"The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle and comes out at the age of twenty-one, and he's rich!" - Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman
Is it true that anyone living in America can get rich? A popular myth which has long been circulated in everything from best-selling books to TV sitcoms says that it is. We are told that anyone in this land of opportunity can become fabulously wealthy, and what's more, should aspire to do so above all else. There is even the suggestion by some that refusing to desperately lust after wealth is downright un-American. The reality, however, is quite different. The promise of untold wealth and its associated power is dangled like a carrot on a stick, enticing the wannabe rich to keep focused on reaching for something the already rich know full well is forever beyond their grasp. It is all an elaborate deception, that is to say - a con.
The success and endurance of the money myth con is based on the fallacy that genuine happiness comes from having lots of money. And while people will sometimes pay lip service to this not really being true, no one actually accepts the denial. And how can they in a culture that idolizes lifestyles of the rich and famous and values cash more than anything else?
In Arthur Miller's timeless play, Death of A Salesman, Willy Loman is a man obsessed by the dream of becoming rich. He has bought into the myth lock, stock and barrel, and is finally destroyed by his obsession. In the end, the values he once believed to be sacred turn on him. He then chooses to blame himself for his failure, rather than accept the fact that he has been deceived, and the myth itself is the problem.
As a practical matter, maintaining the money myth con is a very effective way for the already wealthy to ensure their continued survival as a distinct and exceptional sub-culture. There is a narrative that goes something like this:
We are rich. You want to be rich. In order to become rich you must do what we do. What we do is make sure all the entitlements that go into making us rich stay in place. That means low or no taxes, fewer of the regulations on banks and industry that get in the way of even bigger profits, and keeping in place a class of citizens who act out their envy of our lifestyle by paying big bucks to buy the stuff that makes us rich and allows them to pretend they're just like us.
The rich know as long as people are convinced the myth is true, and are consumed with pursuing the illusion to the distraction of all else, there is little danger of anyone discovering the lie and disrupting the status quo. The myth also works well for justifying the unethical and/or immoral things that people (and organizations) may have to do in order to acquire and keep the source of their millions. When everyone agrees that making tons of money is the ultimate goal, the ends give easy permission to whatever means are necessary. Additionally, the rich also know that failure to maintain the deception will result in that which is most feared - namely the very thing happening now in "Occupieds" all over the country - awakened victims refusing to play the game any longer.
Aside from the basic social and financial manipulation going on, there are, of course fundamental flaws with the rationale underpinning the money myth.
First, the numbers themselves reveal that relatively few can ever actually achieve great wealth (apart from the fact that by global standards most Americans are very well off). We have become well aware of the 1/99 ratio of rich to not rich that represents the reality of life in America.
ãSecond is the fact that not everyone wants to become monetarily rich to begin with. There are some who desire to possess things other than money, and define wealth in terms of other values.
The third and most basic problem with the money myth gets to the very heart of it, namely the fact that amassing large amounts of cash simply is not the point of human existence, and therefore is not the highest good to which human beings can attain. Enlightened and revered teachers from many divergent cultures have from time to time emphasized this truth. Iconic literary and fine art works have explored and cast light on the deeper yearnings of the soul. In addition, there is the objective proof which comes directly from the inner circle itself. Men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, just to name two, have devoted their lives to accumulating vast sums, only to spend their last days on earth giving it away! There's the saying that no one on their death bed ever wishes they'd spent more time at the office. Indeed, coming to the final chapter of one's own book of life has a way of bringing a clarity never before possible: In the end, everyone is equal, same as the day they were born.
Seemingly irrational behavior such as this, namely giving away the object of one's life-long obsession, leads me to believe that the money myth con differs from the kind engaged in by the typical skilled criminal in that the former are, in many cases, themselves unwitting victims of the scheme. Indeed, it is they who spend their lives climbing the ladder of success only to find it leaning against the wrong wall.
The world's great wisdom traditions consistently inform us that the material stuff of this world is not what ultimately matters. The warnings have been posted, yet we are lured time after time into the deep end by false promises of great treasure. Indeed, money and power are intoxicating, and we are addicts all. Poor Willy Loman just couldn't understand why it seemed to work out for others, but not for him. I wonder what he would have said and done had he seen the con exposed for what it really is.