Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The First Trillionaire?

Yes, I know there is no trillionaire, at least not yet. Perhaps there will never be. A trillion is a thousand billion. That’s really a lot of money. But as there seems to be no limit to the amount of money Americans believe it is proper to have (earn, possess, accumulate), it is certainly theoretically possible for someone to become a trillonaire, so is it only a matter of time before our first trillionaire emerges?
 When I was a lad, in fact long after I was merely a lad, there was no such thing as a billionaire, millionaires, yes, billionaires no. In fact no one ever even spoke about billionaires. Billionaires are a recent phenomena, like computers, the internet or cell phones. And, as there are now not only billionaires, but also quite a few multi-billionaires (up to at least 50 billion), it seems that now this is  somehow considered right and proper, capitalism, you know.
Like so many other things about contemporary American culture, I do not understand this tolerance for allowing individuals to amass such huge fortunes. First of all, it seems to me to be entirely pointless as no one could possible need that much money. As money can only be accumulated through profit, and as profit can only be made by exploiting labor or the environment, or both, the accumulation of so much wealth obviously has had deleterious effects upon someone or somewhere. Those who accumulate even more profit simply by using money to make more money are only exploiting labor and the environment at a slightly more abstract level.
A more important reason than the basic absurdity of any one person having a billion or more dollars, is the fact that such an unequal distribution of wealth in a population (nation, country, community, society) is terribly dysfunctional. Over time, in a society when unlimited wealth can accumulate in the hands of one or few individuals, it is inevitable that the rich will grow richer and the poor will become poorer. We are seeing the effects of this right here in the U.S. at the moment. The number of poor people increases, more and more people are forced to live in poverty, the situation becomes more and more intolerable, and this leads often to (sometimes terrible) revolutions, or at the very least to widespread misery and unpleasantness for the vast majority, a most difficult situation for a society to succeed and continue to thrive over time. We are seeing at the moment how the flow of unregulated huge sums of money are influencing our politics, think of the Koch brothers and the billionaire who just donated 5 million to Gingrich to try to bring down Romney. Just image what a Trillionaire would do! Trillionaires or not, this is not a system that can be allowed to continue.
What truly amazes me is the apparent tolerance for this situation on the part of so many. Aside from monarchies or dictatorships this extreme inequality is not usually allowed to exist. In smaller, more traditional societies the possibility does not even exist. If a leader, headman or chief, attempted to accumulate wealth just for himself, he would quickly lose his position if not actually be killed. Inequality on the scale we now experience it is a result of industrialization, the loss of tradition, capitalism, and the institutionalism of money as a medium of exchange, coupled with the idea of interest. When the possession of money leads in and of itself to the creation of more money it is inevitable that those with money will accumulate more of it and those without it will remain poor. One obvious solution to this situation is to tax heavily what we now know of as capital gains. We, however, tax capital gains at a lower rate than we tax labor, a situation so pathetically stupid as to stagger the mind. Similarly, to control inequality it is necessary to tax the wealthy more heavily than others. Remember, for example, that during the Eisenhower administration the tax rate for the truly wealthy was 90%. Now, with taxes at their lowest in decades, the wealthy are resisting even a 3% increase in their taxes.
Willard Mitt Romney, almost surely to become the Republican candidate for the Presidency, is the poster child for the form of unregulated capitalism we have now adopted, the system that is slowly destroying our country. He believes that corporations are persons, that unlimited fortunes are fine, that labor is just another commodity that can be disregarded entirely when it comes to making a profit, and that essentially the poor are irrelevant. He denigrates European societies for their “socialism” with little or no understanding of social democracy. He insists that these socialist countries take money from those who have and spread it out equally to everyone, apparently unaware there are extremely wealthy people even in social democracies. He also has now said that if you criticize the wealthy it is because you are envious or jealous of their wealth. I am not envious or jealous of their wealth, I am outraged about it. I can assure you that had I wished to become wealthy I would never have become an anthropologist or an academic, and I am certain that the millions of people who become teachers, plumbers, firemen, policemen, scholars, mechanics, and whatever did not pursue those activities out of a desire to become wealthy. Romney, born to wealth, jokes about being unemployed or having worried about getting a pink slip, demonstrating that he has no understanding of the lives of ordinary people, and is completely out of touch with ordinary Americans. He has been accused of being a “Vulture Capitalist,” a description I believe to be true. With a fortune estimated at a measly quarter of a billion dollars, he probably regards himself as poor. People with large fortunes do not create jobs, they create profits, profits that come from exploiting labor and the environment, they are basically parasites, sucking the blood of labor and resources out of the environment. Hungry and out of work, Eat a Republican!

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