Re: Taking the billion? Re: Gedankenexperiments

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Wed Aug 16 2000 - 21:28:42 PDT

Gordon Mohr wrote:

> Jeff Bone writes:
> > The point --- really the only point --- that I've been trying to make in this whole
> > shebang is this: it's awfully amusing and pointless for any of us to say "there's more
> > to life than money" (assuming money == uberwealth) because, AFAIK, none of us on the
> > list are billionaires.
> That's just silly, a sophist's trick for excusing oneself from criticism
> by declaring us all incompetent in the matter at hand -- a degenerate case
> of an appeal to authority.

Ah, you dastardly villain! A "sophist's trick," huh? Well, I declare shennanigans on *you!*
:-P ;-) (Rule #1 of debate: when logic doesn't work, try attacking your opponent's
character, motivations, or methodology.)

> We all have immense powers to accurately imagine different situations than
> our own. To use an example as absurdly contrived as some of yours, I know
> I don't want to be on the surface of the sun, even though I've never been
> there.

Now there's a neat equation: being a billionaire == being on the surface of the sun. I find
it immensely amusing that you in essence defend speculating about QoL for billionaires by
using an example like that.

I forgot how much you like the word "absurd," Gordo. :-) But, guilty as charged: I find
that absurdity is sometimes the shortest path to clarity of understanding. It really brings
all the termites out of the woodpile.

> The same goes for money; I know that I prefer more when it's easy to get,
> I also know that there are other tradeoffs I would not make to get more
> money. Furthermore, I have a lot of ideas about how my life might change
> if I had much more money than I do now -- it's not a mysterious situation
> at all.

Hmmm... I dunno about you, but I find that "the best laid plans..." etc. etc. There's often
a profound difference between intent and action.

> You presume there's a magic discontinuity at some level of wealth -- a
> wealth singularity, if you will -- beyond which us mere mortals have
> no understanding.

Well, I don't really think that --- there's no magic number --- but orders of magnitude are
important. I would suggest that there are between three and five orders of magnitude
difference between the financial leverage and flexibility of most of the folks on this list
and your base-line billionaire. That's a pretty big discontinuity; let's just consider the
"low end" discontinuity, three orders of magnitude. Take it the other way: can the typical
techie who earns, let's say, $100k a year (I dunno, whatever) really imagine what life in
this country must be like for those that earn only $100 a year? I don't think so. A few
Thanksgivings ago I bought some turkey dinners and went and gave them to a homeless family
who lived in a tent down the creek from me. Let me tell you, that was a very unnerving and
disturbing experience, just hanging there for an hour and having lunch. I still have *no
idea* what their life must be like, day to day. So if that kind of discontinuity is hard to
map, I imagine that a proportional difficulty exists between imagining my own life today and
my life as a billionaire.

> But the rich and ultra-rich don't seem that inscrutable
> to me.

Studied up on this, have we? Hanging out with Larry, Ross, Bill, etc. these days? Do tell.
We would love some insight. I dunno --- my contact with the uberwealthy is pretty
limited... but I can tell you that in my experience with folks who're just plain wealthy,
even smallish discontinuities in wealth make profound differences in outlook, opportunity,
assumptions, processes, motivations, etc.

> Some are a bit odd, in their obsessions and indulgences, but
> their actions and passions remain recognizable, even predictable.
> > > So I do think some people would prefer to avoid the taint of the
> > > billion, either by ignoring it or taking it and then very publically
> > > giving it all away.
> >
> > The first I'll challenge; are you saying that you wouldn't like to be "tainted" with
> > $1B? If you wanna make that statement, Gojo, go ahead and make it. I double-dog-dare
> > ya. :-)
> For myself, I really don't know. I would prefer not to be known, to the world,
> as the guy who had an unearned $1 billion magically fall into his lap.

No, that would be Bill. ;-)

> So, I'd
> have to think about it a lot. Given my own values, it would be an easier decision
> if I knew I could both receive it and then dispose of it in total secrecy.
> I believe I have met people who would not want to take it at all.

Ah, they're all liars, fools, or Richard Stallman. ;-) Strike that, RMS would probably take
the dough.

> On the other hand, I would love to earn a billion. I'd be comfortable with
> that reputation.

Okay, so we're debating a new point now, really just another attack on the formulation of the
gedankenexperiment itself rather than a point in itself. Frankly, the question of the moment
--- whether it's better to "earn" or just "get" a billion --- is a totally and absurdly
contrived and uninteresting question, IMO. The more interesting question, that this came
from, was "is there really anyone out there who doesn't think their happiness would be
enhanced by *having* $1B?" Forget whether and how it was obtained, the question is really to
find a single person who, all other things being equal, would prefer to *be* a
sub-billionaire rather than a billionaire. I imagine that person has some interesting things
to say.

> > The second is an invalid counter, as "giving it all away" --- indeed, any
> > charitable behavior --- is just as self-motivated at the end of the day as buying a
> > MiG. It's all about what pumps your nads.
> You're mixing issues here.

Good one, G! Jesus, I'm not the one that steered us off into this morass of "earned" vs.
"undeserved," etc. etc. Mixing issues? Simplifying, I imagine. Or just bucking the wheel
to keep us on tack.

> Your philosophy

My *argument.* Let's keep it straight, we've already covered that point. (Rule #2 of
debate: when possible, create confusion identifying the opponent's unpopular argument *with*
the opponent.)

> already assumes definitionally that
> everything anyone does is self-motivated.

Pretty much. At least I can't find any puppet strings...

> So I'm not trying to imply any
> selflessness. Instead, if someone did choose to immediately "give it all away",
> getting nothing concrete in return, it would imply that they value the pile
> of money very differently,


> and essentially a whole lot less,

Nope. It just means different.

> than you do.

Careful, again: the argument is the argument.

> - Gordon

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