The rich really are different from the rest of us. Exhibit A is the woman who asked an advice columnist if it was alright to not give Halloween candy to the poor kids who carpooled into her wealthy neighborhood. Studies support this difference as noted by Fitzgerald. The rich give much less to charity. They have no clue how the 99% live. They think the poor shouldn’t vote. But, most importantly, they see themselves as being different. In Calvinist tradition, they think their wealth is proof of their superiority rather than of their good fortune. Worse is the fact that they think, correctly it seems, that the rest of us believe in their superiority. In our hijacked republic, they pontificate about how we should take care of the “job creators” instead of taxing them for every job they ship overseas. They present us with bovine related material stuffed between two pieces of bread and call it a steak sandwich. And enough people accept it to prevent change.
The conflicts in the world today are driven by many forces: nationalism, corporate-driven global economics, tribalism, and the rise of the individual. You may ask why I left religious sponsored terrorism off the list. This is because I see terrorism as a logical outcome of the other forces. It is the tribe fighting to maintain control of the individual against international market forces. A simplistic view I admit, but the Internet has given power to all, including thirteen-year-old girls who want an education to free them from centuries of tribal and religious suppression. Is it any surprise that Boko Haram (literally: “Western education is evil”) arose to fight back. Very few people and even fewer organizations give up power willingly. And the Internet gives terrorists power and reach they never had before.
The conservative in me always looks to economics when thinking about issues. For the first time in history, any individual can talk to / see any other person anywhere in the world. Hiding the incredible economic disparities that exist is no longer possible. I believe this wealth gap is the driving force behind everything from the Tea Party to suicide bombers. Most people just want to take care of their families. They want their families to have adequate food, clothing, shelter, and health care. It’s simply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. People who can’t meet these needs grab onto whatever piece of political / cultural flotsam their environment presents. Thus, the popularity of right wing radio as well as ISIS. It is true that many humans are not happy unless they are acquiring more and more stuff; enough is never enough for them. But it is also true that few people are willing to engage in extreme behavior if they and their families are safe, fed, and secure.
Here in the U.S., 10% of the people own over 70% of the wealth, with the top 1% controlling most of that. By every economic indicator, the top of the economic ladder has seen enormous improvement while the middle class and the poor have been devastated. The rich have been very clever at finding scapegoats such as Obama and the Democrats. They bemoan the idea of class warfare even though the rich have been practicing it for years. Bernie Madoff’’s mistake was stealing from the rich. If he had stuck to robbing the poor and middle class like the rest of Wall Street, he’d still be a free man.
It’s not that I object to people getting rich or even trying to maintain their wealth. It’s that they rig the economic game in their favor. Wall Street didn’t suffer in 2007. The rest of us did. The government bailed out their wealthy donors, but not us. The wealthy are not subject to the same economics risks and realities that the rest of us face. With all three branches of government in their pockets, the 1% is immune from the ballot box.
The situation in the rest of the world is not much better, although Russia does beat us in the wealth category: 10% of the people own 80% of the wealth. It is estimated that less than 1,000 families own about half of the world’s wealth. And it is here that I propose shining a little light on the situation. When the Koch brothers were able to shovel their money around secretly, they had much more success in bending the system to their “superior” will. When the journalistic light hit their efforts, proletariat pushback started.
I think a social media campaign is what we need. I propose #1%. I think activists should shine the social media spotlight on these few families that control increasing amounts of the world’s resources. When one of them spends $6 million on a birthday party but nothing on malaria prevention, the world should know via Twitter, Instagram etc. When enough light is shed on the greed and selfishness of the super-rich, they will become uncomfortable doing nothing. In time, the wealthy who are trying to improve the world will shame the slackers into better behavior. Whether you agree with their efforts or not, Gates, Buffet, and Bloomberg are using their money to help the rest of us. They can guide their fellow billionaires much as the Robber Barons once did into helping mankind rather than just acquiring more wealth and power. Rockefeller, Ford, DuPont, et al. convinced themselves and others that they had a moral obligation to use their wealth wisely.
Just think about the idea of the Koch brothers spending their political funds on research for clean uses for coal. The chemistry of coal is well understood. Coal is fossilized plant energy. The same plant energy we consume daily. Heck, both the Germans and South Africans turned coal into liquid fuel for their vehicles. The coal-rich Koch brothers spent hundreds of millions of dollars just trying to get Obama out of the White House. With that kind of research money behind the effort, we could all be eating biscuits and gravy made out of coal. And they would be delicious.