Best-Of Advice

On eating the rich

Can you explain in simple terms why you would choose to send the wealthiest .001% to the guillotine? What if they’re giving more than they’re getting?


I know it seems a bit Hunger Games-ish, but it’s actually a fairly well thought-out edict.

The premise of the question is that 1% of the world’s population has to be eliminated, and it’s up to me to do it. Okay, fine. I can work with that, but at the same time, I want to make the best of a bad situation.

Now, the premise didn’t stipulate a timeframe, so I’ll take a gracious millennium to do it. (There are several reasons for this.) First off, eliminating 1 out of 100 people all at once would be quite messy and traumatize the collective consciousness. However, eliminating 1 out of 100,000 people every year for a thousand years would barely go noticed.

More importantly, though, spreading it out over a millennium ensures that the desired effect is permanent. Now, what is the desired effect? To eliminate grotesque wealth inequality, of course.

The first year would be rather shocking. A lot of well known billionaires would end up with their heads in a basket. Obviously, a handful of them would be deeply missed, but by and large, the world would instantly become a much better place without the world’s wealthiest .001%.

Now, as the second culling approaches, do you think the remaining super-rich are gonna hold on to their wealth? Fuck no. They’re gonna redistribute whatever’s necessary to keep from losing their heads. Everyone will.

Entirely new global financial industries would spring up to automatically and inherently correct the world’s wealth inequality problem, and after a period of painful adjustment, we’d have a thousand years of relative equality where the richest person on earth would only have about 10,000 times more wealth than the poorest person on earth, or risk being sacrificed each year. (A 10,000 to 1 ratio may still seem like a lot of inequality, but on a global scale, it really isn’t.)

Obviously, there would be plenty amongst the rich and powerful who’d try to game the system through complicated trusts and schemes, but as empress of this little scenario, I would reserve the right to call shenanigans and send those folks to the guillotine.

Actually, the most interesting thing about this edict would be all the bizarre rituals, institutions, and unforeseen consequences that would spring up as a side effect of such a new world order.

It’d make for a fascinating utopian/dystopian novel.


65 thoughts on “On eating the rich

  1. PseudoIdea says:

    There is a short story with a premise quite like this: each week, the most powerful person on earth dies. I can’t remember the name or the author…

    • The Coquette says:

      There are two ways to answer this question. There’s the whole “if you want to make an omelette, you’re gonna have to break some eggs” approach to the Oprah problem, but seeing as how it’s my call, I’d probably offer conditional clemency to anyone in the .001% whose contribution to society merited special consideration. Naturally, the condition would be that they would immediately redistribute their wealth to below the .001% threshold. In other words, I’d give people like Oprah and Elon Musk a chance to do the right thing, but the Pope and Vladimir Putin would be well and truly fucked. (This is such a bizarre hypothetical. If I’m being totally honest, given that much power, I’d have a hard time resisting the urge to inflict my value system on the world.)

      • Gaybeard says:

        You would need to have a slave boy following you around whispering “you are just a (wo)man” in your ear repeatedly the way Marcus Aurelius did when he would judge cases or pronounce edicts to the masses.

      • VeryON says:

        What happens if, after the first execution, the wealth distribution shockingly equalizes itself over night? The rich all realize it’s coming and suddenly the world looks as though there are no rich people.

        • nwnk says:

          I mean, I’d call that mission fucking accomplished, but I’d also expect that scenario to be even less likely than the scenario being contemplated.

          • Perspectivator says:

            Population is still a problem.
            Seeking secondary criteria.

            Personally, I’d start with volunteers.
            If that didn’t work, I’d incentivize it, televise it and make it as acceptable as possible…heroic even.

            Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the assisted suicide show featuring local talent from your very own area. These people have been given the opportunity to contribute something far more valuable to the progress of humanity than mere money, they sacrifice their lives.

            If that didn’t work…state sanctioned stop lights would begin to malfunction.

          • Margo says:

            ?????? Your fantasy about how to go about killing a certain number of people per year is so far from the point of the thought experiment.

            Honestly, I don’t get you. Sometimes the shit that comes out of your avatar is reasonable and even thoughtful, and sometimes it is just downright vile.. And why rotate names but not avatars/emails? You give me the wiggins man.

          • Veryon says:

            I imagine the reason you have trouble understanding me is related to an inability to understand or at least recognize my sense of humor. Do you really think I fantasize about killing people? Sure, this election cycle has definitely tested my limits…but I’m harmless. At that point I believe it’s you who have a fantasy about me having a fantasy.

            The reason why my stupid avatar changes is because I log in from a stunning number of platforms. Three PC’s, a phone (sometimes two), and an ipad. I tried to clear it out by deleting it on gravatar, but it doesn’t stick. The browsers that keep the crumbs about my identity are the cause of your hallucination.

      • Gaybeard says:

        “I’d have a hard time resisting the urge to inflict my value system on the world”

        I’ve been thinking about that statement a lot the past few days. Universalizing your personal value system would, I think, make for an objectively better world. Herein lies the paradox of dictatorship. Even when you have someone “worthy” take the mantle, the main strength and weakness of the system is the personality at the top. An individual has huge blindspots that are somewhat made up for by coherency of vision, but you still run into the problem of absolute power and the frailty of having a system where control of the physical person of the ruler can be game changing.

        My conclusion: computerize your consciousness and preserve it, then add a bunch of other consciousnesses to it in order to create a super-consciousness to rule over humanity.

        • Veryon says:

          The problem with this approach runs right up against the concept that “conscious intelligence” might not actually be the most effective and successful tool for the proliferation of life. In fact, it may not even be the best strategy for the preservation of our own species.

          • Gaybeard says:

            Do we really want to proliferate any more? There’s already a lot of us.

            I don’t think we really have many other options as far as conscious intelligence goes if we want to keep our level of industrial and technological capacity and sophistication. I don’t know about you, but I love cities, but they create a metric fuck-ton of waste. People with medical needs like mine need this kind of society to survive. Back to the earth-ers have gotta be a pretty healthy bunch.

          • Perspectivator says:

            I think you missed the fork in my statement. The implication of not preserving our species might be the logical conclusion of superior life. Forget your cities. As a race we tend to be pretty arrogant about our dominance when the facts indicate otherwise. If we went by biomass I believe fungi would win, followed by bacteria? We are nowhere near the elusive goal of winning the proliferation game. We are nowhere near controlling our environment with necessary precision. And if you’re proposing that we stop procreating or stagnate, then we are vulnerable to extinction by relatively tiny cosmic or even earthly events that are a near certainty within reasonable spans of time.

            There’s no possible way for us to maintain our current status quo. We have to evolve socially faster than we evolve physically and the only good news is that seems doable. However, if the potato with asshole lips becomes president we do seem doomed. But an even far bigger concern is deforestation. Beyond that, our oceans are fucked. I am a pessimist. Even the greatest president in history might not be able to fix what we have already torn asunder. And there are literally billions of people ignorant of how precarious our situation is…a fair percentage dominate the wealth and power structure.

            have a nice day

          • Gaybeard says:

            The fate of the world is not going to change based on which muppet the United States decides to put into power.

  2. SMH says:

    Koch brothers first, amiright? There’s also got to be a sliding scale to measure the wealth against deeds. I seriously hope you are writing this story.

  3. Crisco says:

    Eliminating .001% would be actually be 1 out of every 1,000 people. Still not drastic enough to be “The Leftovers”, but many more than you are suggesting.

    • Anna says:

      Actually I think you’re right (I haven’t had any inventive need for the sum of a geometric series for years) but assuming the population growth rate is constant over 1000 years (unlikely), the total amount of ppl killed after 1000 years will be 2,7 times current US population but something like 1/1000th of the living US population in a thousand years (of course these proportions are not a good way of counting, but I’m too lazy to figure out the actual maths).
      Btw I could be wrong, my calculus is a bit dusty, and I’m counting on Google to give me the right answer to 1.0077^1000 which might be demonstrating too much trust.

      • Strangely Rational says:

        Crisco was talking about the number per year, overlooking (or being ignorant of the fact) that 0.001% is the same as 0.00001, or 1 in 100,000.

        1 in 1,000 would be 0.1%.

  4. Hello says:

    I wouldn’t dare look at population growth projections for 1000 years in the future but more likely you would be killing way more people than 1% of today’s population by doing that. Still worth it?
    Unless of course you are allowed to keep the total number fixed of deaths fixed, which would make the percentage lower every year. That would be great and one more reason to do it like that.
    Since humans are horrible I am already imagining a dystopian future of clandestine wealth and people transferring money to their enemies right before the yearly killing ritual.

  5. grouch says:

    Sending the richest 0.001% to the guillotine would have a phenomenal positive impact on the environment.

    Would you ax Bill Gates?

  6. Grim says:

    You may have some objection to this line of reasoning, perhaps you wouldn’t begrudge anyone a certain amount of wealth before adding a bit of randomness or other factors to the culling, but:

    I think this has a Nash equilibrium at $0 net worth, with the result that society would shift to accommodate the universality of a zero-savings lifestyle. Firstly, stocks and bonds etc. would cease to exist, being nothing but wealth that is traded for other wealth. Loans would also cease to exist, because no point in charging interest, and they would be abused to achieve subzero net worth anyway.

    These would have…interesting consequences. A total breakdown of economics as we know it is inevitable. Important questions would need to be answered about how work is done and resources are allocated. Maybe communism. Maybe something like Utopia à la Sir Thomas More. Maybe we would just go all Mad Max up in this bitch. Hard to say.

    • Perspectivator says:

      Oooh. I like the way you’re thinking. There would be so many ways to game the system. “What? How can you say I’m rich, my company posted a 99trillion dollar loss when we sold those ten million dollar pencils to public schools!” This lead me to my biggest concern that we would have to develop a policing system to judge the validity of wealth. Which in turn would be so large that it would be vulnerable to corruption of many types including incompetence. I’m quickly leaning towards Fmri analysis of character as a deciding factor. But still, that would be after volunteers.

      • Grim says:

        This scenario is wholly preposterous on the face of it so I’m assuming that Coquette is endowed with all the powers of Santa (omniscience, super speed) and Death for the millennium of cullings.

        As to the continued existence of companies, I’m doubtful. Public ownership is out with the collapse of the stock market. Private ownership is even more dangerous than owning stocks.

        Even worse than that, this just occurred to me, is that money is only valuable because accumulating it is desirable. When nobody saves, this leads to instant hyperinflation. In a world of rational actors, this plan stops the economy dead, as soon as it is public knowledge.

        Of course the world is not full of rational actors so it would be a slower crash. But I think it would certainly happen as soon as people died and then all the skeptics died (being the only people who held on to money in year 2)

  7. P says:

    It is impossible for them to give more than they get. They are unfathomably, exponentially richer than everyone else.

  8. Jessica Sen says:

    This is one of my favorite posts. I don’t know if I agree, I have to do a lot more thinking and reading to find my own conclusion, but it’s certainly thought provoking and also funny in a really dark way. Love you Coquette!

  9. Olive says:

    This is appalling. Fantasies of murder because you think you know the world better, what the world needs better, than the people who clearly (on the whole, see: self-made billionaires and millionaires being the majority) are only able to make money or assume any power by knowing how the world works and how to give people what people want and need? Do you understand that in this scenario you are condemning people to death because you assume they have undue negative power over others (using the random category of wealth, not crime or violence) – yet think you’d hypothetically, morally, deserve more power than all of these such people could ever dream of possessing, combined? (The power to pick and exterminate your own created category of people – here, the world’s richest – without impunity or justice – nobody has ever had that power yet as of the existence of the entire world.) Who the fuck do you think you are?

    • Perspectivator says:

      The horror of a world where someone thinks they are right! It’s terrible and brutal that someone would spend even a moment considering the criteria by which we would judge our progress and direction! The fact that anyone would make “assumptions” is a moral outrage. I am with you! Who the fuck does she think she is! And how could she possibly be the judge, especially hypothetically! Think of all the imaginary deaths for which she is now responsible! Some of those imaginary rich people might have given birth to the greatest leaders of fantasy mankind! Nobody has ever had that power over fictional characters!

      • Olive says:

        Thinking you’re right is perfectly fine in many instances. I think I’m right that Mcdonald’s has better fries than Wendy’s. Making assumptions is fine in many instances. I assume that rum will follow whiskey as the drink du jour. Considering criteria of what could make a better world is fine. It’s worth considering going to live in a small town where I would know my neighbors better and we’d help watch each other’s kids for free.

        Saying that the world would be better if we could exterminate a certain category of people is not the kind of major “assumption” that it is safe to make freely. Asserting the good of that situation assumes a moral high ground that nobody has, and assumes knowledge that nobody has. When it comes to advocation of murder of those who have on the whole committed no crime, it’s not possible to be right, and immoral, foolish, ineffectual to fantasize that you are.

        • VeryON says:

          “exterminate a certain category of people is not the kind of major “assumption” that it is safe to make freely.”

          Actually, that’s the safest assumption to make. The problem becomes delineating exactly what the criteria are.

          ” When it comes to advocation of murder of those who have on the whole committed no crime, it’s not possible to be right,”

          Can we back up to the fact that this is all hypothetical? Nobody here is anywhere near taking up arms and your definition of crime hasn’t even been defined. So evaluating your sentence ends up being circular. It’s impossible to be right about anything because I think it’s fair to say that you don’t think all laws are just.

          ” …foolish, ineffectual to fantasize…”
          Yes, we all seriously think we’re fucking changing the foundations of mankind by advocating the extermination of imaginary people under the hypothetical and poorly defined NEED to cull the population. What horrible people we are to think these thoughts instead of watching football.

          And by the way, yes…there’s solid scientific evidence that culling assholes is beneficial.

          And just because I love your dream world.
          “where I would know my neighbors better and we’d help watch each other’s kids for free.”

    • Alicia says:

      The point of this post was more that this would be a near-surefire way to force our society into working on the income inequality problem. I read it as a thought experiment, not as a promotion of murder.

    • Dots says:

      “The power to pick and exterminate your own created category of people – here, the world’s richest – without impunity or justice – nobody has ever had that power yet as of the existence of the entire world.”

      I hate to burst your bubble, but this exact thing has happened many, many times in the existence of the entire world. Sometimes it was one person, sometimes it was many who chose the victims. We’re a cruel race.

      That being said, this question seems to be taking the direction of a narrative, not a mission statement. While I understand your anger, this is a question which resonates with humans, for some reason. Consider: Hunger Games, Shaun of the Dead, Ender’s Game, a whole ton more I can’t remember right now. All focus on the question of killing a specific group of beings, be they arguably sentient or hypothetically dangerous.

      Railing against the theoretical construction of a concept which captures our minds and really makes us consider deeply the meaning of killing seems at best counterproductive. Might as well string up Jonathan Swift for his proposal.

      This doesn’t mean we should carry out the idea. It also doesn’t mean we should demonize those used as theoretical sacrifices. But even Coke herself, who first put forth this 1000-year plan (in response to a very specific question which outlined the ground rules, I might add), has debated the applicability of her own standard. Specifically, she raised the question of whether or not the uber rich are in fact benefiting the rest of mankind.

      Apparently I’m accidentally writing a dissertation. tl:dr- If wondering about mass murder isn’t your cup of tea, cool… but as long as we keep our heads, I think your concern and scorn isn’t warranted.

      • Olive says:

        You’re being more logical than Coke; my response was to what she said, not what you’ve laid out here. I can appreciate your points on that it’s a recurring thought experiment/fantasy of humanity.

        However, that’s what I’m saying. This fantasy is part of a long tradition, one that has lead to mobs and violence many times because of the breakdown of logical thought and to the breakdown of just and effectual action. This fantasy, and its associated assumptions, is a part of the human brain that keeps kicking in and which ultimately keeps kneecapping our progress.

        Also, there’s a difference between the theoretical “culling of assholes” and what’s laid out in the post above and her answer on the quick advice post before. There is a difference, and not just of scale or extremity, between ostracization (interesting origins of that word, see the greek tradition) and murder. The second assumes that you a)know everything there is to know about the costs and benefits of the existence of certain people – in this case, around the globe – , and b) that you should have the power not to fix, but kill off, and that it is better to kill.

        Also, this whole “thought experiment” is done in service of the principle that income inequality is bad, AND, that wealth is power in itself, no matter who wields it and how they wield it, AND that wealthpower is actually redistributable (i.e. the impossibly likely situation of another rapid de-equalization on non-currency terms) AND that the world would be better off after the rich were killed. Those are assumptions that are nebulous enough, debated enough, that – without further demonstration any of these principles – murder and violence could never be consciously morally committed in their name. Because wealth is not violence. But violence is violence. Violence against wealth would be therefore unjustified, which to me does not compute at its root with naturally holding morally superior views. This doesn’t mean that killing a killer isn’t justice. But conflating the categories of “the wealthy” and “specifically demonstrated murderers” is all wrong.

        For some, wealth inequality feels important and emotional. It feels like it’s deeply right – and by right, I mean, would lead to a better world hypothetically – to commit violence against the wealthy, to take away their wealth, because you feel emotionally, at your root, that wealth inequality is unfair and leads to a worse world. However, if you’re not able to prove any of those things with logic, then you’re engaging in the same type of quick emotional reasoning that abusers act under when they think they’re right to beat their girlfriend because they feel deeply that she’s cheated on him. The abuser feels better afterwards – the cheating was never demonstrated – the idea that beating is an appropriate response to cheating was never demonstrated – the situation never changes for the better – and violence was a real desire.

        We all want to justify our feelings of rage and violence that happen totally naturally in all of us by ascribing a higher purpose to them. Based on everything Coquette posted, her violence is NOT an eye for an eye, it’s not justice – its the same old banal violence against the boogeyman (jews, intellectuals, blacks, asians, catholics, protestants, our brother that hogs all the credit – if they weren’t around, then the perfect world could really start) that rises in all of us since the beginning of time – it’s only the dark side of humanity, Cain and Abel, that we all feel sometimes.

        • Veryon says:

          “This fantasy … tradition, … lead[s] to mobs and violence many times because of the breakdown of logical thought and…just and effectual action. … is a part of the human brain that keeps kicking… ultimately … kneecapping our progress.”

          Hey everybody. Fantasy leads to mobs, violence and kneecaps progress. So please, stop fantasizing. Thought experiments are not a rehearsal of logic and reasoning, they’re a subversive tool for fomenting grass roots revolutions against reason. Drop your pitchfork hypotheticals right now!

          “But conflating the categories of “the wealthy” and “specifically demonstrated murderers” is all wrong.”
          It’s probably never occurred to you that there are crimes that are not murder that maybe should be punishable by death. Like maybe lying about the environmental impact of fossil fuels?

          Personally I’m thinking we should start with everyone who posts incredibly long diatribes…oops…i’m first in line and you’re second. Let’s bore each other to tears while we wait for an open suicide booth.

        • The Coquette says:

          Olive, darling. Some of your points are valid in context grounded in reality, but what you keep refusing to do is accept the absurdity of the original question. This truly is a thought experiment, and you can put that in sarcasm quotes all you like, but it seems a bit silly for you to keep insisting that this isn’t all a ridiculous hypothetical.

          You’re going out of your way not to get the joke, and you’re claiming moral high ground that doesn’t exist. You’re also one of those annoying people who falls back on a demand for logic when logic isn’t necessary and when you don’t actually use any yourself.

          Clearly, we both like the sound of our own voices, but the difference between you and me is that your outrage is comical without being funny, and that makes you sound priggish. My outrage is tragic, but at least I know how to make people laugh.

          Please, do yourself (and all of us) a favor. Put down your sanctimony and pick up a sense of humor. You’re a smart person. I enjoy reading your comments, but there are times to take things seriously and there are times to pretend how fun it would be to burn it all down. Learn the fucking difference.

    • Strangely Rational says:

      Interesting stat from Forbes:

      “For our 29th [2015] annual guide to the globe’s richest, we found a record 1,826 billionaires with an aggregate net worth of $7.05 trillion.”

      Now let’s say at each of these people were willing to cut back to a net worth of $10 million, or still extremely wealthy. Subtracting 18,260 million is negligible and still leaves you with 7.05 trillion.

      I don’t have time to look all this up and do the math, but what if you did the same for everyone with more than ten million? How much more would that add?

      What kind of impact could that amount of money have on the world’s starving? On the rest of the poor? On societies? How many lives could be saved? It’s staggering to think about. And we could have all that if people were willing to cap their wealth at “just” $10 million.

      When you look at it that way, you have to see that the wealthiest people are putting greater importance on their ability to live in extreme luxury than they are on other people’s actual, physical lives.

      In essence, they are condemning people to death. Perhaps not by their actions, but by their inaction. I consider it to be on roughly the same moral ground to kill someone as to watch them die when you have the complete ability to save them by doing nothing more than instructing your accountant to cut a check.

      If the only thing stopping you is your desire to have millions or billions more, then yeah, I think that’s despicable. How can you defend that?

  10. Perspectivator says:

    Graybeard, make no mistake, the fate of the world can be decided by the muppet in power. All I have to do is point to Iraq and Afghanistan. if a peaceful muppet had been at the helm, the fate of millions if not billions of lives would be different to say the least. If you think for one fucking second that Cruz won’t turn back the clock on human rights and fatefully stall green initiatives beyond the tipping point for the environment, I think you’re mistaken. We may already be beyond our ability to control the environment. Nobody wants to admit that is a possibility because it’s bad for business and all you have to do to stall is say, “I think we need more data” while defunding research. The fucking EPA is a toothless squirrel theses days. And that’s all because of the parade of muppets.

  11. AlligatorO says:

    Olive – extreme wealth is violence. It is indicative of greed and those who amass the quantities Coke described are THIEVES who have used their understanding of the status quo to cement their positions of power. It is its own special type of criminality and one that I have no sympathy for. When you mentioned criminals above were you implying that they would be morally acceptable victims of mass killing? Consider that if the big THIEVES weren’t committing their greedy atrocities we might have more resources available and thereby reduce crime in many communities.

  12. Veryon says:

    Put some thought into it again. It was partly motivated by wanting to mortify people who here who run to their campus safe spaces when confronted with difficult thinky thoughts.

    I’d start with volunteers, and then move to rounding up racists. Then, start with the wealthiest racists and work down and see where that gets us. Racism is testable and quantifiable using the IAT and fmri. And I know for certain the world would be a better place without rich racists.

    So tempting to just gather up the klan.

  13. BoyFucksWorld says:

    After much contemplation I really think I would start with religious groups, particularly fanatics. Kkk…toast. Isis…toast. Basically, anyone who would kill anyone for their beliefs. The irony is not lost on me. I would make sure that our goal was reached, and then kill myself for the same reason or judgement. The last thing I would ever want is to live on as the worlds biggest hypocrite.

    I’m sorry, but if people have to die, it should be the right ones.

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