Massive Wealth Hits Different

2020, Jul 29    

There isn’t much difference between the earth and Jupiter except mass. It’s a bit like saying that there’s no difference between a poor person and a rich person except how much money they have, which is funnily enough something people argue against. Good thing is we have no shortage of evidence arguing against this labeling of humans as ‘inherently’ poor or rich.

Even a black hole is not made of different material. It’s the same stuff as the rest of the universe, it merely has collected to a density that gives it different properties.

Wealth does pretty much the same thing. Jeff Bezos has nearly $200 billion to his name. The GDP of Nigeria is about $400 billion. There are nearly 200 million people in Nigeria, and one man has captured the equivalent of half of the productive capacity of that nation.

This is mind-boggling. We are as meat-and-breath creatures, intimately tied to our physical context. We cannot understand these large quantities but we do have some parallels to understand their power - gods, angels, spirits.

At some point, Jeff Bezos stops playing the same games as the rest of us, he will play towards the long, long game. His decisions so far have been towards maximizing wealth above all else. At every increment of his wealth, he had the option - to turn to art, cultivation of the human spirit, charity. He didn’t. He chose, at every juncture, to pursue greater wealth. This attitude, combined with the way that massive wealth is subsidized by the state, will change the landscape for millions of people with little democratic oversight.

I return to Nigeria once again - on paper, an extremely wealthy country, with oil reserves and the infrastructure to tap them. In truth, the average Nigerian is not enriched by this wealth, a classic example of the resource curse. If the Nigerian state wants to keep running, it needs to focus on raising the money to do so. In the absence of an organized Nigerian middle class which threatens to cut its support for the state based on policy actions, the Nigerian lawmakers go to whatever organization will fund them - which happens to be the oil companies. As the state is increasingly addicted to the money from oil revenues, it neglects the outcomes of its citizens, since there is little skin in the game. The massive concentration of wealth that is oil and oil extraction techniques outweighs the political power of citizens.

A massive concentration of wealth is convenient for the state - fewer stakeholders to balance. It is much easier to get a near interest free loan for $10 million once you already have assets worth $100 million. In fact, this type of loan is so easy to dispense that it has become the default method to restimulate the economy.

Whatever, it is, there is a benefit to making a concentrated version of something. If you cannot do anything else in life but produce vast quantities of pulp, that’s fine. Just take the next step to concentrate it into something intense. I’m sure someone will bend over backwards for it.