Captain’s Log – supplemental: This is an extra post – a brief timeout from our trek through Deneen’s new book, which continues next week. After the death of Stephen Hawking, some writers cited a flippant Hawking comment to assert that Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology is making wealth inequality so bad that more redistribution is necessary – IT IS NOT! We argue this point here every week and will continue to do so for many years to come. Why? Because it’s your (my client’s and family’s) wealth that would be confiscated – and this is not just a defensive self-interest point; radical redistribution is rationally and morally wrong and would have drastically dire unintended consequences.
Here’s the Stephen Hawking quote from an internet question and answer session (not from a well-reasoned or researched book or article):
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”
The economic problem (Hawking was a brilliant scientist, not an economist or lawyer) is his use of the word “distributed” – it implies a central planning authority empowered to decide how much wealth to steal and then dole out to the masses. If you confiscate wealth from the “machine owners” they will stop inventing new machines and the old ones will become obsolete. You can only confiscate the fruits of wealth; wealth itself is entrepreneurial innovation and production in the free market. Hawking touted the potential benefits of A.I. for humanity in alleviating poverty but warned of the danger of “new ways for the few to oppress the many.” The greater dangers for humanity, however, lie in new ways for the many to oppress the few. Fortunately, the U.S. Constitution, our legal and economic systems protect us from redistributive tyranny of the majority.