Can a rich person be a good person? ( )

I don't mean doctor-making-150k-a-year rich, I mean properly rich with millions to billions of dollars.

I think many will say yes, they can be, though it may be rare. I was tempted to. I thought more about it and I wondered, are you really a good person if you're hoarding enough money you and your family couldn't spend in 10 lifetimes?

I thought, if you're a good person, you wouldn't be rich. And if you're properly rich you're probably not a good person.

I don't know if it's fair or naive to say, but that's what I thought. Whether it's what I believe requires more thought.

There are a handful of ex-millionaires who are no longer millionaires because they cared for others in a way they couldn't care for themselves. Only a handful of course, I would say they are good people.

And in order to stay rich, you have to play your role and participate in a society that oppresses the poor which in turn maintains your wealth. Are you really still capable of being a good person?

Very curious about people's thoughts on this.

UziBobuzi , avatar

People who hoard more money than they can spend in several lifetimes while people are literally dying in the streets cannot be good. These things are mutually exclusive.

minnieo OP , avatar


GunnarRunnar ,

For me personally it's more a question of does your money hoarding system exploit people or is it family money that's been made unethically. I think keeping that kind of money to yourself is unethical. And I don't mean you should go living from riches to rags but recognize that you own something to society and do something about it.

BeHereNow , avatar

Soros attempted to gain wealth to use it as a tool to fight for the oppressed. Didn't work out too well for him.

sadreality ,

Can you at least try to explain this take... I think we are having hard time seeing where you are coming from?

How is some rich clown trying to influence political process for his own benefiting helping the homeless or the working poors?

What about middle class?

BeHereNow , avatar

If you're down voting please explain yourself. I'm guessing it's not because you are pro fascism/authoritarianism.

I don't know much about Soros, but I find how effectively the powers that be (and wanna be) were able to turn him into a boogeyman fascinating.

IninewCrow , avatar

Another way to describe individuals who hoard enormous amounts of wealth to the detriment of society and other humans is ... pathologically unsound and incapable of compassion or empathy for others around them

Anna , avatar

I find this take so hypocritical.

I bet you have more food than some people. Are you giving it to them?

You have a roof over your head, other people don’t. Are you giving it to them?

You most likely have more money than others, considering your access to the internet and ability to think up this post - are you donating all of your excess that isn’t going to your bills and food?

Calling it “hoarding” is just intentionally vilifying having money. Are some rich people bad? Absolutely. Are they bad because they’re rich? No. Do they have an obligation to give their money away? Also no.

wobblywombat ,

I think you're missing the points about scale and marginal utility. If you have more food than 3 generations of your family will ever eat, and continue to take more while others are starving, you can make a moral argument that maybe you shouldn't have so much food. Much less continue to try and get more. It becomes more egregious when you, say, take food from your employees who don't always have enough.

bedbeard ,

Agree with this. We should remember that doctor-making-150k is far closer to being homeless than they are to a billionaire, with their individual wealth rivaling small countries.

sadreality ,

Most doctors are one of us as many other well compensated professionals.

You better save that money while you can because if you are not able to trade your labour for money you are back where you started among the peasants.

Alto , avatar

I think you're missing the points about scale and marginal utility.

Missing the point and misconstruing the argument to protect the wealthy is the point.

SpacemanSpiff , (edited ) avatar

Bear with me here, I’m thinking about all this as a thought experiment…please don’t jump on me all at once :)

I don’t disagree with you, there is a difference in utility, however what would you say to someone who has two homes? Say a vacation home on a lake? This wasn’t uncommon for persons of older generations (before shit got expensive). Because while two homes may not seem egregious to citizens of highly developed countries, it is, relatively speaking, a true extreme luxury in many parts of the world, perhaps even obscene if you consider those who live in shanty towns or those who are homeless.

And what about extra cars? Or any other luxury for that matter? Anything that explains why those in less developed countries see middle-class individuals in developed countries as “rich”?

Now these are nothing in comparison to the several orders of magnitude greater that a billion dollars is, but take them as the best examples I can think of off the top of my head lol.

Remember marginal utility is relative. My point is that, who decides what defines excess to the point where you’d make the argument you just made? where is the line? Certainly billionaires qualify, but how many millions does one need to hit that threshold? And who makes that determination? The individual with the extreme wealth will have warped perceptions (“It’s one banana, Michael. What could it cost, $10?”), so then it must be the non-wealthy who have insight, if any, or is it all relative?

I’m not trying to defend or apologise for the ultra-rich, but I think about these things in the sense of: what would I do if I won the mega-millions? Or had some secret unknown relative bestow obscene wealth on me? Never in a million years of course, but I’m the kind of person who likes to have positions that don’t change situationally, I’d like to be confident enough of my beliefs that I’d know what I’d do if the situation were reversed.

Anyway, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk lol. Again please don’t think i’m trying troll or something, this is a philosophical question for me.

Gabadabs , avatar

It's important to recognize just how much more billionaires make than millionaires, but at the same time, no, neither of them are good or can be while maintaining that amount of wealth, and the reason is because you cannot make that much money by working. The ONLY way to make that much money is by making profit off of others.

GataZapata ,

Idk man in some areas a house costs a million. If two people go into debt their whole life and work their butts off to pay for a house that now costs a million, I still think of them as normal people somehow yaknow

Gabadabs , avatar

A lot of that is because we're in the middle of a housing crisis thanks to enormous companies buying up all the property, pushing normal people out of the house market to renting. On top of that, buying a 1 million dollar house doesn't make one a millionaire.

YessireeRob ,

?? After you’ve paid off your million dollar house, you are a millionaire by definition.

Gabadabs , avatar

Most of us don't pay off a million dollars in one payment??? Paying off mortgages takes a long ass time, In smaller increments. You might "technically" be a millionaire, but you won't be comparable to the kind of "rich" we're talking about here. You can make that kind of money by working.

Alto , avatar

You might "technically" be a millionaire, but you won't be comparable to the kind of "rich" we're talking about here

...which was precisely their point?

GataZapata ,

This is a good point.

I remember often being confused why I was being treated weirdly when I was teaching in a east-central African country.

The disparity of wealth, in absoulte terms, was not that high - I got a middle salary for that country, because I lived on what my country gives for a volunteer. Back home that would be way below substance limit bit there it was a medium salary at that time. But the perception that was prevalent made it so that most people thought that I was, in some abstract order, richer than them. It wasn't really clear by how much or what order - factor 1, factor 10, factor 1000?

I noticed how people who didn't know me or how I lived would always treat me weird and I came to the conclusion that them thinking about this - what order of magnitude is it? - made people treat me weird

Now for the bezos of the world and me, I know exactly what order of magnitude it is. But from which order would I start to see it as obscene?

I could live with someone earning double from me. 10x would start to feel unfair. But that is far far far removed from the reality of the global super rich. That factor is way higher, and it's easy to focus on this really really high factor, but finding the low border up until which it is ok might be hard.

And I remember how people looked at me, trying to figure out exactly this

I hop I explain myself, it's late here. If not I will retry tomorrow

YessireeRob ,

Not looking to be combative, I’m curious: where is your moral line where the scale is too great, and why is it there? A lot of these comments read that that line should be “above me somewhere”.

Comet_Tracer , (edited )

Have you looked up how much a Billion dollars really is? Billionaires are not living paycheck to paycheck. They could do so fucking much with their money and resources, but they choose to invest in shitty submarines and privatized space travel. I am all for pursuing advances in tech and life, but let's solve the issues with earth first like world hunger, homelessness, and climate change.

00 , avatar
HarkMahlberg , avatar

Fantastic fucking visual.

ConfusedLlama , avatar

Everyone please see this!!

atocci , avatar

Holy shit somehow this struck harder than the Tom Scot video where he drives the length of the thickness of a billion dollar bills.

00 , (edited ) avatar

I suggest to scroll the entire page. Including the 3.2 trillion of the richest 400 americans. And remember that the tiniest scroll you can make would lead to you becoming a multi-multi millionaire that never has to look at their bank account ever again.

atocci , avatar

I am incredibly disgusted

HipHoboHarold , avatar

There's a huge difference between having food to eat

And having millions of dollars doing nothing

Or me living in an apartment

And someone living in a building that could take up a whole city block

It's not the fact that they have money. It's how they get it and what they do with it.

I have money, but I don't have enough to save. I don't make enough to do much outside of maybe buy a small amount of food for a homeless person. I'm not solving shit. However, living in the city I have had people ask for some change, and I've done it. But I can't do shit.

However, there are people who can actually help that won't. They get more money than they need and then just sit on it. Many of them get it through exploiting others.

But if we want to ignore things scaling and just reach, if I give a homeless person a dollar, should he not share that?

HandsHurtLoL ,

I'll add on here that there's a major difference between

  1. being able to give a resource and be completely unphased


  1. Being able to give a resource and now either having to make do without that resource, or be on the edge of insolvency because you gave away the resource.

Even for Americans who are living a little better than paycheck to paycheck, I have read something like 30% of them are one personal disaster away from homelessness, themselves.

RadicalHomosapien ,

I don't think everyone should be forced to give away everything they don't need to survive, I just think (in America's case) if you have enough wealth for several generations to live in luxury while our people are dying from inaccessible medicine and healthcare and more than half of our country has no savings living paycheck to paycheck, we've massively failed as a society to provide basic needs for our people. You could fund universal healthcare with just a tax on billionaires and they wouldn't have to change their lifestyle at all. If I had enough money that I lost 90% of it and I literally couldn't notice the difference, I'd be full of guilt every night watching people die because they rationed their insulin.

HandsHurtLoL ,

Even without a tax in place (and I seriously and truly support putting a tax in place), millionaires and billionaires could take relatively small steps to improve life for a lot of people.

Do you remember last year that news story where a church used the donations from the collection plate to buy up the medical debt for some people? If I'm recalling correctly, the church bought up the debt, pennies on the dollar, and with like $50k were able to help over 100 people. I may have wrong figures for the money value and the number of people impacted, but I think the point remains that a lot of people's lives got better without the medical debt, both financially and emotionally.

Billionaires have the capacity to do this same type of thing. Just pick any city and throw money at a major problem that directly impacts citizens. You don't even need to work with the city or state government there! Get together with your other billionaire friends and strategize to pick a variety of cities. Make a game out of it about who can afford to pay off the problems in Los Angeles or Chicago, and who can only afford to pay off the problems in Sacramento or Springfield.

RadicalHomosapien ,

I 100% agree they could and should, but I don't think it should be made their responsibility. You also wouldn't have to tax very drastically, because replacing the healthcare system with something like Medicare for All would cost less than the overall cost of our current bloated system, so the money could just get reallocated and the tax increases would just shift the responsibility slightly to the wealthiest of us. It should be popular with the "party of small business" and "lowering tax for the middle class" since it would cost businesses and workers both less money for better outcomes, but they only pretend to have principles when it can be leveraged for power. Health insurance is a fucking scam, and the fact that we can't unanimously agree companies making money extorting us with our lives aren't beneficial to society is bleak.

IHeartBadCode , avatar

Yeah this is missing magnitudes of scale here. Someone with 100,000 and someone with 1,000,000,000 are wildly different scales of magnitude. It's like people who look at a mag-4, mag-5, and mag-6 earthquake. Each of those is on a log scale, so while you're just going form 4 to 5, the scaling means that's a massive amount of change.

Same diff here. The economy is mostly based around the buying power of the median. So every log₁₀ past that point means massive change. So going from 100,000 to 1,000,000 is a pretty big change in the amount of security one has. So going from 1e5 to 1e9, that's a change of 1000 on the scale. The level of change between those two is absolutely astronomical.

I get this facet of mathematics eludes folks. All the while the whole "double the number of grains per square on a chessboard" thing we all like to play with because it's interesting. But this is that IRL. The average person and the average billionaire are on two totally different scales. It's like saying, "why a beetle doesn't glow when the sun does?" Like you can't reasonably compare those two things. Yeah, both contain hydrogen at some level but in massively, massively different quantities. It's like saying, your computer is just an overgrown abacus. It's just ignoring scale so much that it veers into very wrong.

I get what you're trying to say. But you've got to acknowledge the vast difference of scale here and that your point is not just oversimplification of an issue, but a gross by planetary magnitudes oversimplification of an issue. Just mathematically speaking, the average person and the average billionaire are not even close to the same kind of person in economic terms. It's just completely unreasonable to even remotely think they are. The numbers are just too far apart, to even attempt this argument in good faith.

ThrowawayPermanente ,

This is a great point, and the same logic applies to someone who's destitute vs someone with the median net worth of about $100,000. The average person could give away half of their net worth to feed a bunch of people in the developing world and it wouldn't ruin their life, but we don't. We're all less guilty of ignoring the suffering of others that a billionaire is, but not without blame.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

The average person could give away half of their net worth to feed a bunch of people in the developing world and it wouldn't ruin their life

Maybe the average person in YOUR social circle lol

I love when people say something highly specific to their social class but frame it as "everyone". Bubbles, man.

tempestuousknave ,

If the average American gave away half their net worth they would be giving away any hope of retirement. If the average billionaire gave away half their net worth they would still be a billionaire.

IHeartBadCode , avatar

This is a great point, and the same logic applies to someone who's destitute vs someone with the median net worth of about $100,000.

See this is where you failed logarithms. Let's talk domestic and then we'll move on to developing world. To explain it a bit better here's a breakdown. Let's say I take all my net worth and sell it. Lock, stock, and barrel. Convert it to cash and then take 50% of that dollar amount and hand it to someone. That value will allow a single person to have an apartment, furnish it, and pay rent for about 48 months. Now take the same billionaire and put it towards that same person. That 50% of that dollar amount is 43 times more money than if you completely liquidated the entire town of 12,000 in middle of nowhere Tennessee I live in. The billionaire could purchase forty-three of my towns. I can grant someone an apartment for maybe four years.

It's all the same 50%, but because of MATH, it's wildly different in what is possible with that same 50%. That's the "great point" you should be walking away with. Logarithms and orders of magnitude are wild things!

Now let's move to international. Minus the whole point I just made, one would think, oh if I give some money overseas, they'll be able to go to Walmart and grab some rice. Well they don't have Walmart. If I gave them $50k it is about as worth $0 because there's nowhere for the money to go that'll directly help them. It's not till I give them enough money to actually build the Walmart (or whatever shopping center, or you can call the Walmart farming equipment, or access to seed and fertilizer, or whatever basically enough money to grant them access to a resource that is just removed completely from them).

That's the thing people forget about abject destitution. They are so poor and exist in an environment that is so resource poor, handing them $100,000 might help keep them warm at night by burning the cash. But they are SO poor, you need a massive injection of funds to literally kick start their economy, and surprise $100,000, a quarter million, or half a million ain't going to cut it. You need nine figures to even get started and that massively ignores the complexities of the geopolitics and the fun details of despotism. But I side step all of that for simple fact that we just need to keep this to math and what I had previously indicated.

The economy is mostly based around the buying power of the median. So every log₁₀ past that point means massive change.

A developing nation's economy is in 1e-n territory for the median buying power relative to the US dollar. So for large n, you need large positive exponents to compensate. If some economy relative to the US dollar is 1e-6 for purchase power, then me sending 1e5 in funds is still fractional buying power on the order of like 0.1 relative to the dollar.

to feed a bunch of people in the developing world and it wouldn't ruin their life

The feeding you have to remember is someone here in the US buying the food and then sending the food. We buy the food at US prices, so it'll feed at the same rate it feeds a US mouth, because we didn't buy it at developing world nation price, we bought it at US price. We buy the food in the US because those nations are so poor, they do not even have food to buy for them to eat, you have to bring all the money required to invent all of that there.

So like I said, that whole 50% means vastly different things in terms of different log base. It's all the same 50%, yes, but it's wildly different values.

minnieo OP , (edited ) avatar

I have nothing new to reply to this with because others who have replied to you have already said what I would have said perfectly. I do want to say I find your reply incredibly ignorant and I hope the other replies have opened your eyes a bit.

are you donating all of your excess that isn’t going to your bills and food?

My 'excess' that doesn't go to bills and food is like 15 bucks, while theirs is several hundred million. Great comparison 👍🏼

RemembertheApollo ,

Why aren’t you giving yours away? Same reason as the rest of us. Pretty disingenuous and hypocritical to call people out on that.

The majority of people of adequate means have more than the vast number of people below that status. Most of them are probably hedging their bets against misfortune or retirement, and the former can wipe out most of the advantages they had, and the ability to actually attain the latter is pipe dream for most people.

Point being, there’s a huge difference between someone with multiple lifetime’s worth of money hoarded that would afford food and shelter to tens of thousands of people and still not hurt their ability to enjoy life vs the person who is trying to shore up the minimum barrier between themselves and poverty and prepare for the day they can’t work anymore. For a lot of us that’s a pretty tough goal to reach.

Bradamir ,

I'm sorry, but being able to feed yourself and dedicate decades of your life saving for a home, is not comparable to having multiple homes, and going on holidays for half of the year.

Obsydian_Falcon ,

How is the take hypocritical? Having a roof over your head and money to spend on nice things isn't the same as having enough money to live 10 lives and never run out. You've drawn parallels that quite literally don't exist.

UziBobuzi , avatar

I have all these things because of subsidies and welfare, or I'd be out on the street because I'm a disabled older person on SSDI. And even these things are a pittance, barely allow me to make ends meet, and are always in danger of being cut or completely gutted by the rich fucks hoarding all the money. So yeah, I think multi millionaires and billionaires are bad people by default.

Flaky_Fish69 , avatar

there’s a difference here

Might want to be a little less ignorant.

Can there be good billionaires? Maybe. Are there any? Not that I know of. It is conceivable that somebody inherited their wealth and elect to invest it altruistically- in a manner that at least sees it not degrade but still beneficial to everyone else.

I do not see any billionaire acting in such a manner, and “hoarding” is would seem to be an accurate description

patchw3rk , avatar

You're missing the magnitude of scale in your examples.

I bet you have more food than some people. Are you giving it to them?

I have a fridge big enough to feed 1 family. Wealthy people have refrigerators the size of a shopping mall. "Not my food!" says the Billionaire.

You have a roof over your head, other people don’t. Are you giving it to them?

It's raining. My house is big enough for 1 family. Wealthy people have a roof that is 50 miles square but refuse to share.

Anomandaris , (edited ) avatar

I don't mean doctor-making-150k-a-year rich, I mean properly rich with millions to billions of dollars.

I firmly believe there are no ways to become "properly" rich that don't require you to be a bad person.

To get out of that "doctor-making-150k-a-year" category you need some combination of greed, exploitative practices, manipulating broken capitalist systems, nepotism, ruthlessness, corruption, bribery, and outright lying.

minnieo OP , avatar

I agree totally, which is why I made that distinction. And my last point about participating in the system that oppresses the poor just to maintain your own wealth. I can't see how someone like that could be considered good.

Nougat ,

We're all arguably participating in that same system.

sadreality , (edited )

Not much choice but no doubt we are both victims and enablers of the regime.

People first need to accept this dichotomy before we can move forward. Daddies spend good money on PR to keep us bickering among our selves while they cashing in on our labour and taxes

minnieo OP , (edited ) avatar

Not like we have a choice, especially those of us in poverty. You're dealt your hand and thats that. Born poor, die poor. Born rich, enjoy life. Shouldn't be that way but it is

PugJesus , avatar

idk, you probably have a small number of artists and genuinely lucky-sons-of-bitches who get proper rich without being bad people. Or at least with their wealth not coming from being a bad person.

Anomandaris , avatar

Yeah, fair enough, I'm not too arrogant to admit there are exceptions to every rule.

And more power to artists and exotic chefs and others, who are able to get sociopath billionaires to fork out crazy amounts of money for their work.

sadreality , (edited )

They still benefit from regime in place to maintain their wealth and many are by default daddy's lap dogs.

People love putting up singers or athletes as they earned their money "fair" etc but these people end shilling for the benefit of the same rich daddies

Their art literally supports the status quo.

For example NBA players and China, rappers shilling "prosperity rap" and many singers putting out generic catchy music. Wouldn't want to bite the hand that feeds them, ay?

They mostly never take a stand but to be fair those that do get punished and removed from public eye.

George Carlin was an OG about it, said shit that was so true when most of us were still shitting diapers.

You can turn any of his content on today. 100% on point and relavent. It is a bit uncanny.

I am sure he made good money but at least he didn't lie about how it works. Most celebs are more worried about other celebs accepting them into rich daddy club... Not their audiences

HandsHurtLoL ,

I don't think I can 100% get behind the direct link that being an artist makes you a virtuous person, though I understand your bigger point.

I think we are overlooking tremendously how the art world is often a method in which the ultra wealthy wash their money. I don't think that artists that rise to the level of success of becoming a household name are blind to this.

PugJesus , avatar

I meant more that art isn't an inherently morally problematic way of making a large amount of money, unlike, say, crushing surplus value out of the working class at the expense of their health and happiness.

HandsHurtLoL ,

Yeah I get your larger point, but if an artist makes bank off someone who is crushing surplus value out of the working class, then isn't that still evil but with extra steps?

PugJesus , avatar

I mean, we're getting to 'there is no ethical consumption under capitalism' level abstraction there, and it's a bit early in the morning for me to be arguing for or against that. XD

Brkdncr ,

You can be born into it.

I’d say you’re a bad person if you’re born into it and don’t actively try to get rid of it.

I think the point of being a rich asshole is 1 billion dollars usd. Even 999mm is too much, but over 1 bil is an easy demarcation of excessive wealth.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

That was going to be my response. If you're obscenely wealthy but you're in the process of trying to get rid of that wealth via philanthropy, I think you get a pass.

And not just "pledges". Actual donations.

So like, almost no multimillionaires.

minnieo OP , avatar

1 billion? I think rich asshole starts much lower than that or 999 million, thats a fuck ton of money. Rich asshole begins at 1-3 million and up.

Brkdncr ,

1-3mm doesn’t get you far in many places in the US though.

Bibibis ,

999 million what? 999 million net worth? What happens when the market goes on a 15% hike like in 2020? Do you become the bad guy? Or is that 999 million in liquid assets (spoiler alert billionaires don't have 1 billion in the bank). Thinking you have a point shows how ignorant you are about wealth except the fact you hate people who have more than you

Brkdncr ,

Dang dude pretty hardcore response.

I think 999 net worth or 999 gold coins doesn’t matter. It’s a level that everyone can say is too much. You have to draw a line somewhere to start. Once it’s drawn you can go back and adjust but it seems people get hung up on where to start really easily.

Peacemeal12 , avatar

I'm probably more on the extreme than most people here but I don't completely agree with some of the things others say on here. I do see that in our system, the kind of person and the things that you have to do to attain that kind of money requires that you be a sociopath. There are certain points on the path to that kind of wealth where you consciously make decisions that are unethical.

What that looks like is making the conscious decision to fire thousands of people, real people who have families to feed, health insurance they may depend on their employment which in the end which ultimately simply boils down to wanting to have a bigger profit margin.

I mean even just thinking about it—when you have
much more money than anything for one single person to do with, why hoard it when there's so much you can do in the world with it? The moment you begin to care for things beyond yourself is the moment you realize that no matter how much money in the world you attain, there still would never be enough left over for you to be able to be wealthy.

patchw3rk , (edited ) avatar
Nougat ,

I think a mistake in thought you might be making is that people are not simply "good" or "bad." I 100% agree with @UziBobuzi that hoarding more wealth than you or your descendants could ever reasonably spend is a "bad thing." And maybe that's a "very bad thing," that would tend to cast a dark shadow on other "good" things the person might do. Still, those good things are not erased; they still exist, and should not be subtracted.

Another important concept is that, while there is a lot of overlap, a person's actions are not the entirety of who they are. We all have bad habits, and regrets, and other shortcomings that we are fully aware of and have difficulty rising above. That doesn't make us bad people, it just makes us people.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

I disagree. Sometimes, due to your particular circumstances, life forces duties and responsibilities on you. If you choose to become a police officer, but you're too cowardly to protect children from getting shot, that is a bad act and you are a bad person for doing it. If you are born into wealth, you are obligated to help the less fortunate. If you don't do it, that is a bad act and makes you a bad person. It would take a LOT of other good acts to atone for that.

Nougat ,

Thank you for disagreeing, and I will further disagree!

I don't think that it's correct to do basic addition and subtraction (as in The Good Place) to determine whether someone is a "bad person." People are complicated, and people can change, for better or worse. Of course, we need to make judgments about who people are, including ourselves, but my judgment about whether a given person is "good" or "bad" is not necessarily objective truth.

In fact, I don't think it ever can be objective truth, because I don't think there is a universal arbiter of such things. The farther away from the center line you get, the more general agreement you'll find: Fred Rogers was good, Hitler was bad. But as you get closer to the middle ground, things get fuzzier. Thomas Jefferson was ... complicated. He was clearly brilliant, and held some very progressive positions in his time. And he owned slaves. Was he good? Bad? I don't think you can boil Jefferson down quite like that. Looking at people in black and white abandons important nuances, and causes us to discard important concepts or embrace dangerous ones.

patchw3rk , avatar

I agree with both of you.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

I think we differ in what we consider extreme. A billion dollars isnso much money, I consider that extreme. Not to Hitler or Stalin levels of course, but closer to that than the middle.

If you're hoarding money that could be saving lives, you didn't directly kill anyone, but you have some culpability.

Nougat ,

I think we differ in what we consider extreme.

That falls right into my "Mr. Rogers vs Adolf Hitler" dichotomy example. A billion dollars is so extreme that we both agree on that, and I expect a large number of other people would also agree. Ten dollars is so extreme on the other end of the spectrum that I can predict with very high confidence that we both agree there, too. And when you're somewhere in the middle, clearly more than average, clearly in the realm of luxury and surplus, then there's going to be higher levels of disagreement.

That's why it's important to have these discussions, because reasonable people can disagree, but for a properly functional society, we need to find out where we do (mostly) agree, so that we can all move forward together through thoughtful compromise.

Stormy404 , avatar


00 , (edited ) avatar

Beyond the already presented arguments from the utilitarian perspectives and the perspective of active wealth accumulation that requires a lack of morals, I want to offer a perspective on the control that this much money gives you. Since a billion dollars, or even further, the billions of dollars that billionaires have are hard to imagine/visualize, here is a handy visualization which i urge you to scroll through. (you have to scroll to the right)

Now, beyond being simply astonishingly awful because of the amount of good those people choose not to do, it's evil (I dont like the word in this context but I lack a better one) because of the control these people gain. Having billions of dollars is not just money in the sense you and I think about it. Its control, its capital. Simply through its absurd quantities it gains the emergent property of influencing millions and billions of peoples lifes, often in subtle ways like where factories are built or how resources are allocated, decisions that should by all means have democratic legitimization but are controlled by individuals like feudal lords.

And beyond that, this power influences elections through voters or through plain and simple corruption. But not the kind of small level nepotism we think of where a company wins a bid for some building, but corrpution on a level that influences state legislature and millions of people for decades to come.

Ragnell , avatar

I think if a good person were to amass half a billion dollars they would spent enough of it on charity that they could never become a billionaire. So there are no good billionaires, but perhaps a few good millionaires moving to ex-millionaire.

minnieo OP , (edited ) avatar

My thoughts as well, pretty much exactly what I meant in my post.

if you're a good person, you wouldn't be rich.

Hardly any millionaires become ex-millionaires by choice, it's that difference that can help distinguish the 'good ones' from the 'not good ones'. If they chose that route through donation, charity, whatever it may be, they are good. If it had to be ripped away from them through just natural shitty circumstances, and otherwise would keep being hoarded, not so much.

Bipta ,

Moving to ex-millionaire? A million isn't even enough to retire in the US.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

Yeah that math is a little outdated. I think the "you have too much money" range has gone up to around $3-5 million now.

Tango , avatar

I think that's still far too low. If you own even a moderately successful small-medium sized business then you can get to the point where you have more than that.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

In personal wealth? Or does the wealth belong to the business?

Business investments or cash reserves or whatever are waaay beyond the scope of this discussion. That would have more to do with antitrust law and what a fair C suite compensation is.

If you started a small business and are wildly successful to the point that you, personally, have $7 million dollars? Then yes, you have too much money.

It's not "this is the amount of money a person starting from nothing can achieve".

It's "this is more money than any one person ever needs, regardless of where it came from".

Tango , avatar

$7 million really isn't obscene money. If someone has a successful business and retires at 50 years old with $7 million in the bank, assuming they live to 90 that's only $175k per year. Depending on where you live that can range anywhere from very comfortable to barely getting by. Of course, you could invest it and assuming 4% annual yield that's $280k per year, which is the right way to do it. I personally have no issue with someone reaping the rewards of their success. I also think that the rich people hate is misplaced. Why are people mad at the wealthy for not picking up the government's slack, instead of being mad at the government for slacking in the first place?

Aesthesiaphilia ,

An aspect of the government not slacking is taxing wealth people and high earners more.

$280k per year

More money than any one person needs. Obviously not as obscene as the ultra wealthy, but there's a cutoff point somewhere in the $150k-200k range where you don't get any extra happiness out of money, it's just pure greed amassing more.

Tango , avatar

Tax them how though? Honestly, most billionaires don't take a massive salary, many of them have an official salary that is wholly unimpressive. I think Bezos' official salary as CEO of Amazon was under $100k. And I am firmly against the idea of a wealth tax because that means you're taxing someone on money that they don't have. If I find a painting at goodwill that turns out to be worth $100 million, should I be expected to pay taxes on that $100 million even though I only make $20/hour? That would be totally unfair, you'd be taxing me on money I don't have.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

If I find a painting at goodwill that turns out to be worth $100 million, should I be expected to pay taxes on that $100 million even though I only make $20/hour?

Obviously you sell the painting to pay the taxes on it. Then you still have $80 million or whatever. Sounds fair to me.

Tango , avatar

I simply disagree with taxing someone on the perceived value of an asset. I know that's how property taxes work, and yes, I disagree with that too. You shouldn't tax someone on simply owning an asset.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

And you're okay with that making it functionally impossible to tax rich people?

Tango , avatar

I think the focus on rich people is misguided. You would get way more tax money by properly taxing corporations than you would by taxing billionaires. The personal income of even top level billionaires is still peanuts compared to corporate profits, which can be hundreds of billions per year. I don't care if Musk of Bezos has a personal wealth of hundreds of billions, that money doesn't exist, it's the hypothetical market value of their stock holdings. But major corporations do actually have hundreds of billions of actual liquid income every year, so to me that's fair game for taxing. If Walmart profits $150 billion in a year, then sure, go to town and heavily tax that, because that is actual money and not just value.

Tango , (edited ) avatar

I think the focus on rich people is misguided. You would get way more tax money by properly taxing corporations than you would by taxing billionaires. The personal income of even top level billionaires is still peanuts compared to corporate profits, which can be hundreds of billions per year. I don't care if Musk or Bezos has a personal wealth of hundreds of billions, that money doesn't exist, it's the hypothetical market value of their stock holdings. But major corporations do actually have hundreds of billions of actual liquid income every year, so to me that's fair game for taxing. If Walmart profits $150 billion in a year, then sure, go to town and heavily tax that, because that is actual money and not just value.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

I guess we just have a fundamental disagreement then. I see no reason to exempt wealth from taxation. Personal or corporate wealth.

metaStatic ,
bazpoint ,

I can't believe no-one has mentioned Chuck Feeney.

He's prettymuch the answer to the OP's question: Can you be super rich and a good person? Yes, but you prettymuch have to make it your life's work to not be super rich any more.

DarkGamer , (edited ) avatar

Funny, I was just watching this 'Some More News' video about what excessive wealth does to one's behaviors and morals. It's a bit of a watch but it's worth it. It seems that we humans have a lot of cognitive biases that occur regarding wealth. Evidently, and this is backed by experiment, it changes people in ways that are often not good for them or good for society.

At the upper end of the wealth scale, some multi billionaires, like Bezos' Ex, can't give away wealth faster than they accrue it through investments.

Peruvian_Skies , avatar

A priori, yes. Being rich is not automatically incompatible with being good - philantropy is a thing. But depending on how rich, how much or how little they give back to the community, how they acquired/maintain their wealth, etc, you eventually reach a point where the person is simply put a social parasite. And that IS incompatible with being good.

killall-q , avatar

There's a lot of arguments here based on emotions and assumptions rather than logic.

I don't think any person is simply "good" or "bad". A person can perform a "good" deed one moment, and a "bad" deed the next. When people look at someone and judge if they are a "good" or "bad" person, they are usually either: 1) judging that person by the overall sum of their publicly known deeds, or 2) judging that person by deeds they have performed for (or against) the judger.

Being in possession of great wealth is not a deed. A person can come in possession of great wealth relative to other people in a society without taking any action (e.g. inheritance, etc) or without taking any evil action (e.g. winning the lottery, taking profit from a sufficiently large business that doesn't perform any ethical violations, etc).

Aesthesiaphilia ,

Gotta say, I'm getting a little tired of moral relativism being trotted out as a defense of bad people.

killall-q , (edited ) avatar

Too tired to read logical arguments? Comfortable in your assumption that all rich people are bad people, based on your distaste for the few famous rich people who are constantly in the news? The vast majority of the world's billionaires prefer to stay anonymous.

Not that I'm pointing out any specific rich people as good people, I'm just pointing out the illogic of automatically linking a person's moral qualities with their wealth without knowing anything else about them. Would you assume the contrapositive, that all poor people are good people?

Aesthesiaphilia ,

Relativism is a cop out argument for or against anything. It's a hail Mary, it's a sign you're scraping the bottom of the rhetorical barrel.

But yes, I'd say that the simple fact of having a billion dollars makes you immoral. All other parts of your life aside. It is immoral simply to have that much money and not be using it to help people.

killall-q , (edited ) avatar

In the modern world of fiat currencies, crypto currencies, stocks, and other fictitious denominations of value, I wouldn't assume that having great wealth necessarily means that you are hoarding resources away from the greater public. In fact, people with massive bank accounts cannot withdraw all of their money even if they tried, because banks only hold a fractional reserve on the assumption that the overall sums of withdrawals will be balanced out by the overall sums of deposits.

Money by itself is worthless, it is tokens to be traded for goods and services. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy more than what is willingly for sale to you, and money that sits never spent may as well not exist.

If a hacker got into your bank account, and added many zeros without your consent or knowledge, are you now a bad person?

Aesthesiaphilia ,

If you don't use it to help others? Yes. Pretty simple concept, y'all are doing some crazy mental gymnastics here.

killall-q , (edited ) avatar

In this entire debate, you haven't made any logical arguments. You have only started and ended with a single assumption, that being in possession of great wealth inherently makes you a bad person.

I'm currently reading the Ender's Game series, and just finished the 2nd book, Speaker for the Dead. Mild spoilers follow.

Ender has been doing a lot of near-lightspeed travel, so due to time dilation, he is now about 3000 years old. He has a sentient AI friend who has been making investments in his name during his travels, so he has inadvertently become possibly the wealthiest human in existence. However, he never asked his friend to make those investments, and he only found out when he asked for her help with a problem one day. His wealth is rarely mentioned for the rest of the book.

He wasn't living a life of luxury before he found out about his wealth, and still doesn't, and he's too busy with protagonist stuff to devote any time to philanthropy; money just isn't part of his identity or decision making. He helps lots of people in his adventures, but not using his money, and most things he or they need can't be bought anyway. His wealth is just another tool to be used as needed, but it's far from his most useful or important one.

Aesthesiaphilia ,

Cool. He should tell his AI friend to use that money to help people. That's the real protagonist shit.

You have only started and ended with a single assumption

Yes, and I don't know what about it requires more explanation. If you have more money than you will ever need, and you're not using it to help people, that is bad. It's almost axiomatic.

Grimlo9ic , (edited ) avatar

And in order to stay rich, you have to play your role and participate in a society that oppresses the poor which in turn maintains your wealth. Are you really still capable of being a good person?

It's a complex topic, but this is the crux of the matter I think. If we're talking about today's world, then I don't think there is a billionaire who is not complicit with participating in a system that is rigged (for lack of a better term) in their favor, and profits in an unfair scale from the work of others.

On the other hand, I also don't think you need to disown your material wealth and start living paycheck to paycheck to be able to qualify as a good person. So... in my head, there's definitely millionaires who are good people, who earned their riches with authentic hard work and some genius ideas/inventions/services, and pay the people they employ well, or keep good relations with the people they work with.

aeternum ,

My $10 goes a lot further than their millions of dollars. I spent $10 on a donation, who will then spend it on an uber. The uber driver will then spend it on something else. Their millions of dollars will just sit in a bank account not adding value to anything but their net worth. Fuck rich people.

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