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A New Year's Resolution for the Rich - Comments

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 1 by Rob Schneider

Home run, Sam!! I particularly like the evisceration of the "Ayn Rand'ian" notion of the self- made man!

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 04:38:25 UTC | #570573

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 2 by crookedshoes


Thank you. And, while I am not rich. or even well off, I am living under a provided umbrella of safety and security, free to speak my mind, and doing a job that i absolutely NEED. In that sense I AM rich.

Having said this, on another thread (which I copied and pasted) I learned that if simply the clergy of our country paid the percentage the middle class pays, we'd be a billion dollars a year closer to even. If the rich would do the same (and I am not asking for a crazy EXTRA rich tax) and simply pay the same PERCENTAGE as me, we'd be solvent. All you say in this article hits me as truth and you are a good man for saying it, especially from the pulpit you have chosen to say it from. Thanks again,

CrookedShoes aka the middle class.

PS. I do not even give one good goddamn about money. Never have, never will. I was raised poor, I mean butter and onion sandwich poor and my parents medical business hit it big when I was 18 and suddenly i had a beachfront house and ski boat, my own car.... i have seen both sides of it. There is dignity and honor in hard work. The rich, most often have NEITHER. I prefer hard working poor authentic integrity.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 04:38:58 UTC | #570574

fuzzylogic's Avatar Comment 3 by fuzzylogic

Sam would make a good Senator.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 04:56:54 UTC | #570582

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 4 by Neodarwinian

What really stuck here was the abysmal math, science and reading stats. Poor math, science and reading " fuel " clogs the engine that drives the economy and stifles the opportunities to create wealth.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 05:29:34 UTC | #570590

WonderNerd's Avatar Comment 5 by WonderNerd

I'd vote for him. I am amazed that there are so few people like him, is it really that hard to call out things this obvious?

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 06:07:31 UTC | #570597

Zelig's Avatar Comment 6 by Zelig

I have a lot of respect for Sam Harris, and while I don't know enough about the details of American politics to offer a final judgement, I certainly agree with his general viewpoint here.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 06:25:05 UTC | #570599

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 7 by Peter Grant

To make matters more difficult, Americans have made a religious fetish of something called "self-reliance." Most seem to think that while a person may not be responsible for the opportunities he gets in life, each is entirely responsible for what he makes of these opportunities. This is, without question, a false view of the human condition. Consider the biography of any "self-made" American, from Benjamin Franklin on down, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make, and of which he was a mere beneficiary. There is not a person on earth who chose his genome, or the country of his birth, or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress. Consequently, no one is responsible for his intelligence, range of talents, or ability to do productive work. If you have struggled to make the most of what Nature gave you, you must still admit that Nature also gave you the ability and inclination to struggle. How much credit do I deserve for not having Down syndrome or any other disorder that would make my current work impossible? None whatsoever. And yet devotees of self-reliance rail against those who would receive entitlements of various sorts--health care, education, etc.--while feeling unselfconsciously entitled to their relative good fortune. Yes, we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can--but it seems only decent at this moment to admit how much luck is required to succeed at anything in this life. Those who have been especially lucky--the smart, well-connected, and rich--should count their blessings, and then share some of these blessings with the rest of society.

Great article, I especially liked the above bit. Most rich people make me sick. Few sights more distasteful than someone driving a luxury car and wearing designer clothes on streets where people are homeless and starving.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 07:09:51 UTC | #570603

helen sotiriadis's Avatar Comment 8 by helen sotiriadis

Comment 1 by Rob Schneider :

Home run, Sam!!


he hits stuff where others cower.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 07:23:47 UTC | #570606

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 9 by Stevehill

This isn't going to make Sam a lot more friends in America, but he's absolutely right.

As an outsider looking in, I am stunned that Obama was forced to renew Bush's tax cuts for the rich.

There's a model for the sort of philanthropy he advocates: Victorian Britain, with (relatively) lots of people rich on the profits of empire and industrialisation. They built museums, funded workhouses for the poor (I agree a more enlightened model would be appropriate today), erected town halls and civic buildings - and, yes, churches - funded schools and colleges, and hospitals and public parks, and as often as not took a hands-on role on committees running all these things.

All for the love of it.

One colonial monster, Cecil Rhodes, created 90 scholarships a year at Oxford University on his death in 1902 - beneficiaries include Bill Clinton, Naomi Wolf, Kris Kristofferson and W J Fulbright (who went on to create 250,000 scholarships of his own).

I have no problem with people creating wealth. Societies need wealth to do lots of good things. I have a lot of problems with what they do with it after they create it though.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 07:30:20 UTC | #570607

James F's Avatar Comment 10 by James F

Right on the money, Sam. The United States is digging its grave with two regressive ideologies: Political Christianity and the Free-Market.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 07:48:41 UTC | #570616

erindorothy's Avatar Comment 11 by erindorothy

Great article Sam Harris. Well said. I especially appreciate the bit about the 'self made' man, you hit the nail on the head ... right wingers love to trot out the 'pull your socks up and you'll make it too' bollocks. Hope the article gets some traction.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 08:04:53 UTC | #570620

PERSON's Avatar Comment 12 by PERSON

One thing about Cali is that they have a state level ruling, I think from a ballot measure (like proposition 8, the anti-gay law), proposition 13 from 1978 that modified their constitution to inhibit the introduction of new taxes. Some progressives there claim that's the cause of many of their fiscal woes. That said, I've not looked at the case closely, and a significant number of Californian lefties tend to be a bit whacko from what I've seen. The number of 911unfalsifiable supporters per-capita is quite high there, I think.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 08:16:32 UTC | #570623

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 13 by Michael Gray

As an Aussie, I cannot see why Sam's view is not enthusiastically embraced by millions. You Yanks are an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped a nappy.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 08:42:18 UTC | #570625

mmurray's Avatar Comment 14 by mmurray

Comment 16 by Michael Gray :

As an Aussie, I cannot see why Sam's view is not enthusiastically embraced by millions. You Yanks are an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped a nappy.

That should be a diaper I think.


Thu, 30 Dec 2010 09:04:39 UTC | #570631

Sample's Avatar Comment 15 by Sample

"If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."

I'm convinced that this is the mantra that runs through Sam's head in the pauses between sentences.


Thu, 30 Dec 2010 09:29:11 UTC | #570637

phill marston's Avatar Comment 16 by phill marston

While I could hug Sam Harris for that brilliant article it's sad to say that the crux of the problems he highlights so eloquently is an abysmal failure of the democratic process. We shouldn't have to rely on the largesse of billionaires to correct the faults in society. Democratic governments should efficiently provide the basic infrastructure of society, including education, healthcare and transport networks, funded by progressive taxation.

The 'self-reliance' model Sam discusses fails to take into account that even the richest and most successful need a working infrastructure at a societal level, otherwise there will be no roads to drive their cars on, no miners for their diamonds and no consumers to buy their products.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 09:30:10 UTC | #570638

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 17 by Richard Dawkins

Sam is making two points. One is the Robin Hood principle that taxing the rich is a good idea. The other is that the rich should voluntarily give their money away. I support both, but it is worth keeping them distinct.

What puzzles me about the background information Sam supplies is the cock-eyed altruism of those who are not rich.

American opposition to the "redistribution of wealth" has achieved the luster of a religious creed. And, as with all religions, one finds the faithful witlessly espousing doctrines that harm almost everyone, including their own children. For instance, while most Americans have no chance of earning or inheriting significant wealth, 68 percent want the estate tax eliminated (and 31 percent consider it to be the "worst" and "least fair" tax levied by the federal government). Most believe that limiting this tax, which affects only 0.2 percent of the population, should be the top priority of the current Congress.

Top priority! 'Worst' and 'least fair' tax? If this information is correct, 68% of the population seem to be motivated by a remarkable level of altruism, which would be admirable were it not directed at the 0.2 percent of the population who least need it. Altruism towards Steve Ballmer? What kind of sense can that possibly make to anyone?

When I have asked friends to explain this weird anomaly, the best they can come up with is that patriotic enthusiasts for the American 'dream', even poor ones, believe that one day they themselves will be rich. Dream on!


Thu, 30 Dec 2010 09:34:32 UTC | #570641

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 18 by phil rimmer

As long as the US continues, Fox-fed, to embrace the Religio-Conspiracy mindset, a decent, functional government will be an impossibility. The fifties and sixties were the golden years and unless the USA can shake off the body dysmorphic disorder of thinking government bloated (a sort of fat as cancer) then it will continue to waste away.

Governments (from a scan of successful countries) need be neither fat(passive wealth stores) nor cancerous (functionless wealth burners). They have the power, through mandating fairness within their society, of harnessing the problem solving power of every citizen (read wealth creation) and enhancing the strength of its home market.

Sam is attacking some dogma here that is darned close to religious thinking in its lack of evidence and its supporting faith.

The answer (or a start) is, of course, decent education (that involves studying the rest of the world) and the long awaited demise of Rupert Murdoch.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 09:49:05 UTC | #570643

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 19 by Mark Jones

I think for some, public taxation has become an intrinsic evil, so there isn't really any debate about the consequences of different fiscal policies - it's just accepted that 'it's evil'. That means it's evil even if the people affected wouldn't notice.

In Britain there was this proposal by Greg Philo, of Glasgow University, for a one-off solution to deal with the structural deficit with a toll on the rich. It's quite a cunning suggestion, effectively privatising the debt, but it's difficult to see something this radical being considered by the powers-that-be. No doubt Sam's excellent article will fall on deaf ears too?

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 09:55:54 UTC | #570644

T. S. Elliott's Avatar Comment 20 by T. S. Elliott

There is an odd idea going around that the rich have their money because they earned it. Apart from anything else, about the odd distribution of what we seem to value in our societies, and rewarding huge amounts of money to people who never produce anything, someone can only get rich if they are in a society that has to framework to allow them to get rich.

Shouldn't they be required to pay into that society that helped them, to allow others the same oppourtuni­ty? No one achieves such successes by themselves, and in a world with finite resources, what you are taking for yourself is being taken from someone else.

The reason that we allow people to get rich is as an incentive be productive, and it's a very good reason when you remember it. But is that what we are doing, now? Will the dream of being a billionaire make someone more productive than the dream of being a millionaire? Should bankers be super-rich, when the only production they are doing is shifting money around in arcane ways? Of course, I'm being entirely simplistic myself, but isn't it time that capitalist countries sat down and decided where we are headed? Shouldn't we change the rules if it would benefit all of society?

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 09:59:13 UTC | #570646

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 21 by Vorlund

Sam raises an important point with regard to energy sources. Oil is such a high demand product it has changed in the space of 100 years, the geophysical and political world. We all pay through the nose for middle eastern oil to fuel 21st century high energy demand life styles. The money keeps an hereditary theocratic 'elite' in a life style beyond the dreams of avarice while they hold on to power and wage war through the evil mechanisms of islam.

One way to upset this apple cart is to develop technologies which provide work and wealth but remove our dependency on oil.

On the issue of education we need to develop the scientists and engineers who can bring those technological advances and educate ourselves to live at a more modest pace. I'm still amazed that despite advances in communications and computer science we don't have anything like a paperless office and the idea that information workers would not need to commute is still a distant dream in most organisations.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 10:21:08 UTC | #570653

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 22 by Cook@Tahiti

The other (related) paradox of America is the inherent distrust of government (tax is theft) while at the same time being flag-waving, 'my country right or wrong' patriots. How can you think big government is bad, while at the same time supporting a massive military industrial complex that matches the rest of the world's combined defense budgets?

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 10:31:21 UTC | #570661

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 23 by Cook@Tahiti

Comment 21 by phil rimmer :

As long as the US continues, Fox-fed, to embrace the Religio-Conspiracy mindset, a decent, functional government will be an impossibility. The fifties and sixties were the golden years and unless the USA can shake off the body dysmorphic disorder of thinking government bloated (a sort of fat as cancer) then it will continue to waste away.

The answer (or a start) is, of course, decent education (that involves studying the rest of the world) and the long awaited demise of Rupert Murdoch.

Good point. By pushing peoples' ugliest emotional buttons, Murdoch has further distorted an already broken political process.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 10:33:57 UTC | #570664

Pete H's Avatar Comment 24 by Pete H

There’s been a similar call to action from Dick Smith, a wealthy Australian ex-entrepreneur. (And Australia is apparently reasonably well-off in the international economic performance rankings.)

I suspect that a few people here hold misconceptions about the nature of wealth, money, and titles to property. Possibly easily fixed if only people could accept the scientific status of economics. And by applying scientific principles to economic theory you might be surprised by what’s eliminated and what’s left standing. Keep in mind that there are economic reasons for the existence and persistence of various popular economic theories. (As opposed to scientific reasons.)

A fundamental problem is that if charity is compulsory then it would be via the same compelling agency which already squanders its coercively acquired resources or, even worse, employs those resources destructively. A way through might be for the ultra wealthy to pool their charitable resource investments in a form which indirectly diminishes the growing dependency on government and undermines the incessant growth in malignant government incompetence. Channeling even more money via the government can only make the problem worse.

Perhaps the source of Richard’s anomaly is that people almost instinctively know their chances are better in relying on the super rich (private sector) rather than the super rich (public sector). But their instincts may be flawed. (You also need to look at where they get their opinions from.) The anomaly disappears when you explore the direct and indirect links between the powers of public sector officials and the accumulation of ultra wealth in the private sector. Essentially politics is the mechanism of privatising public resources, while convincing the victims that it's a good idea. An effective solution would have more to do with preventing this possibility than in trying to remedy its inevitable consequences.

I don’t think it will be politically feasible for things to change until it hits rock bottom. You really need hyperinflation, as occurred several times in Germany and Austria, to trigger a mass reaction. Hyperinflation is effectively a mass confiscation by the wealthy and powerful of more or less everything the poor have got left. Driven by the need for the likes of Sam's friends, the primary support base of the plutarchy, to continue their lifestyles more or less unaffected by what occurs in the broader community. The result is a disruption and potential collapse in the sophisticated division of labour. (Hyperinflation is probably unavoidable now – though it’s not feasible to forecast a specific date. Though it will probably occur in a novel form, given the diversity of electronic commerce. Perhaps in the guise of systems failures in national banking IT networks.)

There’s research which shows that social mobility is very much lower than previously assumed. Pretty much most of America’s ultra wealthy made their money as an indirect result of the Great Depression, and similar events prior. (Bill Gates and Warren Buffett may be exceptions - though both were born into wealthy families. Very wealthy in the case of Buffett.) It is quite likely that this current great depression will further augment and consolidate the resources of the wealthiest families, unless some kind of tipping point is reached. As an example of what’s possible without reaching a tipping point, something similar happened with the collapse of the West Roman Empire and the rise of the catholic church as the dominant economic power. Things didn’t ‘recover’ for 1000 years.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 10:35:43 UTC | #570665

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 25 by Cook@Tahiti

Sam Harris v Michael Shermer

That would be a good debate over this issue. Sam arguing for higher taxes versus a noted free market libertarian who despises government. And both are atheists with very high science literary. Just goes to show that economics can't be a science if there is still such wide disparity in thinking about basic issues. Austerity (tax increases, spending cuts) is Britain's path out the GFC, while spending increases and tax cuts is the USA's path.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 10:42:27 UTC | #570669

nykos's Avatar Comment 26 by nykos

There is an implicit assumption in the beliefs of both Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Namely, that governments (or, at least the governments of the states they are living in) can more efficiently allocate the resources of those rich people than they would themselves, by trading in a free market. Is that really the case? I believe not, given that governments are also made up of people susceptible to the same impulses and instincts as the "rich people" participating in the free market.

There is a notable difference, though: the majority of mediocre, average-wage, theist people that elect the government of the US can get to democratically force rich people to share more of their money (I'm not talking about the obscenely rich - they can afford good lawyers and have the option to move their businesses somewhere else where they aren't burdened by excessive socialism - like the Cayman Islands, even China or India), they can democratically force atheists to shut up if not constrained by law.

I live in Romania, a crony-capitalist-socialist country where decent working people with small companies are being burdened with taxes, while "smart" ones give bribes to state officials (even at the local level, not to mention the state level) in order to be awarded contracts for the State and thus be given an obscene amount out of taxpayers' money.

Now, what makes you think that the US or UK do not have this kind of corruption and inefficiency (albeit on a much smaller level - at least the UK), or that they cannot in time get to the state in which Romania is today - provided the State forcefully increases its monopoly in more areas, at a cost of the free market which at the very least is competitive and can thus be driven by an evolutionary improvement algorithm?

As an atheist, I am weary of the rulers-ruled dichotomy. It's always the rulers who can use religion, use taxes, use force to make other people's lives living hell (or at least a lot more unpleasant than they have to be). It's time we do away with top-down government; in the age of the internet and open-source software and wikipedia, it makes no sense.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 11:48:13 UTC | #570708

nykos's Avatar Comment 27 by nykos

One more thing:

If donations to the treasury would "fill the pork barrels of corrupt politician­s" do not forced tax payments to the treasury also "fill the pork barrels of corrupt politician­s?" Is this not true regardless of the economic class of the tax payer? Is the argument that the "rich" should be forced to "fill the pork barrels of corrupt politician­s?"

This kind of thinking from Sam Harris proves that even the smartest, most rational of human beings can make simple logical mistakes when they start with preconceptions about certain issues. This should scare us all.

I think that what humanity needs now more than ever is peer-reviewed (by economists, scientists, and engineers, not by politicians who are usually selected based on their charisma and ability to deceive the masses), open-source governments.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 12:05:09 UTC | #570718

LukeTBrown's Avatar Comment 28 by LukeTBrown

Not all of us, good sir. There are two (perhaps 3) very distinct Americas now.

Comment 16 by Michael Gray :

As an Aussie, I cannot see why Sam's view is not enthusiastically embraced by millions. You Yanks are an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped a nappy.

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 12:20:36 UTC | #570729

bacalao's Avatar Comment 29 by bacalao

Sam wouldn't make a good senator...

But 100 Sams would make the best senate in history!

What I mean is one person alone wouldn't be as effective as a movement. Sam, keep pumping out your reasoned arguments! We need it!

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 12:23:23 UTC | #570730

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 30 by Stevehill


If donations to the treasury would "fill the pork barrels of corrupt politician s" do not forced tax payments to the treasury also "fill the pork barrels of corrupt politician s?" Is this not true regardless of the economic class of the tax payer? Is the argument that the "rich" should be forced to "fill the pork barrels of corrupt politician s?"

I don't think Sam is unaware of that. I read it as saying he's happy to pay what taxes he is obliged to pay, but that genuine philanthropy could result in the money being better spent than if it were left to government. (Think about stories of toilet seats in B2 bombers coming in at $100,000 a poop, or whatever).

I can see that argument, and it makes sense - using my previous example - to endow some scholarships at a university rather than give a large sum of money to politicians and ask them to improve education.

The problem is however that governments also have to do things that people might prefer not to fund. Like maybe provide expensive cancer treatment to some not-very-nice person serving life imprisonment for murder. So you have to leave some things to governments.

Where I think Sam is unquestionably correct is that America's wealthiest people are ludicrously under-taxed for a modern developed nation with heavy spending commitments (not least on defence). And I really don't see how or why the 95%-plus of Americans who are not so privileged put up with it. These people don't get 25 votes each, do they?

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 12:27:05 UTC | #570734