Assorted links

1. When will the world have its first trillionaire?  In real terms I say never, marginal tax rates will rise to capture the rents, one way or another.

2. What’s in Fred Hersch’s iPod?  Very good post, via Jeff.

3. “What is to be done about this cacophony of copulation?”

4. About what is Bryan optimistic and pessimistic?

5. The 1987 Robocop commercials (video).  And the new TLS blog.


re: #1
surely Julius Caesar, some of the more early popes, some chinese emperors would have actually been trillionaires denominated in 2011 money, no? All of the above literally owned entire countries.

Caesar? Rather Augustus, born Gaius Octavius, Caesar´s heir, who also won the Egyptian treasury in that war, in which Cleopatra got too close to a snake. Augustus then ruled over all countries around the mediterranean sea. Therefrom came the name "mare internum", the sea in the middle of roman territory. Good politician, too.

Every grown up has trillions of cells.

For that matter, contra the "marginal tax rates will eat it" argument, there are modern folks like the Sultan of Brunei.

He's not going to tax himself like that, after all.

(I agree, pretty much, with Tyler's point regarding the probability of trillionaries in the Free World, where the State has such an immense interest in sucking out wealth from them.)

The cacophony of copulation article reminded me of this post of mine when I used to blog: It's about the Japanese "suicide discount".

Cacophony of copulation may be one problem, but the results, constantly crying kids, and lower-class parents permanently yelling at crying kids are the worst problem. What can be done? I would highly recommend a facing with glass fibre wool, at least 3,5 inch thick, and gypsum plaster board. It can be installed in the cheapest flats and it definitely works.

Wikipedia used to have a nice inflation-adjusted "wealthiest figures in history" chart, but the aspie/autists that edit that damn site of course ruined it.

re 1: Why haven't marginal tax rates risen so the U.S. doesn't have any billionaires, or did they? And are you assuming that marginal tax rates in Mexico or China will rise?

Yes, why would this happen to block trillionaires if it didn't with billionaires?

Isn't the term "in real terms" meaningless? Real based on what date? You could say that in real terms that we've never had a billionaire, if you use 1877 (the peak of Vanderbilt's fortune) as the date. If we use today, it's quite likely that the Rothchilds were trillionaires.

In 2011 dollars, I think John D. Rockefeller at its wealthiest moment, would be fairly close to the trillion mark.

I think you mean Fred Hersch, but who can be bothered with these kinds of details.

If you like his music, I recommend checking out Brad Mehldau.

If you like Brad Mehldau, I recommend The Bad Plus.

Cool - thanks for the rec. I'll check it out.

1) Does it have to be on this world? I'm thinking Accelerando here.

the country's rich have kept on getting richer. -- There's a tendency to commit fallacies of aggregation when looking at this question -- e.g. the "top fifth" in 2010 are not the same people as the "top fifth" in 1983, so all that's really changed is the distribution, and this tells us nothing about whether a given person is likely to have increased his/her wealth. The EPI article is especially egregious in this respect, as it strongly implies a given slice is comprised of the same people at different times.

I don't think anyone alive pre-1950 could have a net worth in excess of $1T for the simple reason that there wasn't nearly as much wealth around -- remember, GDP per capita was something like 10x smaller a century ago, and population was smaller too.

3) I strongly suspect many of them are doing it on purpose.

re #1: political lobbying will more than counteract marginal tax rates.

The "cacophony of copulation" article is deeply flawed, in that it doesn't take into account the positive externalities of loud sex.

My thoughts exactly.
Yes I could hear my flatmate, but she was HOT so I didn't mind.

1. Well, start by asking which firms will be worth a few trillion. Then assess the likelihood that a sole proprietor or small partnership could build that firm before going public?

If such a firm exists, how many years of profit would it take for the owners to accumulate a trillion.

Remember Thurston Howell III was only a millionaire? I know lots of people with more than a million in net worth, including my parents, and by no means do I consider them rich.

The question is whether the leap from millionaire to billionaire is shorter than billionaire to trillionaire. Did Buffett become a billionaire primarily through inflation or through enhanced wealth generation in modern financial markets? If Buffett had a sole heir not subject to inheritance tax, the young heir would have to multiply his wealth by 300 in his lifetime, but a single heir would have another 50 years to do so.

I can think of technologies that could generate a trillion for one person. The biggest issue would be antitrust laws rather than taxation.

What is being rich?

Most folks seem to define it as being wealthier than 95-99% of their immediate peers or having enough money to not need to work ever again in their lives, and still live a normal middle class or above existance. In parts of the country a million dollars is enough to do that, but in other parts it's not (most of the difference is the cost of housing).

That's the real question, isn't it?

Utility for the average American 2011 is probably higher than for Rockefeller 1911.

Actually, I'm pretty sure you're wrong about that. The only really clear advantage we rabble today have over John D. is in the area of medical care, and he lived to be 98, so that did not appear to affect his utility. Otherwise, he had private rail cars, the ability to have the best chefs, ocean liner travel, immense and extremely nice mansions, great art, servants to wait on him hand and foot, the utility of starting a major university, having the most powerful people in society fawn on him, etc. I'd rather be him than you, and I think so would most people.

I promised to strangle with his own intestine the next person who associated life expectancy with the quality of medical care.

But since I agree with your other points, I grant pardon.

Ca Mike

I believe he lost at least one relative to an infection that is eminently curable today. Saving the lives of people you love has enormous utility. Also, just living to be 98 doesn't mean he didn't experience health problems that are more effectively addressed today.

If you really like owning expensive things and having people fawn over you, the Rockefeller life might be higher utility. But since 1911 there have been gigantic strides in entertainment, food, medicine, sex, transportation... you can do a lot of things Rockefeller couldn't.

I can't really imagine any way in which a billionaire in Rockefeller's time would have a poorer sex life than I do. I'm pretty sure the only variable is access to willing partners, and I just can't see that being that difficult for him.

Tall Dave - right about the infection and medical care, wrong about everything else. Entertainment today is crap compared to 1911, and especially when, e.g., you can have a live string quartet playing for you during dinner (compared to being plugged into your iPod). Sex is sex, hasn't changed. Transportation - it is superior to travel in a private rail car than a private automobile. It is superior to travel on an ocean liner, first class, than on a jet airplane, first class. Having servants is deluxe. Eating like a rich guy in 1911 with private chef is superior to eating like a regular guy today.

Mike -because of your quite appealing name and your pardon I mostly agree with you, but my point was that although medical care is much better now, a lot of people just don't need much of it, so the improvement is of minor importance. Rockefeller was likely one of those people. I didn't mean to suggest that his longevity proved that medical care was good back then.

Not even close, AK Mike. Entertainment utility today is far superior to 1911 -- hiring a string quartet takes Rockefeller some time and bother (where do they set up? how long do they tune? do they know the song I want to hear? wait, I want them to stop in middle and play something else!), whereas I can not only have an entire orchestra playing whatever I like at the push of a button, I can also have whole genres of music that didn't even exist in 1911 because they hadn't been developed yet and required technology like electric guitars that also didn't exist yet. That's before we even talk about things like HD movies, console video games, MMPORGs, a couple hundred cable TV channels... You personally may not care for any of the above, but the average American does, and would quickly be bored by mere string quartets.

As for sex, Rockefeller's time did not have the birth control pill, porn, nylon stockings, antibiotics for STDs... I could go on. Additionally, social conventions were far different, in large part because the consequences of sex could be far more dire.

Travel on a private train car restricts you to where the tracks go (and even the best trains of 1911 were probably not as comfortable as a modern car) and then you're in a bumpy stagecoach with a smelly horse. Travel on an ocean liner is slow (and in 1911, not especially safe). Private chefs are nice, but we have access to a lot of foods that were just beginning to be imported in Rockefeller's time because refrigeration was new.

I think the utility of status is limited. Owning an original Monet is primarily a status display, its intrinsic utility is not greater than viewing an inexpensive replica.

I would not trade my life for Rockefeller's, his sounds rather boring.

TallDave - you suffer from a lack of imagination, and apparently lack of interest in art. Rockefeller had people to get the musicians and get them set up. He would come in from his board meeting or tennis game, whatever, have his man dress him for dinner, and come into the dining room where the quartet was ready to go.

The many genres of music argument is nonsense. Rockefeller could have live musicians of whatever genre he desired. Live musicians are better than earbuds. Rockefeller wins. [The fact that tastes change, and today's people like today's music, is irrelevant. Yesterday's people liked yesterday's music just as much.]

Silk stockings are better than nylon stockings. You might be right that opportunity for masturbation is greater now, but Rockefeller (who was, by the way, a faithful husband and religiously devout) could have had bed companions of whatever sort he wished whenever he wanted - and, actually, most men had much greater access to prostitutes back then as well. Rockefeller wins.

HD television, unless you like special effects and explosions, is a lousy substitute for live performance. The big advantage it has is convenience, but that would not be an issue for Rockefeller who, again, had people to arrange all these things for him. Rockefeller ate better than you did, sorry, his chefs beat your frozen dinners. [And by the way, there are lots of foods that he had access to that you don't. It's instructive to read Mencken on this issue.]

Ocean liner travel in luxury class is an extremely pleasant experience. The fact that it took a few days is a feature. Airplane travel is horrible, especially in coach, the way you travel. Railroads went just about anywhere that Rockefeller would have wanted to go. The top hotels of that era were much grander and more comfortable for the rich than those of today for the middle class. Rockefeller's travel experiences were much nicer than yours.

If you don't care for art, I feel sorry for you, but a lot of people do actually like it. There was lots of popular entertainment around a century ago, and it was not inferior, just different.

And once more, on the servant business: Rockefeller did not have to do the laundry, like you do. He didn't have to cut the grass, like you do. He didn't have to clean up the kitchen or the bathroom, like you do.

Plus everything in his house was hand made by skilled craftsmen and artists. Besides those wonderful screens and headphones, what's in your house?

Mike, you suffer from a lack of appreciation for the difficulties of having people do things for you, and apparently in all forms of post-1911 entertainment and technology. The string quartet may be set up (but only if they're available), but you need room for them, bathroom facilities/breaks, somewhere for them to stay... and what if you decide you want something different halfway through dinner? You can't keep the entire musical world outside your dinner room. And live music is generally terrible in comparison to studio-recorded and mastered music.

STDs and sexual attitudes as a feature of the technology limits of the day; many sexual practices common today regarded as deviant. Sexual graitification is far easier today; at the very least the average American has greatly closed the gap. (BTW, the tradeoffs for prostitution are much better when you have so much less else to do.)

Going slower is a feature? Not if you want to get there sooner, it isn't. And I can take a cruise today, in a vessel that dwarfs anything Rockefeller could have enjoyed.

The most prominent feature of buildings from that era is that the rooms are generally tiny by our standards -- this is even true for mansions -- as central heating had not been invented yet. Rockefeller also did not enjoy air conditioning. Advantage: me.

Art? I can view the entire contents of the Louvre (and virtually every other art museum) without leaving my home. I win.

I don't have to cut the grass, the HOA does that for me. I have a washing machine so laundry is a trivial task. I can buy sundry fabrics and styles of clothing that did not exist in 1911, and do it without even leaving my home. I can easily afford a maid service because cleaning technology makes my maids more efficient than his.

If you don't enjoy the many wonders of 2011, then I feel sorry for you. My skilled craftsmen are fashioning World of Warcraft, Deus Ex, my 82" HDTV, $200M movies, CGI effects, laser-honed razor blades, CPUs, solid state drives... Rockefeller, eat your heart out.

Yesterday's people liked yesterday's music just as much

I think this is emblematic of the problem with your argument. Regardless of taste, much of today's music could not have been produced in 1911, so they could not have chosen it, even in the limited circumstances in which they could enjoy it all.

In 2011, we can also choose music developed since 1911, as well as the music available then. We are not limited to live performances (though we may attend them if we choose) but can also listen to music painstakingly recorded in a studio, with thousands of hours of work going into making it the auditorily optimal example of that musical performance, and then replay it in our cars, our planes, our cruise ships, our homes, and at work. I think Rockefeller would have traded all his hired musicians for a loaded 50G MP3 player and a set of quality headphones (never mind a nice Bose system).

HD television, unless you like special effects and explosions,

Are you arguing most people don't like special effects and explosions? Also, average people today can certainly attend live performances as well (which are generally far inferior), but Rockefeller could not see Avatar at any price.

I'm sure Rockefeller could eat a few things the average American can't, but there's probably hundreds of things Americans can eat that he didn't have available because cultural exchange is so much more prevalent today. (It isn't all frozen dinners, you know, we still have restaurants today.)

Also, Viagra, jetskis, parasailing, skydiving, scuba diving, hang gliding, Wikipedia...

Forgive my obsession with this thread, I'm just astounded that anyone can fail to recognize the enormity gains in utility since 1911, even if you hate movies and music and TV and women shaving in places they didn't used to.

re #2: in Japan they have love hotels for that.

The answer to number one will depend on who gets to the unobtainium deposits first.

Or artificial general intelligence.

“What is to be done about this cacophony of copulation?”

I'd like to recommend the use of Gag Balls. And, to answer the question I know you're dying to ask me, I do not have a financial interest in their sale and/or use.

You had trillionaires in the past -- the Rothschilds were trillionaires. And Crassus may have been the richest man ever.

Sex, loud and otherwise, is a problem for surveys and publishing. I and many others like me read that article only because of the reference to sex, and it was probably published because of it. Is it probable that the people answering the survey also enjoyed thinking about sex, and overstated the harm and frequency of sex noises. I'm pretty confident that the attention grabbing qualities of the word "sex" would be observable, if eye-tracking data would be available. In the same vein memories of attention grabbing subject like being disturbed by sex sounds come more easily to mind than memories of being disturbed by people talking or flushing toilet.

Does this science-writing equivalent of pictures of topless girls in tabloids increase the absolute levels interest in science? If so, then the pornification of news tabloids has the positive effect of increasing the absolute levels of current events awareness among the great unwashed.

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