Szpylbert’s favourite lefty rag, the Guardian, today featured an older article (“Blame the ‘bank of mum and dad’ for Britain’s growing inequality“) on their website. In the article, the columnist complains about the supposed unfairness of parents supporting their children financially.
To get things started, the columnist suggests we should get rid of terms such as “bank of mum and dad”. Instead, we are to acknowledge that this money really is unearned wealth and that passing it on is an act of rentier capitalism. Ugh! Szpylbert is allergic to being told what to say, so here’s a little comment.
First, this wealth will be quite the opposite of “unearned” in the majority of cases – it’s been earned by parents who choose to save it for their kids. Supposedly, this wealth has been built up from taxed income, so some redistribution has also taken place. Unequal? Tick. Immoral per se? Certainly not.
Second, to the ridiculous claim that giving money to children equates to rentier capitalism: here we have the usual objection from the hardcore left that having money allows people to make more money through “rental income”, supposedly without hard work – however that is defined.
The classic all-investment-is-evil argument ignores a key point, though. Since most people have access to funds through the financial markets, i.e. borrowing in one way or another, most people can also, if they have the skill (… and with hard work, perhaps?), generate returns from money. So really the criticism is that mum and dad put their kids in a better position to invest. Also no screaming injustice here, so Szpylbert’s opinion is: of course giving money to the kids perpetuates inequality. But lamenting it on moral grounds is misguided.
If the latest literature about information-based business models is anything to go by, the world of commerce is in for some big changes. Basically, the argument is that “platform” businesses (like FB or Don’t-be-evil) will beat more traditional “pipeline” businesses wherever they meet – fascinating and quite worrying! Of course, Szpylbert will keep reporting on this…
Your cartoonist sometimes gets to go to places where business strategy is discussed. Always listening carefully, Szpylbert developed a pet hate for two particularly misleading words: “ecosystem” and “democratisation”. Both are supposed to somehow sound inviting and empowering – but in reality their meaning is very different.
Ecosystems are created by big businesses to get small companies to do risky things or stuff that they think is not worthwhile. Naturally, that includes the possibility of involuntary exit from the ecosystem, a.k.a. “death”. With survival being a struggle, an ecosystem is not a happy place!
Now for democratisation. This is normally suggested to entice amateur usership of technology or something without a proper value proposition, e.g. low-cost 3D printing or blogging. Of course, there is no real commercial opportunity here for the dilettante – and the money is made elsewhere. If there’s a gold rush, don’t join it. Sell shovels!
Szpylbert’s been reading a lot of managment and economics books lately for work. One thing that is apparent is that seeking one’s own benefit usually comes at the expense of someone else. This has always been the case (think Sun Tzu’s The Art of War) and great efforts normally are made to hide this from the naïve. As the saying in poker goes, if you don’t know who the fish is, it’s you!
Hey internet entrepreneurs planning to monetize through advertising, your cartoonist’s favourite quotator (or is it a ‘quotee’?) Arnold J. Toynbee has a message extra for you: “I can not think of any circumstances in which advertising would not be an evil”. Now stop wasting everyone’s time.
An article in today’s Sunday Times cites comedian Stewart Lee, calling Twitter a “Stasi for the Angry Birds generation”. Of course, this is water on the mills of Szpylbert (who says Teutonic idioms can’t be beautiful?). Szpylbert wonders if many users simply forget that they are feeding private and privatestest information to unseen foreign concerns.
Szpylbert is annoyed with an article on artificial intelligence in The Economist (09/05/2015), claiming that there “is no result from decades of neuroscientific research to suggest that the brain is anything other than a machine, made of ordinary atoms, employing ordinary forces, and obeying ordinary laws of nature”. If your cartoonist isn’t entirely wrong, then the article is about the possibility of creating an artificial mind. However, for good reasons, a mind can only be completely unlike a machine (c.f. Thomas Nagel). It should therefore be impossible to create anything like an artificial mind at our current level of thinking...