Re: Taking the billion? Re: Gedankenexperiments

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Wed Aug 16 2000 - 22:27:53 PDT

Ka-Ping Yee wrote:

> Okay, Jeff. Now you're backpedaling.

Ah, keeping it honest. Thanks, Ka-Ping: you're absolutely right. I'm was making my argument vaguer and more general.

> The statements you have made can be roughly summarized as:
> The opinion that "there's more to life than money" is
> unsupportable because most (or all) people holding that
> opinion don't know what they're talking about.

This is an accurate summary.

> This position is highly disputable.

How so? Find me somebody that holds that opinion *and* has the net worth to speak from a position of nonignorance on the matter.

> First, you assume that it is *necessary* to be a billionaire in
> order to hold any supportable opinion about the value of large
> amounts of money.

It's a "Law of Large Numbers" sort of thing. The discontinuity, as pointed out before, between upper-middle income/wealth or even low-end upper
income/wealth and uberwealth (defined arbitrarily as $1B) is as large as the discontinuity between the senior developer who makes $100k a year and the
homeless family living in a tent making $100 a year. Personally speaking, I find that sort of discontinuity very difficult to process. (To be accurate,
though, the aforementioned family's income was probably more along the lines of $1000 / yr, i.e. only *two* orders of magnitude. And that was big enough
to be totally alien and ungrokkable.)

There's this amazing conceit that we're all engaging in, here. We basically all appear to believe that, pretty much, the middle class lives that we
probably on average lead are sort of a base state, and that most folks with less money just have a few less luxuries, etc., but that qualitatively their
lives aren't a whole lot different from ours. Basically, we assume that the mentality is static, but that the behavior is just somehow constrained in a
Maslow sense. Further, we all seem to believe that just because we can *see* the peak of Maslow's hierarchy, and perhaps even engage it to a certain
extent, well, that's all there is; people further up the wealth pyramid are just able to spend a little more time / money etc. on the higher levels. I
don't believe it for a second: the discontinuity is just too big. We don't have enough perspective.

> It is not necessary to be in an actual situation
> to extrapolate reasonable opinions from our own experiences; in
> fact, humans do it all the time.

Granted, this is Gojo's not wanting to be on the surface of the sun argument. But, we *know* a lot about the surface of the sun; my contention is that
we generally know a whole lot less about what it's like to live essentially free of financial constraint. We're so embedded in our current situations
that we have no effective way to ditch our base assumptions.

> For example, most people would
> agree that being dissolved alive in a vat of acid would be an
> unpleasant experience, even though most people have not personally
> experienced such an event.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. BUT: what if you had no idea what acid was, and somebody simply said "hey, care for a dip in that tub?" No way to make an educated
call on the matter.

> Second, you dismiss in a single sweeping gesture the experiences
> and wisdom of most of the others in this discussion by claiming
> they are "totally ignorant". To do so is unjustified, and will
> naturally evoke cries of protest as you have observed.

I'm not claiming anybody here is "totally ignorant;" I'm claiming that *everybody* here, myself included, is totally ignorant of specifically what it's
like to be a billionaire. (Still waiting for that billionaire lurker to chime in.)

> you imply quite plainly that you *oppose* the position:
> A. "there's more to life than money"
> The opposite position -- the position you are taking -- is then:
> B. "there's nothing more to life than money"

Let's be clear... and apologies for being unclear. The position I'm taking is that there's really no way for anyone with financial constraints to say
whether there's more to life than money, in a larger interpretation of that assertion. We just don't have the data. As for B, it's transformationally
correct but loses the sense of the argument. A better way to put B would be "there's nothing in life that money can't buy." A nice, romantic notion, but
a tough position to defend unless you're financially unconstrained and have run into such a situation. So we close the loop...

> You were *not* simply suggesting that "having more money
> probably doesn't suck". (With that statement, i would be
> likely to agree.) You were arguing specifically that
> position A is not a valid position for any of us to take.

That's right, that's what I was arguing. You can't really argue A unless you can disprove (restated) B.

> Yet there is no middle ground between A and B. B is by far
> the more absolute and unlikely proposition, and A is by far
> the more flexible -- A suggests that whatever there is "more"
> to life could be *anything*. Providing even a single example
> of something that satisfies A is sufficient to disprove B,
> and of course many such examples have already been provided.

This only implies that that A is more ambiguously formulated. Perhaps a restated version of A might be something like "there's nothing in life that
enough money can't buy." Woops, waitasec, that's the same as (restated) B. Now we're getting somewhere. ;-)

> You could argue that all the examples provided are irrelevant
> to you personally, and that you value none of the things
> (such as respect, love, etc.) that money cannot buy you.

Again, let's not confuse the issue; there are large parts of my life that are very, very important to me, more so than just about anything else, which
didn't cost a dime on the bottom line. OTOH, it's a vastly simplifying assumption to look at everything through an economic lens. ;-) When taking that
perspective, which is pleasantly and satisfyingly quantitative, *everything* has a cost. Try this: calculate how much your significant other costs you
by multiplying your time committment to the relationship by some average hourly income rate you would charge for some service you can provide. God,
that's awful, isn't it? Still, it's an enlightening exercise. Everything has a cost, and that cost can be calculated.

BTW, by the same yardstick, I just want all you jokers to realize how much this whole convo is costing. You're gonna get the bill, suckas. ;-)

> But that would only apply to your personal definition of
> "life". It is clear from the generality of your claim that
> you are really talking about "life" as mentioned by *anyone*
> who says "there's more to life than money".

Again: the better formulation of my position (for the purposes of this discussion) is as follows. I would be convinced that the assertion "there's
nothing in life that money can't buy" is wrong only by being told that by someone who was for all intents and purposes financially unconstrained.

> Hence, we can
> take this one step further and state that even a single
> example of something that satisfies A, even for *any*
> person's definition of "life", is sufficient to invalidate
> your position.

Again, specificity helps. See above. :-P ;-)

> -- ?!


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