What if billionaires hold fast to bullion as ferociously as those of modest means cling to God and guns? Assuming history survives, what if it turns out America's permanent legacy comes down to 1) adoration of money and 2) avarice for stuff? No longer the progress that lifts humankind, not heroic confrontations with earth-shaking (climate) challenges, nary a Congressional vote for the greatest good for the greatest number. Nah, instead, our image a century or two out would depress the Founders, displaced by a tiny elite grasping for the global wealth sweepstakes, an illuminati lusting not for enlightenment but stock options.
At least Egyptian pharaohs (and their slaves) left the world awe-inspiring pyramids that outlive our noblest, oldest trees. Our now faded "beacon on the hill," awash with talk of freedom, democracy and opportunity, glories now in spreading the gospel of consumerism worldwide -- indeed, the worship of wealth for wealth's sake. And until we explode this weapon of mass destruction, systemic reform of predatory capitalism will be hard going. Break down the false narrative, I say, then break open the system. After all, who but the deranged think materialism alone informs the good life? Is clinging to stuff now, or pie-in-the-sky later, what life is about? What happened to Proverbs: "where there is no vision, the people perish"?
Well, the richest aren't perishing, nor backing off their self-serving fantasy: the greater their wealth, the greater the blessings to the "general welfare," now promoted everywhere like corn flakes, iPhones and baloney. Too bad the numbers don't add up, even less so as global population increases heat the planet. Not only can't we sustain "every man a king" (thanks, Huey Long), we scoff at the earth's carrying capacity, the ultimate "collective asset." In fact, money obsessions addict with the force of drink or tobacco: sell your first business for billions, then rush for another grand prize you can't spend. "How much is enough?" asks a terrific book by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, with this JM Keynes finale: "Once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to the test of an accountant's profit, we have begun to change our civilization." Imagine, economics not merely as crude Wall Street convenience but a "moral science."
Justification by Wealth Alone
Obscene fortunes spread pandemic infections, conspicuously here via toxic "money as speech" across primary campaigns, thus election choices. Echoing the Calvinist fantasy about the favored elect, if today's billionaires didn't anoint great wealth as self-justifying, how could they defend their presumption to govern? Even without Calvinism, global tycoons assume election to special status, nothing less than "justification by wealth alone." So much for acknowledging transparent "outside levers" like employee sweat equity, community infrastructure, technological wizardry, or fossil fuel-driven commerce, let alone WS pump-priming, cheap money, dismal regulations, and regressive taxation? Even the vagaries of good luck cut through "wealth by hard work and genius alone" patter.
To support this faux religion (and real cash), the top rung now purchase incredibly cheap insurance, even when combining costs for lobbyists and campaigns. In fact, the fabulous totals billionaires spend on influence-peddling fall short of ordinary sales taxes. If the infamous Sheldon Adelson tripled his estimated $100 million, election-year payola, that would still not equal 1% of his $32 billions. Were the craven Koch Bros. to multiply their palm-greasing, they'd still fall short of 5% of total fortunes. What mischief accrues from the other 95%? "Citizens United" divided the country but unified plutocratic kingpins, legalizing this "venture capital" to secure what's "ours stays ours." Thus bad wealth distribution corrupts politics, ravages the landscape and assaults majority rule, reinforced by bad morality (the void that is "compassionate conservatism") and bad religion (wealth is salvation). A trifecta of triumphalism.
Money Equals Wisdom, Too