By Graham Glover –
While vacationing last week I went to a local coffee shop early one morning to spend some time reading. Shortly after I began enjoying my cup of joe and a fascinating volume on the origins of the left-right divide (The Great Debate, by Yuval Levin), I couldn’t help but take interest in the conversation occurring at the table in front of me. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but my close proximity and the nature of the talk made that virtually impossible. There were 4 individuals in their mid-late 60s lamenting how hard it must be to be “poor”. “I can’t believe the interest rates they pay…especially on their pay-day loans!” “How can they possibly survive on such limited income?” “We are truly blessed to not suffer like they do…”
I’m not making this up. Honestly. This conversation really took place – in public – for anyone to hear.
Now it would be easy to dismiss this conversation as a few older individuals (undoubtedly wealthy by the looks of their clothes, jewelry, and cars) who are out of touch with reality and a bunch of oblivious jerks.
It would also be easy to write a piece how the poor in America are wealthy by worldly standards. This is absolutely true and is something I tell my Privates all the time when they complain about their pay as an E-1. The poor in our nation typically enjoy the luxuries of electricity, air conditioning, microwaves, oftentimes their own automobile, and shelter. My Privates have food, shelter, and free healthcare. Many in our world do not.
But we at The Jagged Word are not about easy. We seek to stir the pot and challenge easy assumptions.
That being said, what if the individuals praising their wealth last week are indicative of a growing problem we have in America – too many super-wealthy people? Now before you go accusing me of being a Marxist, understand that I’m not saying wealth is a bad thing, that seeking to increase one’s wealth is wrong, or that we need to divest the super-rich of their financial holdings. I’m simply asking you to consider the possibility that there is such a thing as too much wealth.
We believe the opposite in this country. That is, we draw a line in the sand with respect to poverty. We strive for everyone to live above this bare minimum of income. To live below it is unacceptable and some suggest, inhumane. Regardless of your political leanings, most agree that society should do everything possible to ensure our citizens do not live in poverty. So why isn’t the opposite true? That is, why can’t we set a threshold with how much money one can amass? Why can’t there be such a thing as too much wealth?
Consider the income disparity not only in this country, but across the world. Perhaps never in modern history has there been such a divide between the haves and have-nots. Those with means are getting richer – incredibly richer, while those who aren’t are regressing at rates we haven’t seen in decades. This is exactly the type of chasm that creates the out of touch attitude I encountered last week. But what can you expect when we have an economic system that favors those whose income is in the top 1% of all wage earners? It’s no wonder I overheard the conversation I did. And I posit that those comments were made because the love of money has so infected our culture that those without – the “non-rich” – are seen not merely as less well off, but as less than whole. And this is an abhorrent thought that should shame us all.
But is this really surprising? Wealth has become THE measure of success in America and much of the Western world. The accumulation of wealth is the sign that one has made something of their life. Even a middle-class income, once thought to be the quintessential “American Dream”, is now considered but a stepping stone. Sadly, the vast majority of Americans never come close to this type of wealth, even while supporting policies that make their ability less possible. Oh the irony…
If you think my idea is absurd, tell me what good comes from excessive wealth? What benefit does it offer an individual or our society? I see this type of excessive wealth as the cause of much of what is wrong in our society. And as we do with other things that we know to be harmful, we set limits. What should that threshold be? I have no idea. $1 million? By today’s standards, no way. What about $100 million? $1 billion? You tell me.
This much is clear – we Americans are in love with money. And the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. So why not chip away at the root?