Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Meditation on Greed

From Umair Haque's blog at the Harvard Business Review:
The monsters, they say, come out at night. And right now, we're in a long, dark night of the economy.

So to a stage crammed with the now familiar-pantheon of modern-day monsters — the clueless chairmain of the board, the narcissistic chief executive, the proudly sociopathic investor, the servile, principle-less politician — let me introduce a minor new setpiece: the playhouse for the super-rich (which can easily cost more than the average income of the people formerly known as "the middle class"), as described in an eyebrow-raising New York Times piece, beginning:
Apart from the open bar by the swimming pool, the main attraction at parties held at the Houston home of John Schiller, an oil company executive, and his wife, Kristi, a Playboy model turned blogger, is the $50,000 playhouse the couple had custom-built two years ago for their daughter, Sinclair, now 4.
If $50,000 seems a bit off for that kind of purchase, don't worry — other playhouses in the piece went for as much as a cool $250k.

Call me a heretic, fire up the kindling and ready the stake, but I'd say this particular item — which I'll readily hold up my hands and admit hit a nerve — is a peculiarly apt metaphor for what's gone wrong with the economy today: the super-rich, whose gains reflect little social value creation, have gotten richer — and are hyperconsuming the stuff of idle, yawning luxury with an appetite that makes Caligula look like a blushing bride.

There's something wrong with this picture: the neatly-groomed children of the super-rich cavort in designer playhouses while right under their patrician noses, the poverty rate for the children of the not-so-rich has spiked to its highest level in half a century. Perhaps those kids without designer playhouses are part of the 44 million using food stamps to try and make increasingly threadbare ends meet, or one of the 41% of all American children whose families don't have enough income to meet their basic needs. Throw in a broken education system that's not just unaffordable, but slightly pointless, a frightening tax bill for their parents and grandparents' profligacy, and a global youth unemployment crisis, and it becomes clear why economists are increasingly dubbing today's young a "lost generation."

If you ask me, let alone those participating in the wave of dissatisfaction and dissent rippling across the globe from Cairo, to Tunis, to Madrid, to Athens: it's a heartless, cruel divide that's the accelerant for revolution, whether social, cultural, economic, or political.

And yet, before we throw a match on that fuel, consider this possibility: our monsters are reflections of us.
There is more. Go read the whole article and get the embedded links.

I find it interesting how Haque drifts into "we are all monsters". Nope! There is a significant segment of the top 1% who are monsters, and some wanna be followers among the rest of the population. These "monsters" make up less than 3% of the population. What Haque doesn't dwell on is the power this 3% has over the rest of us. They use money, law, and politicians to ensure their power. Haque doesn't really identify how to get rid of the monsters. The only way to dispel their power is to "out" them. Point them out, make people aware of the stranglehold this 3% and their vicious ideas have on the rest of us, and ultimately refuse to play their game. We need to take back our society by shunning the greedy and embracing those who show humanity and compassion, those who recognize the social nature of human society and the debt we owe to the past as well as the future, those who recognize that government is not an oppressor but our tool to achieve goals bigger than ourselves.

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