Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone—Especially the Wealthy

wealthy not happy

 

The addendum of conventional success we have mostly adhered to sounds like this: “the more you achieve, the more dissatisfied you must be to continually perpetuate your success.” As creatures induced by desires and wants, it is inevitable for us to crave for some things, and try to do something, or anything, to get what we look out for. This applies for all the history, and it is also a driving force that makes our society advance.

But does ‘the more, the merrier’ rule apply indefinitely? If everything were left unconstrained, you would definitely encounter a perfect inequality. A ‘winner-takes-all’ situation where, in a realm of limited resources, people are racing savagely to gain something, like a zero-sum competition. And here, inequality has become one issue. It is not that competition is bad; we are, instead, being faced with ‘free-for-all’ mindset. And too much of it is increasingly a bad thing, not a good thing after all.

Read the full article in New Republic about the growing inequality in United States, and what should, ideally, be done about it.

 

Excerpt:

 

Billionaires seems to have been sparked by West’s belief that rich people, newly empowered to use their money in politics, are now more likely than usual to determine political outcomes. This may be true, but so far the evidenceand evidence here is really just a handful of anecdotessuggests that rich people, when they seek to influence political outcomes, often are wasting their money. Michael Bloomberg was able to use his billions to make himself mayor of New York City (which seems to have worked out pretty well for New York City), but Meg Whitman piled $144 million of her own money in the streets of California and set it on fire in her failed attempt to become governor. Mitt Romney might actually have been a stronger candidate if he had less money, or at least had been less completely defined by his money. For all the angst caused by the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson and their efforts to unseat Barack Obama, they only demonstrated how much money could be spent on a political campaign while exerting no meaningful effect upon it.

As West points out, many rich people are more interested in having their way with specific issues than with candidates, but even here their record is spotty. Perhaps they are having their way in arguments about raising federal estate tax; but the states with the most billionaires in them, California and New York, have among the highest tax rates on income and capital gains. If these billionaires are seeking, as a class, to minimize the sums they return to society, they are not doing a very good job of it. But of course they aren’t seeking anything, as a class: it’s not even clear they can agree on what their collective interests are. The second richest American billionaire, Warren Buffett, has been quite vocal about his desire for higher tax rates on the rich. The single biggest donor to political campaigns just now is Tom Steyer, a Democrat with a passion for climate change. And for every rich person who sets off on a jag to carve California into seven states, or to defeat Barack Obama, there are many more who have no interest in politics at all except perhaps, in a general way, to prevent them from touching their lives. Rich people, in my experience, don’t want to change the world. The world as it is suits them nicely.

The Dutchman who built Singapore

albert winsemius

 

The little-known story of Albert Winsemius, a Dutch economist who, to Singapore’s luck, dedicated his whole life to the success of economic development in the city-state.

Read his full story in International Institute of Asian Studies.

 

Excerpt:

 

 

Dr Winsemius’ first impression was anything but hopeful. “It was bewildering,” he remembers. “There were strikes about nothing. There were communist-inspired riots almost every day and everywhere. In the beginning one has to very careful about passing any judgement – one does not know the country, one does not know the people, one does not know the men and women who are trying to steer this rudderless ship. But after a couple of months the pessimism within our commission reached appalling heights. We saw how a country can be demolished by unreal antitheses. The general opinion was: Singapore is going down the drain, it is a poor little market in a dark corner of Asia.”

Within a year, on 13 June 1961, the Winsemius team offered Singapore a development plan. The final assessment was written by Winsemius personally: ‘Expectations and Reality’ was his motto. This was permeated with an emotional appeal for unity, a passionate warning that time was running out if Singapore was not to sink away into the mud. The gloom was not completely unrelieved, there was one bright spot on the horizon: “In our opinion”, wrote Winsemius, “Singapore has the basic assets for industrialization. Her greatest asset is the high aptitude of her people to work in manufacturing industries. They can be ranked among the best factory workers in the world.”

What it takes to be a true author

updike

 

A worthwhile piece of advice from John Updike for aspiring writers:

Try to develop actual work habits and, even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour, say, or more a day to write. Very good things have been written on an hour a day. . . . So take it seriously, set a quota, try to think of communicating with some ideal reader somewhere. . . .

Don’t be contentious to call yourself a writer and then bitch about the crass publishing world that won’t run your stuff. We’re still a capitalist country and writing, as some would agree, is a capitalist enterprise… It’s not a total sin to try to make a living and court an audience.

Read what excites you… and even if you don’t imitate it, you will learn from it. . . .

Don’t try to get rich. . . . If you want to get rich, you should go into investment banking or be a certain kind of lawyer. On the other hand, I like to think that in a country this large and a language even larger, that there ought to be a living for somebody who cares and wants to entertain and instruct a reader. 

 

You can watch his interview videos by Academy of Achievement in Brain Pickings.

A quiet second home

22cacao.600

 

 

Think this is somewhere in a Southeast Asian country? Completely false. This picture is set in French Guiana.

The only French-speaking region in Latin America with a population of no more than 250,000 people, French Guiana is a hodgepodge of various ethnic groups, ranging from Indians, French, Africans, native Indians, Han Chinese, Arabs, Brazilians, mestizos, and most recently, and most under-reportedly, ethnic Hmong.

Once penniless back in their home country, the Hmong, thanks to their decades of perseverance, have achieved considerable success in the brand-new region they adopted. With a tropical setting tantamount to that of Laos, they found themselves easier to adapt to life here, compared to their counterparts who encountered more difficulties in adjusting to life in United States, Australia, or any other developed countries. Representing only 1% of total population, or approximately 2,500 people, Hmong in French Guiana reportedly control 70% of the region’s agricultural industry, giving them disproportionate amount of wealth.

Most of them are concentrated in a small town named Cacao, one that gives any visitor a bizarre atmosphere as though they were transported back to Laos.

Read the full article on The New York Times.

Excerpt:

The first Hmong arrived from France in 1977 and were greeted with protests from the Creoles, an ethnic group descended from African slaves, who chafed at what was viewed as preferential treatment for a new ethnic group in an impoverished area. French authorities initially gave each Hmong a few dozen francs a day on which to survive.

The settlers pooled those payments to buy fertilizer and tractors. Slowly, after years of labor, the Hmong became self-sufficient. They now grow large quantities of previously scarce vegetables, like lettuce, and tropical varieties of fruit like cupuaçu, which is oblong, has a white pulp and is found in the Amazon basin.

Dropping out: is it a wise choice?

Go to a college, work hard and play hard for three or four years, earn a degree, and get to work. Yes, that’s undeniably a normal facet in our lives, a spell-binding ‘must-do’ habitude that has long rooted in most of the societies in the last century. Either we ourselves or our parents – to a further extent, our distant relatives, uncles, aunties, grandparents, cousins, and whatsoever familial names you can make – have never ceased pursuing these goals, with all the audacity that we can afford to make great accomplishments suited for the curriculum vitae we are going to submit to these future employers.
It turns out the world is becoming increasingly uneasy for university graduates to secure a permanent job.
In a life process either before or after graduation – something that is intensely fast-paced, cut-throat, and savagely competitive, we are all demanded to secure great scores – or mention the least, good-enough remarks – to fill our resumes. We come and go by lectures after lectures. We have to learn to be independent. We have to adjust everything anew to our long-in-our-comfort-zone minds. We have to make new friends, leaving our families, or probably, childhood pals behind. And we realize maturing up is not something we have always imagined in our childhood.
There are some people who have this strong feeling about dropping out of universities or colleges: they are out of the blue startled to realize they are unhappy with the courses they are taking; that those ‘inner voices’, unceasingly coercing them to discover their ‘true passions’, or to ‘shed a new light in their real lanterns’; or that the ‘new friends’ are not thoroughly the ideal friends they are supposed to be. Then they face two similarly uneasy choices: either you proceed the studies you abhor so much no matter how well-qualified the lecturers are, or you face humiliation from your family, the discreet disappointment in the faces of your parents. That you choose not to live in accordance to what the societies demand, that everybody surrounding you thinks you are insane.
Or there are other segments of the societies who choose to cope with the entire hindrances facing them, attempting to re-adjust their mindsets, how they assume society and the reality themselves, and find themselves fully transformed, out of their Euclidean comfort zones, but with the consequences, possibly, of ‘losing their inner identities’, of getting lost in this vastless world.
Either you choose to drop-out or to carry on, remember one thing: it is, in the end, no more than Pascal’s wager. Either you win all, or you get nothing. There are myriad graduates, who, even with the curriculum vitae overwhelmed with achievements and awards, may still end up getting unemployed. There are even more myriad drop-outs who can, in their worst luck, end up homeless and need to hinge on government’s social security schemes to stay alive.
But there are also university graduates who eventually succeed in their careers and have happy families afterwards. Or drop-outs – if, and only if, you have immensely well-crafted talents like Bill Gates or Lawrence Ellison or Sergey Brin or Larry Page – who end up becoming billionaires. The truth is: either you choose to proceed to colleges or not to, it has little to do with our careers. In the end, everybody, as Stanley Kubrick once said, needs to shed light for oneself.
Two essays here present the pros and cons of dropping out from universities/colleges. Click the links to read more.