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Eliezer Yudkowsky Is a Fraud

Eliezer Yudkowsky tweeted:


What on Earth is up with the people replying "billionaires don't have real money, just stocks they can't easily sell" to the anti-billionaire stuff? It's an insanely straw reply and there are much much better replies.


What would be a much better reply to give to someone who thinks for example that Elon Musk is hoarding $100bn in his bank account?


A better reply should address the core issue whether there is net social good from saying billionaires can't have or keep wealth: eg demotivating next Steves from creating Apple, no Gates vaccine funding, Musk not doing Tesla after selling Paypal.

Eliezer Yudkowsky (EY) frequently brings up names (e.g. Feynman or Jaynes) of smart people involved with science, rationality or sci-fi. He does this throughout RAZ. He communicates that he's read them, he's well-read, he's learned from them, he has intelligent commentary related to stuff they wrote, etc. He presents himself as someone who can report to you, his reader, about what those books and people are like. (He mostly brings up people he likes, but he also sometimes presents himself as knowledgeable about people he's unfriendly to, like Karl Popper and Ayn Rand, who he knows little about and misrepresents.)

EY is a liar who can't be trusted. In his tweets, he reveals that he brings up names while knowing basically nothing about them.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were not motivated by getting super rich. Their personalities are pretty well known. I guess EY never read any of the biographies and hasn't had conversations about them with knowledgeable people. Or maybe he doesn't connect what he reads to what he says. (I provide some brief, example evidence at the end of this post in which Jobs tells Ellison "You don’t need any more money." EY is really blatantly wrong.)

EY brings up Jobs and Wozniak ("Steves") to make his assertions sound concrete, empirical and connected to reality. Actually he's doing egregious armchair philosophizing and using counter examples as examples.

Someone who does this can't be trusted whenever they bring up other names either. It shows a policy of dishonesty: either carelessness and incompetence (while dishonestly presenting himself as a careful, effective thinker) or outright lying about his knowledge.

There are other problems with the tweets, too. For example, EY is calling people insane instead of arguing his case. And EY is straw manning the argument about billionaires having stocks not cash – while complaining about others straw manning. Billionaires have most of their wealth in capital goods, not consumption goods (that's the short, better version of the argument he mangled), and that's a more important issue than the incentives that EY brings up. EY also routinely presents himself as well-versed in economics but seems unable to connect concepts like accumulation of capital increasing the productivity of labor, or eating the seed corn, to this topic.

Some people think billionaires consume huge amounts of wealth – e.g. billions of dollars per year – in the form of luxuries or other consumption goods. Responding to a range of anti-billionaire viewpoints, including that one, by saying basically "They need all that money so they're incentivized to build companies." is horribly wrong. They don't consume anywhere near that much wealth per year. EY comes off as justifying them doing something they don't do that would actually merit concern if they somehow did it.

If Jeff Bezos were building a million statues of himself, that'd be spending billions of dollars on luxuries/consumption instead of production. That'd actually somewhat harm our society's capital accumulation and would merit some concern and consideration. But – crucial fact – the real world looks nothing like that. EY sounds like he's conceding that that's actually happening instead of correcting people about reality, and he's also claiming it's obviously fine because rich people love their statues, yachts and sushi so much that it's what inspires them to make companies. (It's debateable, and there are upsides, but it's not obviously fine.)

Steve Jobs is the authorized biography by Walter Isaacson. It says (context: Steve didn't want to do a hostile takeover of Apple) (my italics):

“You know, Larry [Ellison], I think I’ve found a way for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it,” Jobs said as they walked along the shore. Ellison recalled, “He explained his strategy, which was getting Apple to buy NeXT, then he would go on the board and be one step away from being CEO.” Ellison thought that Jobs was missing a key point. “But Steve, there’s one thing I don’t understand,” he said. “If we don’t buy the company, how can we make any money?” It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison’s left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, “Larry, this is why it’s really important that I’m your friend. You don’t need any more money.

Ellison recalled that his own answer was almost a whine: “Well, I may not need the money, but why should some fund manager at Fidelity get the money? Why should someone else get it? Why shouldn’t it be us?”

“I think if I went back to Apple, and I didn’t own any of Apple, and you didn’t own any of Apple, I’d have the moral high ground,” Jobs replied.

“Steve, that’s really expensive real estate, this moral high ground,” said Ellison. “Look, Steve, you’re my best friend, and Apple is your company. I’ll do whatever you want.”

(Note that Ellison, too, despite having a more money-desiring attitude, didn't actually prioritize money. He might be the richest man in the world today if he'd invested heavily in Steve Jobs' Apple, but he put friendship first.)

Elliot Temple on September 12, 2020


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