The land of new shoes and old leaves

Ed Raymond

The Azzam superyacht docked on the port of Cadiz, Spain on Aug. 24, 2020. The Cathedral of Cadiz can be seen in the background. Photo by Javier Virués Ortega.

A few live American dreams while many live American nightmares

A few live on their own islands while many live on the streets. A few live from mansion to mansion depending on season or whim. Many live in shelters or on streets depending on vacancies and street laws. A few are paid hundreds of millions of dollars as corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers while 1.6 million workers are paid the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour – or less.

The average resident of Fisher Island, Florida, declares a $3,000,000 annual income. The richest Zip Code in the Divided States of America, it houses 648 people on its 215 acres in condos that average $9 million and mansions that currently average $36 million. Workers are not allowed to live on the island so many live in old RVs or cars on the mainland and are forced to use passwords to ride the ferry morning and night.

I’m describing two classes of Americans in the first paragraph: about 950 billionaires and the 653,104 homeless people who were counted in January of 2023. The homeless total went up 12% in the last year. Billionaires are very hard to count because they hide so much money around the world. The number of homeless rose to 70,000 among individuals and families with children, among the old and the young, veterans and among the chronically homeless.

Housing is getting very expensive, especially in heavily populated coastal cities. The average one-bedroom, 700 sq. ft. apartment is priced in an average Manhattan area at $1 million. The average real net wealth of our middle class is $401,900, of the top 10%  $3.8 million, of the top 1% –$19.1 million, of the top 0.1% – $101 million. And the top 0.01% – $533.8 million. We lead the world in billionaires while China has about 370, Germany 180 while Great Britain, India, Russia, Hong Kong and Switzerland about 150 each.  

If you happen to think billionaires are going to save the world…

For about 35 years after World War II the United States grew the largest middle class by percentage the world had ever seen. Then in 1980, the “never enough” crowd took over. The CEOs of large corporations used to be paid about 20 times what the typical worker was paid. In 2023 it is 300 to 400 times.

In 1955 the Top One Percent took home 9% to 10% of total income. In 2023, it’s more than 40%. The problem is, workers have virtually gained no more buying power – and the attitudes of the superrich have never decided what is “enough.”

In an article “It’s My Privilege: Glorious Memoirs by The Very Rich,” Molly Young recalls fascinating stories about the rich and infamous. In Guy de Rothschild’s The Whims of Fortune he reveals a few secrets about his superrich family. He tells of when his grandmother was visiting a friend at another estate, she saw dead brown leaves on the huge lawn for the first time. She exclaimed: “It’s magnificent! How beautiful! But where do they come from?”

At her own estate, the leaves were always picked up by servants before she could see them. He recalls they had one servant whose only job was to make salads. Another servant was often ordered to row a boat across a lake in view “just to enliven the landscape” or to entertain guests with a “poetic and charming spectacle.”

In the biggest of the many mansions owned by the Rothschild family, the kitchens were constructed underground 150 yards from the main house so the food odors couldn’t infiltrate the dining room and house. The author claimed he used to ride a train built in the tunnel to transport food to the dining area on platters. He described it as great fun.

Rothschild also reveals his father was such a dedicated cardplayer he got very angry with a person who revealed to him a son-in-law had just shot himself in the chest. I am assuming the game was bridge. Young also writes that the very rich Thomas Pell of the Bronx always paid for a club servant with the same foot size to wear his new leather shoes until they were broken in.  

The living pledge is ending in a miscarriage or is in hospice

Billionaire Bill Gates and his then-wife Melinda dreamed up The Living Pledge, got a big assist from billionaire Warren Buffett, and started to recruit other billionaires to pledge at least half of their loot to philanthropic causes. The founders formally announced in 2010 that they had convinced 40 pledgers to give $125 billion to “good” causes.

By October of 2023 the world had 3,194 billionaires with the total growing almost every day, but only 241 had pledged half of their assets.

Oh, and it isn’t a legal contract. People like to call it a moral commitment.

Maybe one of the problems that only 8% of the billionaires have recognized, it is that Gates in his early years only yelled a lot at his employees while he considered all data processors independent contractors (so he wouldn’t have to pay all those state and federal unemployment taxes, health insurance and other employee benefits an owner is expected to pay).

Gates was also one of the dozens of rich men who just happened to know Jeffrey Epstein, another rich man who loved to be around young high school girls on tropical islands. Epstein supposedly committed suicide in a jail cell after being arrested for sexual assault of underage girls. There happened to be a lot of rich men who were “embarrassed” (could be an irregular pun) to have Epstein still alive and talking about stalking young girls on several tropical islands while entertaining rich “friends.” Melinda divorced Bill after all this press coverage about Bill’s meetings with Jeffrey. One of her excuses seemed to be the kitchen was too large in their Seattle beach home, the one with 26 bathrooms,  seven bedrooms and every room wired for sound. Valued at about $135 million for tax purposes, the house has 66,000 sq. ft., a reception room that holds 150 people, and a garage that holds 23 cars.

After the divorce, Melinda said, “I have always wanted to live in a 1,500 sq. ft. house.”

Bill bought a $16.8 million horse farm for a daughter’s college graduation present.

The Living Pledge is one of the greatest public relations devices ever conceived to put billionaires on high pedestals in public squares. Ralph Ellison, the creator of Oracle, is worth way north of $100 billion and has purchased the sixth-largest island in the Hawaii chain for his personal use. He owns the third largest gigayacht on earth, Rising Sun at 454 ft., the third largest yacht on earth by being 139 ft. short of the Azzam owned by Sheikh Khalifa of Saudi Arabia. Ellison loves to play basketball on his yachts, so they have basketball courts on the open deck. He also keeps a speedboat in the water while the game is on so it can pick up the ball if it goes over the side.  

The ultra-wealthy have a common trait: They want to minimize people contact

Yes, private jets are expensive, but it’s a convenient way to travel, and, as one rich woman said, “one can give the middle finger to every worker and traveler in the main airport and to the hundreds of angry passengers in the small seats.”

A psychologist also diagnosed: “They don’t have to say hello to a gate agent or ask another passenger to switch seats or watch intently for an open restroom.”

A jet-charter company manager puts it this way: “If you fly commercial there are more than 700 touch points. When you fly private jet, it’s just 20. You exist in a bubble of serenity insulated from the grubby taint of the unwashed public which prevents scrofulous peasants from bumping you.”

Incidentally, there are now 23 million households which have reached millionaire status in this country. But they have started to act like our billionaires. Only 200 have joined an organization called Patriotic Millionaires who pledge to raise taxes on the ultra-wealthy. There is no question that capitalism without accountability results in a growing concentration of wealth in a rigged system.

Economic inequality created by capitalism automatically results in political inequality because we no longer have “One Person, one vote.” That morphs very quickly to “One Dollar, one vote.” The political inequality of today came from a Supreme Court hired by plutocrats to change campaign fund laws. The Citizens United decision made it possible to change tax policies to favor the rich, to change education policies to favor the rich, to change anti-trust regulations to favor the rich, and to change climate change laws to favor the rich.  

National news and social media corporations enhance inequality. Inequality has put all democratic principles in hospice.  

Planet earth will be the garden of eden when Ted Williams walks to Fenway

With the “bad” troubles facing humankind such as war in the Middle East between Arabs and Jews, the refusal of the rich to switch to renewables to cool the Tropical Zone, and the rise of autocrats in many countries, I think chances are slim to none the earth will be habitable in a century. And Slim is not waiting around for Ted Williams to crawl out of Stockdale, Arizona, and walk in right field in Boston’s Fenway Park.

Perhaps you have forgotten that Ted’s head still rests in a freezing cryonic chamber where 116 heads and assorted corpses are in liquid nitrogen. Ted’s head is waiting for new medical technology to attach frozen heads and bodies together and restore people to full health.

Ted Williams was a hero of mine, and still is, because he was a terrific Marine pilot in war and could hit a baseball often and for a mile for the Boston Red Sox. Ted had exceptional eyesight and physical reaction time – and always seemed to lead the class he took.  

He spent six years in the Marines during WW II and the Korean War. He finished his training as the world war ended but he flew 39 combat missions in Korea in his Corsair. Corky and I visited his museum in Hernando, Florida, before it closed and moved to Saint Petersburg.

Ted was interested in the science of cryonics, so when he died his head was removed and frozen. His head is still in the Alcor Life Extension Foundation facilities in Scottsdale, Arizona, waiting to be attached to a sound body when it is medically possible.

We can only hope that our great-grandchildren will be able to live in a world where Jews and Arabs will live in peace, where the earth has a livable temperature with renewables, that all the autocrats have become democrats, and that Ted Williams loves to be interviewed by the sports press in his museum. One never knows. At one time a majority thought God was the only one smart enough to make clocks and watches.