In February 1896, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote an essay entitled “Socialism for Millionaires” for the Contemporary Review, a quarterly publication out of the UK of some renown at the time.i
This unusual article is a short, sweet, and thoughtful account of the equally unusual trials faced by those burdened with more money than they can possibly dispense of on themselves. Such elites,ii as poorly regarded and as meanly begged for charity then as now, have unique concerns and opportunities – ones well worth considering. In this treatise, Shaw outlines the pitfalls of well-meaning socialism by these wealthy patrons, particularly with regards to donating funds to everything from their own heirs, hospitals, the “deserving poor,”iii educational institutions, and society-at-large. In doing so, quite sensibly, he discourages donations that are washed in the muck and the mire of good intentions but ultimately pervert incentives, leading to iatrogenic outcomes. Shaw instead encourages donations that catalyse growth, give the people what they ought to want but don’t, and those that push the boundaries of human knowledge and ability.iv
While inflation has meanwhile eroded the purchasing power of a million pounds sterling to the point where the contemporary equivalent could scarcely be less than a billion, in making this rudimentary m-for-a-b swap to accommodate for the changin’ times, we find timelessness in Shaw’s words regarding the impact of full-franchise democracy on the uberproductive upper crust :
In the advertisements of the manufactures of the country I find that everything is produced for the million and nothing is produced for the millionaire.
While it seems that the past century has also necessitated the s/million/billion substitution for population as well as net worth, this statement rings true today in a fair few domains,v not the least of which is in computing. Where, pray tell, is the $100,000 desktop computer ? Where too is the $50,000 laptop and the $25,000 smartphone ? And no, bedazzling them with stones and jewels doesn’t increase an object’s valuable anymore than gluing road pylons to the roof of your house raises your property value. Adornment is one thing, value quite another. How unfair, right !
The injustice of this state of things has not been sufficiently considered. A man with an income of ￡25 a year can multiply his comfort beyond all calculation by doubling his income. A man with ￡50 a year can at least quadruple his comfort by doubling his income. Probably up to even ￡250 a year doubled income means doubled comfort. After that the increment of comfort grows less in proportion to the increment of income until a point is reached at which the victim is satiated and even surfeited with everything that money can procure.
In contemporary terms, despite the “behavioural-cognitive-neuroscience” jibberjabber and their veiled socialism with the “$70k is all you need” rubbish,vi add fully three zeros to Shaw’s century-old figures for the same effect. So yes, there’s at a solid doubling in quality of life between $125k per year and $250k per year, between the mid-level government manager and the self-employed dentist. Though from my anecdotal observations, past $250k or maybe $350k per year and it’s your time that becomes the limiting reagent. This is as true today as it was in Shaw’s day. Whatever your level of personal concern may be, this creates an issue that cannot go unaddressed, quite unlike, say, “solving world hunger.”vii
The capital, the energy, the artistic genius that used to train themselves for the supply of beautiful things to rich men, now turn to supply the needs of the gigantic proletariats of modern times.
Shaw’s observation here is every bit as tragic and unnecessarily wasteful then as now and the more learned among you already know that the rivers and oceans are being poisoned with the excesses of the global middle class. The world, sick as it is with the cheapness of modernity, craves beauty and craftsmanship once more.
But there’s a silver lining ! On account of the number of people that Bitcoin has made and will continue to make immensely wealthy, and the equally immense difficulty of extracting that wealth from them coercively, this concept of catering to the billionaires ties in neatly into the biggest question in economy today, as MP formulates :
That’s currently the biggest question in economy, irrespective what the clueless may still think. Can corporations be run so that they’re at least able to survive and at best immune to the problems of volume ? If the answer is yes there’s a lot of payoff, not least of all in ecology, in living saner lives and in living in saner societies. People are damned sick of having to put up with the pressures economies of scale introduce in their lives, as workers, as consumers. The environment is certainly damned sick of it as well. Can we actually enact a paradigm shift here ? Is there an actual opportunity to do so here ? We’ll see.
That’s it, really. The multi-century trend redistributing skills and resources away from the few and towards the many is slowly but surely reversing course. Sure, it has the turning radius of the Titanic, but the ship, she’s comin’ back around.
Looking ahead as I must, the problem of effectively catering to the elite seems to me at once daunting and strangely appealing. For these reasons, I find that this problem tugs at the back of my mind with almost daily regularity, reminding me that successful adaptation necessitates a solution.
At the very least, I suppose elites need to read something interesting. So let’s say we keep Contravex Credits on the table. We still have to work to our strengths, y’know ?
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- It’s worth a read and can be found here in PDF. [↩]
- “Elite” is a huge compliment. Nothing less. Whether it’s currently fashionable or not, being a cut above is where you, yes you! want to be, and any refutation to this fact probably isn’t coming from someone who actually is a cut above. And if it is, as you see with Zuckerberg or Buffett or whoever, you should be doubly dubious, it’s only because they don’t want the competition so fuckyouverymuch if you’re dumb enough to swallow their utter nonsense.
Legitimately taking advice on any matter of import from anti-elitists or anti-intellectuals or people who generally want you to suck is akin to taking hair styling advice from a dood with alopecia. No really, fuck him. If you have honest-to-goodness virtues that you can and do take to the bank, fuck shame and all the dirty shamers. Life’s too short for you to be anything less than your best.
RAMSDEN [very deliberately] Mr Tanner: you are the most impudent person
I have ever met.
TANNER. [seriously] I know it, Ramsden. Yet even I cannot wholly conquer
shame. We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything
that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our
incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just as
we are ashamed of our naked skins. Good Lord, my dear Ramsden, we are
ashamed to walk, ashamed to ride in an omnibus, ashamed to hire a hansom
instead of keeping a carriage, ashamed of keeping one horse instead of
two and a groom-gardener instead of a coachman and footman. The more
things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. Why, you’re
ashamed to buy my book, ashamed to read it: the only thing you’re not
ashamed of is to judge me for it without having read it; and even that
only means that you’re ashamed to have heterodox opinions. Look at the
effect I produce because my fairy godmother withheld from me this gift
of shame. I have every possible virtue that a man can have except–
RAMSDEN. I am glad you think so well of yourself.
TANNER. All you mean by that is that you think I ought to be ashamed of
talking about my virtues. You don’t mean that I haven’t got them: you
know perfectly well that I am as sober and honest a citizen as yourself,
as truthful personally, and much more truthful politically and morally.
- Who weren’t, it seems, any more genuinely deserving then than they are now. Plus ca change. [↩]
- While this might seem to be sensible advice for regular post-post-modern folk today, those who give away 2/3 of their productive labour to charities (even if it’s not always voluntarily), it really isn’t. You cannot sculpt Michelangelo’s David by having a million people donate little marble pebbles and another million designing the best way to assemble them into ‘a very handsome man.’ It doesn’t work like that. This is also, incidentally, why Shaw encourages well-heeled patrons to donate large lump sums, not just spreading crumbs around here and there. Focused energies have an unmatched quality all their own. [↩]
- Though not all, I grant. You can buy a $2 mn Pagani Zonda that’s worth. every. penny. If you’re into that sort of thing. And I suppose private jets and yachts are around too, and they’re no doubt a superior experience to coach or cruise ships. Basically, fancy transportation is available. But so much else just gets encrusted with shiny glittering objects in the hopes of increasing the underlying item’s value by association. It’s not unreasonable to call a tourbillon the proverbial ‘lipstick on a pig.’ It still just tells time, y’know ? [↩]
- Pseudo-scientists tend to think like Perchik, but I’m with Tevye here :
Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.
Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!
From Fiddler on the Roof. [↩]
- “Solving world hunger” or raising awareness or fundraising in this aim is no different than “solving the heat problem in Hell.” You can’t solve undefined and undefinable problems just for the saying so. [↩]