CBS on the superrich and limitarianism

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 23, 2022

We were having birthday cake with my youngest son who turned 14 today, when CBS aired an item on the Sunday Morning Show for which I was interviewed. The item was on the question whether one can be too rich. As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve written a couple of papers (this one being open access) and more journalistic pieces (e.g. this) that we should answer this affirmatively. So now CBS decided the idea deserved an item, and I think they did a great job in putting several different relevant concerns together in a mere 8 minutes. It can be watched online here. (I believe they could have found more vocal opponents of limitarianism, but I guess these voices get plenty of airtime elsewhere?)

Abigail Disney has a line of critique from which I’ve so far tried to steer away – namely that becoming superwealthy changes a person and their character for the worse. That resonates with some of the findings in the intriguing book by Lauren Greenfield, Generation Wealth. Although I wrote very briefly (in Dutch, alas) on the scientific studies that we have that suggests that extreme wealth concentration might lead to unhappier people than being moderately well-off, I am hesitant to write more about this, for two reasons. One is that arguing that they are less happy and that therefore they should not be so rich is quit paternalistic (and most approaches in political philosophy and social ethics reject paternalistic arguments). Still, it also affects their children, so the paternalism objection might be less strong than at first sight. Arguing that they become less virtuous (read: bad people) is something that I cannot say since I haven’t tried to find the relevant studies (if they exist); moreover, it also seems a non-starter if we want to engage in a political debate that should include those that are superrich, or that defend the superrich. The other reason why I haven’t gone down this road so far is that I think the other arguments for limitarianism are strong enough in themselves to carry the claim – why then introduce a more contentious one, except if the evidence were to be overwhelming?

I don’t think I’ve announced on this blog the other news I have on limitarianism, which is that I’m writing a trade book on the topic, which is under contract with Allen Lane/Penguin (for the UK), Astra (for North America), and translations secured in Dutch, German, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish (the magic that working with an agent does!). The manuscript is due after the (Northern Hemisphere) Summer, so I’ll be having more posts on this matter over the next months.



oldster 01.23.22 at 7:55 pm

Very cool!
Limitarianism seems like a view that absolutely deserves a place in debates over inequality and the future of capitalism. So, thanks for advocating for it publicly.


Matt 01.23.22 at 8:25 pm

I’m fairly skeptical of the limitarian view as such (though I think that, in practice, somewhat similar results would follow from a number of plausible political views.) But it seems to me that a problem with the claims that we should limit people’s wealth because it’s good for them (or their kids), either in terms of their virtue or their happiness, is that we can almost certainly make just as strong of cases about a lot of other “views on the good” or practices that we have good reason to not want to limit, since doing so would be ill-liberal. (That’s short-hand itself for a number of arguments, of course.) Of course, if there are compelling public-reason acceptable reasons to put an over-all cap on wealth, we should be glad if this also doesn’t hurt the particular people’s well-being, and maybe helps it, but it doesn’t seem like that would be a good reason on its own in a society that wanted to be liberal at all.


Gareth Wilson 01.23.22 at 8:57 pm

“Abigail Disney has a line of critique from which I’ve so far tried to steer away – namely that becoming superwealthy changes a person and their character for the worse.”
But having $120 million dollars is fine for her, right?


Ingrid Robeyns 01.23.22 at 9:19 pm

Matt, on your general point – Robert Huseby has written a paper that’s forthcoming in the Journal of Political Philosophy arguing that, from a philosophical point of view, limitarianism is not needed if we have sufficientarianism and egalitarianism. I’ve written a response; both papers will be out any day now in Early View. When writing my response, I felt it impossible to not address the question what we want from a theory of justice, and what we want from normative political philosophy – and I think I have rather non-mainstream views on that matter. Happy to write another post on that when those papers are online.
I see the pull of not wanting to be paternalistic towards the rich themselves (that’s been my view so far too), but I don’t think we can extend this “illiberalism objection” to what it does to their children.


Ebenezer Scrooge 01.23.22 at 9:34 pm

There are some good reasons for introducing a more contentious argument into any debate. Lawyers do it all the time. First, you can never quite tell which argument will work with any particular interlocutor. Second, the contentious argument makes your better ones look more reasonable, especially if you can foist the contentious argument off on a third person. Finally, a contentious argument can sometimes make your opponent look more unreasonable than you, especially if the contentious argument is designed to elicit sputtering rage.


Chris Armstrong 01.23.22 at 9:55 pm

Being wealthy might end up being bad for rich people, but I think that would come very far down the list of objections to it. I don’t think my overall views about extreme wealth change very much whether I think of them as being very sad or very happy. It’s just one person, who could give away their wealth if it bothered them so much (as some do). I think it’s probably a mistake to focus on their lives, even if we seem to be fascinated by them. The point is the outsized impact on the planet, and the hogging of resources that could help many other people. (I suspect I’m probably agreeing with you here, Ingrid).


Alex SL 01.23.22 at 10:32 pm

Even if it can be demonstrated academically, it seems unlikely that “it makes them less happy” will carry the day as an argument in the public space, both because it won’t feel right to many people and because happiness is rather subjective.

The two most salient issues are fairness and power.

Although there are more than enough billionaire fanboys on social media who will argue that any kind of obscene wealth is defensible because that person had a great business idea or provides a service, most of us intuitively understand that billions of dollars are always a vastly disproportionate reward for whatever a single person can achieve in their lifetime. At any rate the absurdity of the argument can be demonstrated with thought experiments. Where do they draw the line: would it be fair for, say, the inventor of the internet to own 10% of all property on the planet? 50%? 99%? If the answer is anywhere below 100%, they have accepted limitarianism in principle and are merely haggling about the number.

The corrosive effects of extreme inequality on democratic legitimacy are even easier to understand. Again with the caveat that there are libertarians who simply don’t care about that in the first place, but again every half-way sane and honest person would have to concede the principle if asked whether they think a society could still be healthy and make good decisions if e.g. a single person owned all newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, and social media networks.


Chetan Murthy 01.23.22 at 11:21 pm

Gareth Wilson: “Being a heroin addict is really bad for you, but I’m one of the few who can consume it in moderation: I’m totally not addicted.”

We can believe the first part without believing the second, grin.


Chetan Murthy 01.23.22 at 11:23 pm

Sorry, in my last comment, I should have added “Shorter Abigail Disney: ” right after “Gareth Wilson: ” — I was responding to and agreeing with him.

Let me try again:

Gareth Wilson: Shorter Abigail Disney: “Being a heroin addict is really bad for you, but I’m one of the few who can consume it in moderation: I’m totally not addicted.”


John Quiggin 01.24.22 at 12:08 am

Standard utilitarianism (with a plausible specification of declining marginal utility of income) gets you a fair bit of the way to limitarianism. It implies that those wtih high incomes and wealth should be taxed (almost) up to the point where revenue is maximized, and that a lot of predistribution (institutions that reduce the inequality of pre-tax income) is desirable.

Going beyond the utilitarian position implies reducing top incomes and wealth even when there is a net cost to the rest of society. One way to justify that is the idea discussed in the OP that being wealthy is bad for the rich. But even leaving aside the paternalism objection, do we really want to forgo tax revenue in order to provide therapy for the rich?

It seems far more sensible to stick to the point about limiting political power. At the national level that would set the bar pretty high – billionaires have enough money to exert personal influence, multimillionaires not so much, especially when compared to corporations. But locally, things are more complex.


Matt 01.24.22 at 12:57 am

Thanks for the info on the forthcoming JPP papers, Ingrid – that sounds interesting and I’ll look forward to seeing them. I’m not sure if I agree with this, though:

I see the pull of not wanting to be paternalistic towards the rich themselves (that’s been my view so far too), but I don’t think we can extend this “illiberalism objection” to what it does to their children.

Isn’t it pretty plausible that, say, some religious beliefs will be at least as likely to make the children of those who hold them unhappy and less well off as being very wealthy would? It seems plausible of lots of other variation in parenting, too. And given that it’s pretty clearly not certain that being very wealthy makes people worse off, I don’t see how we’d make a clear distinction here. Families, parents, kids, and the like are pretty hard issues to deal with in politics, it seems to me, but I can’t see how this is an area where we should feel more sure than in areas where we don’t allow intervention.

Ebenezer Scrooge said,
Second, the contentious argument makes your better ones look more reasonable,

This is an interesting claim to me, especially with the invocation to lawyers, because it’s always had exactly the opposite effect on me – if I see someone making some arguments I think are okay, and also some that I think are pretty clearly bad, it makes me question the ones I liked at first, and wonder if maybe they are bad, too. After all, if you have the good arguments, why bother to make bad ones? When I was a law clerk working for US Federal Judges this was always how I felt when I read lawyers including obviously bad arguments along with their good ones – it didn’t make the good ones look better, it made all of them look worse. But maybe I’m idiosyncratic on that point.


nastywoman 01.24.22 at 6:57 am

‘But even leaving aside the paternalism objection, do we really want to forgo tax revenue in order to provide therapy for the rich?’

No –
as it seems to be far more… ‘practical’? – to make sure that on the way to ‘becoming too rich’ there are as many limitations as possible instead of trying to ‘limit’ an already ‘far too rich Billionaire’. And so – all these ideas of utmost ‘progressive taxing’ or to let a ‘Boss’ not earn more than 12 – or 10 – or even only 6 times what his workers earn will have a very much desired ‘therapeutic effect’ in order to make some unhappy rich much more happy –



J-D 01.24.22 at 10:42 am

It seems far more sensible to stick to the point about limiting political power. At the national level that would set the bar pretty high – billionaires have enough money to exert personal influence, multimillionaires not so much, especially when compared to corporations. But locally, things are more complex.

It occurs to me that this is an argument against devolution and in favour of centralisation: Lawrence Wainwright (A Very British Coup) may be, in principle, just as susceptible of corruption as George Hasnakov (Grassroots), but his susceptibility will probably be less taken advantage of because his price tag is higher.

When writing my response, I felt it impossible to not address the question what we want from a theory of justice …

I’m not sure I want anything from a theory of justice. I’m not sure I want a theory of justice. I might need to think about the issue a bit more.


John Quiggin 01.24.22 at 11:36 am

Matt @11. You’re not alone. The kind of argument routinely mocked when put forward by climate deniers, running through
1. The world isn’t warming
2. Humans aren’t causing it
3. It’s beneficial
and ending with
4. It’s too late to do anything about it

is, as I understand things, considered a perfect example of legal reasoning.


roger gathmann 01.24.22 at 11:58 am

Your point about the 100 million dollars is well taken. That is an enormous amount of money! And if you shrank every billionaire’s stash to 100 million, it really wouldn’t matter to their material circumstances. It would of course cut off what the money is for – power – to a certain palpable extent.
Which is why I like the idea of limiting people’s fortune to some multiple of the medium household wealth. Rich people can stay rich, but not super-rich. Which would be a blessing for all of humanity.
Also, those slackers would have to work harder to keep their millions. It would be good for them! Less time driving about on yachts, more time, I don’t know, sitting in a spacious office wondering how to get underlings to kiss your ass in a whole new way.


steven t johnson 01.24.22 at 1:43 pm

I’m so far behind I’m still lost on the question of who is going to set the limits, and how? How much the limits should be seems to be a question for the advanced student.


Tom Hurka 01.24.22 at 6:19 pm

I think the argument about wealth and virtue has been made before, something about a camel and the eye of a needle.


Mike Huben 01.24.22 at 7:59 pm

The idea that “massive inequalities in income and wealth undermine the value of democracy and the ideal of political equality in particular”, and makes me want economic limitarianism. But I envision two problems.

First, there are TWO species that need to be subjected to limitarianism in our current system. Natural persons and corporations. Democracy and political equality will be undermined unless corporations are also limited. It doesn’t matter if the Koch brothers are personally wealthy or if they control enormous corporations worth that much: they are still politically powerful. If you address only natural persons, then corporations are still advantaged over them and I don’t see your discussion of that. Limiting corporations has problems of economic efficiency and competitiveness. However, there is an alternative for corporations: because they are not natural persons, there should be no “human rights” complaint about limited speech, privacy and political rights, let alone having checks and balances written into their charters.

Second, there is the problem of foreign wealth. We compete economically on an international playing field, and ultra-rich foreigners might have an advantage over domestically limited natural persons and corporations. I’m not sure that such unilateral disarmament would be to our advantage. For example, if only foreigners could afford to produce think tanks and their propaganda, they would have a political advantage over our own citizens the way our own rich do now. This problem might be closed off as we might close off tax havens, but I’m not going to hold my breath over action on either of those possibilities.


Ingrid Robeyns 01.24.22 at 10:15 pm

Mike Huben @ 18 – thanks, these are two very important problems (and you’re in my view spot on with seeing them as problems/big challanges).

To the second, the answer I’d give is that limitarianism could be a moral ideal, or a political ideal, or a mixture. As a moral ideal, it is obviously much weaker, but not entirely teethless; see, e.g. what MacKenzie Scott does. As long as the feasibility requirements for taxation are not met, one might opt to keep limitarianism as a moral principle, and work on tightening the feasibility issue, hence indeed close off tax havens (I gave CBS a 75 minute interview, and one of the things I told them that was not in the show is that the US, being such a big player, could show moral leadership and take a lead in closing tax havens; if the US says it is willing to do so if a large number of other countries do so too and/or massively tax money that comes back from tax havens, we might be less pessimistic. It’s also a reason why we, despite all its flaws, we can’t give up on the EU, I think – individual European countries are too weak).

The first problem you mention is one on which I’m chewing and am not sure I have found a satisfying solution so far. Many contemporary political philosophers would say “propery owning democracy” which would effectively mean limiting corporate wealth because it would be massively spread, but as a coercive policy i think that institutional proposal is even more utopian than a political version of limitarianism. I am less sure, though, that there are invitably problems of efficiency and competitiveness, since if companies become huge, the sector might turn oligopolistic, which is less efficient (in terms of consumption welfare) than a more competitive market.


engels 01.24.22 at 11:39 pm

What Tom Hurka said.

The simple reasoning I always have in mind is that anyone who has more money than they need could choose to improve or even save others’ lives by transferring the excess to them. If they choose not to, they’re responsible for that choice. The richer they are, the graver that responsibility. Convincing oneself and others that one is still a good person despite not doing so is mentally corrosive, the more so if one conceives of oneself as socialist/Christian/egalitarian/…

On the paternalism point I’ve seen the psychic harms of economic inactivity chewed over endlessly by conservatives and “liberals” with regard to benefits claimants (often, but not only, in the context of debates about UBI) but the same concerns rarely seem to be raised for the idle rich (or the idle middle class or the idle early retired). Perhaps some equality of paternalism would be in order?


Steven Kyle 01.25.22 at 12:09 am

My department interviewed a number of finance/portfolio management types a couple of years ago and one of them had experience with managing individual portfolios for very wealthy people. He said

“Rich people arent very nice and their children are worse”

As casual empiricism it rings true to me – Of all the people I have known, some rich some poor, there really isnt any corelation that I can detect (above the level at which you no longer have to seriously worry about your subsistence) between being rich and being happy. In fact, the people I know who grew up rich are mostly not all that happy compared to “normals”.

But that is just casual observation. It would be hard to quantify, but I just want to add that since I DIDNT grow up rich and therefore have a character that isnt at all deformed by excessive wealth, I am one who would benefit a lot from a million dollars. Society would too I am certain


John Quiggin 01.25.22 at 12:20 am

Ingrid @19 I don’t think spreading share ownership fixes the problem of corporate political power. The power is exercised by the managers of the company in the first instance. That can be constrained by shareholders, as recently in the case of Exxon, but the big shareholders are almost always mutual funds like Blackrock and Vanguard rather than individuals, and they rarely vote against management.

Public ownership of monopolies is a more promising response, which was part of the great reduction in inequality in mid-C20


Ingrid Robeyns 01.25.22 at 6:46 am

@Tom Hurka & @Engels: It’s a different question whether you/I/we believe this to be true, versus whether there is an argument for this in political discourse that is not merely reduced to rethorics (though (1) I don’t know whether there is an argument (rather than mere claim) in the bible – I will check; and (2) Given how in some conversations authority arguments get us further than philosophical arugments, I can see how it would be really good to refer to this in case I ever get into a conversation with right-wing Christians, Thanks!).
Still, I guess they could just say (and I’ve heard this arugment before): There is no non-ideological way to argue whether someone is “a good person” (and they don’t even aspire to be egalitarians, which they see as a flawed ideology). So in essence, they have a much, much thinner (perhaps almost non-existing) view of what it means to be ‘a moral person’. How does one debate with such persons?


Ingrid Robeyns 01.25.22 at 7:05 am

John @22 – thanks. I think the view of Property Owning Democracy also comes with some form of democractic governance of companies, which is one reason why I think it is even more utopian than limitarianism. But I haven’t thought throught this properly yet.
On Public ownership of monopolies – I can see the argument for some sectors, especially those where there is production of essential goods such as water or public transport, and/or goods that have huge externalities, like drugs/vaccines or fossil fuels (to close that production down asap, in fact). But what about very large corporations that are not monopolies?
Suppose (magic) the entire world decided to have corporate limitarianism, and corporations such as Tesla or Amazon are taxed in such a way that the government can take a majority ownership in shares of those corporations (but management is still in private hands). If the government were to be truly public-spirited and led by public values (hypothetical in many countries, I admit), wouldn’t that (together with legislative change) solve the problems of excess political power that big corporations currently have? Or am I missing something here?


nastywoman 01.25.22 at 11:20 am

and about:
‘I haven’t tried to find the relevant studies (if they exist) about the ‘paternalistic’
argument’ – and it seems to be, that some ‘German’ (Amateur?)Philosophers –
AND Einstein already conducted such a ‘study’ –
AND came out with the final verdict:

”Geld allein macht nicht glücklich”

AND even IF Marcel Reich-Ranicki added the version:
‘Geld allein macht nicht glücklich, aber es ist besser, in einem Taxi zu weinen als in der Straßenbahn“- „Die besten Dinge im Leben sind nicht die, die man für Geld bekommt.“ (Albert Einstein)
AND how about ALL these other… studies:
(Voltaire) „Wer seine Wünsche zähmt, ist immer reich.“
„Ein reicher Mann ist oft nur ein armer Mann mit sehr viel Geld.“ (Aristoteles Onassis)
„Achte auf das Kleine in der Welt, das macht das Leben reicher und zufriedener.“ (Carl Hilty)
„Reich wird man erst durch Dinge, die man nicht begehrt.“ (Mahatma Gandhi)
„Wer der Meinung ist, dass man für Geld alles haben kann, gerät leicht in den Verdacht, dass er für Geld alles zu tun bereit ist.“ (Benjamin Franklin)
„Zum Reichtum führen viele Wege, und die meisten von ihnen sind schmutzig.“ (Peter Rosegger)
„Es gibt Reichtümer, an denen man zugrunde geht, wenn man sie nicht mit anderen teilen kann.“ (Michael Ende)
„Erst wenn der letzte Baum gerodet, der letzte Fluss vergiftet, der letzte Fisch gefangen ist, werdet ihr merken, dass man Geld nicht essen kann.“ (Cree Indianer)
„Arm ist nicht, wer wenig hat, sondern wer viel braucht.“ (Seneca)
„Gut ist der Reichtum, wenn keine Schuld an ihm klebt.“ (Jesus Sirach)
„Zu haben was man will ist Reichtum, es aber ohne Reichtum tun, ist Kraft.“ (George Bernard Shaw)
„Dem wachsenden Reichtum folgt die Sorge.“ (Horaz)
„Reich sind nur die, die wahre Freunde haben.“ (Thomas Fuller)
„Geld allein macht nicht unglücklich.“ (Peter Falk)
„Man empfindet es oft als ungerecht, dass Menschen, die Stroh im Kopf haben, auch noch Geld wie Heu besitzen.“ (Gerhard Uhlenbruck)
„Es gibt Leute, die geizen mit ihrem Verstand wie andere mit ihrem Geld.“ (Ludwig Börne)
„Die Welt hat genug für jedermanns Bedürfnisse, aber nicht für jedermanns Gier.“ (Mahatma Gandhi)
„Reichtum allein macht nicht das Glück auf Erden.“ (Albert Lortzing)
„Nichts macht den Menschen so unverträglich wie das Bewusstsein, genug Geld für einen guten Rechtsanwalt zu haben.“ (Richard Widmark)
Wer seine Wünsche zähmt ist immer reich Zitat (Sirach)
Die besten Dinge im Leben sind nicht die, die man für Geld bekommt (Sirach)
„Wenn ein Mensch behauptet, mit Geld ließe sich alles erreichen, darf man sicher sein, dass er nie welches gehabt hat.“ (Aristoteles Onassis)
„Doch der Besitz verschafft Freunde. Das gebe ich zu; aber falsche, und er verschafft sie nicht dir, sondern sich.“ (Erasmus von Rotterdam)
„Edle Menschen sehen ihren geistigen wie ihren materiellen Reichtum als ein anvertrautes Gut an.“ (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)
„Wenn man genug Geld hat, stellt sich der gute Ruf ganz von selbst ein.“ (Erich Kästner)
„Es gibt nur eine Klasse in der Gesellschaft, die mehr an Geld denkt, als die Reichen. Das sind die Armen.“ (Oscar Wilde)
„Wenn du einen Garten und eine Bibliothek hast, wird es dir an nichts fehlen.“ (Marcus Tullius Cicero)“
„Wozu ist Geld gut, wenn nicht, um die Welt zu verbessern?“ (Elizabeth Taylor)
„Geld haben ist schön, solange man nicht die Freude an Dingen verloren hat, die man nicht mit Geld kaufen kann.“ (Salvador Dali)
„Lebensstandard ist der Versuch, sich heute das zu leisten, wofür man auch in zehn Jahren noch kein Geld haben wird.“ (Danny Kaye)
„Es ist nicht schwer, Menschen zu finden, die mit 60 Jahren zehnmal so reich sind, als sie es mit 20 waren. Aber nicht einer von ihnen behauptet, er sei zehnmal so glücklich.“ (George Bernard Shaw)
„Nicht mit Erfindungen, sondern mit Verbesserungen macht man Vermögen.“ (Henry Ford)
„Geld: der beste Köder um nach Menschen zu fischen.“ (Thomas Fuller)
„Der Arme rechnet dem Reichen die Großmut niemals als Tugend an.“ (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
„Geld ist nichts. Aber viel Geld, das ist etwas anderes.“ (George Bernard Shaw)
„Ein Mann ist reich im Verhältnis zur Zahl der Dinge, auf die er verzichten kann.“ (Henry David Thoreau)
„Nicht, was ich habe, sondern was ich schaffe, ist mein Reich.“ (Thomas Carlyle)
„Wenn man kein Geld hat, denkt man immer an Geld. Wenn man Geld hat, denkt man nur noch an Geld.“ (Jean Paul Getty)
„Was der liebe Gott vom Gelde hält, kann man an den Leuten sehen, denen er es gibt.“ (Peter Bamm)
„Bankraub: eine Initiative von Dilettanten. Wahre Profis gründen eine Bank.“ (Bertolt Brecht)
„Nicht wer wenig hat, sondern wer viel wünscht, ist arm.“ (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)
„Der eigentliche Sinn des Reichtums ist, freigiebig davon zu spenden.“ (Blaise Pascal)
„Je reicher einer ist, desto leichter ist es für ihn, ein Lump zu sein.“ (Gilbert Keith Chesterton)
„Die richtige Einstellung dem Geld gegenüber ist die einer begehrlichen Verachtung.“ (Henry Miller)
„Der Hauptwert des Geldes besteht in der Tatsache, dass man in einer Welt lebt, in der es überbewertet wird.“ (Henry Louis Mencken)
„Ein Haus ohne Bücher ist arm, auch wenn schöne Teppiche seinen Böden und kostbare Tapeten und Bilder die Wände bedecken.“ (Hermann Hesse)
„Die Scherze reicher Leute sind immer witzig.“ (Oliver Goldsmith)
„Sinn des Lebens: etwas, das keiner genau weiß. Jedenfalls hat es wenig Sinn, der reichste Mann auf dem Friedhof zu sein.“ (Peter Ustinov)
„Am reichsten sind die Menschen, die auf das meiste verzichten können.“ (Rabindranath Tagore)
„Kapitalismus ist die Perfektionierung, der rücksichtslosen Ausbeutung von Mensch, Tier, Umwelt und Natur.“ (Horst Bulla)
„Die unangenehmsten Reichen sind die, die nicht einsehen wollen, wie arm sie sind.“ (Ernst R. Hauschka)
„Genügsamkeit ist natürlicher Reichtum, Luxus ist künstliche Armut.“ (Sokrates)
„Wirklich reich ist der, der mehr Träume in seiner Seele hat, als die Wirklichkeit zerstören kann.“ (Hans Kruppa)
„Geld regiert die Welt zu Ende.“ (Claudia Brefeld)
„Willst du den Charakter eines Menschen erkennen, so gib ihm Macht.“ (Abraham Lincoln)
„Steigerung des Luxus: eigenes Auto, eigene Villa, eigene Meinung.“ (Wieslaw Brudzinski)
„Armut beschämt nicht die betroffenen Menschen, Armut beschämt die Gesellschaft.“ (Ruth Dreifuss)
„Wenn du einen Menschen glücklich machen willst, dann füge nichts seinem Reichtum hinzu, sondern nimm ihm einige von seinen Wünschen.“ (Epikur von Samos)
„Wenn du den Wert des Geldes kennenlernen willst, versuche, dir welches zu leihen.“ (Benjamin Franklin)
„Nenne dich nicht arm, weil deine Träume nicht in Erfüllung gegangen sind; wirklich arm ist nur, der nie geträumt hat.“ (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)
„Nur wer im Wohlstand lebt, schimpft auf ihn.“ (Ludwig Marcuse)
„Die Philosophen verdammen den Reichtum nur, weil wir ihn schlecht gebrauchen.“ (François de La Rochefoucauld)
„Das Geld zieht nur den Eigennutz an und verführt stets unwiderstehlich zum Missbrauch.“ (Albert Einstein)
„Reich wird man nicht durch das, was man verdient, sondern durch das, was man nicht ausgibt.“ (Henry Ford)
„Über die Armut braucht man sich nicht zu schämen, es gibt mehr Leute, die sich über ihren Reichtum schämen sollten.“ (Johann Nestroy)
„Friede macht Reichtum, Reichtum macht Übermut, Übermut bringt Krieg, Krieg bringt Armut, Armut macht Demut, Demut macht wieder Frieden.“ (Johann Geiler von Kaysersberg)
„Dem Geld darf man nicht nachlaufen, man muss ihm entgegengehen.“ (Aristoteles Onassis)
„Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral.“ (Bertolt Brecht)
„Die Reichen haben eine ebenso lebhafte wie unbeschreibliche Leidenschaft für Sonderangebote.“ (Francis Bacon)
„Die schlimmste Armut ist Einsamkeit und das Gefühl, unbeachtet und unerwünscht zu sein.“ (Mutter Teresa)
„Das ist das Verdammte an den kleinen Verhältnissen, daß sie die Seele kleinmachen.“ (Henrik Ibsen)
„Banken leihen dir nur Geld, wenn du beweisen kannst, dass du es nicht brauchst.“ (Mark Twain)
„Wohlstand ist eine Grundlage, aber kein Leitbild für Lebensgestaltung. Ihn zu bewahren ist noch schwerer, als ihn zu erwerben.“ (Ludwig Erhard)
„Gott hat die Armut nicht erschaffen. Er erschuf nur uns.“ (Mutter Teresa)
„Keine Festung ist so stark, dass Geld sie nicht einnehmen kann.“ (Marcus Tullius Cicero)
„Reichtum verdirbt nicht den Charakter – er macht ihn sichtbar.“ (Unbekannt)
„Wem genug zu wenig ist, dem ist nichts genug.“ (Epikur von Samos)
„Wer im Geld schwimmt, hält einen Rettungsring für eine Zumutung.“ (Ernst R. Hauschka)
„Geld nennt man heute Knete, weil man jeden damit weich bekommt.“ (Gerhard Uhlenbruck)
„Was bedeutet schon Geld? Ein Mensch ist erfolgreich, wenn er zwischen Aufstehen und Schlafengehen das tut, was ihm gefällt.“ (Bob Dylan)
„Wem nicht wenig genügt, den macht kein Reichtum satt.“ (Christoph Martin Wieland)
„Die Gesundheit ist wahrer Reichtum und nicht Gold- und Silberstücke.“ (Mahatma Gandhi)
„Der Wohlstand beginnt genau dort, wo der Mensch anfängt, mit dem Bauch zu denken.“ (Norman Mailer)
„Haben und nichts geben ist in manchen Fällen schlechter als stehlen.“ (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)
„Wohlstand ist das Durchgangsstadium zwischen Armut und Unzufriedenheit.“ (Helmar Nahr)
„Liebe ist mehr als Geld.“ (Oscar Wilde)
„Der sicherste Reichtum ist die Armut an Bedürfnissen.“ (Franz Werfel)
„Ruhm und Reichtum ohne Verstand sind ein unsicherer Besitz.“ (Demokrit)
„Geld regiert die Welt. Der Schein trügt nicht.“ (Wolfgang Mocker)
„Sich mit wenigem begnügen ist schwer, sich mit vielem begnügen unmöglich.“ (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)
„Liebe Menschen im Leben zu haben macht den Reichtum des Daseins aus.“ (Albert Schweitzer)


engels 01.25.22 at 11:56 am

How does one debate with such persons?

The hypothetical chain of reasoning in this paragraph (goodness is purely ideological etc) is the kind of thing I was referring to as the corrosive byproduct of positive self-fashioning as a rich member of a high unequal society. I wasn’t claiming I can bring them to see it is false but that it is an example of vice on their part.


LFC 01.25.22 at 5:03 pm

A quick comment or two.

I’m not familiar with the literature specifically on limitarianism — by which I mean the literature that uses that specific term — but I’d like to point out, not by way of criticism but just by way of observation, that the idea that one can be “too rich,” and/or at least that one can use excessive riches to do harm, is definitely not a new one, either in political rhetoric (cf. “the malefactors of great wealth”) or in political philosophy.

I think it’s fine to resuscitate and sharpen these arguments and fly them under a new word, limitarianism, provided one acknowledges — as Ingrid R. may well do in her work — that they’ve had earlier iterations.

For instance, the argument that “superriches can undermine political equality” (quote from the abstract linked in the OP) can be found, among other places, in Rawls (A Theory of Justice, 1st ed., p.225) where he says that if the wealthy “use their advantages to control the course of public debate,” this will cause “[t]he liberties protected by the principle of participation [to] lose much of their value….” See also Jeffrey E. Green, “Rawls and the Forgotten Figure of the Most Advantaged,” Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. (Feb. 2013).


Ingrid Robeyns 01.25.22 at 5:24 pm

LFC – yes, point very well taken – it is precisely as you mention it, and thanks for the reference to the Green article in the APSR.
The historical roots of arguing that one can have too much (for various reasons) go back a very long time; I’ve co-written a paper with Matthias Kramm where we find ideas or claims that are very similar to limitarianism (albeit often strongly perfectionist, including religious) in many historical thinkers about economics, politics, and the good life:
I certainly don’t want to claim credit where it’s not due, and try to say in every interview to press that I give that these are old ideas, [though I believe they have a renewed urgence; the post-WWII period was very differnet in terms of inequalities]. But journalists are generally not interested to publish/air such qualifiers.


LFC 01.25.22 at 6:24 pm

Ingrid – thank you for the response.


John Quiggin 01.26.22 at 7:04 am

If you define monopolies as “corporations exercising significant market power”, as I do, the set comes close to coinciding with “corporations exercising significant political power”, so nationalising or dismantling monopolies would reduce the extent to which particular corporations exercised power in their own interests, though the corporate sector as a whole would remain overly powerful

There’s the bigger problem that economic inequality reinforces political inequality and vice versa. But, as I said early on, a consistent application of utilitarianism would go a long way to redressing this.


MFB 01.26.22 at 8:31 am

If I recall correctly, worries about excessive wealth go back to Ancient Greece. The concern then was that the state would collapse as a result of worker rebellions if the excessively rich took charge of everything and ran things in their own interest. The Ancient Greeks took steps to limit wealth, but the rich found various ways around that and eventually the system collapsed in a series of imperialist wars.

Obviously there’s no danger of that happening nowadays. We have learned from our mistakes.


Tm 01.26.22 at 5:32 pm

23: “Given how in some conversations authority arguments get us further than philosophical arugments, I can see how it would be really good to refer to this in case I ever get into a conversation with right-wing Christians, Thanks!”

It sounds like you never have, then? You don’t need to try, others have. It is truly amazing how futile it is in discussion with with right-wing Christians to bring up Bible references that say in clear and plain language the exact opposite of their reactionary world view. It totally doesn’t impress them at all, and this is true even or especially for the kind who identify as “bliblical literalists” who claim to take every word of the Bible as unquestionable truth. They have absolutely no problem ignoring the parts of the Bible (or any other religious authorities) that they don’t like.


engels 01.26.22 at 7:20 pm

Just to add, I do wonder if the idea that discussions about limiting wealth must be “inclusive” of the rich may be a bit, er, limiting (it seems to lead towards the political equivalent of a herd of wildebeests trying to convince a lion to go vegan).


KT2 01.27.22 at 12:07 am

Limitarianism on prices?

“The Case for Strategic Price Policies

Jan 21, 2022

“For four decades, mainstream economists have slammed the door on the idea that the US government might intervene to manage the prices of certain goods. But this reactionary mindset has no sound basis, and today’s inflationary episode should be an occasion for reconsidering the question.”

“AUSTIN – With a single commentary in The Guardian (and an unintended assist from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman), economist Isabella Weber of the University of Massachusetts injected clear thinking into a debate that had been suppressed for 40 years. Specifically, she has advanced the idea that rising prices call for a price policy. Imagine that.

“The last vestige of a systematic price policy in America, the White House Council on Wage and Price Stability, was abolished on January 29, 1981, a week after Ronald Reagan took office. That put an end to a run of policies that had begun in April 1941 with the creation of Franklin D. Roosevelt’sOffice of Price Administration and Civilian Supply – seven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Council on Wage and Price Stability was abolished by Executive Order 12288 of Jan. 29, 1981, 46 FR 10135, 3 CFR, 1981 Comp., p. 125.


engels 01.27.22 at 1:47 pm

They have absolutely no problem ignoring the parts of the Bible (or any other religious authorities) that they don’t like.

That hasn’t really been my experience to be fair.


Trader Joe 01.27.22 at 7:22 pm

@35 Engles
I remember that strand….one of the best. Read all the way to the end for an excellent finger pointing match between CB and so called anonymous others.

As to limitarianism, I’m not buying. Clean out all the billionaires down to their last $100m and in less than a generation we’d have a different batch of plutocrats to point the inequality finger at and claim the end of democracy. I’m not arguing in favor of wealth inequality, but I’m skeptical of the claimed impacts. There has always been one monkey with more bananas and another one with a bigger stick and the rest of the monkeys make up the troop just the same.


J-D 01.28.22 at 2:06 am

There has always been one monkey with more bananas and another one with a bigger stick and the rest of the monkeys make up the troop just the same.

The theory that nothing can be done to improve the situation will always have appeal to those who don’t want to be bothered making an effort.


Gareth Wilson 01.28.22 at 2:10 am

There was an SF novel where an immortality treatment was invented, but the creators didn’t want immortal plutocrats to take over the world. So the treatment cost all of your assets, except for a million dollars. Present-day equivalent might be more like ten million. The novel argued that having a larger number of merely rich people controlling everything wouldn’t be all puppy cuddles either.


nastywoman 01.28.22 at 5:25 am

‘There has always been one monkey with more bananas and another one with a bigger stick and the rest of the monkeys make up the troop just the same’.

Now that really reminded me on the Famous Philosopher George Bernard Shaw when he wrote:
‘Bananas are nothing BUT a lot of Bananas are something completely else.

AND that’s why in every Zoo – the Zookeepers make sure that the Bananas for the monkeys are distributed evenly –
(or there is trouble and Philosophers and other people – justifiable – write books about inequality) BUT on the other hand it is true:
Once a monkey got the most Bananas – it is very difficult to take them away from him and distribute them evenly – WE GOT to start with the beginning – when the Bananas arrive at the Zoo and then the Zookeeper decides that for the day – every monkey gets just TWO Bananas.

How about that?


nastywoman 01.28.22 at 5:30 am

which reminded me:

Why would ANY Zookeeper allow that Bananas get distributed unevenly?


PatinIowa 01.28.22 at 3:09 pm

Trader Joe at 36:

“There has always been one monkey with more bananas and another one with a bigger stick and the rest of the monkeys make up the troop just the same.”

To go back to a previous thread: It seems to me that, among other things, “The Dawn of Everything” aims to demonstrate that this claim is empirically false, quite apart from its fatalistic implications.


Trader Joe 01.28.22 at 4:19 pm

“Why would ANY Zookeeper allow that Bananas get distributed unevenly?”

Because some monkeys are 50lb babies and some and some are 500lb alpha males. There’s no zoo on earth that gives both the same amount of food, one would starve and the other would have too much.
Isn’t there some trite phrase about “from each according to ability to each according to need” – nothing in there about equality and limiting, quite the reverse actually.

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