Our Pecuniary Pecking Order
The other day President Obama announced a freeze on the salaries of fed workers. They’re lucky compared to the hundreds of thousands of state and local government workers getting the boot. At the same time, Wall Street reported record profits and rich bonuses.
I’ve never been a fan of capitalism. But I have always believed that since it’s the prevailing system everyone should get to play by its first rule that you grab everything you can and the hell with everyone else. Certainly, that’s exactly what Wall Street and corporate America do. Hedge fund managers and insurance execs take home billions for not producing a single useful item or service. No one dares place a limit on their pelf. That would be un-American and socialistic. But that privilege of unlimited accretion is allowed to just a few. If organized workers used their solidarity to demand sky high wages, our rulers, as they have done countless times in the past, would sic the dogs on them.
In fact, we Americans have very strict, and often inane, notions about how much money different groups of us should be allowed to make. As noted, Wall Street and big business get the no-limit license. So do showbiz, sports and government contracting. When we hear about people in those ranks being preposterously paid, we envy them and take pride in a country that allows them such success. But when the poor and working classes manage to wangle a few extra bucks out of the system we turn spiteful and claim that their sloth and greed is what’s ruining America.
Take these two examples: A poor man scuffles by on Uncle Sam’s handouts. Since he appears able-bodied, we condemn him for sponging on us and demand the government stop the sops to him and his ilk. Now imagine a trust fund brat who's never worked a day in his life, but takes in millions of the Uncle Sam’s bucks in the form of interest on government bonds he’s inherited. At worst, we’ll call him a playboy. Few would resent the money he’s siphoning from Uncle Sam or fume that people like him were adding to the national debt.
These antic attitudes are part of what has given these United States the most extreme concentration of wealth anywhere outside of banana republics where a few families own entire countries. The numbers are staggering. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have more bucks than circulate in teeming continents. Yet this debilitating constipation of cash bothers just a few lefties and academics.
Tea Baggers, the noisiest political bunch at the moment, are running around bitching that there’s still too much “sharing of wealth,” meaning that ever more concentration is called for. This despite the fact that the estimable Messrs Gates and Buffet have repeatedly offered that they already stow more than enough swag and are even willing to pay higher taxes.
Out there in Christendom, a different view prevails. Many adhere to Anatole’s France’s view that behind every great fortune there is a crime. Therefore, the wealthy are not particularly admired or trusted, while the lesser classes have a greater sense of solidarity. They think the world would be a better place if the rich had less and the rest more. And even though more equitable societies boast happier people, that sort of talk is tantamount to treason on this the savage side of the Atlantic.