Money as Reward, Money as Vote

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Money as Reward, Money as Vote

In an idealized market economy, money serves two distinct functions:

First, it acts as a reward for value creation. If a person provides a good or service that others find valuable, that person is compensated with some of the surplus value created in the form of cash. In that way, it rewards the provision of goods or services that others find valuable; the more value (and the greater the portion of that value one can capture), the greater the reward.

Second, it acts as a mechanism for 'voting' about what matters. When a person spends money, it amounts to a statement of values: "this good or service is worth more to me than these X dollars". Each exchange of money for a good or service is thus effectively a vote about how valuable a good or service is, as it signals to the market that the good or service is worth more than its current price to some people.

Both roles are present in any exchange: producers are being rewarded for the value they add (including the value in connecting people with products and services they value), and buyers are voting for that value with their dollars. And both roles are an important part of a market economy, producing the effects that make markets useful. The votes incorporate information about what everyone wants, and the rewards draw productivity towards those valuable things. Together, the effects resolve issues of scarcity, providing an answer to the question, how can we produce the most value using the resources we have?

In an idealized economy, where every participant starts with equal resources, this makes sense and is efficient in the early rounds: people are incentivized to allocate resources to the most socially valuable pursuits*. But in subsequent rounds, when the allocation of resources is unequal, it isn't obvious that the people who provided value in the past should have more say in what gets rewarded in the future.

One argument is that people who successfully produce value in the past are more likely to provide more valuable information with their votes, i.e. in the past they have voted that certain investments will produce value for others, and their profits show that they were right (again, in a toy economy), so we might expect their subsequent votes will reliably point to future value for others. That argument is not entirely without merit: certain attributes that would make someone a better voter for what's valuable also make someone a better producer of value: appropriate risk weighting, accurate expectations about the future, the ability to delay gratification and invest for the long term, the ability to see alternative possible uses of resources. Conversely, the corresponding shortcoming would be expected to reliably waste resources. A habit of hedonistic spending will see you worse off in subsequent rounds, while a habit of investment and longer-term planning will see you better off. So, up to a point, this allocation of votes tracks ability to vote.

But it's not clear that the effect is always dominant: much of market success is arbitrary, and giving more say to people who essentially win a lottery for economic success is not justified by this rationale. Moreover, over many many rounds, the allocation of starting 'votes' is likely to be severely misallocated. The lottery effects will build over time, as those with more 'votes' get to play the lottery for market success more times. Heirs to previous lottery winners will often not inherit the traits that, by hypothesis, make it reasonable to allocate past winners more votes. And the market information will incorporate more and more idiosyncratic values, as the influence with those with orders of magnitude more 'votes' will dominate the voting, and ignore the votes of large swaths of the market which, combined, have less vote than the very wealthy.

This framing suggests that 1) an unregulated market will degrade over time, and 2) redistributive intervention is necessary to maintain a market economy. Despite relying on an ideal market and a favorable framing, and ignoring other problems inherent in market economies, it shows that the major justifying functions of the market fail without some function to nudge the distribution of votes toward the initial conditions.

This provides support for treating proposals such as a wealth tax, estate tax, and basic income as pro-market policies that strengthen the ability of market forces to allocate scarce resources. At some margin of inequality, the rewards and votes no longer serve their initial function, and there is no market.

*I'm ignoring special cases where markets don't work, e.g. public goods, non-rivalrous goods, etc., because the issue I'm trying to isolate is not one of market failure, but of self-defeating market success.
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Carleas
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

I know that you're not counting companies like debeers.

But I would add additional content to non rivalrous goods, price fixing:

Prescription eye glasses only cost 50 cents to produce. The mark up is about 2000%

There are dozens of major eyewear places that all collude for price fixing... technically, they're "competing". Eye glasses is one of the most well known.

Ecmandu
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Yes, I agree. Price fixing, monopolies, asymmetric information. There are a lot of ways the market fails. My point here is more that, even where it succeeds, it undermines itself without countervailing regulation/policy.
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Carleas
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Carleas wrote:Yes, I agree. Price fixing, monopolies, asymmetric information. There are a lot of ways the market fails. My point here is more that, even where it succeeds, it undermines itself without countervailing regulation/policy.

It's a compelling idea "constantly pushing votes back to initial conditions"

In many cases with market forces, such as innovation, once the cats out of the bag, it's gone.

So, the regulation would even need to be more sophisticated than your initial offering.

The easiest way to solve the problem is that nobody can make more than x number percent of GDP per year. From there, you're looking at investment redistribution.
Ecmandu
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Carleas,

I hope you saw my edit, I made it just at the time you may have been constructing a reply, and then decided not to reply.

Ecmandu
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Ecmandu wrote:
Carleas wrote:Yes, I agree. Price fixing, monopolies, asymmetric information. There are a lot of ways the market fails. My point here is more that, even where it succeeds, it undermines itself without countervailing regulation/policy.

It's a compelling idea "constantly pushing votes back to initial conditions"

In many cases with market forces, such as innovation, once the cats out of the bag, it's gone.

So, the regulation would even need to be more sophisticated than your initial offering.

The easiest way to solve the problem is that nobody can make more than x number percent of GDP per year. From there, you're looking at investment redistribution.

So, for example Carleas!

Who truly needs relative to our current GDP, more than 5 million dollars a year?

So, in a very successful company, every employee makes 5 million a year, and the rest goes to redistributive investment.

What this forces capitalism to do, is to make it more democratic.

Want to build something for a billion dollars?

You need the consent of a billion divided by at most 5 million.

That's the perfect capitalist system.
Ecmandu
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Feel free to offer your rejoinders.
Ecmandu
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Carleas wrote:In an idealized economy, where every participant starts with equal resources, this makes sense and is efficient in the early rounds: people are incentivized to allocate resources to the most socially valuable pursuits*. But in subsequent rounds, when the allocation of resources is unequal, it isn't obvious that the people who provided value in the past should have more say in what gets rewarded in the future.

I am reminded of sports, particularly pre-commercialised sports.

In tennis, for example, all your previous successes and failures will seed you accordingly, but come a new tournament you are all back to ground zero. If anything, success makes it harder for you in future as you qualify to be placed against similarly successful players. This is a pure form of truly fair competition, with the exception of a fairly low barrier to attaining the best equipment, of which there isn't much that is required, and to attract the attention of the best trainers. Sponsorship gives you no advantage beyond not having to worry about your finances.

In team sports, a new season will similarly reset everything - your previous successes and failures may put you in a higher or lower league, but again success makes it harder for you in future - this kind of mechanism is both satisfying for all and keeps itself in check. Some additional drawbacks to the above are the tendency for top teams to buy and sell individual players in accordance to what they think will benefit the team as a whole, which becomes more of a corporate brand. The chemistry between specific players is less important than general adaptability to play well with anyone. Here, the corrupting effects of the free market come into play even more to compromise fairness:

Capitalism has the exact opposite mechanism. Where success in sports makes it harder for you, success in the free market makes it easier for you. The inversion of sportsmanship.

E-sports often have an interesting fairness check, where between seasons MMRs (matchmaking rating)s or Elo ratings are contracted towards the average. This requires that the best players continually have to win back their claim to proficiency, and players stuck playing with inexperienced and/or incompetent players get a chance to play with better players who won't ruin their overall team's performance regardless of how well they do individually.

The common theme of the "marketplace of sports" is that they are regulated/interfered with in order to make things fairer and more satisfying for everyone in the exact way that the free market is not.

Carleas wrote:One argument is that people who successfully produce value in the past are more likely to provide more valuable information with their votes, i.e. in the past they have voted that certain investments will produce value for others, and their profits show that they were right (again, in a toy economy), so we might expect their subsequent votes will reliably point to future value for others. That argument is not entirely without merit: certain attributes that would make someone a better voter for what's valuable also make someone a better producer of value: appropriate risk weighting, accurate expectations about the future, the ability to delay gratification and invest for the long term, the ability to see alternative possible uses of resources.

For sure. In many ways it is better for the mechanism to inherently enable those at the top who are the best at providing for everyone.

The issue is the degree to which putting all your resources in the hands of the few is proportional to the overall benefit that they provide for everyone as a result of their reward.
It's at this point that every pro-Capitalist will shout at me about the Zero-sum fallacy, and I have to explain that I don't think there is a zero-sum of fixed pie, just dimishing returns in addition to the tendency towards oligarchy and even monarchy (autocracy and dictatorship).

It's a false dichotomy to either have the strongest lift everyone up or to lead from the back and enable the weak to lift themselves up and become stronger. I believe there's an optimal threshold of doing both that an unfettered market mechanism, where success makes it easier for you and failure makes it harder for you, fails to deliver.

However, it is true that this threshold is variable. For example, in conditions of scarcity and difficulty, putting all your resources into the hands of the strongest makes more sense because the weakest will drag everyone down and the costs of being dragged down are too great. This is why most of nature selects for such systems - because they are still "in the food chain" and danger/vulnerability is rife. It's also why Capitalism is effective for less developed economies and the less advanced periods in the history of more developed economies. However, once times become easy and resources bountiful - such as in modern western society - the benefits of diverting resources into the hands of the few no longer has the same impact, if any benefit at all - perhaps its even detrimental. The spoilt entitlement of the richest and most pampered upbringing is notoriously damaging and wasteful. It is at this point that the optimal balance swings over to enabling the less fortunate.

This is in addition to the lottery-like nature of modern financial success. Being born into it, happening to get into situations where you meet the right people, or making a good investment that others did not dare to risk - nobody can predict the future, regardless of the fact that predicting the future changes it, and an economic system that centres itself around the ability to do so is little different to gambling.

Carleas wrote:This framing suggests that 1) an unregulated market will degrade over time, and 2) redistributive intervention is necessary to maintain a market economy. Despite relying on an ideal market and a favorable framing, and ignoring other problems inherent in market economies, it shows that the major justifying functions of the market fail without some function to nudge the distribution of votes toward the initial conditions.

Absolutely.

I'm actually interested in the notion of in-built mechanisms that resolve "the rewards and votes no longer serv[ing] their initial function" without resorting to proposals such as "wealth tax, estate tax, and basic income as pro-market policies that strengthen the ability of market forces to allocate scarce resources".

I support such things in the meantime, but I think the world of sports and esports provide a lot of empricial insight on how to make a system satisfying, fairer, and better for everyone.

The cynical part of me suspects, however, that making things better for everyone is exactly not what too many people desire. Too many people would prefer measures to keep others down, even at the cost of themselves, just to gain advantage over them by any means. It's a rational decision for those in a better situation than they ought to be, because fairness is seen as threat to their advantage. I don't agree, I think lifting everyone up will make things better for even them, but their requirement is to be better than other people, not better for themselves. In this case, I believe it is even more important to bring about fairness, to root out such petty sabotage.

Silhouette
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

[I found this mostly-completed reply while going through my saved drafts. It was a good conversation, but my kid was born right around that time so I forgot about it and never posted my reply. Apologies, and I hope people are interested in picking it up again]

Ecmandu, a couple nits:

I don't like income as the determinant of the rate of taxation (because people with the same income and different wealth differ in the amount they are able to afford taxes and in the amount they benefit from the social order).

I also don't like hard lines in economic policy. Why treat the 5-million-and-first dollar so differently from the 5 millionth? and what happens when the meaning of $5 million changes through inflation? Or, to your percent of GDP proposal, what happens as the population grows, so that the relationship between percent and per capita changes? Hard lines are hard to avoid, but where possible I prefer incentives that naturally scale. For example, rather than a hard line at$5 million, so that the tax rate goes to 100% after $5 million, instead have a rate the phases in asymptotically towards %100 but never quite reaches it, and at a rate that is continuous with the rate below$5 million.

This latter preference is partly intuition and aesthetics, so take it with some salt. But cliffs in rates of taxation tend to bunch too much activity around the cliff, instead of letting people peg the appropriate threshold for their circumstances. You lose information about where in the jump between $5m and$5m+.01 people actually start to care. Since I value the information production function of the market, I see that as suboptimal.

Ecmandu wrote:What this forces capitalism to do, is to make it more democratic. Want to build something for a billion dollars? You need the consent of a billion divided by at most 5 million. That's the perfect capitalist system.

I basically agree, although I don't think we need every person making $5m to make it work. Even a modest basic income has a similar effect. Several people have also proposed something similar as a remedy for corporate money in politics: give a few hundred dollars to every individual which they can allocate to political campaigns, and you swamp anything that corporate lobbyists can do pretty quickly. Total spending on lobbying in 2018 was ~$3.5 billion, so giving every voting-age individual \$150 to put towards their favored campaign would beat that by a order of magnitude.

Silhouette wrote:E-sports often have an interesting fairness check, where between seasons MMRs (matchmaking rating)s or Elo ratings are contracted towards the average.

This is close to what I would want for the economy, though it's harder to achieve when it's not just regressing Elos (more on that below). I think of it as wealth having a sort of gravity that increases as you move away (so, the strong nuclear force would be more accurate, but less accessible). On the low end, I'd also see a non-zero minimum below which a buoyancy-like effect lifts people upwards.

Silhouette wrote:The common theme of the "marketplace of sports" is that they are regulated/interfered with in order to make things fairer and more satisfying for everyone in the exact way that the free market is not.

These interventions also keep the game playable. It's not that fairness and satisfaction are ends in themselves, but that games that are unfair and unsatisfying don't get players. And in that respect, the same idea applies to the economy: when we design a system for society, it has to be self-preserving in the sense that it keeps people engaged in the system, bought-in to its continued functioning.

Silhouette wrote:The issue is the degree to which putting all your resources in the hands of the few is proportional to the overall benefit that they provide for everyone as a result of their reward. [...] I believe there's an optimal threshold of doing both that an unfettered market mechanism, where success makes it easier for you and failure makes it harder for you, fails to deliver.

However, it is true that this threshold is variable.[...]

I don't have much to add here, but wanted to acknowledge that it is a good way of framing things. I also liked the point that it changes over time and by circumstances. In hard times, we might think of the external world of scarcity as playing the role that a redistributionist policy would play in more opulent times: people can only get so rich, and the stochastic mechanisms of disease and the desperation of their neighbors will tend to tear them down from time to time. And since the top is pruned frequently, there is more opportunity for those at the bottom to improve their lot through hard work and ingenuity.

Silhouette wrote:I'm actually interested in the notion of in-built mechanisms that resolve "the rewards and votes no longer serv[ing] their initial function" without resorting to proposals such as "wealth tax, estate tax, and basic income as pro-market policies that strengthen the ability of market forces to allocate scarce resources".

I'm curious to hear your objections to these specific policies, and what alternatives you see. I've seen good arguments against wealth and estate taxes as unworkable, and I think a land value tax would do roughly the same thing with less overhead and less gaming.

But I also think that these policies might best be thought of as "the worst policies except for all the others". Against the alternative of systemic malfunction and collapse, somewhat onerous taxes don't seem so bad.

Silhouette wrote:The cynical part of me suspects, however, that making things better for everyone is exactly not what too many people desire. Too many people would prefer measures to keep others down, even at the cost of themselves, just to gain advantage over them by any means.

Unfortunately this seems to be how humans are wired: to care less about absolute circumstances than relative circumstances. You can see that in the modern left in the developed world, which is angry and disaffected because of billionaires, despite themselves living in a state of absolute abundance (and even relative abundance when compared with those in the third world, who are out of sight and out of mind).

But my understanding is that people aren't as upset about being worse-off when they can see the ways in which others are adding more value, e.g. if someone does more or better work, people believe they should be better compensated. As you say, making things obviously fair will help to preserve the system.
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Carleas
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Carleas, I’ve evolved since my last post...

This post may make you think I’m insane.

The economics part is about in the middle...

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Ecmandu
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Carleas wrote:
Silhouette wrote:E-sports often have an interesting fairness check, where between seasons MMRs (matchmaking rating)s or Elo ratings are contracted towards the average.

This is close to what I would want for the economy, though it's harder to achieve when it's not just regressing Elos (more on that below). I think of it as wealth having a sort of gravity that increases as you move away (so, the strong nuclear force would be more accurate, but less accessible). On the low end, I'd also see a non-zero minimum below which a buoyancy-like effect lifts people upwards.

A technique some games use, for example the racing game Mario Kart 64, is informally known as "rubber banding" (a type of "dynamic game difficulty balancing").
In the case of MK64, the players who are doing the worst get a slight boost in speed relative to how behind they are, and they also receive better items if they manage to pick any up - including a weapon that homes onto first place

Presumably this is the kind of thing you're referring to through your "buoyancy/gravity" analogy?
Funnily enough I actually resent such measures (the original Mario Kart was so much better!) and I'm probably not alone - in probably exactly the same way as many of the richest people if all their efforts went towards endangering their ability to "race themselves". Of course many rich people actually support "rubber banding", and in the context of competing against others many might enjoy the added challenge of being maximally threatened the better they perform. This isn't to say that the same would apply to me in the market economy if I was rich, because not only am I not interested in business or ostentatious material reward, I hate the idea of hoarding resources that others either need or would really appreciate. Racing against myself to see how fast I can go doesn't hurt anyone, and I wouldn't be interested in it if it did hurt anyone - even if merely indirectly or at least relatively. The way in which the market economy requires elevating the few so much in order to elevate everyone to the degree that it does feels like little consolation to me - and I don't like seeing it in anyone, not just in myself - that's why I'm a leftist. The market economy seems like a pandering to various nastinesses that only some humans exhibit, and I don't like encouraging or rewarding such things. I want any "people at the top" to be genuinely inspiring and clearly worthy of their success, which other than several notable exceptions, doesn't feel like it's the case under a market economy at all.

As such, in the context of economics, I support your notion of gravity/buoyancy.

Carleas wrote:
Silhouette wrote:The common theme of the "marketplace of sports" is that they are regulated/interfered with in order to make things fairer and more satisfying for everyone in the exact way that the free market is not.

These interventions also keep the game playable. It's not that fairness and satisfaction are ends in themselves, but that games that are unfair and unsatisfying don't get players. And in that respect, the same idea applies to the economy: when we design a system for society, it has to be self-preserving in the sense that it keeps people engaged in the system, bought-in to its continued functioning.

This is exactly why I see the psychology of games to be so interesting, and with so much potential towards broader applications.
It's unfortunate that games are so widely perceived to be a waste of time, or at least inappropriate to apply to economics - I've no doubt that most would find the idea of applying gaming principles to economics to be a joke. But hopefully this is just an easily surmountable problem of marketing (in the least deceptive way possible of course) or at least a problem of time and generational fluctation. Though the idea that I'll be dead by the time we get there doesn't entirely relieve me of resentment.

Carleas wrote:
Silhouette wrote:The issue is the degree to which putting all your resources in the hands of the few is proportional to the overall benefit that they provide for everyone as a result of their reward. [...] I believe there's an optimal threshold of doing both that an unfettered market mechanism, where success makes it easier for you and failure makes it harder for you, fails to deliver.

However, it is true that this threshold is variable.[...]

I don't have much to add here, but wanted to acknowledge that it is a good way of framing things. I also liked the point that it changes over time and by circumstances. In hard times, we might think of the external world of scarcity as playing the role that a redistributionist policy would play in more opulent times: people can only get so rich, and the stochastic mechanisms of disease and the desperation of their neighbors will tend to tear them down from time to time. And since the top is pruned frequently, there is more opportunity for those at the bottom to improve their lot through hard work and ingenuity.

Whilst "the top" is much like a babbling fountain in this sense, it certainly seems that water droplets at the top of the market are continually bounced back up and those pooling at the bottom are mostly stagnant.
I don't support some kind of system where those at the top are thrown straight back to the bottom, I just think that - mechanically - the best/only way to draw up those at the bottom isn't simply to make the fountain as tall as possible.

Carleas wrote:
Silhouette wrote:I'm actually interested in the notion of in-built mechanisms that resolve "the rewards and votes no longer serv[ing] their initial function" without resorting to proposals such as "wealth tax, estate tax, and basic income as pro-market policies that strengthen the ability of market forces to allocate scarce resources".

I'm curious to hear your objections to these specific policies, and what alternatives you see. I've seen good arguments against wealth and estate taxes as unworkable, and I think a land value tax would do roughly the same thing with less overhead and less gaming.

But I also think that these policies might best be thought of as "the worst policies except for all the others". Against the alternative of systemic malfunction and collapse, somewhat onerous taxes don't seem so bad.

I believe I've come up with a compelling solution, which I laid out in a thread here.

Carleas wrote:
Silhouette wrote:The cynical part of me suspects, however, that making things better for everyone is exactly not what too many people desire. Too many people would prefer measures to keep others down, even at the cost of themselves, just to gain advantage over them by any means.

Unfortunately this seems to be how humans are wired: to care less about absolute circumstances than relative circumstances. You can see that in the modern left in the developed world, which is angry and disaffected because of billionaires, despite themselves living in a state of absolute abundance (and even relative abundance when compared with those in the third world, who are out of sight and out of mind).

But my understanding is that people aren't as upset about being worse-off when they can see the ways in which others are adding more value, e.g. if someone does more or better work, people believe they should be better compensated. As you say, making things obviously fair will help to preserve the system.

I don't like the idea that "humans are wired in some particular negative way" - it seems to me as though there's a significant variation in how different humans "are wired".
It seems to me that most humans are held hostage by pandering to how too many humans "are wired", and even rewarding them for their socio-economically unfortunate wiring.
It's only a lot of people who "prefer measures that keep others down, even at the cost of themselves, just to gain advantage over them by any means". Not all of us, by any means.

Perhaps it's the case that when it comes to the more powerful "loss aversion", humans tend to care more about "absolute circumstances", and when it comes to the less powerful "propect of gain", humans tend to care more about "relative circumstances". If there is a "human wiring", I don't think it's unfortunate that this probably sums some of it up - it seems more inevitable that all life as a whole would adopt this behaviour.

I agree that people aren't as upset if they see others being rewarded for transparently adding more value.
Why then do have so much "private business" dominating the top of this business of "adding value", where by definition nobody except lawyers and auditors can see what's going on and what makes the beneficiaries so deserving of their rewards?
The whole reason government is so distrusted by so many people is because they can actually see how incompetent people can be, and everyone is visibly accountable. That's just life though - many people are just bad, but it seems the perception of only the public sector suffers, where the perception of the private sector is that it's attracting all the best people who are therefore so much more competent and do the job a so much better - when anyone who's worked in the private sector knows there's an unmanagable abundance of incompetence and understaffing to cut down on costs (for the sake of profits) there too. Like you say about the third world being "out of sight and out of mind", it seems that the inability to see what goes on in private business (combined with some hand-wavey pseudologic) is enough to save its reputation as so distinct from the public sector.

So is it worth the privacy of the private sector just to maintain the public perception of it, if it means we can't see and appreciate the best of what goes on to make certain people so successful?
It's largely loss aversion no doubt that makes many at the top paranoid about transparency in case people might deem them unworthy of their riches.

Silhouette
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

“Everyone” knows that that corporate welfare is what makes people successful. Siphoning money from the vast poor to bail out every company that would otherwise be bankrupt otherwise.

I find it funny that the Reagan administration used to berate “welfare moms”, who added all together (combined) only make as much money as the three wealthiest people in the US.

It’s fucking disgusting.
Ecmandu
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Re: Money as Reward, Money as Vote

Ecmandu wrote:“Everyone” knows that that corporate welfare is what makes people successful. Siphoning money from the vast poor to bail out every company that would otherwise be bankrupt otherwise.

I find it funny that the Reagan administration used to berate “welfare moms”, who added all together (combined) only make as much money as the three wealthiest people in the US.

It’s fucking disgusting.

Actually this statistic sounded impressive. It’s not!

The three wealthiest people in the US own more wealth than the bottom 120 million people (not including homelessness!)

What this means, is that the top three wealthiest people in the US own more wealth than the bottom 1/3rd of the US population!!
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