Home > Economics - General > Wealth: earned or inherited

Wealth: earned or inherited

May 7th, 2014

The efforts of the right to discredit Piketty’s Capital have so far ranged from unconvincing to risible (there’s a particularly amusing one from Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, to which I won’t bother linking). One point raised in this four-para summary by the Economist is that ” today’s super-rich mostly come by their wealth through work, rather than via inheritance.” Piketty does a good job of rebutting this, but for those who haven’t acquired the book or got around to reading it, I thought I’d repost my own response, from 2012.

The coming boom in inherited wealth (repost)

As everyone who has been paying attention knows, the news on inequality is nearly all bad. Not only has inequality increased dramatically in the US, but intergenerational economic mobility is declining[1]. And, where the US leads, the rest of the world looks likely to follow. The top 1 per cent lost more than most during the crisis of 2008-09 but, as Stephen Rattner reports here (drawing on work by Piketty and Saez), that was just a blip. A stunning 93 percent of the additional income created in the US in 2010, compared to 2009, went to the top 1 per cent, and there’s no reason to think things were much better in 2011 – average real earnings have fallen yet again, and employment growth, though positive, was still modest. Wealth inequality is also high, though it has not increased as much as income inequality.

The one bright spot mentioned by Rattner is that ” those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches”. Since I’m already noticing that point popping up in the places you might expect to see it (can’t find a link right now), let me point out that Rattner’s explanation, that “the rapid growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers” is wrong, and that there is every reason to expect a boom in inherited wealth.

The fact that currently wealthy Americans have not, in general, inherited their wealth follows logically from the fact that, in their parents’ generation, there weren’t comparable accumulations of wealth to be bequeathed.  More generally, starting from the position of relatively (to earlier periods and to the current one) equal income and wealth that prevailed between about 1950 and 1980, growing inequality of income must precede growing inequality of wealth, since wealth is simply the cumulative excess of income over consumption (and US high-income earners have not been notable for restraint as regards consumption). 

So, given highly unequal incomes, and social immobility, we can expect inheritance to play a much bigger role in explaining inequality for the generations now entering adulthood than for the current recipients of high incomes. That will include direct transfers of wealth as well as the effects of increasingly unequal access to education, early job opportunities and home ownership.


fn1. More precisely, since intertemporal comparisons are difficult, the chance that a person with parents at the top (or bottom) of the income distribution will end up in the same or a similar position is now higher in the US than in Europe, whereas, until at least the  late 20th century there was good reason to think that the oppositewas true.

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  1. Peter Chapman
    May 7th, 2014 at 08:49 | #1

    A minor semantic point in the Economist summary is perhaps to note that “acquiring wealth through work” is not the same as “earning”… as the bonus system for bankers, and similar super-salaried occupations, shows. Without denying that Messrs Packer, Gyngell et al. put in some time at the office, enough to justify some friendly weekend recreational biffo, and Ms Rinehart no doubt feels she has earned the right to her life style, inherited wealth plays a big part in their power and standing. But let’s not get bogged down in a discussion of individual cases… this is about how the whole system works, or fails to work, and how it distributes benefits across the participants in the system.

  2. J-D
    May 7th, 2014 at 09:10 | #2

    @Peter Chapman
    What you’re saying, I think, is that the word ‘earned’ is sometimes used to mean ‘received in the form of remuneration for a job’ and is sometimes also used to mean ‘merited’, and that these two uses are not synonymous (technically, ignoring this distinction is an example of the fallacy of equivocation).

  3. Jim
    May 7th, 2014 at 09:41 | #3

    Keeping all other things equal (e.g. education, job, income, etc), surely it is more likely that someone who inherits wealth will die more wealthy than if they inherited nothing.

    If I inherit enough money I can feed my family, buy a house, buy a car and pay for my childrens’ education. The basics are already covered, so a greater proportion of my income is available for discretionary expenditure, or more importantly investment in wealth creating activities.

    So unless those who inherit wealth bugger up their investment strategies, or are simply dumber or lazy, we are likely to see a greater concentration of wealth in the hands of smaller portion of society on the future.

  4. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    May 7th, 2014 at 09:53 | #4

    This sentence from Max Hastings gave me a chortle:
    “And yet does not capitalism provide a structure which encourages personal aspiration, the desire to enrich oneself through graft, and the opportunity to keep as much of the money you have earned as possible?”
    Does “graft” have a different meaning in the UK?

  5. mandas
    May 7th, 2014 at 12:10 | #5

    “…. those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches….”

    That statement is so laughably wrong that it takes a special form of cognitive denial to believe it. If it were true, then the people at the top would be drawn roughly equally from all stratas of society – with just as many people at the top who came from poor backgrounds as from rich.

    People at the top tend to stay at the top because of the advantages they inherit – and that does not just include wealth. If your parents buy you a place in Harvard, you are probably going to earn more than someone whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to college at all.

  6. J-D
    May 7th, 2014 at 14:33 | #6

    @Nevil Kingston-Brown
    The use of ‘graft’ to mean ‘official corruption’ appears to derive from the earlier use of graft to mean ‘effort, hard work’, a use which may perhaps be more common in the UK than elsewhere in the English-speaking world: it’s familiar to me from the sort of British television programs in which working-class colloquialisms are regularly used.

  7. Hermit
    May 7th, 2014 at 15:10 | #7

    A vexing issue is that of the million dollar homes of the (now) inner suburb baby boomers. On the one hand we are told the aged pension will be fully asset tested including the home. On the other hand a lack of aged care facilities will mean greater home based care with electronic health monitors and nurse visits. Assume the baby boomers die in their unsold homes. That wealth (cash sale or rent income) gets passed on to Gen X who then do the same for Gen Y and so on. Every generation dilutes that static wealth probably by a factor of 2 or more.

    Therefore I don’t think current baby boomer real estate will enrich future generations at the personal level. What may irk future generations is the low effort it took to get onto the real estate merry-go-round with little restraint on lavish lifestyles.

  8. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    May 7th, 2014 at 16:12 | #8

    I think the inherited/earned issue has most salience when considering what should be done about it, which is also a discussion about where taxes would fall and whether any political party has the power/will to implement them.

    Raising the top bracket of income tax would reduce CEO overpayment but would probably be evaded by people whose income comes mostly from investments, that is, inherited wealth (e.g. the debate about the “Buffett tax”), although they would have no reason to favour it. In the carbon tax debate we have also seen how adept people who are in the top 10% are at portraying themselves as lower middle class battlers who would strenuously oppose it.

    Conversely, estate taxes would fall upon and be strongly opposed by heirs (e.g. the Kochs and Waltons) who sought to perpetuate their dynasties unto the nth generation, but might be only weakly opposed by the first generation CEO – e.g. the archetypal Bill Gates/Steve Jobs – as these types often subscribe to a “stand on your own two feet, I started out living in a paper bag at the bottom of a coal mine” etc belief system, that means that at least their expressed preference might be for their children to also make their own way in the world (at least, once the child’s Harvard admissions fees and a deposit on their first coal mine are paid for). It’s much harder to claim they are a disincentive to work or a hit on the self-declared middle class. Estate taxes also have the useful purpose of encouraging end-of-life mega-philanthropy.

    Therefore I’d say that an estate tax has a much better chance of “wedging” and splitting the 1% than a higher income tax – and given recent work on the way in which American policy is shaped by elite preferences, without wedge issues we aren’t going to get anything implemented that addresses the problems Piketty raises.

  9. Ikonoclast
    May 7th, 2014 at 16:31 | #9

    The super-rich don’t care. This is exactly the world they want. Question is, how do we change it? With tinkering or real change? (Hint, tinkering hasn’t worked.) If real change, what is the program? It is clear that modern capitalism leads to ever greater inequality. Capitalism is unreformable by its very nature. We need a new system. And we don’t need tired old totalitarian state capitalism either; in other words not Soviet or Chinese communism.

    In fact, all 3 superpowers now are converging as crony capitalist states. The more alike they become the more bitter enemies they will become. It’s rather like “1984” (the three blocs) but instead of socialism, as Orwell (only half an intellectual) very erroneously imagined would be the danger, the real problem is corporate and crony capitalism.

  10. Newtownian
    May 7th, 2014 at 16:57 | #10


    Tks for mentioning this as it brings up the very good point that there are other forms of inherited wealth distorting things here in Australia and elsewhere.

    – The first is the super-millionaires and their ilk the serious owners of serious capital – already discussed.

    – The second is the more modest as mentioned but much more widespread and not trivial BUT NOT universal parental inheritance in particular the family house.

    When families were big this was not so important a windfall resource compared to one’s earning ability. But with two and one and no child families the amounts passed on can be close of half the discretionary spending average people obtain in their entire working life – at least in Australia at the moment – and can if they are sensible allow the lucky section of society to pay off all debts and go from treading water to sitting as securely as is reasonable in respect to ‘security’ – Maslow’s second ‘Needs’ tier.

    The effect will be particularly strong in OECD countries where growth slows to near zero as some predict.

    An interesting result to ponder is that a large chunk of the ‘poor young people’ will in fact in time get such a mass infusion of capital while a large chunk wont – possibly accentuating the rich poor divide and creating an ugly alliance between those who inherit one of these pots and the supermilionaires – unless medical technology learns how to let us live forever and then who knows?? except we should watch the consultants (plague rats) trot out a new collection of moonshine for us chatterers.

    – The third is the accumulation of superannuation and the need/preference to place it in relatively high yielding short term investments – which could have similar effects to the 2nd accumulation pathway.

    Does Picketty deal with these last two? Anyone? If not I guess I’ll just have to read his book.

  11. Rob
    May 7th, 2014 at 17:08 | #11

    Ikonoclast :
    The super-rich don’t care. This is exactly the world they want. Question is, how do we change it?

    This is what I can’t work out. Why do the non-super-rich (a.k.a. the majority) keep electing governments that favour corporations over the people.

    Perhaps the majority needs to get smarter? Be less susceptible to bullsh1t?

    I suspect the “intelligence” and the engagement of the electorate has changed of the past ten years or so (thanks to cable news and ubiquitous internet, maybe) but in what way is as yet unknown (at least to me).

  12. Hermit
    May 7th, 2014 at 18:08 | #12

    I suspect most of those who inherit houses will fritter the money away on shiny automobiles and foreign travel. That is they won’t use it as collateral to invest in more property.

    As for super funds eventually generating 0% returns that could be a worry. We’ll have all these 80-90 year olds needing a cost of living top-up from the government but the cupboard is bare we are told.

    I’m amazed at the lavish spending of pre-retirement DINK baby boomers like some of my relatives. Like whirlwind trips to the Reef or the Red Centre with first class everything. I suggested their grandchildren may never be able to do the same. Don’t see why not is the response.

  13. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2014 at 18:25 | #13


    Oppression oppresses. That’s why we fight it.

    One of the privileges of being the boss class is setting the framework for debate — who may speak with authority and which claims are ruled out of order as irresponsible.

    For most, the preferred adaptive response is to become disengaged or at best to pick on the basis of superficial impression who is least bad — hence the cycling of tweedledum and tweedledee.

  14. May 7th, 2014 at 21:39 | #14

    There was a suit on tele saying that “nobody wants a deficit levy”, as though it was totally obvious.

    There was no interview with anyone saying that taxing the rich at a higher rate was a no brainer. Sometime back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the right wing world view took hold of the media.

    We’ve gone from the 1970’s when it was taken for granted (by a lot of people) that our increasing wealth as a nation would go to everyone, to a 2010’s where we are too poor to look after the disadvantaged.

    Those who are worried by this need to find a way of explaining the problems in a way that grabs the imagination. Take the looming aged care crisis. We are told that there won’t be enough working age people to look after the elderly (which will include me by then). But really, there will be enough workers, its just that they’ll be serving cocktails to the rich on their boats, driving their boats, building their boats etc etc.

    When the argument is framed in terms of money, the abstraction takes away the punch.

  15. rog
    May 7th, 2014 at 22:27 | #15


    This is what I can’t work out. Why do the non-super-rich (a.k.a. the majority) keep electing governments that favour corporations over the people.

    People are encouraged to dream and then that they can achieve the dream and nobody wants to stop the dreaming.

  16. May 8th, 2014 at 00:56 | #16


    If you haven’t done so lately, I would highly recommend a re-read of “1984”.

    People always say that it was a take-down of socialism, but having only read it for the first time in the middle of the Bush-Blair-Howard years, I didn’t see it that way at all.

    I see it as scarily predictive (and warning) of capitalist/fascist/totalitarianism as experienced in the here and now by the citizens of the “Western Democracies”, ie: us.

    There is nothing unique to the USSR about it. In fact, I suggest that a re-read today would make most people think of home rather than some faraway “bad” place.

  17. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2014 at 07:38 | #17


    You might have a point in the sense that I should read it again. “1984” is no doubt one of those books many of us have read way too early in lives. One needs to be a mature world-weary cynic to really understand it.

    By the same token “socialism” seems to be pretty directly fingered.

    “Nineteen Eighty-Four, sometimes published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by George Orwell published in 1949.[1][2] The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes”.” – Wikipedia.

    Perhaps Orwell meant “capitalism” and “corporatism” but knew his novel wouldn’t be published if he named them. However, I doubt this. From what I know of Orwell’s more political and philosophical writings he was a rather confused thinker. That might be the pot calling the kettle black of course.

    There are suggestions that: “Nineteen Eighty Four owes a debt to Evgeny Zamyatin’s book We (1925), which Orwell acknowledged in a letter to George Woodcock (1967), in which he stated that he had only been able to obtain a copy of the book in French and was looking for an English translation.” – worldsocialism site. “The Political Ideas of George Orwell”.

  18. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2014 at 07:44 | #18
  19. Collin Street
    May 8th, 2014 at 07:45 | #19

    The deficit levy’s carefully structured strategy, set up so it can be attacked from both sides [tax increase, but temporary] so whoops we can’t get it through. While the social security cuts and so forth sail through.

    Think of it as an abusive relationship, but instead of between parent and child or partners or “friends” the population of australia is the one being abused.

    [and the only thing an untrained person can really do with an abuser is cut them out of their life entirely, because abusers have more practice minipulating people than people have in not being manipulated]

  20. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2014 at 07:47 | #20
  21. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2014 at 07:50 | #21

    @Collin Street

    Yes, I get the feeling they are playing games with this one. It’s just like the games our two major right wing parties (Liberal and Labor) played with the carbon price. Neither of them had the slightest intention of actually doing anything serious about carbon emissions. So they pretended away and deliberately tripped over each other so they couldn’t get it done.

  22. May 8th, 2014 at 11:14 | #22

    @Collin Street

    Saw Richard Dennis on the ABC this morning talking about the debt levy. What a breath of fresh air! It seemed the interviewer was taken aback by his answers.

    To summarise what he said. The budget imbalance is permanent, so the any tax increases will need to be permanent. Since Howard only recently hugely raised the level at which the top tax rate cuts in, it should be lowered a bit. An effective mining tax is a great idea, and there is no reason you can’t have both the mining tax and higher personal income tax.

    But of course what is in the news this morning is that young unemployed will be paid at a lower rate, and not paid at all if they don’t work or study. Surely this will seriously impact the economy of areas with high youth unemployment, further reducing the chance of the young finding work there. Absolutely appalling.

  23. patrickb
    May 8th, 2014 at 11:18 | #23

    @John Brookes
    Interesting also that back in the 60s and 70s we were being prepared for a shorter working life through the advent of automation. This was seen, more or less, as a good thing. Hockey recently couched the prospect of working until 70 in the same terms. It was, for him, a fait acompli that an individual would view working to that age with unmediated joy.
    At around the beginning of the 80s the narrative changed. We were in fact lazy and inefficient. Productivity became the measure of a happy and fulfilling or a sad and empty life. Of course this had nothing to do with the rapid growth in the fortunes of the wealthy …

  24. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2014 at 11:21 | #24


    By the same token “socialism” seems to be pretty directly fingered.

    I don’t think Orwell’s main target was “socialism” per se so much as Stalinism, and the totalitarian tendency in the mainline socialist organisations of his day. Orwell stated himself that his writing was directed against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism as he understood it (which more closely resembled contemporary social democracy than mid-20th century communism). His work certainly has resonance well beyond his original targets, particularly his critique of the use of lies and propaganda in the service of power, and the reality-distorting nature of ideological lies. His essay Politics and the English Language is also good on this topic.

    The current demonisation of environmentalism in all its forms, which originated with American Libertarian/Corporate thinktanks and now seems to have spread like a virus across the entire political right, distinctly reminds me of Orwell’s depiction of the Party’s construction of “Goldstein” as a folk devil. The bellicosity of the right-wing ideology expounded in the Murdoch press, and its tendency to posit free market libertarianism as a kind of irrefutable common sense, have something of an Orwellian flavour as well.

    In the 1990s we used to say that Huxley’s Brave New World was a more plausible future dystopia than 1984, as it depicted social control being achieved through manipulation of pleasure (through consumerism and entertainment) rather than terror. But that was before the American “War on Terror” and its apparatus of surveillance and secret prisons. Things certainly look more Orwellian now than they did in 1995.

  25. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2014 at 11:43 | #25

    @Collin Street

    The deficit levy’s carefully structured strategy, set up so it can be attacked from both sides [tax increase, but temporary] so whoops we can’t get it through.

    I think that’s reading too much into it. I think the proposed hike in the top two tax brackets (I’m not going to call it a “deficit levy”) was chosen on the basis that it would be less unpopular than other options like increasing the GST, and less inimical to the Liberals’ voting and funding base than taxing superannuation income or winding back mining industry tax concessions. Obviously the Government has made some other options, like retaining the carbon price or re-jigging the mining tax, unavailable to itself.

    I don’t think the Government anticipated such a hostile response from its political allies – I think it expected that they would support the measure as a necessary evil, and on the basis that it’s temporary. But given that the right has elevated opposition to any tax increases into a core dogma in recent years, the Government really should have known better.

    I also disagree with your take on the debate over the carbon price. I think the former Labor Government was very reluctant to implement a carbon price without bipartisan support (and of course, with the 2007-2010 Senate it was unable to), because it was afraid it would be too politically risky to do so. Subsequent events have clearly proved that fear to be 100% correct. Even the modest, incrementalist policy put in place by the Gillard Government became a political albatross, and all the attempts to achieve buy-in by affected industries (such as the funding for carbon capture, etc) came to nothing, as those industries grasped with both hands at the opportunity of a few more years of do-nothing policy.

    Unfortunately, achieving rational climate change policy seems to be politically impossible in Australia in the current environment, given that even modest policies are apparently in the political too-hard basket.

  26. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    May 8th, 2014 at 12:09 | #26

    I don’t think that anyone in the recent history of the english language was less “confused” than Orwell. Orwell was a dedicated campaigner for anti-colonialism and what we would today call left wing social democracy, before the post-war welfare state, at a time when most english-speaking left intellectuals had been sucked in by Stalin and most right wing intellectuals were seduced by Franco/Mussolini (Hitler was always a bit beyond the pale I think). He called out the totalitarian and genocidal intentions, cant and hypocrisy of both sides – post WWII (and post his death) politics meant that Animal Farm and 1984 got more publicity than his left wing works. You can only claim he was anti-socialist if you are incapable of separating socialism from Stalinism.

  27. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2014 at 12:27 | #27

    Prof Q, I’ve got a couple of innocuous comments in automoderation.

  28. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2014 at 14:06 | #28


  29. Fran Barlow
    May 8th, 2014 at 14:31 | #29

    @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    While what you say is true — Orwell was a left social democrat when he wrote Homage to Catalonia, by he time he got around to Animal Farm and 1984 he had shifted right. This doubtless reflected the demoralisation he felt over events in Spain and the treacherous role of the Comintern-loyal PSUC, the outbreak of WW2 and the Soviet-Nazi alliance and the absence of any substantial leftist resistance to Stalin in the period following WW2. With the onset of the Cold War and McCarthyism, Orwell, like a good many leftists around the world, was drawn into its orbit. It’s also fair to say that his health declined dramatically which made him an altogether less optimistic person than he had been a decade and a half earlier.

    One didn’t need to apologise for Stalinism to want to avoid embracing US imperialism, but Orwell probably saw it that way in the last years of his life.

    I should add that as someone keen on the language, Orwell’s Politics and the English Language is much overrated by his fan club. He makes some worthwhile points, but much of it is little more than a half-baked rant, at least as a guide to worthwhile writing.

  30. Collin Street
    May 8th, 2014 at 14:59 | #30

    What I guess it does mean is that the liberal party is now more beholden to miners and property interests than to the wealthy considered more generally.

    Which is part of a general world-wide drift of parties-of-the-right to be dominated by people who’ve made a lot of money in rent-heavy industries.

    And the thing about making a lot of money in rent-heavy industries is that it’s not hard, kinda by definition.

  31. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 15:58 | #31

    Orwell always described himself as a socialist and explicitly and emphatically disavowed the interpretation that 1984 was an attack on socialism. Yes, he gave the official ideology of Oceania a name (Ingsoc) that was a contraction of ‘English Socialism’, but that doesn’t mean he considered Ingsoc genuinely socialist or real socialism tainted by the evils found in Ingsoc. Orwell would have been acutely aware of these facts; ‘Nazi’ was a contraction of ‘National Socialist’; the Nazis made use of the ‘socialist’ self-description in an effort to broaden their support; Nazi use of the ‘socialist’ self-description was a cynical lie and the Nazis never had any intention of implementing a genuinely socialist program. Orwell clearly saw the connection between ‘Ingsoc’ and socialism (as he understood it) in the same way.

    Of course what people get out of a book is not always what the author intended: there have always been people who interpret 1984 as a damning indictment of socialism (which is why Orwell felt impelled to disavow that interpretation); but there have also always been people who reject that interpretation and, for whatever it’s worth, the author was among their ranks.

  32. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 16:08 | #32

    @Fran Barlow
    In a newspaper/magazine piece in the late 1940s Orwell described an imaginary dialogue in which a hypothetical ordinary Briton was asked about the choice between going in with the US or going in with the Soviet Union. The response was along the lines of ‘I refuse to choose between them; they’re nothing but a pair of gangsters’. But the hypothetical interlocutor presses the point: ‘Yes, I know, but what if you had absolutely no alternative and had to choose one or the other’, and the response comes back ‘Oh, well, if there was really no other choice I suppose I’d have to pick the Americans over the Russians’. It’s clear in context that this was essentially Orwell’s own position. He very much didn’t want Britain to be in the position of having to accept subordination in a US-led bloc, but he still saw that as a less bad option than accepting subordination in a Soviet bloc. Is that what you mean when you say he had ‘drifted to the right’? If so, then so what? Do you think that accepting subordination in a Soviet bloc would have been a less bad option than accepting subordination in a US-led bloc?

    Turning from hypothetical scenarios to real ones, in the last years of his life Orwell was a deeply committed (although not unquestioning) supporter of the Attlee Labour Government, which was more left-wing than any British government before or since.

  33. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2014 at 16:15 | #33

    @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    You could be right. I might have to revisit my views of Eric Arthur Blair.

  34. Fran Barlow
    May 8th, 2014 at 16:20 | #34


    I don’t accept one ever has to make that choice. One can stand aside. I do that every time I enter a voting booth.

  35. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2014 at 16:24 | #35

    @Fran Barlow

    I should add that as someone keen on the language, Orwell’s Politics and the English Language is much overrated by his fan club

    Perhaps it is overrated – it’s been quite a while since I read it, but it appears to me to be one of relatively few accessible critiques of euphemistic political language (which is as prevalent as ever, sadly). The worthwhile points in it, as you put it, have too seldom been made elsewhere in the direct and straightforward manner in which he made them.

    BTW, I’m not convinced that the fact that I think some of Orwell’s work is worth reading necessarily warrants my dismissal as part of a “fan club”.

    But it does surprise me that some on the left feel the need to distance themselves from his critiques of Stalinism, even in 2014! I presume it’s a reflexive response to the fact that his work has been so often invoked by the right.

  36. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 16:33 | #36

    @Fran Barlow
    What, every time you enter a voting booth you stand aside from a choice between accepting subordination in a US-led bloc and accepting subordination in a Soviet bloc?

    I’m sure that’s not what you meant; but it is what you said, and that confuses the discussion.

    It’s clear in retrospect that many countries never did have to choose between those two specific options. Maybe no country ever actually had nothing but those two options. Orwell didn’t suggest that those were the only two options, and he emphatically didn’t want them to be the only two options. Does the mere contemplation of the hypothetical scenario with those as the only two options count, in your view, as ‘drifting to the right’? If not, what is it that Orwell actually said or did that counts, in your view, as ‘drifting to the right’?

  37. Ivor
    May 8th, 2014 at 17:14 | #37


    That choice is only in your imagination.

    Do not impute it onto others. It has no credibility.

  38. sunshine
    May 8th, 2014 at 17:30 | #38

    A few possible reasons why the revolution hasnt happened yet ; –

    1) generally speaking our poorest dont go without food much
    2) almost anyone can afford (things like)a smart phone to easily access
    most of humanities data/knowledge
    3) the idea of freedom/equality of opportunity is widespread
    4) the managerial class that provides crucial support for the 1% are now
    very well off too
    5) education/information flow
    6) international news -ie ; it may not be perfect here but maybe this is
    as good as it gets .(politicians say that too)
    7) the basic (almost universal) human capacity to live happily in the
    shadow of impending doom

  39. Fran Barlow
    May 8th, 2014 at 17:51 | #39


    He informed on members of the Labour Party and in the establishment that he supposed were friendly to the USSR.

  40. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 18:33 | #40

    If you are going to attack me, you would have more credibility if you did me the simple courtesy of reading what I have written.

    The choice between accepting subordination to a US-led bloc and accepting subordination to a Soviet bloc is not one that I suggested was actual; it is one that I lifted (as I explicitly stated) from something written by George Orwell (who also did not suggest that it was actual, only presenting a hypothetical scenario, one which he explicitly wished to avoid: I already stated that explicitly too, but I repeat myself to guard against your overlooking the point again). I trust you will accept that the writings of George Orwell exist outside my imagination?

  41. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 18:40 | #41

    @Fran Barlow
    I don’t see how that constitutes a ‘drift to the right’. If somebody had provided information to the British Government about people who actually were Soviet agents (like Maclean, Burgess, Philby, Blunt, Fuchs, Blake, Nunn May, and so on), that would not be evidence of a right-wing political position. Probably the people Orwell named were not in fact potential Soviet agents, which would probably be the result of both stupidity and malice on Orwell’s part, but I still don’t see how that amounts to evidence of a right-wing political position. An accusation that somebody is a spy or a traitor, or that somebody has the potential to become a spy or a traitor, may be accurate or inaccurate, fair or unfair, justified or unjustified, but I don’t see how it reveals anything about the politics of the person who makes it.

  42. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 18:42 | #42

    Fran Barlow, I have just responded to your most recent comment, but my response has been put into moderation. Is it because I made two responses in a short space of time? I think I’ve done that before without being moderated. Anyway, if this comment goes into moderation as well I shall leave bad enough alone.

  43. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    May 8th, 2014 at 19:38 | #43

    @Fran Barlow
    He told the BBC that some people would not be suitable to be employed to write anti-Soviet propaganda. It’s not quite the same.

  44. alfred venison
    May 8th, 2014 at 20:11 | #44

    personally, i see the present not as confirmation of one or the other, but as confirmation of both “nineteen eighty-four” & “brave new world”. clearly we have a military-industrial complex & permanent war, and clearly we have distraction en mass. unlike in “nineteen eighty-four”, though, you don’t need to work up the masses into a paroxysm of focused hatred, you simply need to dumb them down over a couple of generations and, as in “brave new world”, give them virtual reality games, hollywood & mtv.

    zamyatin, by the way, was a great fan of h.g.wells, whose complete works in translation went throught two editions in russia before 1914. i read in the 1974 study of zamyatin by christopher wells that orwell claimed he hadn’t heard of “we”, and had written “nineteen eighty-four” in reaction to utopian fictions of h.g. wells. i’d like to know when he wrote to woodcock that he knew it, because zamyatin’s latest translator also holds that orwell said he didn’t know of “we” when he wrote “nineteen eight-four”.

    zamyatin’s first translator (1924) was one gregory zilboorg, whose other claim to fame is to have produced the first english translation of freud’s “the interpretation of dreams”, long before the complete edition; that is to say, freud on dreams, but without the terms “ego” “super-ego” and “id”, the use of which was the idea of the editors of the complete edition. zilboorg’s translation of “we” is freely available on the net, while his freud is not, though i’ve seen it in second hand bookshops. it is the zilboorg translation of “we” that everyone you’re talking about read before 1960, unless they read it in french or czech or italian. in the sources i studied orwell said he “maybe saw” the french translation in spain but it didn’t make an impression on him. -a.v.

  45. May 8th, 2014 at 22:28 | #45


    A few possible reasons why the revolution hasnt happened yet ; –

    1) generally speaking our poorest dont go without food much

    The trick is to make sure poor people (and everyone else) think that poor people are only poor because they are just crap at stuff.

  46. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 23:05 | #46

    @alfred venison
    Orwell’s review of We can be found on the Web, where it is recorded that it was published in Tribune in January 1946, well before the publication of 1984. Any suggestion that Orwell claimed not to have read We before writing 1984 I would regard as highly dubious.

  47. J-D
    May 8th, 2014 at 23:18 | #47

    @John Brookes
    The following line of thought occurred to me only recently. Suppose (purely for the sake of argument; I don’t in fact believe this) that there are some people who are lazy, uncooperative, untalented, and devoid of all the qualities that make for personal success. If there really are such people, what should happen to them? Should they all starve to death, or die of exposure? or should they receive only the minimum necessary to stay alive, but otherwise have impoverished, squalid and disappointing lives? But why? Who would benefit from that? Not those people themselves, obviously, so then who? I live a comfortable life; there’s no benefit to me in having other people live uncomfortable ones. What’s the argument against arranging things so that everybody can have a reasonable quality of life? Even if we suppose that everybody who wants that can achieve it by their own efforts and that those who fail to achieve it do so only because of their own inadequacy (I repeat, I don’t hold this view, but I want to explore its implications nonetheless); even if the people who have not achieved a comfortable quality of life and haven’t deserved it, is that really sufficient reason for denying it to them?

  48. Collin Street
    May 8th, 2014 at 23:56 | #48

    I live a comfortable life; there’s no benefit to me in having other people live uncomfortable ones.

    It’s vitally important to remember that this is not true for all people: we know that there exist some people who derive immense value from the knowledge that others are suffering.

  49. alfred venison
    May 9th, 2014 at 07:42 | #49

    you’re right my mistake. thinking of someone else. -a.v.

  50. J-D
    May 9th, 2014 at 08:52 | #50

    @Collin Street
    If that is so, then I think there’s benefit if they are induced or driven to admit as much explicitly. If the line of argument I outlined can ever have that effect, so much the better

  51. May 9th, 2014 at 09:38 | #51


    I’d would suggest Kalecki’s argument that the elites of the society would simply not tolerate full employment and equality is pretty much on the money on this issue you’ve raised.

    Kalecki, M 1943, ‘Political aspects of full employment’, Political Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 322-31.

  52. May 9th, 2014 at 11:04 | #52


    Gina Rinehart, and I’m sure much of the right, think that if only the poor were worse off, they would be better off. Like you, I don’t know why they think that.

    But why would you raise the fact that African miners are “happy” to earn $2 per day unless you somehow thought it should be introduced here?

  53. David Irving (no relation)
    May 9th, 2014 at 12:44 | #53

    @Fran Barlow (and Tim Macknay) – I’ve read “Politics and the English Language” quite recently and, despite a slightly archaic style, it is a fine piece of writing.

  54. sunshine
    May 9th, 2014 at 14:28 | #54

    They would say that carrying unproductive members of society will make us all weaker in the long run -we wont grow as fast as possible ,and, we will fall behind our international competitors who lack compassion. In his ‘end of age of entitlement’ speech in London J Hockey also said how our Asian neighbors dont have NDIS etc (he said Asian style social security) so we cant either . But I agree with Tom that they (we know who they are!) dont want full employment anyway.

    I think its good that humanity is made up of lots of different kinds of people .Not all of these will fit into the ‘greed is good’ hyper competitive and ruthless world we are creating .We should not punish people for failing at that .They need to think —> that only ruthless competition is natural for us—> to be able to use survival of the fittest logic on the less fortunate.

  55. Ivor
    May 9th, 2014 at 15:10 | #55



    Don’t play those games. Here is what you wrote;

    Is that what you mean when you say he had ‘drifted to the right’? If so, then so what? Do you think that accepting subordination in a Soviet bloc would have been a less bad option than accepting subordination in a US-led bloc?

    This was a direct attempt to impute this choice into others.

    Your “Is this what you mean” was precisely that.

    What other cartoons do you have up your sleeve?

  56. Ivor
    May 9th, 2014 at 15:24 | #56

    The real meaning of Piketty’s Capital and the reason for all the angst from Keynesians and other academc economists (presumably Mankiw, Samuelson, Alchin etc ad nuseum) is that Piketty directly challenges the value of their contribution to civilisation.

    Piketty outlines his project:

    I did not find the work of US economists entirely convincing… To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with other social sciences. Economists are all too often preoccupied with petty mathematical problems of interest only to themselves. This obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearance of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we live in. — Capital in the Twenty-first Century, Thomas Piketty (p31-32).

  57. zoot
    May 9th, 2014 at 16:44 | #57

    @David Irving (no relation)
    Professor Geoff Pullum, whom I quite admire, argues that “Politics and the English Language” is

    A smug, arrogant, dishonest tract full of posturing and pothering, and writing advice that ranges from idiosyncratic to irrational.

    His articles are well worth reading.

  58. faust
    May 9th, 2014 at 21:30 | #58

    Piketty’s idea about taking income >500k at 80% and global wealth tax is laughable. It is instinctive human nature to firstly earn from additional work, and secondly to pass onto your heirs something. Additionally, r>g is not always true and there are periods when wealth destruction is awe-inspiring via mispricing risk or unexpected “black swan” events. Hence r>g otherwise you wouldn’t bother taking risk in the first place. Also, has anyone on this board actually read his book (other than myself?) as you all seem to be talking about every other author rather than the subject matter.

    Oh, forgot to mention, r>g is true for pensions and house prices, which benefit those who have saved for retirement and those who purchased a house. Hardly the “global elite”!

  59. faust
    May 9th, 2014 at 21:32 | #59


    Economists are known for having physics-envy!

  60. faust
    May 9th, 2014 at 21:35 | #60

    Oh, and not to be too negative, the book is an interesting read but the gushing reviews tell us more about the reviewer than it does about the actual book itself.

  61. Ivor
    May 9th, 2014 at 23:42 | #61

    faust :
    Economists are known for having physics-envy!

    My only wish is that mathematical economists could learn to count correctly.

  62. May 9th, 2014 at 23:57 | #62


    It is instinctive human nature to firstly earn from additional work, and secondly to pass onto your heirs something.

    Is that so?

    I’ve never heard anything like that, and never felt this natural instinct.

    Got anything to back that up?

  63. faust
    May 10th, 2014 at 02:01 | #63

    So, you never felt any instinct to earn more from working harder and to pass something onto your children?

    Also, empirically, estate duties are disliked even though a majority according to polls (both phone-based and via focus groups) do not pay it because it is considered immoral.

    And if you want to see people rebelling against higher tax on higher income earners look at the poll impact from the deficit tax.

    You are unique: you want to work harder but earn less and you do not care what you pass onto your children!

  64. Fran Barlow
    May 10th, 2014 at 06:15 | #64


    There is either no such thing as human nature, or it’s limited to mere banalities. Using the term ‘instinct’ doesn’t alter this.

    There are indeed commonly seen impulses amongst humans, including those you cite, but theses can be explained again in entirely banal terms. Put simply, theses are maladaptive responses to fear, angst over death, want of satisfaction in work and so forth.

  65. Fran Barlow
    May 10th, 2014 at 06:15 | #65

    Oops “but these”

  66. J-D
    May 10th, 2014 at 08:25 | #66

    Bizarre and foreign though the idea may be to some people (and I speak from experience), I asked the question not as an indirect way of making a point but in the hope of obtaining information. My experience suggests to me that I have a far-greater-than-average desire for the reduction of my own personal ignorance, and I still don’t know an adequate substitute for questions as a tool for this purpose. I asked ‘Is this what you meant?’ because I wanted to know whether that was Fran Barlow meant. It seems now that it wasn’t, which would be the answer to my question. Good.

  67. J-D
    May 10th, 2014 at 08:28 | #67

    Perhaps you haven’t heard that the concept of ‘SKIN’–Spending the Kids’ Inheritance Now–has become common enough to have been labelled. Clearly the desire to pass on wealth to one’s children is not as universal as you suppose, as if the increasing number of people who are childless by choice didn’t already make that plain.

  68. Julie Thomas
    May 10th, 2014 at 08:55 | #68


    I never felt that my kids needed me to make money or to climb the ladder for them. I totally discouraged them from competing with neo-liberals. There are neo-liberal small business owners in our extended family, so I know how badly this ideology affects ordinarily nice people and turns them into ugly greedy selfish consumers who love to judge others who are not like that.

    This is a true story Faust. Second son was being expelled from his high school in grade 11 after having ‘run away’ with the daughter of two of the local ‘upper class’ neo-liberals, the day after she turned 17. They came back after a few days having some fun in the big city and spending all their money, some went on staying the last night in a swanky hotel.

    I’m not sure what the basis of the complaint was, but it seems that my son was to be punished and expelled for this adventure. But after the interview with the fella from the Education department, he was offered a sporting scholarship to a private school. But there was no way that I was going to have my son associating with those sort of people, so I turned it down and my son went to another state school in the next town with a high school.

    My oldest son did dabble in the neo-liberal ‘entrepreneurial’ society for a a couple of decades and despite not having gone to a private school did very well, but has now seen the light and a couple of years ago took a 50% cut in his 6 figure salary to move back to a small town and a ‘better’ job with less money and status and we are all of us so much happier.

    And he is healthier you know, without doing anything specific. I think it is really bad for some people’s health to have to associate with competitive greedy and selfish people who are always out to climb the ladder and win something. That isn’t fun.

    I don’t want my kids to work at all, I want them to do what they are good at and what is good for their society and/or community. I don’t care how much they earn as long as they are not selfish and greedy and especially as long as they do not desire to be wealthy and want to be regarded as better than others.

    This society overvalues individual achievement and undervalues cooperation and social intelligence. There was a terrific interview on RN this morning with Geraldine Doogue and her guest, Margaret Heffernan who wrote “A bigger prize: why competition isn’t everything and how we do better”. You should listen.

  69. Ivor
    May 10th, 2014 at 09:56 | #69


    Dorothy Dixer’s often ask questions to inject a proposition they do not want to take responsibility for themselves, and to tag someone else with adverse imputations.

  70. May 10th, 2014 at 17:54 | #70

    What sort of a right wing rat-bag comment is that Ivor? 🙂

  71. bjb
    May 11th, 2014 at 14:24 | #71

    @Julie Thomas

    Great post Julie.

    Margaret Heffernan’s interview on RN was quite revealing, especially the bit about her Dad.

  72. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    May 12th, 2014 at 11:45 | #72


    Although you may be right, to me (I’m only 1/3 through so far) Piketty seems to want to replace the maths and “theoretical speculation” with a crude empiricism that leads to a number of blind alleys.
    As various reviewers have pointed out his concept of capital conflates actual productive ability with stock market prices, so Piketty’s measures of capital to income ratios make no distinction between capital “destroyed” by a stock market crash and capital destroyed by e.g. carpet bombing in war (leaving aside the Capital Controversy issues).
    He also seems to conflate profit, interest and rent, so his framework is blind to the role of the FIRE industries in generating fictitious capital and destabilising the productive economy – hence all he can suggest is generally higher taxes on everyone, which will never fly, rather than taxes on and regulation of rent seekers.
    And you don’t have to subscribe to Marxism to see that many of his criticisms of Marx are flat wrong – the claim that Marx assumed constant productivity, for example, where Marx has a number of long discussions in Capital and other works about the ways increased productivity and technological improvement could affect and offset the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. This suggests he’s never read Capital or even the Wikipedia page about Capital. According to Jamie Galbraith’s review there are similar basic misunderstandings and misquotings of the post-Keynesians. It’s all very well to criticise theory but it helps to understand what you’re criticising.

  73. May 12th, 2014 at 15:45 | #73

    @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    Agreed, it is particularly worrisome to see a reputable economist misunderstanding (at best) introductory Marx’s economic theory. However the quote that Ivor quoted from Piketty on the wrong point of focus on American economists does ring true. The top 10 economic journals are filled with mathematically models that hardly have any application on the reality and seems to be publish simply because of the difficulty of the maths involved. It is near impossible to publish economic history or theoretical papers in the top economic journals in the recent years unless you are a “Nobel Prize” winner.

  74. Ernestine Gross
    May 12th, 2014 at 19:37 | #74


    “And if you want to see people rebelling against higher tax on higher income earners look at the poll impact from the deficit tax.”

    Where is the evidence, faust?

  75. Ernestine Gross
    May 12th, 2014 at 19:41 | #75

    faust :@Ivor
    Economists are known for having physics-envy!

    Here we have a nice example of speculative theorising, although known as theorising in thin air. .

  76. alfred venison
    May 12th, 2014 at 19:51 | #76

    and here i thought economics – market sentiment, share market bubbles, panic selling, &c. – was a branch of psychology. 😉

  77. yuri
    May 13th, 2014 at 16:42 | #77

    @Julie Thomas
    Wow! is that the authoritarian left speaking? You so loved your son that you denied him the right when nearly adult to learn a little by direct association about the kind of relatively rich and poerful or at least influential people that you do not associate with and know by the srereotypes with which you label them with. Bravo! Oh that I was as certain about anything as you seem to be about everything important.

    I haven’t heard of a private school offering a sports scholarship. What schools do that. Come to think of it, it sounds a bit like those great football enthusiasts the Marist and Christian Bros. And that gives me a clue (with Bertrand Russell’s help) to the origin of your severe certainties: you are I guess a lapsed Catholic.

  78. Julie Thomas
    May 13th, 2014 at 18:24 | #78


    I think it is you speaking all on your own, from your own pain about somethings that hurt you so badly that you like to find things to criticise in others.

    Do you have any insight into what it was in your own ‘self’ that I wrote that triggered this irritable, risible response?

    I can assure you that it would be a useful exercise for you to ponder on this matter of motivation. I suspect that you don’t have much understanding or experience of how one goes about developing insight into one’s motivations, but it is possible and there is a lot of information on the internet you know, it really will make you so much happier and smarter if you invest sufficient effort and are honest with your self.

    I was brought up to think that all religions were irrational. I went to humanist meetings with my father sometimes though. Does that provide you with another clue you can use? 🙂

  79. yuri
    May 14th, 2014 at 01:14 | #79

    Yes a clue that your attempt to signal that you have a sense of humour and even a light touch by emoticon derives from a an earnest indoctrinating background – a kind of Soviet version of family life in Calvin’s Geneva. I didn’t, and my children didn’t need to be taught that religions were not soundly based on reason for us to shed the faint tincture of theism that naturally made itsel apparent in early life.

    My many years of paying school fees, mostly at schools with some Christian connection, when the academic scholarships they all won didn’t cover the year or the amount are undserstandable even I think to you qua parent.

    When one of them won valuable scholarships to one highly regarded school which he wanted to go to, and also to one very highly regarded (especially academically) school we sent him to the former and, out of fairness to siblings, to find the money for fees if necessary. As it turned out the others all won scholarships at various stages too so we were lucky. I had been making preparations to get them into selective high schools – though not as determinedly as my ALP member cousin who bouhht a flat as nominal residence within the catchment area of a selective high school which also took some locals. (That was a good move as her daughter has a D.Phil from Oxford in molecular biology.)

  80. Julie Thomas
    May 14th, 2014 at 06:58 | #80


    Thanks for that information. Now I understand just a little bit more clearly where your pain and resentment is coming from.

    But people are different you know and that’s the really essential thing that you ‘should’ remember when you choose to think so badly of the other people who done you wrong.

    Take comfort in the idea that it is probability all the way down – not turtles or Atlas shrugging and you don’t need to compare yourself to, or compete with, your relatives. As my grandma used to say “comparisons are odious”.

    You do seem to have an irrational need to identify the ALP as the source of all evil things in your family and the world, even? That seems problematic to me and you might want to understand the source of this dysfunctional thinking and ponder how much happier and more rational you could be if you just got over it. You might even be suffering from some sort of cognitive disability as well as the emotional disability that clearly underpins your miserable, irritable attitude.

    I never voted for the ALP. I blame them for the dole bludger meme they started back in the 80’s when there was high unemployment and no jobs and people who were unlucky and found themselves unable to find work were blamed. This attitude that they were lazy and stupid was the beginning of the crap judgemental society we now have and is the basis of so much of the psychological dysfunction and disability that we now see particularly in men of a certain age who form most of the long term unemployed.

    I don’t think I want to give you any more ‘clues’ though; your attitude is so very boring and typical of people who were fooled into competing for status and stuff over the past couple of decades and didn’t win enough to make them happy. Sigh, there are so many of you out there. But I never did want to be one of those psychologists who ‘helps’.

    I do wish I knew how to put a ‘roll eyes’ emoticon or a “snort” which would be so much more appropriate. But you can have another smile just because it is free. 🙂

  81. Fran Barlow
    May 14th, 2014 at 07:40 | #81

    @Julie Thomas

    I never voted for the ALP. I blame them for the dole bludger meme they started back in the 80?s

    Actually, 1974, via Clyde Cameron, who also spoke of public servants as “shiny bums” in true populist style.

  82. Julie Thomas
    May 14th, 2014 at 07:46 | #82

    @Fran Barlow

    It started that early? The bastards!

    I saw, close-up, that nastiness destroy a couple of blokes I knew well. It was cruel and such a waste of human capital.

  83. yuri
    May 14th, 2014 at 19:30 | #83

    @Julie Thomas
    You don’t need to provide me with any more clues for my entertainment.

    To start with it is entertaining enough to try and work out whether you have some inkling of the truth that you know almost nothing about me and that your inferences (if that’s what they are rather than just random emissions) are far wide of the mark, in which you are just making clumsy attempts to be provocative – a kind of trolling.

    Alternatively, are you one of those people that one can feel sorry for who is so uncertain and so desperate to live up to the intellectual standards (never perhaps quite understood) that were held out as the summum bonum of aspiration with sad consequences for the relative dullard? (I was alerted to this category by a Jewish friend when we were discussing a couple of Jews who had committed egregious crimes and been caught. He pointed out that in a whole extended family – in this case Ashkenazim – of generally pretty bright people who value and use their intellects the shame at being thought a bit thick even after you have qualified as a lawyer or medical specialist can lead to pretty desperate acts).

    And you do of course know nothing about me and your cod-psychology is pathetic.

    Pain? Resentment? Where do you find it? I am luckier even than I indicated above. Life is kind and any past hurdles surmounted and consigned to the happy memories of success if not, immodestly, triumph and to reminiscence. A favourite godson (as atheist I am in fact) said recently that I was probably the only person he knew to have no negative emotions. Fearing that he was going to ask me what weed I would recommend that he smoke, and anyway thinking it made me sound a trifle simple minded I replied that he was basically correct but that I did find myself struggling sometimes to fend off the unpleasant emotion of contempt.

    The problem issues sometimes in a mildly sadistic approach to pretentious not very bright people who take themselves seriously. Especially if they throw down the gauntlet and are so deluded that they think they can win, so need teaching a lesson. Sorry about that.

    Of course I couldn’t be referring to you could I? You said something about probability which could suggest the kind of intelligent approach that is only to be found reliably in 1 or 2 per cent of even a First World population.

  84. yuri
    May 14th, 2014 at 19:38 | #84

    “in which CASE you are”
    “as atheist AS I am in fact”

  85. yuri
    May 14th, 2014 at 21:54 | #85

    @Peter Chapman
    Is there any evidence of an impulse toward civilisation, learning, invention and other accoutrements of modernity among the primitive people that we all had as ancestors without ingatherer ban being pursued by some who wanted to take advantage of or merely display some superior ability or attribute? That is surely one essential precondition. Others might include conditions under which the hunter gatherer band, typically no larger than about 150, and usually much smaller, could grow into a community of thousands. It is commonly pointed out that the larger, typically farming, community is a prerequisite for some of the smart people to be able to specialise. But it would also be true that one smart strong guy in a hunter gatherer tribe of 100 or so wouldn’t be much interested in progress if he could have the pick of the meat and the girls without having to found an academy or a health service. How would Aboriginal outstations develop from where they are even alcohol free and with TV to show them the path on which their farmer cousins in the Fertile Crescent set us.

    It would appear to be an empirical question as to just which urges to achieve or assert superiority lead to/are essential to beneficial outcomes to the plodding majority.

  86. yuri
    May 14th, 2014 at 21:58 | #86

    For the incomprehensible “ingatherer ban” read “inequality being”

  87. faust
    May 15th, 2014 at 20:29 | #87

    @Julie Thomas

    I was going to respond to your post but while we may be writing in English we virtually come from different planets. If that is your guiding philosophy as a mother in life then there is so much that is different from us (and what I consider frightening) that I will not respond in depth to your post.

    Suffice to say, no one here has explained to me why r>g in the long-run, no one has explained to me why r is always value accretive, and no one has explained to me why it is a good think that Piketty has ignored household wealth and pensions that make up a lot of what accrues to “capital” nowadays in the western developed world.

  88. Ivor
    May 15th, 2014 at 22:00 | #88

    @Ernestine Gross

    “Don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin”

    The Arrow-Debreu model is an example of theorising in a vacuum.

  89. Julie Thomas
    May 16th, 2014 at 06:48 | #89


    Good decision Yuri, I did think that you would have trouble keeping up with my creative intelligence – 🙂 – but that doesn’t matter, most types of humans, even bitter and twisted neo-libruls, can be reconstructed.

    Brains can change. Did you know that? Check out Norman Doidge for more info, if you can bring yourself to challenge your prejudices. That doesn’t seem to be one of your intellectual strengths.

    I am pleased that you are frightened though. You should be; there are many many people who think like I do, increasingly so, I am finding as I talk to the country people who, in ignorance sucked up the neo-librul kool-aid and are now gagging on the taste and feeling quite sick.

    I do understand and appreciate your decision not to engage further with a person you don’t like or understand; that is typical of the very ordinary neo-liberal mind and intelligence. You don’t like difference do you? It is scary.

    But I doubt you have the self-control to follow up on your decision. You can’t help being nasty and revealing all your petty little bourgeois personality traits, can you? Let us see if you can resist responding to me this time.

    But LOL you should be afraid, Yuri, be very afraid of the honest decent people who are increasingly waking up to the way we have been manipulated to live in ways that the selfish greedy grasping people prefer.

  90. Julie Thomas
    May 16th, 2014 at 06:53 | #90

    Whoops sorry Faust. That was all in response to Yuri, I think.

  91. alfred venison
    May 16th, 2014 at 08:14 | #91

    faust:- “I will not respond in depth to your post.”
    Julie Thomas:- love your stuff. and good on you for educating your children away from materialism. that you’re criticised for that shows how corrupted the modern era has become. -a.v.

Comments are closed.