We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it.Hawking starts by saying that he has lived his life in an "extraordinarily privileged bubble". Well, I am pretty sure that given his disease, billions of commonsense people in the world would disagree with that statement. But most of them would agree that he has lived on a very tall and isolated ivory tower.
Hawking sees the Brexit referendum and Trump's victory (which won't be supplemented with Hofer's victory in Austria – the leftist candidate will win – but maybe with a finger to Renzi in Italy today if we're lucky) as the public disapproval of his political beliefs and acts, too. I think he's sort of right, too. Then he incoherently and superficially mixes several buzzwords about "assorted problems of the present world" that may lead to a planetary problem (including the replacement of workers' labor by robots) and proposes that a greater global redistribution of wealth is what we need.
Please, give me a break with this garbage.
First, the title is just plain rubbish. This is not the most dangerous time for our planet. The times of the world wars were more dangerous. And so were the years after the Second World War when another global, nuclear conflict could have easily exploded. The present is also less dangerous than various moments in the history when pandemics were devastating all of Europe, and so on.
It's fashionable to say that "the present is the most XYadjective in the history" – and yes, even physicists are writing this kind of a sentence into their articles and grant applications all the time – but a sensible person who sees beyond his nose realizes that this sentence is just a lie – a cheap trick to create hype and interest in the speaker's or writer's claims. From most perspectives, our present era is not exceptional.
When it comes to the overall amount of wealth, our era is an average one: We're richer than we were yesterday but poorer than we will be tomorrow.
The "exceptionally dangerous times" in the title have been discussed at many places but it was the subtitle saying "inequality is destroying the world" that made me remember Feynman's encounter with left-wing cranks at interdisciplinary conferences. Some nice stories were described in Is Electricity Fire?, a section of Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman.
There's a lot of fun stuff there but let me pick this segment:
...There was a special dinner at some point, and the head of the theology place, a very nice, very Jewish man, gave a speech. It was a good speech, and he was a very good speaker, so while it sounds crazy now, when I’m telling about it, at that time his main idea sounded completely obvious and true. He talked about the big differences in the welfare of various countries, which cause jealousy, which leads to conflict, and now that we have atomic weapons, any war and we’re doomed, so therefore the right way out is to strive for peace by making sure there are no great differences from place to place, and since we have so much in the United States, we should give up nearly everything to the other countries until we’re all even. Everybody was listening to this, and we were all full of sacrificial feeling, and all thinking we ought to do this. But I came back to my senses on the way home.Richard Feynman was obviously driven up the wall by the stupid extreme leftists as much as your humble correspondent. But what is remarkable is that the content of the speech (in the early 1950s) that had made Feynman shaking – I've highlighted a part of the sentence by the bold face fonts above – was basically identical to Hawking's article in The Guardian. We're living in the most dangerous epoch for the whole planet and it's the inequality that decides about our survival and we must therefore redistribute the wealth.
The next day one of the guys in our group said, “I think that speech last night was so good that we should all endorse it, and it should be the summary of our conference.”
I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries—that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time.
The conference made me so nervous that a girl I knew in New York had to calm me down. “Look,” she said, “you’re shaking!..."
Feynman knew why this stuff was and still is garbage. Poverty is the default state of affairs and on the contrary, it's growing wealth that is exceptional and requires some conditions to be fulfilled. Most importantly, the growing countries require the concentration of the capital which allows the appropriate people to invest into technology and education which create systems and facilities that are capable of producing the wealth and those are more important than the wealth itself!
So the inequality in the wealth is just a symptom of the actual, much deeper inequality in something else – the infrastructure, the concentration of the capital in the past, a free capitalist system that encourages the work that improves the society, education, and, even more deeply, people's skills and will to educate themselves and do things that are useful for humans in their environment (e.g. their consumers) and/or mankind as a whole. Most of the mankind's wealth didn't exist to start with, wasn't created by a theft from other humans, and it cannot be produced by redistribution. Redistribution is just a zero-sum game. Well, too much redistribution is really a negative-sum game because it discourages the people from working hard and creating new wealth.
The Jewish speaker at the conference that has angered Feynman has apparently misunderstood all of these things, he misunderstood his age and the world in general. And it seems that Stephen Hawking misunderstands them, too. His diagnosis has nothing to do with the actual one – and for these reasons, his recipes are equally misguided. To some extent, you could say that they're just "orthogonal" to the correct diagnosis and sensible recipes. But I would say that they are almost exactly opposite to each other.
You may see that Feynman has praised the machinery that produces the wealth and the #1 precondition for this machinery is the concentration of capital. But the concentration of capital is basically synonymous with inequality, something that both the Jewish leftist at Feynman's conference as well as Stephen Hawking present as the #1 illness! So the leftists' #1 culprit is basically the same as the sensible people's #1 hero responsible for the progress in the world.
For some years, there have been reasons why I didn't consider Stephen Hawking to be a standard obnoxious leftist. Maybe it was because I didn't see how his facial muscles move when they respond to various statements about politically sensitive issues. And maybe it was because there is one part of the left-wing orthodoxy that Stephen Hawking doesn't parrot. I still think that Stephen Hawking is no feminist. He is not afraid of informing a stupid feminist journalist that she's as stupid as a poultry emitting a stream of consciousness and, unlike the toxic feminists, he does believe e.g. that a successful man like himself should naturally be entitled to a better access to females.
But if you look at the majority of the political questions, Stephen Hawking is just another rank-and-file leftist. And he is perhaps more radical or fanatical than the average obnoxious leftist – especially when it comes to the global fearmongering and the need for a global government and global redistribution.
Who deserves to be called "elites"?
In his article, Stephen Hawking has used the word "elites" five times. This is a problematic word because there's no clearcut definition of it. It's some sort of exceptionally successful or exceptionally gifted people but what sort of a success or talent should count? Hawking has made it clear that he considers himself to be a part of the "elites" and I do agree that every sensible definition of the word would include him.
However, he also says that it's important now how the "elites will react e.g. to Trump's victory". What is it supposed to mean? Doesn't Donald Trump belong to the elites themselves? Surely both I and Peter W*it think that he does belong there. And it's not just about Donald Trump. Trump is picking a cabinet and it is a star team of a sort. There are surely lots of very wealthy and successful people. Trump's cabinet is likely to be much more filled with elites than Obama's cabinet or the previous administrations.
For this reason, it's really bizarre to ask "how the elites are going to react to Trump's victory". The elites are reacting by taking over America from the other people who were not as great elites.
It seems obvious that the only interpretation of the word "elites" that makes all Hawking's statements about "elites" meaningful is an interpretation that considers the people "elites" if they agree with the extreme left-wing political garbage underlying Hawking's essay – and perhaps some left-wing garbage that is even more pathological than that.
I am sorry but an overwhelming majority of these people aren't elites. Over 99.99999% of the people who believe that wealth should be redistributed globally didn't discover the black hole radiation as the first pioneers and well over 99.9% of them don't have a clue what this radiation actually is. A more extreme majority couldn't even write a wrong paper such as the recent Hawking-Perry-Strominger paper.
It makes no sense to call them elites just because they parrot some left-wing ideological garbage. They're not elites. Many of them could have been getting a pretty good salary – like "scholars" in pseudoscientific Departments of Women's Studies – but it wasn't because they were elites at any moment. It's because many powerful people – elites – have distorted the financial flows for their non-elite ideological soulmates to benefit. I hope that in four years, it will be much more reasonable (because it should be) to discuss whether a feminist "scholar" who has never learned anything useful or valuable starves to death than whether she is a member of the "elites".
As I mentioned, the revolution against the bogus elites has a chance to continue. Today, Austrian voters failed to choose a right-wing president in a revote. The patriotic Norbert Hofer had a slightly over 50% chance to beat his green/independent left-wing foe but with just 47%, he lost. But in Italy, socialist prime minister Renzi decided to grab some extra power that has belonged to the regions so far. The today's referendum is deciding whether the Italian voters agree with Renzi's reform. He even threatens that he will resign if the result is "No" – and both common sense and polls indicate that it's more likely to be a "No" than "Yes".
By the way, the hysteria surrounding the Italian referendum is amazing, too. At most, an unlikely attempt of a leader attempting to grab more power will be rejected. What's the big deal? And if he decided to resign because of that, it's not a big deal, either. In post-war Italy, a new government was created every 1.2 years in average. So why should it be any different now? Yes, the next Italian government could be composed of the people who could return to liras. But if they do so, it won't be crazy. It will be a plan supported by lots of people who know what they're doing, who don't want everything to collapse, and whose representatives will have to work hard to make their new system work. But even tonight, we will be far from Italy's exit from the Eurozone.
And I think that a system in which Italy – and probably other traditionally inflating countries – have their own currency or currencies would be more effective than the Eurozone as we know it today. Also, I think that if the Euro were only used in a smaller area that excludes Italy (and perhaps other countries such as the failed state of Greece), it should rationally strengthen, not weaken, because such a Euro would be much closer by its composition to the old hard currencies such as the German mark. But too many people brainwash others – or are brainwashed – and despite the empirical falsification of the claims that the Brexit Leave result or Trump's victory amount to a global catastrophe, they still spread the rubbish that any success of politically incorrect folks is equivalent to a collision with a huge asteroid.
Update: While the Austrian left-winger won 53-to-47, the Italian referendum ended with a clear "No", 40-to-60. The prime minister resigned. Arrivederci, Renzi. You may check that Renzi hasn't gotten any good press on TRF. ;-)
Hawking's essay is interesting, he is a good writer, and references to his very special life always bring some added value. But ideologically, the text is full of nonsense that is basically identical to the nonsense that ideologues were offering at crazy interdisiplinary conferences more than half a century ago. On the other hand, there's also a lot of tendentious language that will lose relevance quickly, e.g. the identification of various people who were excessively visible during Obama's (and many previous) years as "elites". Many of them were seeing themselves as "elites" because they incorrectly assumed that the likes of Obama and Hillary would reign forever.
Although Hawking is a political genius in comparison e.g. with Terry Tao, it's still disappointing for a physics genius to display this kind of a mediocre political intelligence that could turn him into another blogger at the Daily Kos or a host of the Young Turks.