If You’ve Got the Money

If a millionaire sat in front of a fire and burned one dollar a second, it would take a little over 11 days to go through the million dollars. A billionaire sitting at that same fire, burning money at the same pace, would have to keep it up for over 30 years. Someone with 100 billion dollars (and we have a few of those around) would still be burning money after 3,000 years.

The impetus for this little thought exercise was the statement made by Bezos at the end of his recent flight. Evidently he had decided some time back that a trip to the edge of space would be fun/a good idea, and ordered a rocket ship to be built for that purpose. (I’m looking at the sentence I just typed and can hardly believe it even though I know it happened.) He picked a few friends, rocketed up to the edge of space, floated around for a short time, and came back. Upon his return he exited the capsule, went to the microphones waiting for him, and said he’d like to thank all the people who bought stuff on Amazon, because they paid for his trip. Clueless or arrogant, or probably a little of both, it was a striking thing to say. It could be argued that his workers also paid for the trip, since it was their labor that resulted in his gigantic bank account.

His choice to spend his money on this, as well as on a yacht so large it needs its own smaller yacht, instead of rewarding his workers with better wages, more vacation, premium health care, improved working conditions, or any number of other options, is reprehensible. If capitalism is the art of what you can get away with, he is a master. Henry Ford, a man with many faults, was also the man who doubled his workers’ wages because he understood that if the workers couldn’t afford the products they were making, he was missing out on an enormous market. I’m not sure he did it because it was the right thing to do, but he did put a good sized chunk of money back into circulation that another in his same position might have kept for himself. The fact that Ford was seen as bucking the system and Bezos is seen as an example of the success of it says to me that the system is deeply flawed.

There is a verse in the Tao Te Ching about men with fancy swords and women in fine gowns, parading their wealth at court. Lao Tzu said that this is like robbers boasting after a looting and, as usual, I think he’s onto something.

I’ve seen a lot of posts and ads over the last few years attacking one or the other of the two main political parties here in the US. Some make an attempt to be well-reasoned and fact based, and others are just mean, showing no regard for truth or decorum. Politicians are easy; they generally love the sound of their own voice and so provide ample opportunity for anger or satire. Just because they are easy, though, it does not necessarily follow that they are where the focus should lie. An indicator of this is the fact that the people “in power” change but the core problems persist.

It seems to me that maybe, if being angry is a useful stance (and I’m not convinced that it is), we’re getting mad at the wrong people. Maybe, instead, we should be looking at ways to improve, revamp, or completely reorganize the system. It’s working very well, but only for a vanishingly small percentage of people. Another solution, less often considered but probably more likely to have long-term success, was proposed years ago by Buckminster Fuller. He said once that we shouldn’t fight the system; we should create new ways of doing things that make the old system obsolete. I think he’s onto something as well.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

One thought on “If You’ve Got the Money

  1. As usual, we’re on the same page, Jim. The amount of good Bezos could do with his money, beginning with his employees but so far beyond that, and still live a luxurious life himself! What a shock when he finds he didn’t get to take it with him and he’s reduced to the same quality dust as the rest of us peons. 🙂


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