 Tesla bought Maxwell Technologies. It's their cell technology that they're using and it's far beyond anything Panasonic has. Google Tesla dry cell technology. The gigafactories after Nevada have cell lines that are Tesla design and IP.

    Current Tesla vehicles almost all have batteries made by Panasonic, CATL, and (I believe) LG Chem. Since March, apparently a very few (solely from the Austin factory) are equipped with the new Tesla 4680 cells. Over the next few years there will be an increasing number of the latter, but the planned vehicle production growth rate is such that there's no prospect of equipping every new vehicle with the Tesla 4680 cells, not for many years to come. At least one of their battery partners (Panasonic IIRC) is also now making 4680 cells for Tesla vehicles, although whether their 4680s are just a new form-factor or also incorporate other Tesla battery technology is unclear.

    Furthermore, Tesla and their various battery partners, especially Panasonic, are in various very long-term contracts to increase cell supply, in various form factors, and have various arrangements to cross-license patents and otherwise share technology. I expect all of those companies to be making Tesla-designed 4680 cells in due course, if the design works out well and the yield problems can be fully resolved.

    Tesla management are rightly focused on that 50% production growth target, aiming for 20 million vehicles annually before 2030. Cell supply is absolutely essential to that. They're not going to bet that farm on their newer cell designs and production techniques, and doubtless have plans for getting there even if they can't put many of those cells into those vehicles.

    340:

    Well, be aware that this habit is also widely exhibited by fanbois - it's a bit of a red flag, especially when discussing tech billionaires. Twenty years ago you could sort Apple commentators into normal vs deluded, fairly reliably, by whether they spoke of "Jobs" or "Steve".

    You've piqued my interest, though. Does the Australian norm extend to politicians? Do news anchors talk about "Tony" or "Scott", without a surname? Or "Jacinda", or "Emmanuel"? How about "Vladimir", or "Volodomyr"?

    Some politicians (and others) encourage the habit. "Call me Tony", "Boris", etc. Others avoided it (nobody referred to our most recent ex-PM as just "Theresa"). But I see no reason to pander to their focus-group preferences.

    341:

    I think the solution to the 'taxes not included in the advertised price' would just be to make it mandatory to do it that way, that is, change the law.

    Here we have also rules for comparable prices, for example price per kilogram or per unit, for most grocery store stuff (uh, phone contracts and the like are a completely different thing). It makes it easier to compare prices of different sized packages.

    It also makes it easier to see that the smaller package is sometimes the cheaper one, which doesn't make much sense to me, but whatever, I can buy the cheaper one.

    342:

    in personal terms the marginal utility of money diminishes all the way to zero

    Of course that depends on the personal utility function. In the long run we are all dead, but living longer is not the sine qua non for everyone. Jobs wanted to live longer, and spent some resources on trying to make that happen, but not everyone is so much bothered by that.

    Some people have goals which extend beyond their own lifespans, and make plans in the knowledge that they will not come to fruition until long after their deaths. I don't know whether there are any in the "zotta" category at the moment (handy Doctorow short-hand for the ultra-rich), but any such might well allocate their immense money (/power) to projects which will long survive them. As previously observed here and in other posts, we have mechanisms in our society (trusts, corporations, etc) which would enable that.

    343:

    Ahem: I prefer to refer to the PM as "Clownshoes Churchill". It's descriptive, OK?

    (And the Home Secretary is "Desi Himmler". Also descriptive.)

    344:

    It seems to me that even if stores would like to do this, no one store will in their right mind do it... It might even be difficult to advertise this. People often don't look at any signs.

    One exception, such as they exist, is micro-vendors such as convention sales booths. There are enough people from out of the area, and limitations in both competition and time, that merchants seem to be able to get away with telling prospective customers what things actually cost. It's also advantageous to a small mobile vendor to have all sales in round dollar amounts - if all transactions are in some number of dollars they don't need to arse around with any coins.

    345:

    1 I find that highly insulting to Winston Churchill
    2 The Home Secretary is a male Cuban-American!? (look up Desi Arnaz)

    346:

    (1) It's meant to indicate that Boris is a clownish Churchill cosplayer. (Which he is.)

    (2) Desi is a Hindustani word. Seems to be little known in the US.

    347:

    paws & Charlie
    Bo Jon-Sun to compare him with another megalomaniac & also because he's a vicious little shit

    348:

    1 Bozo is most assuredly a clown. I prefer to not even suggest that his delusion of being an orator to match Winston Churchill has the least foundation in fact.
    2 When I see the word "Desi", I immediately think of the Cuban-American actors Desi Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Junior (of "I Love Lucy" and "Desilu Studios" fame). I am not USian!

    349:

    BoJo is actually a reasonably good speaker -- or was before the brain eater got him. (And Churchill is over-rated: a bloody-handed reactionary imperialist murderer and thug, it took a Hitler to make him look good in contrast.)

    350:

    The research shows that separating out components of a price tag like this is a good way to get people to oppose the components of price tag that they don't perceive as valuable. In this instance (sales taxes), it helps to drive sales taxes down and push the tax burden elsewhere.

    If people were fully rational, you would consider only the price you pay, and would consider $0.99 as 1% less than $1. We're not that rational, so the irrationality needs to be accounted for.

    When you separate out a price into components, even if all components are compulsory, the human tendency is to object to the components you don't think you need, and to push for those components to be reduced. Only being allowed to quote a combined price avoids this particular bit of irrationality, because the extra effort to notice the taxes isn't something most people bother with - and thus only the anti-tax nutcases really shout about the tax rate.

    It's worse for taxes that cover externalities. If burning tyres costs $0.01 per tyre, but attracts a $9.99 per tyre "air pollution" tax, while fully recycling them costs $9 per tyre, seeing them separated has people ask "why I am pay $9.99 in taxes when the vendor is willing to do the work for $0.01?". If you can only quote a combined price, then people simply see that burning the tyre is $10, recycling it is $9, and thus it's cheaper to recycle. Fewer people will argue, because most people won't bother to look into it, and a significant fraction of those who do bother will realise that the point of the $9.99 in taxes is to make it more expensive to burn the tyre and pollute the air when you can fully recycle it.

    351:

    I'll second the Desi Arnaz comment. As the one-time husband of Lucille Ball, he's the "Desi" all of us are familiar with here in the US (perhaps you've heard of "I Love Lucy"?). I didn't know the UK use of "Desi" until you popped up "Desi Himmler" and I had to look it up.

    352:

    I think the solution to the 'taxes not included in the advertised price' would just be to make it mandatory to do it that way, that is, change the law.

    The problem in the US is that sales taxes are assessed by state, county, city, etc.

    Here's the California version:

    "The statewide tax rate is 7.25%. In most areas of California, local jurisdictions have added district taxes that increase the tax owed by a seller. Those district tax rates range from 0.10% to 1.00%. Some areas may have more than one district tax in effect. Sellers are required to report and pay the applicable district taxes for their taxable sales and purchases.

    "If you need help identifying the correct rate, you may look up the rate by address, contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (TTY: 711), or call the local CDTFA office closest to you for assistance."

    And yes, it's a pain.

    The bottom line is that, if a chain store is having a sale across all its stores, posting the price with tax is going to make the campaign cost prohibitive, because that price likely will be different in each store. Conversely, someone going across the street to comparison-shop will be paying the same tax, so why bother?

    Democracy in action, not limiting taxation to the feds.

    353:

    I can't find an on-line copy :-( but there is a cartoon of Boris Johnson meeting Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy, actioned and captioned something like this:- Volodymyr is triggering the intercom and saying "I need a translator now. No, I do speak English but I don't speak whatever this clown is using, maybe Latin?"

    354:

    I have never seen "I Love Lucy" -- only heard it mentioned. Still don't have any concrete idea what it was about.

    355:

    Indeed, it's entirely possible that what we're seeing with Musk looking to take over Twitter is him moving archetype - and if that's the case, which one he's going to become is unknown.

    Re: the Type 3 name. I think you've got two cases. What you're describing is to me simple risk aversion (or Taleb's "dog bone" investment strategy), and you'll see it in your Type One people too. When they get a windfall, they'll risk it, but they won't risk their core capital. Knowing your level of risk and sticking within it is what everyone should do, if possible, and it's very old-fashioned.

    To me, Type 3 is more that, when you have a surplus you don't need, you return it to the community, through charity, throwing a huge party, etc., and convert financial capital to social or political capital. This ranges from bread and circuses to philanthropy to monster parties. It's also a very ancient strategy too. It may or may not blend with Type One behavior, but the key point is that they don't directly get money back on their "investment," they get better reputation, better infrastructure, or more educated public and workers.

    The interesting conflict is that the super-rich are pressured not to be too giving, quite possibly as a mark of class solidarity, because it makes greed look bad.

    Now yes, I acknowledge that we're using different definitions for Type 3. However, as a environmental activist, this version of Type 3 is what I deal with all the time, whether it's encouraging people to put their money back into the planet rather than extracting resources, or dealing with rich developers (like IQ45) who convert part of their fortune into a hunt for political power. It's common enough behavior that it really deserves its own typology.

    If you want to call it something else, though, be my guest. I prefer pithy titles for such things (like "dragons") just to make them more memorable.

    356:

    Of course that depends on the personal utility function. In the long run we are all dead, but living longer is not the sine qua non for everyone. Jobs wanted to live longer, and spent some resources on trying to make that happen, but not everyone is so much bothered by that.

    It's worth remembering that John Maynard Keynes didn't have children, perhaps? I know you make a similar point, but this triggered a rant. My apologies.

    The point isn't to diss Keynes, because apparently he wanted kids. The bigger point is that "in the long run we are all dead" is one of the stupider things economists and people with pretensions to intelligentsia have ever latched onto, right up there with "tragedy of the commons."

    Being dead in the long run is the reason you invest in children, not an excuse to piss everything away in an orgy of selfishness. Unfortunately, "is it worth having children" is something that shows up in pop economics fairly frequently (e.g. here). As a media topic, it looks fairly innocuous, until you start to realize that it's the current crop of elders who are really driving climate change and other problems, primarily with our collective greed. "Why save it for the kids? Spend it on yourself" is an advertising meme I'm seeing more and more. Unfortunately, Keynes off-the-cuff remark seems to have become a convenient excuse for greed and short-term thinking, and in that regard, it's doing more harm than good, at least in my humble opinion.

    Here's the soapbox if you want it.

    357:

    I have never seen "I Love Lucy" -- only heard it mentioned. Still don't have any concrete idea what it was about.

    Wikipedia will help. The things to realize are that it pioneered the "shot in front of a live studio audience" sitcom format, it was the most popular show in the US for quite a long time, even after it ceased production, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz pioneered syndication, which is why it stayed on the air for decades in reruns (and also made them quite wealthy). Oh, and Lucille Ball continued to innovate and pushed and paid for innovative TV programs. One of the TV shows that wouldn't have aired without her help is a little thing called Star Trek. Maybe you've heard of it?

    358:

    I grew up (mostly) in Canada, and to me desi has always meant East Indian, used mostly by people of that background.

    Nowadays East Indian has been replaced with South Asian, just as Oriental has been replaced by Asian (as compared to my childhood). I understand in the UK the usages are Asian and East Asian respectively, but that's gathered from context reading the Guardian and BBC.

    359:

    “I didn't know the UK use of "Desi" until you popped up "Desi Himmler" and I had to look it up.”

    A useful reminder that words do not mean the same in every place, in every context. And over the years I’ve found it very annoying how often commenters on blogs etc insist on their own interpretation of a word as the only possible one. It becomes a form of imperial subjugation, and given the nature of the internet, generally American imperialism.

    360:

    (CW: brief reference to rape)

    If the word which follows "Elon" is "bullshitting", then I think it's pretty clear I'm not an unalloyed fanboi. I largely agree with your objection to the aw-shucks-just-regular-folks performance of the ultra-elite, and the problematic nature of the para-friendship encouraged by celebrity culture. (I say, having just casually referred to our host as Charlie and comparing my childhood to his a few posts back, never having met him IRL).

    As I hinted @334, Australian informality, which I like and prefer to the starchy alternative, is partly a self-deluding pretence. Class and status war is pursued by other means. It's also something which has evolved over time. The upper class of the 1940's at least aspired to a British, RP accent, U and non-U snobbery, and the formality which went with that, the working class had broad australian accents and informality, and the middle class were, well, in between. Over time, those distinctions have been flattened out. But not eliminated. Australians are as attuned to subtleties of speech as clues to class and education as anyone else. When billionaires talk like truck drivers there's often a little dance of what school did you go to/ what suburb do you live in/ well OK you're the boss but don't imagine you're better than me, boss. A reaction against Anglophilia and the fable of a classless society were central to cultural nationalism (across the political spectrum) in the 60's - 70's. Everyone's ya mate. Supposedly. (But note the default assumption that everyone is male). Nothing is worse than acting like you're better than someone.

    I remember being fascinated and little appalled by the yes ma'am no ma'am deference shown by a couple of backpacking English plasterers to my mother when my parents were doing some renovations in the 80's. But 20 years ago I might still have asked someone much older and than me if they minded being called John rather than Mr. Smith, because some of the older generation might still have expected that. These days, outside of some sort of very formal scenarios (including a lot of customer service, interestingly), first name is the default. In a social setting, if I know you're John but I call you Mr. Smith, I'm either grovelling, or i'm being jovial, or I think you're a dickhead.

    Workplaces are trickier though. Mostly informal, but there are exceptions. The PM was recently called out for referring to a parliamentary staffer who'd allegedly* been raped in parliament, then put through the wringer of a cover up and a cover up of the cover up by his office, as [First name] rather than Ms. [Surname]. It was seen both as insensitive, and as a gaslighting attempt to portray a friendly supportive relationship which definitely doesn't exist, and disrespectful. There's an argument that female polititians tend to be referred to by their first name more often, rather than their title or full name, as a diminishing, belittling tactic. Julia Gillard was notoriously referred to as Ju-Liar by the right.

    Australian politicians mostly like being called by their first name for the same reason Boris or Tony do. We're all equals here, I'm just like you, I'm relatable, I don't regard you as gullible scum. But the dream for our pollies is the nickname. Or at least an abbreviation. Deeply weird PM Scott Morrison has assiduously cultivated an everyman persona which has led him to embrace ScoMo. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese is Albo. (As an aside the government parties are running excruciating ads rhyming "e" sounds with Albanese. "Albanese won't be easy" Presumably there's a demographic of aging bigots out there who need to be reminded he's italian, ooh, scary). First name basis means we're equals. A nickname means I'm a mate you can share a beer with.

    I can't really answer your question about newsreaders, because I haven't really watched TV news in 15 years. But it seems to be an archaic format for an aging audience which both pretends to be a friend in your living room, while being considerably more formal than the society it (mis)represents. The basics of evening news haven't really evolved since the 1980s, and even then it was only a slightly relaxed version of the RP accents of the 1950s broadcasts. Certainly the breakfast "news" shows have embraced first names/ nicknames in a big way.

    *Currently before the courts, so I'm being careful.

    361:

    One of the reasons Amazon, Apple and other online retailers have been eating the lunch of local retailers is that they just haven't bothered to pay local or state sales taxes.

    The national governments seem to have gotten wise to this, at least in some places. Here in Canada if I order something from Amazon I get charged the GST (a federal tax) but rarely or never the PST (Provincial tax). I assume it is because the feds have the teeth and capacity to force Amazon to do that.

    The upshot is that local retailers are at a significant disadvantage to online merchants. On top of carrying storefront costs, they also have to charge local taxes that the big online operators simply ignore.

    362:

    I would agree that this type needs splitting by motivations. It's just that the economics papers I've read don't do that, by and large - they only seem to split by outcome in terms of change in wealth.

    Some do consider behaviour as well, but not all.

    That said, it's still useful as a starting point - it divides the ultra-risk into a group you don't need to worry about too much, a group that's an existential threat if they get their own way, and a group that might or might not be a threat depending on how they handle the "I have too much wealth to get my happiness fix" stage.

    Given that it's only outcome 2 - your "Dragons" - that are a significant and hard to address danger, maybe we only need to name that group? The other two appear in the literature, but usually in comparison to the Dragons, and only to establish that they're "harmless" parasites on society, where the Dragons are a threat.

    363:

    Nothing unusual about being a privately owned corporation.

    Yes. I agree. Others up thread seemed to be conflating that being a corporation meant you were publicly owned.

    When my mother died my other two brothers and I became owners in her house. Sort of. When the brother/executor when to file I insisted very strongly (there were multiple phone calls back and forth) that we form an LLC to own the property. My point, which I finally got through to him, was that if any of us got into a lawsuit (independent of the house) as common law partners in the ownership, our sale of the house could be tied up for years.

    364:

    Pretty much everyone wants stores to mark prices in what customers actually pay, yet this does not happen.

    The biggest issue is with stores or restaurants with multiple locations or even a regional or national presence. The can't put prices which include the local sales tax unless they have more footnotes on a document than actual sales information.

    365:

    that merchants seem to be able to get away with telling prospective customers what things actually cost.

    They don't "get away" with it. It is a feature of a single locaion selling things which are no pre-packaged by someone else.

    Every time I've looked into how you collect and remit such sales taxes in the US it is up to the seller to decide how to do it. Then apply the math so the government gets their cut.

    The problem, as I and others have said is the very very very local variation of the taxable amounts. But a food truck on the street can just collect $10 for a sandwich. Then do the math.

    366:

    Given that it's only outcome 2 - your "Dragons" - that are a significant and hard to address danger, maybe we only need to name that group? The other two appear in the literature, but usually in comparison to the Dragons, and only to establish that they're "harmless" parasites on society, where the Dragons are a threat.

    Alas, the people who turn wealth into power also include everyone from Bill Gates and Dolly Parton to Donald Trump and David Koch. Unfortunately, they're not harmless.

    I do agree with the problem of seeing them only in economic terms, though.

    Hmmm. I'll see if anything pithy term boils out of my subconscious.

    367:

    Desi is a Hindustani word. Seems to be little known in the US.

    We all have Desi Arnaz imprinted in the national consciousness. Who was Cuban. If this doesn't register look up Lucille Ball.

    368:

    Unfortunately, Keynes off-the-cuff remark seems to have become a convenient excuse for greed and short-term thinking, and in that regard, it's doing more harm than good, at least in my humble opinion.

    Interesting. I've not noticed it being used in that way (ick), although I see (e.g. here) that this has been going on for some time. What Keynes actually wrote was "The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again," which is a plea for more study and better understanding of short-term situations, but not for a neglect of long-term goals.

    On the subject of long-term vs short-term, Keynes apparently didn't say "Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent" - which was coined long after he died - although it is the sort of pithy true thing he might have said.

    369:

    One of the reasons Amazon, Apple and other online retailers have been eating the lunch of local retailers is that they just haven't bothered to pay local or state sales taxes.

    You're both wrong and a decade out of date.

    Apple has ALWAYS collected sales tax in their online store as far as anything I've bought for years.

    Amazon has been collecting US local sales taxes for well over a decade. Their big argument was there was no way for them to accurately calculate the tax for a very long time. No matter how much handwaivium the politicians talked about. Now most all states have a data base where you feed in an address and they give you the rate. If it's wrong it's the locality's problem, not the seller's.

    Apple, I think, just tried and dealt with the errors back in the day.

    370:

    Further surfing reveals that this abuse of Keynes started with Hayek. Not really surprising, Hayek was a foul lying scumbag who can plausibly be blamed for as much suffering and pain as any of the twentieth centuries other great villains.

    371:

    Wikipedia will help. The things to realize are that it pioneered the "shot in front of a live studio audience" sitcom format,

    They did all kinds of technical firsts. Down to matching paint schemes to B&W TV.

    Also some of the things talked about here in the last month that some UK TV shows started they started doing in 1951. A big driver was back in the early 50s most TV was done on the east coast, specifically New York. Shown live in the eastern and central time zones, then a Kinescope shown out west a week later. Which sucked for those out west. And for long term archiving of any show.

    ILL shot each show with 3 film cameras then edited the to the final show. It was show on the same day coast to coast a week later. (Issues which don't occur in skinny (east to west) countries.)

    What I find interesting is the way Wikipedia ignores the cultural aspects of the show. It starts off in 1951 with them living in a sort of run down apartment in an older NYC building. Owned by their friends and neighbors. Each year of the show the apartment gets nicer and nicer then for the last two years they moved to the suburbs in Connecticut. Agree with it or not it was a mirror on the life many in the US wanted to have coming out of the depression and WWII.

    It matched in many ways most of my friends parents' life in the 50s. Even in rural Kentucky.

    It struck a nerve in the US in so many ways.

    372:

    I should include the XKCD cartoon with the guy holding up the sign that reads, "Citation, please". I can point to a lot of companies/families where this is not the case... the Gates' and the Waltons to start with.

    373:

    You wrote: "Perhaps a taxation schema that allowed great civilization-supporting projects like Starship would be appropriate?"

    Oh, but then, for the US, you'd have to get the GOP to give up their hatred of civilian manned space programs (because JFK and the Moon), and FUND NASA, and for NASA to order, from the top down, you will make this happen.

    As opposed to what my late wife, who was an engineer at the Cape for 17 years told me, that a lot of the upper (and non-tech managers) were time-servers, and afraid to put their signature on something that would cost a lot of money and could fail....

    374:

    And I have posted, repeatedly, that speaking as a computer professional, I do NOT see "self-driving cars" as suitable for anywhere but limited access highways, and I've posted links to pics on google maps showing one road near me that zero "self-driving cars" would be able to handle.

    375:

    "You're both wrong and a decade out of date.

    Apple has ALWAYS collected sales tax in their online store as far as anything I've bought for years."

    I'm not wrong. To my knowledge Apple STILL does not collect provincial sales tax here in BC. They only started collecting federal sales tax a few years ago. The one time I bought an Apple device the clear preference was online BECAUSE there was no sales tax applied.

    Through my work I just bought something from Amazon this week. GST (federal) was charged, PST (provincial) was not. I do not pay PST for my Netflix account either.

    I think a more accurate description is that Apple, Amazon, Netflix and every other online merchant charges sales tax where and when they have no choice. In jurisdictions that force them to charge it, they do. If they can't or won't force them, they don't charge it or pay it. If they are bothering with the granularity of city or town level sales taxes I will be impressed.

    In most cases they use the dodge that 'local sales taxes are the responsibility of the consumer'. Which is true, but largely untrackable and unenforceable - and they know it.

    376:

    I agree with him, not you. For a company/corp to "survive", it requires people (it really isn't a big building with a logo on it, having desires). And the people's goal is to make money.

    20 years or so ago, I came up with the ultimate corp (esp. American): I print out a bunch of really pretty stock certificates, and sell them. And any time they're resold, I get a cut. The company is pre-downsized (just the president and CEO, which is me), fully amortized, and has zero costs.

    377:

    JC Penney, a large department store chain, had a CEO who thought it was a great idea, and ran a campaign, "no sales, these are our everyday low prices". It failed. He left, and they went back to higher prices, and sales on items....

    378:

    I'd like Adolf Trump and Rupert Goebbels, please. Yeah, I know, it should be Benito Trump, but no one knows Mussolini's first name.

    379:

    I disagree. I saw first or second run of the show when I was little and stayed home sick from school, and I don't think of them. Btw, desi, I gather, is frequently used in pr0n to refer to Indians.

    380:

    Just to be clear. That was only one of a dozen or more really bad ideas that guy had on how to transform the company. Isn't he the one who came from Apple retail and tried to mac JCPenny into a similar look and feel. [impossibly huge eyeroll]

    381:

    I'd prefer something else... speaking as a dragon (my badge, at cons, reads mark, the Silverdragon, thankyouverrymuch, and has since time immemorial.)

    382:

    Just to add to the confusion, US Southern usage is to refer to someone as Mr. . Now, if you note that this is almost identical to medieval usage for younger son of nobility, you're dead on.

    383:

    "Nowadays East Indian has been replaced with South Asian, just as Oriental has been replaced by Asian (as compared to my childhood). I understand in the UK the usages are Asian and East Asian respectively, but that's gathered from context reading the Guardian and BBC. "

    UK usages: (The following is not in any way definitive, just my impression of the man on the Clapham omnibus might.)

    South Asia denotes what used to be "the Indian subcontinent". East Asia would include Chinas, Japan, Koreas. South-east Asia is roughly Thailand plus all the countries it borders, plus Vietnam and Singapore.

    "East India" or "East Indian" just sounds strange to my ear: "West India" doesn't exist, the "West Indies" notwithstanding, so there's no reason to stress India's east-ness. "If they're from India, they're Indian, dammit."

    385:

    Wow, that was an education. Thank you!

    386:

    "When I see the word "Desi", I immediately think of the Cuban-American actors Desi Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Junior (of "I Love Lucy" and "Desilu Studios" fame). I am not USian!"

    I think you are unusual.

    This came up before (when Charlie wanted to double-check that "Desi Himmler" wouldn't be considered offensive). Like Charlie, I have heard of "I Love Lucy", to the extent of being aware that it was a popular US TV show in the black-and-white era, but I don't know (or care) about anything to do with it beyond that bare fact. I had definitely never heard a whisper of the kind of Desi you cite until all the US commentators got going last time this came up.

    The Indian kind of Desi is a part of everyday life which has been in common use since 200x at least. It crops up in daily newspapers and on shop and restaurant signs and other such public things. It also appears frequently on the internet, for reasons like Indian people talking to each other in English on Indian web sites. (I can't read Indian scripts.) By contrast the US kind ceased to be of current relevance before a lot of people were born, and never did have any relevance in Britain even when it was current in the US, so I'd definitely expect anyone British to be far more likely to interpret the word in the Indian sense (with "uh?" as the next most likely response).

    387:

    I know you think you've established that Desi is not a racial slur in itself, and that may well be the case. But I'm pretty sure if the Daily Mail started calling, idk, Diane Abbott "Black Beria" the commentariat here would rightly be calling it racism.

    388:

    ""East India" or "East Indian" just sounds strange to my ear: "West India" doesn't exist, the "West Indies" notwithstanding, so there's no reason to stress India's east-ness. "If they're from India, they're Indian, dammit."

    That runs into large scale trouble here in North America, for cultural and historical reasons.

    Indigenous folk here were referred to as 'Indians' for about 500 years by the settlers/invaders/genocidaires. The evolution of the etymology is a bit different in the US, but here in Canada using the word 'Indian' to refer to an Indigenous person is ethically and socially on par with the 'N-word'. If I were to refer to any of my indigenous coworkers and friends as 'Indians' I would be rightly and vehemently chastised as using a racist term invented by genocidal invaders.

    Of course, as with the n-word some people have 'reclaimed' it within the oppressed culture. That is not the same as making it 'ok' for whitey to use.

    People with heritage from the Indian subcontinent might also be identified as Indians (this time a bit more correctly), but given that >75 years ago 'India' began dividing into Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and so on it isn't particularly correct to place them all under the 'Indian' umbrella because they all happened to be subjugated under the same colonialist Empire. Particularly if you herald from that same colonialist Empire, which exploited that region for a couple of centuries amidst several thousand years of rich history.

    'South Asian' has the advantage of being factually correct as well as not imposing an outdated Colonial categorization and further avoiding confusion with the outdated Colonial description of North American Indigenous persons (or First Nations).

    It turns out that not being unconsciously racist or colonial in the way we talk to and about people takes some ongoing effort and thought. There are no circumstances where I would be comfortable identifying someone as 'Indian'.

    389:

    AlanD2 @ 225: As a veteran who gets most of his health care through the Veterans Administration, I suggest your implication that the VA is incompetent is generally wrong. Studies show that veterans prefer the VA to private health providers.

    My complaint with the VA isn't about the Quality of the health care I get, but about the QUANTITY.

    And that's not the VA's fault. It's Bush/Cheney arbitrarily deciding to fuck over the National Guard soldiers who served in Iraq. I earned FULL 100% VA Medical Benefits with 20 years service in 1995.

    BENEFITS FULLY VESTED I got my "20 Year Letter" in 1995, before serving an additional 12 years after that. During my tour in Iraq Bush/Cheney CUT medical benefits for mobilized National Guard Soldiers ... including career soldiers like me who were already vested for lifetime benefits.

    390:

    "The national governments seem to have gotten wise to this, at least in some places."

    In other places Amazon don't pay national taxes either. Like Europe. If I buy something on Amazon I buy it off the .co.uk site, with prices in pounds, I pay for it by handing over British currency in exchange for an Amazon gift card in a British shop, it's dispatched from a warehouse in Britain, it travels through the British postal service to a British address, and even whoever Amazon originally got it from is often in Britain (a recent example was in the next county). The entire doings is totally British, and apart from the actual Bezos not being British no other country has anything to do with it.

    But they don't pay British taxes because they come up with some stupid bullshit about pretending the whole bloody lot is being done in some garden shed in Luxembourg so they only have to pay Luxembourg taxes, which are peanuts. And the government lets them get away with it.

    They chose Luxembourg because it has lower taxes than anywhere in the EU and it made it easy for them to do the same scam to all the countries in the EU. Somehow it still works in Britain as well even though Britain isn't in the EU any more.

    391:

    I have to agree, for different reasons. Dragons are Welsh, and Heteromeles is risking having the ghost of Owain Glyndwr haunting him.

    392:

    Completely agree. Even the useful stuff comes out fucked up because actually being good stuff isn't the first priority but takes second place at best, and as for the rest...

    393:

    And I have posted, repeatedly, that speaking as a computer professional, I do NOT see "self-driving cars" as suitable for anywhere but limited access highways...

    In the last 80 years, we have gone from no computers to something that is almost good enough to autonomously drive a car. I refer you to Clarke's first law:

    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, they are almost certainly right. When they state that something is impossible, they are very probably wrong.

    394:

    Amazon do pay some British taxes, despite the Luxembourg stunt.

    The Luxembourg stunt lets Amazon avoid British Corporation Tax (and, IMO, is a loophole that should be closed) - because the profit is generated in Luxembourg, at least on paper, Amazon pay Luxembourg CT and not British CT.

    However, the goods are supplied in the UK from a UK warehouse, and thus Amazon has to pay UK VAT on the goods when sold; VAT accounting is net, not gross, so it gets to reclaim the UK VAT it paid getting the goods into the warehouse, and when goods cross a border for a business, you're allowed to reclaim the VAT paid on one side of the border and pay the appropriate VAT on the other side.

    As well as VAT, Amazon also pays Employer's National Insurance, and business rates. It's just CT that it avoids.

    395:

    During my tour in Iraq Bush/Cheney CUT medical benefits for mobilized National Guard Soldiers ... including career soldiers like me who were already vested for lifetime benefits.

    Sorry. Sounds like the Shrub really did a number on you.

    Today, Florida Senator Rick Scott is out to get me (and a lot of other Americans too). Page 19 in his infamous 11-point plan to “rescue America” says: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”

    Given Congress's inability to pass anything these days, this would mean the end of Social Security (among other things) - and the end of my sole source of income... :-/

    396:

    Here in Canada if I order something from Amazon I get charged the GST (a federal tax) but rarely or never the PST (Provincial tax).

    I used to order camera gear from a shop in Alberta (rather than wait to buy it there on vacation) because they only charged GST, not PST. That stopped when Ontario joined the feds and now any orders shipped to Ontario get charged HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) which is a combination of GST and provincial sales tax.

    When I order from Amazon I likewise get charged HST (13% rather than just the GST (5%).

    I think that in order to get the provincial taxes bundled with federal the province needs to harmonize the categories (ie. no differences to GST). Could be wrong about that.

    397:

    Speaking of Keynes and Hayek, an upcoming story: Hart, G. 2022. Barbarians at the Gates: a Parable of Dueling Philosophies. Sci Phi Journal (date TBD).

    Without questioning Charlie's original proposition, a counterpoint to "even trillionnaires" have limited power:

    https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/18/tech/elon-musk-world-hunger-wfp-donation/index.html

    TL;DR: Musk claimed he'd donate $6 billion to solve world hunger if the World Food Programme could tell him precisely how they'd spend the money. They did; he didn't. Whether or not you believe the estimated cost, you could multiply it 10-fold and he could still easily afford the cost if he gave up on owning Twitter. You can see the sociopathy in his choice of where to spend the money.

    Still, I have to ask: Could we get 10 billionnaires together to each donate 10% of that amount? One problem solved, move on to the next one? Could we persuade the world's developed nations to use their much greater economic and political power to accomplish that same end? Probably no. But reframe the question as "how could we..." and interesting possibilities open up. Nationalizing the assets of all billionnaires is a start; mobilizing the nations is better.

    398:

    To be brutally Frank with you, it's easier for you to change your 'nym than it is for me to change my given name. At least you don't have to deal with sharing a name with every fifth psychopath, drug dealer, murder victim, or humorous incompetent that Hollywood sees fit to churn out. My count may be biased, but then again, how often does your name or 'nym get used for an overpriced sausage-adjacent product sold at ball games? And do they ever do your name to stamps?

    399:

    "East India" or "East Indian" just sounds strange to my ear: "West India" doesn't exist, the "West Indies" notwithstanding, so there's no reason to stress India's east-ness. "If they're from India, they're Indian, dammit."

    Don't forget that Indigenous peoples were called "Indians" over here. "Cowboys and Indians" wasn't a game kids played with Kipling-esque characters from the subcontinent…

    Indeed, "Indian" without qualifier was likely to mean "Indigenous" — because they were the most common example. So Indian Schools, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Indian Agent, etc…

    400:

    The problem with self driving cars is liability. Not speculating, this has even made it into Wikipedia.

    Basically, if you program a solution to a Trolley Problem into a car, such that the car kills its passenger(s) when faced with a greater number of deaths if it does not do so---you are liable for what the car did.

    And when a car gets hacked, is the company that made the cybersystems liable for the vulnerability? Or not?

    These aren't cheap questions to answer. It's also worth noting that the autonomous car will be programmed to drive in a way that minimizes costs and liability for its maker. Your comfort, safety, and convenience are only relevant to the degree to which they contribute to this goal.

    Comforting, isn't it?

    401:

    ""East India" or "East Indian" just sounds strange to my ear: "West India" doesn't exist, the "West Indies" notwithstanding, so there's no reason to stress India's east-ness."

    Indeed, if you do stress it, it ends up sounding like you're not referring to actual India: "East Indian" signifies "from the East Indies", ie. those places further on round in the direction of Japan that are all lots of islands and long thin peninsulas and oppressive tropical humidity and occasionally some of them go bang.

    402:

    374 - My proposal for testing "self-driving" cars; we put the coders in the vehicles under test, and have their supervisors act as the "obstacles" to be avoided.

    386 - Unusual; maybe, but then I don't consider that an insult anyway.
    My point about "Desi" is that extracting a specific meaning for the name requires knowledge that you can't actually rely on 2 people living all of 50 miles apart having.

    393 - I presume we can add you to the pool of test obstacles referenced above!

    403:

    Robert Prior @ 234:

    The way accident investigations are set up it's the pilot's "fault" if he doesn't recognize the holes in the cheese in time to prevent the accident.

    Not necessarily. NTSB reports are focussed more on prevention than finding someone to blame. Basically "what went wrong" and "how can that be prevented in the future".

    I'm sorry your army experience wasn't the same. "Directed finding" sounds dodgy, frankly. Someone outside the investigation decided what the conclusion was going to be? (And there weren't expert investigators? Not to cast aspersions at you, but an 'expert' who is following a manual step-by-step because they've never done it before doesn't sound like an expert.)

    Yeah, that's the way I saw it too. But "befehl ist befehl" ... as long as THEY are not ordering you to commit war crimes, you DO have to obey orders.

    The Army does things their own way. If some Iraqi insurgent had done us the courtesy of shooting at the damn thing there wouldn't even have been an investigation. If there had been even one, tiny little bullet hole it would have been written off as a "combat loss".

    The only reason there had to be a formal investigation was the little airplane cost so damn much (just slightly over half-a-million) and it didn't get shot down, it crashed.

    404:

    These aren't cheap questions to answer.

    Of course not. But this kind of question applies to most software these days, unfortunately. When sophisticated programs use hundreds of free / commercial components, rely on the operating systems they run on, use data from other programs and the internet, etc., etc., who's to blame when something goes wrong and people die? As usual, we'll likely muddle through it in the courts on a case-by-case basis, with governments stepping in when (un?)necessary.

    405:

    PS: "Directed finding: may be a bit harsh. The Division Safety Officer told me what I needed to write in the report for the "Accident Board" to sign, so the report would conform with Army Regs.

    406:

    I presume we can add you to the pool of test obstacles referenced above!

    See my comment in #404. We are all in the pool of test obstacles these days. (Unless you live isolated in a cave somewhere, of course.) I will happily serve the programming community! :-)

    407:

    You are indeed wrong. I have records of all my purchases from Apple (tax stuff) and every one of them has the appropriate taxes listed; separate GST & PST or combined HST from that short period when BC worked that way.

    And just checking, I see The Bay, llbean, and even Amazon do it too.

    408:

    chuk-g @ 268:

    or a slaughterhouse liver taken from a pig with HIV?

    I feel like if you have a transplant surgeon who can't tell a liver is not human, you have bigger problems than the organ source...

    Well, I was just being Sarky, but recent news articles ...

    Pig Kidneys Transplanted to Human in Milestone Experiment [Scientific American, 20 Jan 2022

    First pig-to-human heart transplant: what can scientists learn? [Nature, 14 Jan 2022]

    UAB announces first clinical-grade transplant of gene-edited pig kidneys into brain-dead human [University of Alabama at Birmingham, 20 Jan 2022]

    Does seem like there's some "research" going on in the field.

    409:

    On the other hand, the discovery of a pig with HIV (or even SIV) would cause major ructions in the biomedical world (and some interest from the police!) There are plenty of porcine viruses to worry about, but HIV is not one of them.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5585927/

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12934944/

    410:

    Sigh, markup. That should have been Mr. (first name).

    411:

    I bought a laptop online from Apple in 2021 and was charged PST in BC. That may be because I picked it up from a local store, I guess. And the last time I bought something from Amazon.ca I was also charged PST. For amazon.com it's all put together in the 'import fees deposit' line.

    412:

    And I have a Welsh flag hanging in my living room, on the left side of the patio door...

    413:

    Does the Australian norm extend to politicians?

    Yes, kinda. The Prime Munster (at time of writing) is called Scott by his mother but Slomo, Scummo, Scotty from Marketing, and various other things by his employers. His predecessors include Toned Abs (Tony Abbott) and Mal Turncoat. For the most part Jacindamania didn't make it to Australia although she was our preferred prime minister for a while.

    In Aotearoa the first name thing isn't quite so popular, but see Jacindamania and the famous "aunty cindy" video :) Also Helengrad, because Helen Clarke comes across as quite formidable. Before that Ruthenasia and Rogernomics, after the people who spearheaded the imposition of neoliberal economics. But in casual use it's as likely to be full names or last names from what I've seen.

    Also, Australia runs hard on sexism, so the few female politicians get a kicking from a separate direction. Like the USA Australia is not ready for female leadership and that doesn't seem likely to change. But change can happen veru rapidly when it does, it's not entirely out of the question that Albo could become prime minister then have an unfortunate accident and be replaced by Penny Wong (which would give us a queer, female, ethic-asian PM and probably kill Murdoch from apoplexy)

    414:

    So, you think I'm an old computer scientist, eh?

    On the other hand, feel free to find the link I posted a while back (weeks), and tell me how soon a self-driving car is going to handle three narrow lanes, with a car parked on one side, and a bus coming at you. I, as a good human driver, can pass the bus and the parked car. No, there are no lines in the road.

    415:

    If there had been even one, tiny little bullet hole it would have been written off as a "combat loss".

    Surely that could have been arranged, in a war zone…

    416:

    I thought I had your email, but I can't find it. Otherwise, I'd send you a pic with me wearing the large silver dragon cloak pin I made back before St. Ronnie, so that's not going to change.

    On the other hand, thanks - in writing, I always hit a roadblock when I need to name someone. So, next Western (as opposed to European, or Asian, or...) character I need to name, you're it.