. . . for my kids. . . and good friends

Millionaires -- never clever; just lucky

And sometimes very tricksy. I have no problem with wealth, even slightly serious wealth. Had it not been for the divorces I may well have been in the lower echelons of this bracket myself and, no doubt, enjoying it.

What gets me is the overweening self-righteousness that so often accompanies loads of money. The owners of the stuff strutting and preening around as though they have a right to so much of it. And to do what they like with it.

My argument is simple (but far from simplistic) -- they are just lucky. Think about it!

They did not choose their parents. They did not have a lot of say in the size and quality of their brains. They were not a able to select whether they grew up in the slums of Cairo or comfortable Cambridge; nor if their parents could afford shoes so they could go to school or to forego their teenage income so they could stay at school beyond 16.

This is not a rant. I don't do rants and they don't help anyone anyway. It's a fairly gentle response to a comment we heard in a lovely pub in England over Christmas, surrounded by affluent people who'd been drinking for some time. And also a dinner party conversation a week or two earlier in Amsterdam about the flag-waver of unregulated capitalism Ayn Rand.

She has quite a lot to answer for; giving a veneer of specious justification for the psychopaths who seriously believe that greed is good (and I chose all those words very carefully). Greed is wicked; the results of greed are normally pretty awful and unrewarding; it is unacceptable, but in moderation decent people tolerate it and occasionally indulge in it despite themselves. In excess it is definitionally dystopian, even to the beneficiaries.

We need to know our enemies, was the defence at the dinner-party. And "pretty flaky" was the considered judgement of a "philosophy" that underpins much of the platform of the tea-party in the States. Rand's best known book 'Atlas Shrugged' in her own words is about "the morality of rational self-interest", if that's not a contradiction in terms. Her viewpoint was dismissed by the writer Gore Vidal as "nearly perfect in its immorality".

To anyone who thinks, (or even anyone who has witnessed the results of rampant capitalism in the last decade or two), it is clear that unregulated greed must destroy itself. The case is most powerfully and persuasively set out by the late Macur Olson in his impressive (though sadly unfinished) book 'Power and Prosperity'. Without rules markets will not work effectively.

"Reliable enforcement of private contracts and protection of individual rights to property depend on governments strong enough to guarantee these rights yet constrained enough not to undermine them." And he goes on to state: "There is no private property without government."

Olson charts a logic that takes us from feuding war-lords to a decent democratic, rights-respecting society, pointing out that everyone is better off (even the rich) when wealth is more evenly shared. If everyone has a stake in society and feels part of it, then they will defend and look after it, with huge savings in policing and enforcement costs; ". . . governments with decent institutions and policies can maintain sufficient law and order for economic progress at relatively low costs because of the self-interest of private parties."

To me, the next step, is equally logical. If we create a society where some people earn millions a year (and think they deserve it, and more) then there are likely to be serious tensions (and occasional law and order issues) if others are scraping by with barely enough to feed their children.

Yes, there are the feckless; and the lazy. But there are also the unlucky and the not so bright. Do we really want to see them turned into a permanent, hereditary under-class? Is that the civilisation we bequeath to our grand-children? It's our choice, still.

I've said it before. Back in the late sixties, the world then seemed to hold a lot of promise; and young people with ideas and ability and energy had the opportunity to use and develop them. We lot, who were young then, have reduced the prospects for such people. And we should be ashamed. Did we really intend to make life tougher and less rewarding for children born into families without much money. Is that what economic progress was supposed to bring?

There is no moral defence of greed, certainly unrestrained greed, and certainly not when we're sharing a finite planet. And I don't have to rely on some unrealistic view of human nature to come up with something better. Our own history shows that we are (or can be), in general, decent people. We did abolish the slave-trade, even though it may not have been in our economic interests to do so. We did establish the NHS because we know that it is totally unacceptable to be living in a world of relative plenty while others and their children are dying in the streets, at least within our own society.

There are valid questions about how far to push this argument. And there are (and must be) tensions between rewarding endeavour and creativity on the one hand and providing a proper standard and quality of life for all on the other. Resolving those tensions demonstrates whether or not your own society is civilised.

And remembering that the outcome of this decision for any particular individual is pretty well totally dependent on luck, may encourage us to make the right decision. There is no morally or intellectually acceptable escape route.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 December 2012 16:18  

Add comment

Security code



FacebookMySpaceTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksRedditNewsvineTechnoratiLinkedinMixxRSS FeedPinterest

login form

Copyright StayHungryStayAngry.com 2012