Friday, March 10, 2006

Assault of the Have-Mores

Maybe you can recall
Dubya's famous words to "the haves and the have-mores": "some call you the elite; I call you my base."

Well, the base has just gotten a little broader. By about a hundred and two.

Now I believe in up-front, truth-in-advertising style blogging; so let me clearly show where I stand on this. I am not a billionaire. Never have been, never will be. In fact, after the rent's paid, I'm not even a thousandaire. Currently, I am worth $104.22, not counting the value of my trusty iMac here and my collection of books. So, as you can see, I'm not poor—I'm just stagnant. Maybe you're a lot like that: running in place, making the next paycheck so you can keep your ass out of the street. Maybe this explains why so many of us are so short-sighted in our lives: How is it possible to have vision for the future when you can't see clearly past the next pay cycle?

But these folks that were listed in Forbes' annual report on the world's billionaires don't have that problem, bless them. They have the wherewithal to look far ahead, into a future that us mutts groveling under the porch can't possibly envision. They can lead the next generation forward to new levels of human progress and growth.

What, you don't think so? But Uncle Bill—you know, the guy responsible for the world's worst computer operating system (now available on a little slab with a stick)—why, he's giving millions to curing malaria and improving our nation's schools. Doesn't that count for anything? He's a philanthropist (that means, in Greek, a lover of humankind, as in "Fatal Error—all applications will now close and the system will shut down—your work will not be saved, but we love you").

So you think that maybe those millions are as farthings to Scrooge; that all this tax-deductible largesse is a drop in a $50 billion ocean?

All right, maybe so. Maybe the problem with billionaires is not that Bill or Oprah or J.K. has got it, but that anyone has. Maybe there's something wrong with the fact that the biggest increase in non-U.S. billionaires last year came from India, where half a billion (people, that is) live at or below the poverty line (a pretty low bar to get under in India). As one of these newest members of the billionaires' club might say, Let them drink Kingfisher.

Accumulation: I call it "the rabbit impulse" because it breeds faster than anything in the emotional barnyard, with the possible exceptions of its siblings, fear and guilt. Why can't these people stop? What makes them pile it higher and higher and higher? (Did you know that if you stacked $100 bills until you reached a million bucks, you'd have a pile roughly two feet high, but to reach a billion you'd have to keep stacking until you were about two hundred feet above the top of the Empire State Building?).

So what makes this rabbit keep fucking, even past the point where its offspring have desolated the meadow? What makes a person want to have more when he already has more than enough? What makes someone want two billion when he already has one?

We might as well ask what it is that makes a cell decide to become a cancer, because it's pretty much the same thing. I've written about this before, but it's a point that appears to deserve repetition, even if (as appears to be the case) no one is listening. When you define your life by a cult of competition—a formative belief that Nature is ordered in a rat-race-law-of-the-jungle-dog-eat-dog fashion—well, that belief is going to power your every thought, word, and deed. You can tell these people bromides like "you can't take it with you" and the other one about putting a camel through a needle's eye until you're blue in the face and they'll just look at you as if your face just turned blue.

Of course they will listen neither to reason nor to insight: they are ill. They are infected with a belief that has darkened every corner of their being, and so they will continue to rake it in, to accumulate, to hoard, and above all, to compete. So it is with all obsessions.

1 comment:

Nicky the Geek said...

Let's not forget one billionaire very near and dear to me - Mr. Greenberg, formerly of AIG fame. The man who could have retired at 65 with billions, but decided to shun his two son's attempts for CEO-dom, and continue to accumulate wealth as the most feared person in the insurance industry. Even after reaching the ripe old age of 78 and being forced from his post, Greenberg has refused to stop working his 80 hour weeks or let anyone attempt to wrest control of his former dynasty. He continues to fight, through his array of holding companies, to keep control of billions of shares of AIG. And word has even been leaked that he wishes to continue growing these companies and compete against AIG in certain Asian markets. If there was ever a case of someone who didn't know when to stop, Mr. Chairman takes the cake.