I was at the dentist’s the other day and during the “wait despite having an appointment” wait-time, I was subject to the barrage of sensationalized news on American TV that I otherwise avoid. The most informed and well-rounded source of news for me are the (NY Times of course http://www.nytimes.com/) and the (BBC world news http://news.bbc.co.uk/). Surprisingly, I came across a program on CNBC, called “Who are the Super Rich?”, that engaged me on some level of economic catharsis. It talked about the rise of billionaires in America, from just 13 in 1985 to more than 1000 today. Amazing, shocking. I have to admit, as the shock subsided, a trickling anger and disgust began to surge. Some of the people on the program talked about how their biggest challenge in life was how they could accumulate more and more billions. I was frustrated not at rich people but what happens to their psyche when they do get rich. And yes, this might be a generalization but one that I have observed with a lot of truth to the cliché. Some sort of twisted addiction to wealth has to explain the increasing divide between the wealthy and the barely home-ful.
To me, an immigrant of about roughly 8 years now, life in America seems like one is stuck in a vicious cycle of employment, career choice, compensation, and expenses. Once in one cycle, you are stuck and getting out is purposefully made so difficult. Maybe it is the peace of mind with which people pile on stacks of credit: I will buy a car, a home, everything on loan and somehow I will be stuck for the most of my life repaying it, but that’s ok. Too many strings attached. For instance, the other day, a filmmaker peer of mine commented on how “the cost of living is so high that in trying to satisfy the cost, we are forgetting to live.” And that somehow describes my experience with life here in the States in a nutshell. The high cost of living and the incessant distractions and desire to replace simpler, relationship desires and spirituality with material objects seems to be what I see everywhere.
Anyhow, back to the billionaire point. The rich are getting richer and in fact, being bailed out for being rich—the beast of corporations is hard to shun apparently—and it is all being done with complete ignorance of the long run and solely for the short-term gain. I shouldn’t be that surprised though, given we all know the nature of human greed. The hardworking engineer is an intellectual, who went to a hyper-challenging college, and is making 60K, while many of those who went party-schools and became finance guys ended up raking in the big bucks. I don’t get it. The hike in salaries of the technology guys is so slow and so low whereas the service and finance industries are comparatively out of bounds. And then we wonder why no high school kid wants to do science in this country. Value of life and satisfaction of concrete contribution to society aside, how about putting a fair price to the worth of scientists and teachers and engineers? Or are we punished for our inelastic desires to serve the country? My engineer peers are slowly creeping up the salary curve but they will always be trumped by the wall street types, the bankers and the investment people. All their lives, they will get the cheaper house, the lesser vacations, the cookie cutter life that engineers before have been made to have. This is for you and this is how it is done. If you want to break out of this mold, this vicious cycle, you have to expend all your energy and take mountains of risk to maybe catch the mirage that is called the American Dream.
All this aside, do we really feel that the economy or the social crisis has any impact on the rich? I am sorry in sounding so aggressive but is it just me who feels that the rich have an obligation to giving back? It could be my Islamic upbringing since charity or Zaka’at is one of the pillars of Islam. Around 2.5% of your wealth is delegated to mandatory recirculation into the society. I see money as a zero sum game. If you have negotiated the same money that belonged to others through normal moral business or tricky, high lawyer fee games, and are hoarding it, then something is wrong. Money is not to be hoarded but again, are we surprised given that human greed element we just talked about?
I mean, the economy didn’t just fall like that. Clearly, there was some hoarding going on. The money is somewhere, it didn’t disappear overseas. But there are no laws when it comes to high payouts and CEO compensations and trickeries of investments, whereas there suddenly are laws when Obama asks to reverse compensations or when people start talking of charity, higher taxes for the rich or payback time. This system is bound to fail at some point; a lop-sided scale will eventually break.
A friend from NYC told me that the rich have special back door service in some shops in the city now snince they are embarrassed to carry their PRADA and GUCCI bags out the front door in the economic crisis. I say, at least they are sensitive to it! I might be quite aggressive here, but I feel that when you are holding hoards and hoards of society’s and the economy’s bloodline, then you are bound to be socially-conscious when you think and spend. Shop, buy what you want but in that massive piggy bank of yours, give back selflessly a bit as well. There is no one-way artery for the green bill, and that is something hard for some of us to digest.