Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Top Money Grubbers and the Economy

My wife was reading the list of top money-grubbers.

I was struck by a thought and looked up the list.

Forbes has an interest quote for the day --
It is hard enough out there. Get all the help you can. Getting help really is just a part of that lifelong search for wisdom.
(Phil Knight, speech to 2014 graduating class of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.)
I like these from his speech better:
Two "nines" working together will beat two "tens" working for their own careers, every time. Ability and desire almost always trump money and power.
and these two:
And dare to take chances, lest you leave your talent buried in the ground.

And where there is no struggle, there can be no art.
And he quotes Frank Shallenberger at the end of his speech:
The only time you must not fail, is the last time you try.
Forbes took me on an interesting detour. So I went to wikipedia, instead: The World's Billionaires. Instead of Forbes' rah-rah, I get the information I was looking for. And one interesting quote, from Oxfam via Anna Ratcliff and Gerry Mullany:
According to a 2017 Oxfam report, the top eight billionaires own as much combined wealth as "half the human race".
Bill Gates has a net worth of USD 86 billion.

That's more dollars than you can count in 32 bits of unsigned integer. It takes at least 37 bits, which pushes you up to the next larger size integer.

(Good thing our desktop computers now have 64 bit CPUs. ;-/

... Uhm, in case you missed it, that was dripping with sarcasm, at multiple levels.)

Seventeen years ago, somebody put pressure on the US federal courts to scuttle the anti-monopoly case against Microsoft. It ended in a very light handslap.

The primary source of Bill Gates' obscene fortune is, yes, Microsoft.

Nothing has changed their virtual monopoly on the desktop, and it's getting harder to get a decent tablet without Microsoft and Intel's illegitimate offspring on it.

If the US government had not turned a blind eye to Microsoft from the late 1980s, we would not be saddled with the atrocity that is Microsoft Office. We would have wonderful options like Wordperfect and more locally produced office software.

Locally produced is a key word here. Microsoft knows Microsoft's business practices and maybe some of their larger clients' main offices. Statistically speaking, they do not know your business practices from your neighbor's children's lemonade stand's business practices.

Why does it surprise you that Microsoft Office makes some things really easy and the rest nigh impossible?

And the US government had a chance to split Microsoft up around 2000. That is, they were prevented, for a short time, from turning a blind eye. But people got paid off and here we are.

Repeat this story for the Lehman Brothers, for General Motors, for how many companies that are "too big to fail"?

Ten men -- yes, men -- "own" more wealth than 3 3/4 billion people.

According to the accountants, ten men have more say about what is valuable and what isn't than the world's entire poorest half.

According to the numbers, ten men nominally control more economic activity than 3.75 billion people.

BTW, Forbes says they don't count royalty and dictators.

Seriously? What's the difference? Ten men effectively rule the world.

Of course, the reality is that royalty and dictators do not control their subjects. They only try.

Likewise wealthy people. They don't really control things. Heaven help us if they did. But they like to pretend they do.

And they do represent a negative influence, a source of friction on the wheels of industry and society.

Think about this. Microsoft has 85 billion in revenue. That's ten dollars for every person on the planet. Whether we want Microsoft's stuff or not, we are each, statistically, paying Microsoft ten dollars a year.

That's why we call it the "Microsoft tax".

And that's ten dollars we are not paying to Microsoft's competitors.

Every other rich person in that list is the same. The money they are getting is money that the rest of us can't use in our daily business. At least, we can't use it without paying them rent on it -- loan interest, royalties, etc.

If you think of it, giving banks the ability to make loans on money they don't actually have is basically giving them a privilege of nobility -- the right to charge interest on money that wasn't really theirs in the first place.

Anytime you find people with income in the range of exceeding ten times the average, you can be sure they are using means that are not really fair to gain their income.

More than hundred times cannot naturally occur. It is prima facie evidence of unethical, immoral, and illegal activity to receive that much income.

Anytime you find someone amassing assets equivalent in value to over a hundred times the average individual's lifetime income, again, that indicates that something unethical, immoral, and/or illegal is occurring.

Holding too many assets may not be a crime against any particular individual, but it is a crime against all of us. It is assets that become unavailable to other people, most of whom would be quite happy to do something productive with it if they had it.

There is a natural principle here. If people who have gained excessive riches fail to willingly return some reasonable portion to the community and to relinquish their artificial control, it becomes the community's right to take it back by force of law.

If the community fails to take it back, those whose labor and patience have been the source of such gain will eventually grow tired of being so ill-treated. This is the primary reason for an excessive crime rate, including so-called crimes of terror.

If you want to know where the political momentum of the current wave of terror comes from, look at that list of billionaires. There they are.

Setting up "charitable foundations" which primarily serve to reinforce a monopoly position is not giving back.

If, in fact, there are any strings attached, the artificial control has not been relinquished, and the result remains the same. Those whose labor built the empire will want the freedom that is their due.

Management is labor? Get me a hundred managers and show me how fast they can, by managing, build a new road or a new building or a new piece of software, show me they can build anything but more systems of management. Then we can talk about management being labor in the sense of it being somehow worth significantly more than the labor which is being managed.

It is not unreasonable, nor is it unfair, for a country to strip a company of their patents, copyrights, and even trademarks if they insist on maintaining their monopoly position.

Nor is it unreasonable, immoral, unfair, or in any way wrong for a state to seize the assets of individuals who insist on maintaining a wealth in excess of a hundred times the average person's lifetime income.

It is, rather, a crime against its own citizenry for a community to fail to reign in excessive wealth.

Competition and profit are reasonable, fair, and healthy to a point, and the limit can be fairly high.

One hundred times is unreasonable, but may still be tolerable in an otherwise healthy society.

More than a thousand times is not only completely unreasonable, but intolerable.

If the community is not economically healthy, ten times is unreasonable, and a hundred times may be intolerable.

If you are a billionaire, what should you do?

Retire from your business. Turn it completely over to others and cease to accept any salary or other profit from it. Get out of the way.

Once you are out of the way, fund startups. Repay the loans of defaulting companies, perhaps. You may find it useful to give advice, but don't put strings on what you give back. Relinquish control.

If your lifestyle and standard of living won't permit you to do so, take a vow of poverty. Learn, or re-learn how to live simply.

Let others have a chance to work.

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