Comments: America's Billionaires: Are They Crazy Enough?

Your Grandfather was a smart man, Jonathan, as are you. The funny thing (or not so funny) about the rich is they truly believe that they are wealthy because they deserve it and those who are not deserve what they have through some kind of divine plan from heaven. By the way I enjoyed the way you nailed David “It’s Always Your Fault” Brooks.

Posted by Robert Payne at July 7, 2012 12:46 AM

"the Prime Directive of everyone's psyche is to believe they're morally good"

Unless you are a psycho, in which case 'morally good' isn't even in the equation. And I bet a lot of them are. They just do what makes sense.

Posted by abb1 at July 7, 2012 05:46 AM

The prime directive of everyone's psyche is to believe in they're own behavior. That is to say that we are exceptionally good at rationalizing and making sense of our own behavior. If we want to believe we are moral, then that comes to the focus of the prime directive's commentary.

Posted by Justin at July 7, 2012 06:30 AM

The Three Laws of Meat Robotics

with a tip of the hat to Isaac Asimov for the title

We, like all our fellow animals, are in a struggle for survival - we will inevitably fail on an individual level, but evolution has engineered us to keep the species going. Hence, we have very strong built-in drives for the Three F's - feeding, fighting/fleeing, and reproduction.

1) The Energy Economy - food is generally scarce - eat and store it when you can, and take it easy at other times (conservation of energy, in a physiological rather than purely physical sense).

2) Stayin' Alive - do unto others before they do unto you, or run and hide if you can't.

3) Be fruitful and multiply.

The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness
Douglas J. Lisle, Alan Goldhamer, 2006

Amazon reader M. Miller says In nature we lived in a condition of scarcity; hence, it was to our advantage to seek out calorically-dense foods and eat as much as we could find. For every day of feast there would likely be many days of famine. This otherwise healthy instict is sabatoged by the modern environment of plenty. Now we merely feast -- all the time! This key insight -- that our biology is ill-equipped to deal with the plentifulness of modern life -- can be applied to other areas of life, too. The book is both scientific and historical, and as a whole very compelling. Every person who cares about making rational decisions with regard to eating and living should read it. This book explains what many other books about diet and health leave unsaid. It filled a lot of gaps in my understanding of healthful living.

One observation: some reviewers have indicated that this book advocates moderation. That is false. Indeed, a whole chapter is dedicated to exploring how the myth of "all things in moderation" is dangerous in the modern world. This book is about thinking before acting and about rationally understanding the motives of our actions so that we may make better decisions.

Posted by mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at July 7, 2012 08:17 AM

Indeed, at times it seems to be the dominant theme in human history.

If you look at history solely through the eyes of the top 0.1 percent, yes. With all respect to your grandfather, because that's been the normal approach to history, it might look different if you take a different perspective.

Posted by Duncan at July 7, 2012 11:06 AM

And, what a surprise, the author is himself a member of the 1% club, with income from $250K-$500K annually.

Posted by Chris at July 7, 2012 06:28 PM

At the risk of being completely redundant, I believe a man named Karl Marx wrote extensively on this very subject. His buddy Frederick Engels mentioned a few lines on the subject also, IMHO.

Posted by Mike Meyer at July 7, 2012 09:53 PM

Great piece, and great point.

2 comments, in re "3 people are in the top 0.1%." One is that you mean 2. The author is in the top 1%. Even that would vary depending on the figures you use, the year, and his income, which varies by 100%. FWIW, the $250 HH income he uses as a tagline is often reckoned to be the top 3%.

The second is that, to be fair, his whole article is built on a logorithmic scale: each person makes roughly 5 times more than the person before, starting at the working poor bottom of $10k a year. I think he choose that for simple and defensible reasons, and that it was actually kind of inspired. He wanted there to be huge obvious gaps between people's experience that would stand out clearly at the eye level of journalism. He wanted to make it from the lowest end to the highest end in 5 interviews. And, lastly but not leastly, log scales, multiples and percentages are generally supposed to be nearest to the way we intuitively compare ourselves when it comes to income: does he have twice as much as me or half or a quarter as much? Not where does he fall on the income distribution scale and where do I fall. Ir'a precisely because the income distribution scale is so skewed and hard to get an intuitive grasp of that it isn't the basis of immediate intuitions for most of us non social science professionals.

In short, this isn't sociology, this is journalism, and he's trying for a panorama of subjective experience, not a map of social reality. For that purpose, I think he structured it kind of brill. You certainly wouldn't want this to be the only thing you read on the subject. But for its niche, I thought it was pretty neat. Perhaps sociological tourism would be the right term. I certainly enjoyed the trip.

Posted by Michael Pollak at July 8, 2012 04:43 AM

How embarrassing. Strike my first paragraph. I wrote it when I was half way through the article and thought the author was the middle guy.

Damn FB where you can delete. Dulled my self-preservatory reflexes.

Posted by Michael Pollak at July 8, 2012 04:51 AM

Now that I've read it all, I agree with you. Even on an entertainment scale, the first half is much more interesting than the second. The 5x scale doesn't finally work.

Well hopefully the huge embarrassment I feel will teach me never to comment again on a real blog until I've finished the article. Ouch.

Posted by Michael Pollak at July 8, 2012 05:02 AM


But seriously, if the most embarrassing thing you ever do is supply slightly incorrect information in a blog comment, you're doing better than the rest of humanity.

Posted by Jon Schwarz at July 8, 2012 03:31 PM

Hi Jon, and everyone else.

Thanks for posting the link. It was quite an interesting article, though of necessity the treatment was superficial. I though the short interview with Nick Hanauer (who I had not previously heard of) was particularly interesting.

It is nice to know that there are rich people out there that don't have illusions about how they got their wealth, even though they are probably in the minority.

Posted by Faheem Mitha at July 9, 2012 04:28 AM

One of the problem with great wealth is it disconnects you from the rest of humanity. You live apart from the rest of mankind. You start to think that you belong to a different group and before you know it you start to think of the rest of mankind as prey.

Posted by peter john at July 9, 2012 11:48 AM

"you start to think of the rest of mankind as prey" - more precisely, as sheeple.


the Military Industrial Congressional Financial Corporate Media Complex - a conspiracy to use, abuse, and confuse the people; speaking metaphorically, to milk, shear, and slaughter the sheeple - except that the slaughter is literal, not metaphorical.

The reason that perpetual war is American policy is because it maximizes the power and profits of the MICFiC.

Posted by Urban Dictionary at July 9, 2012 12:51 PM

Dennis Perrin quotes Jon Schwarz as having said approximately

There is enough intelligence and talent to not only rebuild the US infrastructure, but to reform and possibly reshape American reality.

Of course, there are massive corporate forces keeping us from having say, a 21st century rail system. But the know-how is there. Waiting. Dying on the vine.

"When you look at the space program, you see what's possible," Jon said.

Dennis Perrin concludes

True. Human ingenuity is constant. It's the political/financial context that dilutes much of it.

Henry told me how lucky I was to have grown up during that time. "We've got nothing like that," he added. Not yet, son. But the possibilities are closer than you know.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at July 9, 2012 04:42 PM

Can't keep up with all of it, but like trying... Especially how "mistah charley, ph.d" ties so much of it together.

Going to have to read: "The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness," by Douglas J. Lisle, Alan Goldhamer, 2006

Posted by Grandpa Ken at July 10, 2012 08:08 AM

Hey, Ken. Good to see you around.

There's an hour-long video of a lecture by Lisle to the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii -

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at July 10, 2012 09:15 AM

The key to great success at anything, putting aside luck, is single-minded, intense, complete devotion to one goal. Not a bunch of goals, but one goal. (ergo, you cannot serve God and mammon)

In business, that goal is making money, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that people who spend all their time and effort thinking about how to make more money can be stupid and/or batshit crazy on other topics, especially with regard to politics, where freeloaders and lefties and labor organizers and environmentalists and such riff-raff are correctly perceived as threatening the one all-consuming goal of making money.

The ironic thing is, that intense single-mindedness necessary for commercial success often generates so much craziness and mind blindness that it creates serious risks of collective insanity and collective suicide. See Hitler et al, nuclear weapons, global warming, overpopulation, endgame capitalism, mass extinctions.

Posted by N E at July 10, 2012 10:27 PM