Thursday, May 9, 2013

For The Wealthy It’s Never Enough

On Acquisition

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are.They are different. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 
The Rich Boy,” All the Sad Young Men (1926)

An article, by George Monbiot, in The Guardian says something that many of us already know, namely, for the wealthy, it’s a matter of accumulating more with the aim of being on top of the heap, the king of the financial jungle, the pointed head of the pyramid. It’s getting more money for no other purpose than to be No. 1—a total waste of energy and a fool’s game. It's also, as Monbiot writes, “the politics of envy.”

For the wealthy, the greatest fear is that someone wants to take their money, thereby losing status and loss of identity. Monbiot writes about the power that money has over the monied class:
This pursuit can suck the life out of its adherents. In Lauren Greenfield's magnificent documentary The Queen of Versailles, David Siegel – "America's timeshare king" – appears to abandon all interest in life as he faces the loss of his crown. He is still worth hundreds of millions. He still has an adoring wife and children. He is still building the biggest private home in America.
But as the sale of the skyscraper that bears his name and symbolises his pre-eminence begins to look inevitable, he sinks into an impenetrable depression. Dead-eyed, he sits alone in his private cinema, obsessively rummaging through the same pieces of paper, as if somewhere among them he can find the key to his restoration, refusing to engage with his family, apparently prepared to ruin himself rather than lose the stupid tower.
In order to grant the rich these pleasures, the social contract is reconfigured. The welfare state is dismantled. Essential public services are cut so that the rich may pay less tax. The public realm is privatised, the regulations restraining the ultra-wealthy and the companies they control are abandoned, and Edwardian levels of inequality are almost fetishised.
Politicians justify these changes, when not reciting bogus arguments about the deficit, with the incentives for enterprise that they create. Behind that lies the promise or the hint that we will all be happier and more satisfied as a result. But this mindless, meaningless accumulation cannot satisfy even its beneficiaries, except perhaps–and temporarily–the man wobbling on the very top of the pile.
The same applies to collective growth. Governments today have no vision but endless economic growth. They are judged not by the number of people in employment – let alone by the number of people in satisfying, pleasurable jobs – and not by the happiness of the population or the protection of the natural world. Job-free, world-eating growth is fine, as long as it's growth. There are no ends any more, just means.
Who says that governments today are wise or even good at managing the nation’s wealth? Who says that most economists know anything about what is necessary for a nation to thrive and provide well-paying jobs to its citizens. Looking around at the level of unemployment around the world, the answer is that most don’t. And couldn’t come up with a meaningful or original idea, or strategy, if their life (or livelihood) depended on it. (One notable exception is Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist.)

Fitzgerald’s passage, which aptly describes that period, is from the First Gilded Age. We are today living in the Second Gilded Age, which might be worse in its excesses and inequalities than the first. For the most part, western capitalistic nations are led by men and women who have got sucked in to the philosophy of GDP growth (who knows why?), free markets and austerity budgets—as if a nation was just one big household. It’s not and this is a poor analogy, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.  

It does not take a doctorate in economics to know that all three measures favoured by neo-cons have fundamental flaws for good governance. And yet this foolish child’s game of  rewarding the wealthy to see who can gain more toys (or money)— played by adults with the minds of children— persists to this day and, more so, is glorified not only in the financial press, but also in the major media.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Guardian]

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