The New Robber Barons

The New Robber Barons

income-inequality-usa-06The world and in particular the United   States seems to be moving rapidly into a new age of robber barons.

A recent report from Oxfam International held a shocking stat. The 85 richest people on the planet have cornered as much wealth as the bottom half of all the people on earth. In other words, 85 people now own as much as 3.5 billion people.

Perhaps even more startling is that the richest 1 percent of the world population has about 65 times as much as the 3.5 billion poorest people. The top 1 percent has $110 trillion, compared to only $1.7 trillion shared by the lowest 50 percent of people.

Oxfam found the money was going in the same direction in all 26 countries in the study.

imagesCAT6F4KQThe income inequality trend has actually been accelerating worldwide, and especially gaining momentum in the U.S. Since 1980, the richest 1 percent of people in the U.S. has seen their wealth grow 150 percent, while 90 percent of the overall population has lost income.

More recently, since 2009, of all the wealth created in the U.S., 95 percent has gone to the wealthiest 1 percent.

How are the rich able to snatch more and more of the available resources? The Oxfam reported cited low taxes on the rich and their ability to avoid taxes through tax shelters and loopholes.income-inequality-usa-13

There’s been a lot of talk lately about income inequality, with even President Obama identifying it as a big threat. Most of the talk centers around the problem as an economic issue. But when so much wealth is concentrated among so few individuals, and people die or suffer as a result, it’s actually a moral question: Is this kind of super wealth a form of evil?

America is often labeled a Christian nation, especially by Christians and if you look at the foundation of Christianity, it’s very anti-wealth. The Bible famously states that, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” and Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple and said “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.”

So it seems strange that Christians seem to be largely silent against excessive wealth. When was the last time any Christian leader condemned the wealthy?

But forget about condemnation. Actually, just the opposite is going down. Being wealthy enough to have way more than you need to sustain a comfortable lifestyle is not only an acceptable, but widely lauded goal, in our capitalist society. Billionaires in our culture are not looked on with scorn. They are celebrated celebrities who are admired for having achieved the American dream.

One indicator of just how bad things already are is that the super wealthy have now become so powerful that they are virtually beyond the law. The financial crisis that brought down major financial institutions in the U.S. about five years ago caused tremendous loss, but the wealthy financiers who caused it are still unpunished. The government says they are studying ways to prosecute them, but nothing is really happening. Try stealing something from Wal-Mart and see how long the prosecutors study on whether to throw you in jail. The more you steal today, the less likely you are to face any prison time.

No, just like The Wolf of Wall Street, you’re perceived to be a colorful dynamo. If you’re one of those hoarders on a TV reality show, people think you’re weird. But if you hoard money, you’re viewed as a leader.

The nasty downside of monumental wealth is that there is a finite amount of resources on the planet, and when some people have far more than they can ever use, it leaves many others with less than enough to live on or, even more radically, people die because they can’t get enough food to eat.

With so much wealth at the top of the pyramid, there’s just not enough to go around. Of the earth’s 7 billion inhabitants, 1.2 billion live on $1.25 or less per day. More than 800 million people struggle daily with hunger. An estimated 2.6 million children die of hunger every year.

And with more money moving into the hands of fewer people, those problems are only goingincomeeq to get worse. Poverty, starvation, and deprival will increase. The middle class, the banner lifestyle of Americans for generations, is disappearing. If the trend toward concentration of wealth continues, the U.S. will devolve into a two-class society.

The view of the wealthy needs to change, and they need to be reined in. The old term robber barons is a pretty good description of what the wealthy are doing. The truth is that many wealthy individuals are obsessed with acquiring as much wealth as they can. Their whole life is about piling up lucre, and they don’t care what it does to the masses. Their attitude is, get your own.

Let’s stop admiring the super wealthy. Many of them are dangerous freaks. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this: If you won $50 million dollars in the lottery tomorrow, what would you do? You’d probably quit your job and retire to a life of luxury for the rest of your life. That’s what most everyone would do.

Except for the types who can never have enough, those who aspire to be super wealthy. If they have $50 million, they’re striving to turn it into $100 million. If they have $100 million, they want to have $1 billion. And it never ends. They can never get enough, because they are fixated only on acquiring wealth.

And it’s become obvious that it doesn’t take that many of these types to create a worldwide crisis, with less than 100 people hoarding as much as 3.5 billion. Things are way out of balance.

What’s the answer? Remember when you were a child and you were taught the importance of sharing? The rich must be forced to share. Sure, most of them do some philanthropy to make themselves look good. But, at the same time, they’re hanging on to most of what they have and plotting to get more.

So someone needs to act to reverse the money flow downward instead of upward.

If that doesn’t happen the risks are enormous, and inevitable, and when people finally get enough of the rich not sharing the resources of the planet, the problem will be resolved by force. But we don’t have to get to that point. One of the dictates of our all cultures should be that society strives for the greatest good for the most people, not for the excesses of a few.

You May Already Be A Wiener

Americans think big. They want to live in hip-roofed mansions, drive gynormous SUVs, and work at jobs that pay about the same as the GNP of a third-world country. Men want big penises. Women want big breasts. They want to watch TV on a screen big enough to be seen from the next county.

So I guess it’s no surprise when the lines get longer at the convenience store when the Powerball jackpot gets to a number that’s too big to comprehend. I see them in there, shuffling along in front of me in line. Typically it’s some guy with a bulging belly, wearing a white T-shirt with the sleeves and neck ripped out, buying a pack of Marlboros and five dollars worth of lottery tickets. Never mind that the odds are something like 175 million to one. Americans dream big.

You’ll see that same old boy at the Cherokee Casino chucking quarters into the slots. Never mind that the odds on the slots are some of the worst in gambling. It’s the dream of the big jackpot that keeps him feeding the machine. If he were to say, play blackjack and win a few bucks, what’s that going to buy, a few double-meat burgers? The dream is a lot bigger than that.

A recent survey found that 25 percent of Americans think they will get rich in their lifetimes. Of course, there’s not nearly that much room at the top. There isn’t enough money in the whole country for one-quarter of the population to be wealthy. But that doesn’t stop these air castle builders from thinking they will somehow be the ones to beat the system.

What I don’t understand is how these people see any path to getting wealthy. Most Americans work at jobs at businesses that are owned by the wealthy. There’s no way the people in charge are ever going to pay you enough to get rich. That’s how they stay rich. You’re not going to make it by working for somebody else.

You could start a business, but most Americans can’t marshal the resources it takes for a start-up because all their money is going to house payments on the big house, car payments on the big car, and generally trying to live large. If you live an upscale middle class lifestyle, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever get rich. It’s more likely that you’ll get deeply in debt and at the first bump in the road, you’ll be bankrupt. I’m sure you’ve heard about the foreclosure crisis we’re experiencing as a result of exactly this kind of thinking.

So that leaves the lottery, which you’re not going to win. The lottery will be won by a group of workers in Akron, Ohio, who have been buying 100 tickets every week for the past 20 years, and even they have to surmount huge odds to win.

Publishers Clearing House used to have a slogan, “You May Already Be A Winner.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that, though not in the way Publishers Clearing House intended it.

I don’t really have a problem with people taking on long odds. It’s how they do it that’s the issue for me. I’m a writer, so I’m used to tilting at windmills. I’ve been rejected more times than a supernerd at a sock hop. Still, I fantasize about hitting it big with my stories, though realistically I know I have only two chances, slim and none. But I’m having so much fun in the quest, I already consider myself a winner in a big way.

I create stuff. Sometimes it’s magical. I get great, warm feedback from my host of writer friends. I love doing it. The rewards are intrinsic. Isn’t that a lot better than tossing another set of losing lottery tickets in the trash?

So here’s my preachy advice to the 24 out of 25 of you who think you’ll get the big bucks, but won’t. Change your goal. Instead of aspiring to be wealthy, aspire to be happy.

I can’t say it any better than Fitzgerald did in the opening lines of The Great Gatsby. The rich are just like you and me. The only difference is the money. It’s trite but true, money can’t buy happiness. Find something else that can make you happy. Your chances will be a lot better and you won’t be deluding yourself.

You’ll be a winner, not a wiener.