Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rich Shall Always Be With Us (2010)

Wealth of Individuals

The American Dream: Only a Few Good Men Need Apply. 
Photo Credit: Ramy Majouji, 2010

The rich are different from you and me
—Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s
The Great Gatsby (1925)

In an earlier post, I wrote how the poor shall always be with us. A good friend of mine, Sheldon, after reading the article, remarked, "The rich shall always be with us." That was astute of him.

And, of course that is true. And when one thinks of rich (and powerful), one's mind naturally turns to Wall Street, that symbol of plutocracy. Consider the report in last week's Globe & Mail, a Big Business booster, which essentially says that Wall Street has not changed its ways (see Wall Street has changed, or has it? by Joanna Slater):
For some experts, such jockeying is a dismaying sign. They consider it proof that Wall Street  hasn’t changed very much despite its near-death experience two years ago, when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy, sending financial markets into chaos.

Trying to change Wall Street’s behaviour through legislation has a poor track record, says Charles Geisst, a finance professor at Manhattan College who wrote a history of the industry. “The traditional way to [get around it] is just to devise new financial instruments that aren’t covered under the regulations,” he says.
So, if money is to be made, the wealthy and powerful will find ways to circumvent the intended meaning of the law. Such not only speaks of arrogance but unfettered greed. It also speaks of giving too much credence to wealth and the acquisition of money. To which end? one must ask.

Wall Street Meeting Place: Thousands gather at the Subtreasury Building on Wall Street In New York City during Armistice Day, 1918. 
Photo Source: New York Times photo archive, 1918.
Money has no inherent moral value. An instrument to purchase goods and services, money is a highly emotional symbol, notably in a society that uses money (or lack thereof) as a base to measure an individual's value (hence the term Individual Net Worth). For the super-wealthy and -privileged, unfettered access to more money is their goal, their right, they say.

For an excellent analysis of how out-of-touch Wall Street has become, read Paul Krugman's op-ed piece in The New York Times, The Angry Rich.  Prof. Krugman, a Nobel laureate in economics, gives  a sense of how blinded to reality these plutocrats have become. These entitled ones have become caricatures.

The rich shall always be with us, no doubt. But what is questionable is whether the Wall Street examples of avarice and hubris contribute fairly to society's betterment. (And, more important, should people be richly rewarded for failure.) If greed is one of the primal forces driving most of the workers on Wall Street, it speaks of a society that is poorer for it.

One would hope that the finer feelings of courage, kindness and justice would become more prominent in a financial world that some says is ruled by Social Darwinism. Whether that would ever happen is an open question.

Which brings to mind one of the most memorable lines in film: "Greed is good," from Wall Street, released in 1987. Twenty-three years later, Oliver Stone is ready to show Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. It is slated to hit theaters worldwide on Friday September 24th.

Note: I would like to hear your stories and views on what you consider important, whether it's the economic crisis, the erosion of democracy and humanity or anything that affects the human spirit. Many of us are going through very difficult economic and trying times. The Poor, the working poor, the struggling family should not be stigmatized. You can help make a change and a difference in society. Everyone should be able to live life with dignity. I love to hear your stories.