Monday, June 19, 2006

Millionaire Sickness

Paul Krugman's column today is Class War Politics.

An excerpt:

"Before the 1940's, the Republican Party relied financially on the support of a wealthy elite, and most Republican politicians firmly defended that elite's privileges. But the rich became a lot poorer during and after World War II, while the middle class prospered. And many Republicans accommodated themselves to the new situation, accepting the legitimacy and desirability of institutions that helped limit economic inequality, such as a strongly progressive tax system. (The top rate during the Eisenhower years was 91 percent.)

When the elite once again pulled away from the middle class, however, Republicans turned their back on the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower and returned to a focus on the interests of the wealthy. Tax cuts at the top — including repeal of the estate tax — became the party's highest priority.

But if the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have the last three elections been dominated by talk of terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no better way to do that than accusing the other party of being unpatriotic and godless.

Thus in 2004, President Bush basically ran as America's defender against gay married terrorists. He waited until after the election to reveal that what he really wanted to do was privatize Social Security."

The point of Krugman's article is to say that those who are looking for a centrist position will not find it, because we no longer have a center in the United States. Our middle-class is shrinking and our society is being split into two distinct and sharp camps: those who own the country and those who do not.

Realistically, based upon the following statistics, that split is about 20-80. In other words, 20% of Americans are wealthy and flourishing. The remainder of Americans are experiencing - or facing - ever diminishing wealth and prospects.

Over the past two decades the mean income of the top 5 percent of households grew more than four times as fast as the mean income of the bottom 80 percent.

The increase in "mean income" of the top 5 percent ($115,416 which brought the total mean income to around $260,000) was more than three times as great as the mean 2001 income level of the bottom 80 percent of households.

But a yearly mean income (for one year's worth of earnings) doesn't tell the real story. That comes with looking at mean wealth.

In 2001 the mean wealth for the top 1% of our population was $13,009.577.00

The mean wealth for the next 9% of our population was $1,643,745.

The mean wealth for the next 40% of our population was $272,378.00

The bottom 50% of our U.S. population had a mean wealth of $22,079.


Most people in the bottom half of the U.S. income bracket, even if they are considered "middle-class" and are making 80,000 or $100,000 a year, have little or no savings.

With kids, mortgages, cars, and all the costs of modern life, if disaster strikes and they get sick, they can lose everything . Their "mean wealth" can be the value of their furniture, a couple thousand dollars and whatever they can get for their car(s).

Of course, with the new bankruptcy laws that only protect corporations - and the rich who own shares in them - they won't ever get out from under.

The poor and middle class have invested their lives and sweat into this country. Without them the rich would have had nothing, and certainly no country or populace to exploit.

We used to talk about honorable things, like sharing the wealth and waging a war on poverty; about paying as we went and investing in the future. Now we're waging war on the poor - and the future - while self-styled pundits who have never gone without a meal in their lives post smug little remarks about how the rich deserve all they can get.

This is because we have a sickness in this country. It's a sickness that says being middle-class isn't good enough. It's a sickness that's spread by marketing e-mails, seminars on becoming a millionaire and commercials to buy lotto tickets.

It's the millionaire sickness. It's a philosophy that says you are not good enough - you are aiming far too low - if you are not aiming to become a millionaire.

I believe that the reason so many people are politically uninvolved - or voted against their own economic well-being as well as against those oppressed by real poverty - is because of millionaire sickness. They think - any day now - they are going to buy that winning lottery ticket.

They think there will be no need to work then, no need to think about any responsibility, but only a running away from the growing class of Americans that is in debt up to its eyebrows with no way out.

Sorry, folks, that isn't what we're here for.

Whether we are millionaires or paupers, we are responsible to each other and for each other.

We are here to work together and make things better for everyone, not just ourselves.

If you use your money to do that, while living well, then fantastic. God certainly has no need for you to want. But if you use wealth simply to live a spoiled and pampered life - or dream of doing so - that is not the point of wealth.

We are given wealth so we may share with those who, for whatever reasons, are unable to accrue or acquire wealth. We are given wealth to alleviate the suffering of poverty.

Yet we see widespread callousness toward the poor and unprecedented spending on luxury.

A wealthy man has just paid $135,000,000.00 to acquire a single painting by Gustav Klimt.

Fine for him, fine for the seller who is now richer than before.

But is being able to acquire such possessions really more important than making sure everyone in this country gets fed, has a place to live, is paid a fair wage for a fair day's work and can go to the doctor when he or she - or their child - is ill?

Why are we so obsessed with possessions as opposed to alleviating suffering?

Yet, according to according to a 2003 Taco Bell survey, when given a choice, more than 180 million people (65 percent) would take a $30 million lottery jackpot over saving the entire U.S. economy.

Imagine. That's breathtaking.

What's sad is what it says about us.

We all sink or swim together, as a nation and a people, and right now this country is sinking in debt. If the rich don't go back to paying their fair share and corporations don't go back to creating jobs here, instead of exporting them, the future of our people will be grim.

Likewise, if we don't move toward sustainable lifestyles, the twenty-first century may be the last for our species. (Read the on-line article The Oil We Eat.)

Even if it does not affect us as individuals, is that what we really want for others?

I hope not.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? Isaiah 55:2

When he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. Luke 15:14

Let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Ephesians 4:28


At 6/26/2006 11:17 AM, Blogger Richard Quick, Millionaire said...

Thanks for an interesting and engaging blog & entry.

I have 101 cures for Millionaire Sickness. They are posted on my site for free. Just scroll down to the 101 Ways... reference.

The Lord has commanded me to be rich, and to help cure others from this debilitating sickness.

Thanks for spreading the word of the epidemic!

Your comments welcome!

Richard Quick, Esq.

At 6/27/2006 6:58 PM, Blogger Clyo said...

Well, Richard Quick has practiced double talk on me, hasn't he?

The point I was making is that a person who lives within his or her income and is content without being rich is a hero. That person is as good as any "millionaire."

Don't feel inferior because you haven't made a million gadgets and, as a result, a million dollars.

It means you haven't polluted, you haven't used tremendous resources of oil or water and you haven't littered the earth with a bunch of things that people really don't need.

The truth is that the earth cannot sustain 6.3 billion millionaires.

In fact, the earth cannot sustain 6.3 billion people living in the industrialized style of North America. North American will not be able to afford its own level of consumption much longer.

Note that, according to anthropologist Ronald Wright, author of the bestselling A Short History of Progress:

"If Civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature.

Ecological markers suggest that in the early 1960's, humans were using about 70% of nature's yearly output; by the early 1980's, we'd reached 100%; and in 1999, we were at 125%.

Such numbers may be imprecise, but their trend is clear: they mark the road to bankruptcy."

More than half the world's Nobel laureates have warned that we may only have a decade left to make our systems sustainable.

Long time Pentagon adviser Andrew Marshall commissioned a report that predicts worldwide famine, anarchy and warfare "within a generation" should climate change fulfill the more severe projections.

Martin Rees of Cambridge University, wrote a book in 2003 entitled "Our Final Century" in which he concludes that, "The odds are no better than 50-50 that our present civilisation...will survive to the end of the present century...unless all nations adopt low-risk and sustainable policies based on present technology."

If all 6.3 billion people on this earth suddenly began eating as much as those in the U.S. do, our food supplies would be exhausted in 7-10 years.

This is because we do not - and have not - practiced sustainable agriculture. For more on this, read The Oil We Eat.

Future heroes of this earth will not be millionaires who own yachts and villas and factories, but those who are able to love their lives while living simple lifestyles short on material possessions but big on love, service and sustainability.

If we can create a world that functions on solar power, recycles everything and controls its population, then we may be able go back to having more material possessions.

But right now the creation and accumulation of possessions is killing the earth. And if she dies, so do we.

If you're aiming to become a millionaire with an eye to sustainability and investing in something like wind or solar power, may you succeed on the wings of angels.

But if you're trying to become a millionaire without any sense of environmental or social responsibility - just because you want a villa in France - then you're doing no one - not even yourself - any favors.

And if you feel like you can never be happy without a million dollars, then you have what I consider "Millionaire Sickness," which no amount of money will ever cure.

We all have a purpose. That purpose is to create love and joy. If your business and your life is built on love and joy, you cannot do more.

Be true to God, the earth and your path and you will be a hero whether you create wealth or not.

Remember, Mother Teresa didn't strive to become a millionaire. She strove to alleviate suffering. Make the alleviation of suffering your goal, and if you become a millionaire as a result, you will be a beloved saint as well.


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