Triumph of the Well-Off: Part 2

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 3.00.47 PMThe Senate finally found a way to kill—for now, at least—Repeal & Replace, or Repeal, or a skinny bill.

Somewhere in the midst of the chaotic reporting in the last 48 hours, I also noticed that Jeff Bezos was elevated to the position of the world’s richest human. By today, that title is being challenged. It doesn’t matter to me (although I bet it matters to Jeff Bezos). Because whether Jeff Bezos is the first, second, or third richest man in the world, does nothing to change the fact that at the very least he is one of the gang of 62 humans who control 50% of the planet’s wealth.*

So again, I ask you to close your eyes and imagine what Carl Sagan called the “pale blue dot.” Now slowly zoom in on the dot and imagine it as we often see it from an orbiting satellite: beautiful blues and greens, grays and whites, atmospheric swirls and landmasses and oceans. And then imagine that there are about 54 men and six women standing on one side of the planet. And then imagine the rest of the planet’s population—approximately 7,500,000,000 humans standing, sitting, kneeling or crawling on the other side. Hold that picture in your mind for a few  seconds. That is the distribution of wealth on planet Earth. If the image makes you angry, I understand; if the picture makes you nauseous, I get it; if the thought disturbs you, I concur. Grievously sad or profoundly disgusted? I am right there with you. Powerless? I know. But if you feel nothing, if you feel apathy, if you feel contentment, if you feel joy, then there is most certainly something wrong with either your limbic system or your cognition. Perhaps the magnet in your moral compass has fallen out.

So back to healthcare in the US. I do not think that the gang of 62 gave some kind of permission to Senate Republicans to lose this particular battle. Nor do I think the gang of 62 are going to benefit enormously from US healthcare policy. Doubtless, there is money at stake in the legislative struggle over healthcare and every other political battle. But the gang of 62 are men who possess so much wealth that they only need to maintain it, not necessarily grow it. Their greed is incalculable, and their egos are immeasurable. They compete against each other for first, second, or third place or perhaps a place in the top ten. Some of them are content to remain in the middle of this billionaires’ pack; without a doubt, many of them value that particular position as it limits public scrutiny and enables them to continue doing whatever they want to stay in the pack.

So I don’t think Jeff Bezos or anyone else ordered Mitch McConnell to stand down (or John McCain to stand up). But I do think that if the gang of 62 ever thinks that their wealth would be seriously threatened, they will not hesitate to step in.

*The number 62 is derived from a report done by Oxfam in January 2016. A more recent article in Salon puts the number at five.  I would argue that the specific number is somewhat irrelevant to my overall argument. Whether the number is “5” or “62” doesn’t impact the equation much given that the other half of that equation is 7.5 billion. However, if the number has shrunk in just 17 months from 62 to 5, that is relevant. I will look into it.

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