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Living In The Eye Of The Wealth Hurricane
An old Cree Indian prophecy may outline what our future looks like: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters have been polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” Here is one view by C.J. Polychroniou in a Truthout article “Socialism for the Rich, Capitalism for the Poor: “The United States is rapidly declining on numerous fronts—collapsing infrastructure, a huge gap between haves and have-nots, stagnant wages, high infant mortality rates, the highest incarceration rate in the world—and it continues to be the only country in the world without a universal health care system.”
The role of massive wealth in this country continues to dominate society---with evidence ranging from the ridiculous to the breath-taking. A single car parking spot in a garage in Park Slope, Brooklyn is for sale for $300,000. Sound expensive? The spot that sold before this one sold for $280,000. In other parts of Brooklyn you can buy a condo for that money. Tired of tying the laces on your own sports shoes? You can now buy self-tying shoes from HyperAdapts for $720. Electronic sensors powered by batteries determine how tight the lacing should be for that sports moment. You have to keep the shoes charged.
Billionaire hedge fund manager and short-term speculator Steven Cohen made his fortune on Wall Street by placing high-volume bets on small movements in stock prices. Steve lives in a 35,000 sq. ft. mansion in Connecticut and spends his leisure time upsetting the world art market. He has recently bought two Alberto Giacometti sculptures for a total of $242.3 million. His income tax rate is about one/third of his maids and secretaries.
When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his team to a last-minute shocking Superbowl 51 win over the Atlanta Falcons, somebody stole his game jersey from the team’s locker room. Sports memorabilia experts placed a value of $500,000 on the jersey.
The Growth of Wealth Pornography
The term “wealth porn” is now being used to describe a situation where “wealth is held to be interesting in its own right.” Holders of massive wealth seem to be fascinating to mere mortals because “wealth represents the ability to escape, rather to be noticed.” The Silicon Valley wealth bubble is a microcosm of the income inequality that is happening in all regions of the world. Olivia Solon of the Guardian wrote about the bubble in her article “Scraping By on Six Figures? Tech Workers Feel Poor in Silicon Valley’s Wealth Bubble.” She writes about the software engineer who earns $160,000 and calls it a bad income because his family is priced out of the Bay Area market. Rent is the highest in the world at $2,000 a room. He is one of the One Percent in the U.S. A billionaire who buys a $15,000 bicycle can’t find a $50,000-a-year guy to repair it. Teachers, city workers, police, firefighters, and the rest of the so-called middle class have two to three-hour commutes because they can’t afford to live close to the city. Most secretaries have a three-hour commute. Bar Area tech workers earning between $100,000 and $700,000 often have to pay up to 50% of their salaries for housing.
A paragraph from Solon’s article describes life in Santa Cruz, California: “One Apple employee was recently living in a Santa Cruz garage, using a compost bucket as a toilet. Another tech worker described how he lived with 12 other engineers in a two-bedroom apartment rented by Airbnb. ‘It was $1,100 for a bunk bed and five people in the same room—each. One guy was living in a closet, paying $1,400 for a ‘private room’.” A couple making over $1 million a year could not afford a house. A tech worker named Michael earns $700,000-a-year but cannot afford property close to his work site, so he is forced to commute from 22 miles—which can sometimes take him two and one-half hours. He tried to buy a 1,700 sq. ft. house listed for $1.4 million that was 14 miles from his work—but it sold in 24 hours for $1.7 million. One San Francisco property owner has turned his basement property into 28 studio-like closets. Some families on ordinary incomes rent them. In Silicon Valley coffee and a bagel runs $8; a glass of freshly pressed California orange juice runs $12.
When Six Men Have As Much Wealth As Half The World’s Population, Something Might Happen
These six men now have a total of $412 billion. They added $69 billion just this last year. What was the wage increase for the middle class? They are now “deconstructing,” demolishing, destroying societies on every continent. In his book “Reason to Believe,” former New York Governor Mario Cuomo has done the best job of summarizing the results of massive income inequality: “Those of us who are comfortable may run away from the consequences for a while. We can move to pretty, impenetrable suburbs, or marble fortresses with door men who look like Swiss Guards, or even into planned communities that in their quest for perfect isolation indulge in ever strategy short of a drawbridge and a moat. But, eventually, we will run out of places to hide, and then we will understand what we might have understood before: that no man is an island. No woman. No race. No region, state, or neighborhood….We cannot make it if we fail to rescue those who’ve been left behind.”
I was surprised to learn the Pentagon was offering up to $40,000 bonuses for military recruits to sign up. Perhaps our “volunteers” are not so eager to leave the poorest counties in the land to spend a half-dozen tours or more in Afghanistan and Iraq getting their butts and limbs shot off for the bankers and the military-industrial complex. Maybe it’s time for a no-excuses draft to fill out the military. We need the sons and daughters of the rich to add a cosmopolitan flair to a military that now lacks ground grunts and Air Force pilots. The Army alone is going to spend $300 million just to find 6,000 recruits. Back in 1933 Marine Corps General Smedley Butler had it all figured out in a speech after fighting for banks and corporations in the Caribbean islands: “War is just a racket… It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expenses of the masses…The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6% over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100%. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag…I spent 33 years in active military service…And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers.”
When Is Enough Finally Enough?
On any given night there are at least 600,000 homeless Americans sleeping in shelters, under bridges and overpasses, in cardboard boxes, and on park benches and sidewalks. This home in Bel Air, California ain’t for the homeless. It’s a four-level, 38,000 sq. ft. mansion with a $30 million garage complete with 12 classic, limited edition cars-and a garage manager. It has two wine cellars complete with 2,500 bottles. The champagne runs $760 a bottle. Each dining setting runs $3,500. The house and grounds has 450 speakers, ensuring that music can be heard in any corner. There are 30 seating areas in house and grounds with a movie theater that has 7,000 videos ready. It has a four-lane bowling alley on the first level, three gourmet kitchens, a massage room, and comes with a seven-member staff. It has 21 bathrooms, five bars, a home gym, and a 17,000 sq. ft. deck toward the ocean. I forgot the 85-foot pool with a $2 million 18 ft. wide TV that rises over the pool. This property is for sale for $250 million, with 130 pieces of art decorating the estate. Is this mansion finally enough? Evidently not. The builder is now constructing one he plans to list at $500 million.
In case the owner of this mansion wants to hit the high seas, he on occasion may want to travel the oceans with people with similar bank accounts. He may want to be a member of the world’s largest floating private members’ club based on a new luxury yacht being built for five anonymous billionaires. The 700-ft superyacht, 120 ft. longer than any other private yacht, will rent rooms starting for $2,000 a night. The membership will cost $15,000 a year. It will travel around the world where the rich want to go and be seen.
It is not the first yacht to provide homes for billionaires. The World, the largest residential yacht in the world, travels the world constantly with 142 families that own 165 apartments. A 200-member crew takes good care of the families. It circumnavigates the globe every two or three years. Corky and I had a chance to see it when it was harbored at Halifax, Nova Scotia some years ago. It’s a nice boat.
A Metaphor For The Future
Bridget Mendler’s song “Hurricane” has a line that may stand for the future: “Everything is fine when you’re standing in the eye of the hurricane.” The right-wing “populist” politics surrounding income inequality is sweeping the globe like a huge hurricane in this decade. The world according to Forbes magazine has over 15 million millionaires and 1,826 billionaires in 2017, excluding thousands of super-rich kings, queens, mafia leaders, drug cartel CEOs, criminals, and lots of guys like Vladimir Putin, raised poor but now very rich. ‘Tis rumored Vladimir may have as much as $30 billion sheltered in Swiss banks. If the pitchfork crowd attacks, all the world’s rich will be trying to hide in the eye of the hurricane--where it is a placid and peaceful. However, if they choose to leave, there will be all hell to pay in the storms.
Typical of the staggering, hypnotic thirst caused by today’s greed is what Big Pharma did to the citizens of West Virginia. Between 2007 and 2012 drug companies shipped over 780 million doses of the opiate painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone to the state. That meant that there were 433 pain pills available for every man, woman, and child in the state. The drug overdose rate skyrocketed, killing more than 1,700 West Virginians. Heroin overdoses soon followed because it was cheaper than legal drugs. The city of Huntington with a population of 49,000 set a record for overdoses with 26 in the span of four hours. Drugs are now killing so many people the state can’t keep up with the cost of funerals. That state is not in the peaceful eye of the hurricane.