comment by gjm ·
2014-10-14T10:37:55.578Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I would call today's billionaires the early adopters of future living standards
My impression is that what billionaires are resented and propagandized against for is mostly not lifestyle advantages like having huge houses, private jets, the option of not working for a living, etc., but two other things.
- Power over other people. For instance, consider the Koch brothers, who are frequent targets of criticism. But what they get attacked for is not being rich but using their wealth for particular political ends (and unsurprisingly the people doing the attacking are generally political partisans whose political position is opposed to the Kochs'). The complaint here isn't "boo, these people can buy yachts and mansions and planes" but "boo, these people can buy government policy". (And of course the complaints mostly come from people who think the policies they're buying are harmful.)
- Getting rich at the expense of other people. For instance, consider the financial wizards of Wall Street -- the original main targets of the "99%/1%" rhetoric, I believe. I dare say there was always some resentment of the financial elites, but there was an enormous change in how widely and openly and loudly they were resented -- when there was a big financial crash in which lots of people lost jobs and savings, which was widely perceived as the result of reckless greed by those financial elites.
What these have in common is that the anger is aimed not at the lifestyle of the super-rich -- at all the nice things they are able to have -- but at its (alleged) negative impact on others.
If indeed the economy continues to grow exponentially for a few centuries, and if scientific and engineering progress continue strongly, then indeed everyone may end up with a lot of the lifestyle elements that only the very rich have now. But it won't be possible (by definition) for everyone to have far-more-than-average influence on public policy, or for everyone to get wealthy by making people in general poor. And those, not the luxurious lifestyle, are what billionaires get attacked for.
Now, of course it's possible that what really motivates any given criticism of very rich people is good old-fashioned envy (or, in the case of the financial elites, sometimes good old-fashioned anti-Semitism) and that all the stuff about buying influence and causing economic disaster is just an excuse. But it seems at least worth considering the possibility that the people making those criticisms mean what they say.
they call [cryonicists] selfish and narcissistic
I think it's pretty safe to dismiss "narcissistic" on the grounds you do. But a case can be made for "selfish" -- not really any better a case than can be made for pretty much everyone, but I'd say that pretty much everyone is in fact selfish :-). Specifically, suppose you choose for $100k of your money to be spent on cryopreservation at the moment of (what non-cryonicists would consider to be) your death. That's money that would otherwise have been inherited by others. So you're choosing to use that money to give yourself a (probably small) chance of surviving into the far future, rather than to benefit those others.
Most of us spend most of our money to benefit ourselves (or in some cases our close family) rather than others. Most of us could do a lot more good to the world by spending a lot less on ourselves. So I think the same sort of charge of selfishness can be levelled at almost everyone as is levelled at cryonicists. But that doesn't make it wrong.
You can, indeed, characterize what cryonicists or billionaires are doing as wanting something that everyone will have in the future. But the complaint (or at least a complaint) isn't that no one should ever have it, but that for one reason or another trying to have it now imposes a substantial cost on other people.
(Note 1. The following -- highly fanciful -- analogy may help. Suppose that instead of trying to live a 24th-century lifestyle in the 21st century, you're trying to life an affluent US / Western European lifestyle in some desperately poor part of Africa. To this end you build factories and roads and things -- but only for your use, the locals get no benefit. The factories are staffed with imported minions and supply only you, no one else is allowed on your roads, etc. It doesn't seem unreasonable for your neighbours to resent you, not simply for living like an affluent Westerner, but for imposing noise and pollution and nuisance on them in order to do so, with no compensating benefit to them.)
(Note 2. The above analysis is not concerned with the question of whether the criticisms are correct. One could argue, e.g., that the billionaires' influence on public policy is actually beneficial, that every cryonics customer benefits everyone by encouraging funding for research in relevant areas, etc. I'm concerned only with what the criticisms actually are.)