It's no foregone conclusion that wealth-inequality is immoral.
I never said "everyone should have exactly the same level of wealth". There is an enormous
range between "12 people hold the same wealth as 300 million people" and "everyone must have the exact same amount, no more and no less". That is a false dichotomy.
What I said was immoral was some people being born into billions, and other people being born into homelessness. Exactly how is that situation made better by free market principals? Are infants poor only because of their own lack of work ethic? Is it by their own poor choices that toddlers fails to enroll themselves in preschool, which has the largest impact of any variable on future school performance, all the way to college?
You seem to feel a system is bad if it results in inequality.
I feel a system is bad if it specifically fosters and encourages additional inequality, or it has inequality built in to begin with. If every human being started out life with access to the same education and medical care, and the same level of inheritance (or lack-there-of), then most of the differences in success can actually be attributed to personal choices, talent, etc. Of course there will always be differences in the values instilled by parents, there will be nepotism and networking advantages, but we could certainly make a much better effort to live up to the "land of opportunity" mantra.
Capitalism should in theory produce both wealth for the masses and wealth-inequality. This is what we've seen through the decades: a rising standard of living for all and an increase in wealth-inequality. If wealth-inequality is the price of an increased standard of living, then as a society it's worth it to live in envy of a few rich people.
Post-hoc ergo prompter hoc? On what do you base the assumption that one is a necessary prerequisite for the other? The big things that have been changing recently are technology growth, outsourcing of labor and importing of goods, and corporate consolidation. The first leads to raised standards of living for everyone, and does not necessitate any increased inequality (though our system is set up so that it does in fact). The second two increase inequality, but don't necessarily raise overall standard of living for everyone. That both are happening simultaneously seems like happenstance to me. Why look at a timeline of decades? Historically the gap between royalty and serfs was enormous, but that didn't make the serfs standard of living higher than it would have been otherwise.
Part of the drive towards success or to drive a company to success is the ability to do whatever you want with the reward for your success. That includes the ability to pass those rewards on to your children for their use. The guarantee of a good life for their children is part of the price we willingly pay to those who increase the prosperity of the nation... the system, which motivates individuals by allowing them to accumulate large amounts of wealth, has in general increased wealth and standards of living for the rest of us.
Exactly who are these people who's actions created a higher standard of living for America who, if they had been limited to, say, 1 billion dollars, instead of 10, would have said "fuck it, its not worth it, I'm just going to take a part time job at Denny's instead"? I don't think they ever existed. I think that's a story that rich people came up with in order to get the middle class to vote for tax breaks and lax business regulations. If the only reason people get rich is to pass it to their children, then why do some rich people never have kids, and why are almost a third donating most of it to charity rather than passing it down? http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/18/pf/rich-inheritance/index.htm
We could argue that a lot of our economic activity harms the prosperity of the nation rather than adding to it. The solution there might be regulations on business, but not on the wealth of individuals.
I largely agree with that. I was never actually suggesting some arbitrary fixed cap on wealth. I think the vast majority of the problem has to do with regulation - or lack-there-of - on business. I would just add to that a progressive tax rate that continues to graduate just as far as the levels of wealth and/or income they apply to (i.e. the progressive tax rate curve should look more or less like the wealth inequality curve, rather than leveling off at less than 400k so that the 0.001% pay the same top rate as the 1%)
Rights in the classical sense - freedom of speech & religion, the right to bear arms or pursue happiness - are things people enjoy unless someone else (usually a government) actively takes them away. That's the diametric opposite of "rights" to food or medical care, which are things that don't exist unless people work to produce them.
Its only "usually a government" BECAUSE we have the privilege of the protection of government to take for granted. Otherwise anyone who has the bigger muscles / gang / firepower can take away anything they like from you at any time, up to and including your life. Besides, religions and firearms don't exist unless people work to produce them either. That's one of the main reasons we have government in the first place - the chances of deliberate premature death at the hands of another person are far lower if you live within a centralized government. You have no speech or religion if you are stabbed in the back by someone who wants your food or your girlfriend.
Does it really limit how much is available to the rest of us? I assume those 12 people are the top of the Forbes list? Yet if you look at that list, you'll find that many of the people there CREATED their wealth, and enriched many other people in the process. Wealth isn't a fixed quantity: it's continually created (and sometimes destroyed).
How are we defining "wealth", and how are we defining "created"? What did they create it out of? Are you suggesting that the value of tangible goods and services would simply never have existed if not for those specific individuals?
Farming, mining, and other natural resources extraction creates value to humans that was unavailable previously. Yes, technology can allow the value of raw materials to increase, essentially creating entirely new value that was never there. In that sense economic growth is not a zero sum game. This does not mean that any money that anyone acquires increases the total available value for everyone. Some (individual) wealth generation is just a reorganization of existing value from one individual to another.
In any event, while the total pot can grow over time, we only live and eat and shop in the present, and at any given moment their is a finite amount of resources that exist. No matter how smart and hard-working 300million Americans are, there is no possible way they could divide a GDP of 15 trillon and have 1 million each.
Yet looking at the Forbes list, at least 4 of those 12 (Gates, Buffet, Ellison, and Bezos) started from the middle class at best, 4 others (the Waltons) inherited their money from a man who started in the lower middle class. So maybe the problem is the quality of the players rather than the levelness of the field?
HA! I'm not following you. I assume you are disagreeing with me that our playing field is unlevel, but you basically acknowledged that of the richest people in our society, 2/3rds started with a significant advantage - and wait, weren't you the same one who in a different thread said that Obama going to a private primary school and ivy league colleges on scholarship meant he wasn't working class? But Bill gates went to a private prep school and ivy league college not
on scholarship, but paid for by his parents, yet he was "middle class at best"?
The idea that the existence of wealth inequality in itself somehow generates total wealth for society is certainly what the people who benefit most from the arrangement want everyone to believe, and obviously the view has become mainstream, but I'm not convinced that the trickle down theory ever had any merit to it to begin with.
The implication here seems to be that the only reason some people work hard or innovate is because they have the chance to become multi-trillionairs - and pass 100% of those trillions on to their kids. Therefor, if we had any form of limitation on wealth accumulation or inheritance, no one would ever invent anything, or discover anything, or work more than the least they could get away with to make ends meet.
Except that looking at the scientists and inventors through history who made significant advances to human technology, a lot of them never even tried to get rich from their work. They did the work out of scientific curiosity, or for the betterment of humanity, or just to see if they could. No one thought they could patent and sell the invention of fire, or the wheel, and get rich from them. Many scientists and inventors in more modern times have deliberately made their discoveries public for the explicit reason of the betterment of society.
In many cases, if anyone did get rich from the idea, it wasn't the person who actually invented it.
Communist USSR managed to build a satellite before we did - and even our own moon landing was entirely publicly funded.
The mere fact of generating income for one's self does not mean you are actually making society richer. A good example is an advertising executive. They are not producing a good for society. They are merely redirecting existing wealth from consumers to their particular client. The competition may have a better product, but a good advertiser can overcome the competition's value by using psychological manipulation tricks. The client will pay them a percentage of the money they generate for them, but society as a whole is actually worse off than if they had done nothing. I don't understand where this crazy idea comes from that anyone who makes money must be causing the creation of an equal value for society as a whole that would never have existed otherwise. Gates, for example, didn't create transistors and operating systems in a bubble, one man's genius giving us computers. If he hadn't come up with MS DOS, we would have one of the other many operating systems that existed at the time, or we would have more competition than just MS and Apple. There is no equivalent to Gates and Jobs for linux because the hard wroking innovative people who created it choose not to patent it and create semi-monopolistic corporations. There are thousands of free open-source software programs, made by thousands of developers who make their work available for voluntary donations who should call into question the theory that people only generate value for society because of the promise of unlimited wealth.