Ok, this post was inspired by SUFA’s very own Charlie Stella. It occurs to me that, while this is a political site, we are addressing problems that reach beyond politics, and that some things other than politics are involved in the philosophical discussions we have here. I will be doing two posts along this line. This first one will address the super-rich specifically, and a second will be a more general discussion of issues in our country and culture that are not, in fact caused by nor fixable by, the government or any specific political action, at least not exclusively.
I find it productive in any debate to recognize and accept the truths of your opponent’s argument. If you simply throw the whole argument out, then you damage the credibility of your own, and come off as not listening because, well, you really aren’t. That sort of dogmatic approach will not win over anyone, and it destroys the learning process that debate can, and should, be all about. In most of Charlie’s arguments, there is a reference to the problems of the 2%. While I do not have a philosophical issue with inequality of wealth, I do see where there are major problems caused by some of the most wealthy, and I recognize that, all else being equal, the one with the most capital has a MAJOR advantage.
I work for myself, and I help my girlfriend with running her own business as well (she has been at it longer than me, its just grown to be too much for one person). This is not my first attempt at starting a business. It is, in fact, my 14th. I made a variety of errors in the earlier attempts, but almost all of them could have been made up for by ample capital, and some of my failed attempts included no mistakes at all, except, of course, trying to start a business with no friggin capital. I say that to point out that I understand fully just how much of an advantage a lot of capital can really be.
Those with capital have an advantage. Is it “unfair”? Perhaps, but that does not really bother me philosophically. In real life, however, it is a tough pill to swallow watching people startup and run businesses that succceed even though they are doing a really poor job of it. Poor quality, poor customer service, etc., but plenty of marketting money and enough customers to have room for a business like theirs. Not to say they were completely incompetent, but they were in a market that I could service much better, only I did not have the capital to either acquire the tools, do the marketting, or survive the seasonal downturns or the buildup time. I am not angry at their success, don’t get me wrong, I am happy for them, and their customers, while they might have been able to find better, were happy enough to continue to be customers. All I am saying is that not everyone who is successful in business is that way because they were the best, cheapest, most convenient, or any of the other standard reasons for a business to do well in a free market. Sometimes success is just a matter of having enough resources to make things work. Conversely, not everyone who failed were poorer quality, bad business people, inconvenient, expensive, etc. So does capital matter? Of course. Size matters too. Get in a fight with a bigger person who is just as skilled as you and try to tell me it doesn’t.
Fear of Loss
“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”, not words I live by, but words a lot of people do. There are two materialistic ideas of freedom. One is having the means to do anything you want. The other is have nothing left to lose. The reason for the second is obvious to anyone who has ever felt the bondage of having stuff. A lot of people, once they have a lot, are paranoid of losing it. This may be because they worked hard for it and do not want to again, or had it given to them and would not know what to do if they lost it, or just general dependency on material wealth that makes them fearful of life without it. This fear compromises principles. Manipulating others, using government to protect themselves instead of winning in the free market, etc. are often products of this fear. As I have mentioned before, fear is the mind-killer. It will lead you to do things that you should not do. Many of the “haves” really do pull a lot of puppet strings out there because they are afraid of the masses, or of competition. They want their cushy lifestyles and their massive wealth and they no longer want to take any risks, even if they once did, or if they took risks to get where they are now.
Money is power, and like any other sort of power, it will corrupt you if you are not careful. Are all the 2% corrupt and evil? Of course not, but certainly some are. They are as guilty of messing up the free market as government is, sometimes more so, since they manipulated the government into regulating things while making exceptions for them, or into bailing them out with taxpayer dollars. It was not the government acting alone, you cannot convince me that the banks and financial power brokers out there had nothing to do with a huge windfall from the taxpayers, that the government did it with no influence from the 2%. Even the Federal Reserve itself was cooked up by some rich guys and sold to the government as a good idea. Good businessmen, some of them, who made it in the free market, as well as some crooks who got rich, got the government to pull a huge scam on the American public so that a few could make a lot more and have a way to protect themselves from consequences of bad financial actions.
Playboys and Princesses
While they are a small portion of the super-rich, the Paris Hiltons of the world really shed a bad light on the 2% with disgusting displays of excess. If anything says “unearned, unneeded wealth” it’s stories about the lifestlyes of the rich and famous. In almost every case it is someone who never did any real work in their lives. In cases like Paris, it is inherited wealth. I still think a person can give their wealth to whomever they wish, but parents who give their kids everything and never make them work a day are not doing their kids any favors. It is an error many wealthy people make, and it creates a lot of cultural division between the haves and have nots, while really accomplishing nothing but making their kids a bunch of retarded brats.
Loss of Philosophy
The destruction of this great country’s economy has been the result of far more than just government manipulation. I will get into this more in part two, but I want to lay out the frustration I have had with the business culture of this country. There has been a complete loss of economic philosophy, of vision, of the future, and of relationships with people. The long-term health of a company has given way to the quarterly report and what the stockholders can make in the market this cycle.
This is a result of a variety of factors.
The corporation itself, a government construct is part of it, removing personal liability and permitting a system of thoughtless investment. The education system is part of it, teaching young business people nothing about business but the bottom line and accounting based computations and so-called predictions. MBA graduates at top schools are coming out not knowing enough to run a successful lemonade stand and getting jobs at huge corporations making decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of people. Bad decisions, decisions that do not include even 1/3 of the important factors of a healthy business. Business runs on factors of vision and innovation and the proper treatment of people, both customers and workers. The bottom line is important, but it is not the only thing, I am not even sure that it is the most important thing in a good business model.
Another factor is the “get rich quick” attitude of the American people. I am all for competition for investments, investing should not simply be a game of the rich. If, however, you approach it as some sort of lottery without thought and just a hope to get rich it is no longer a market based on value, but a game based on psychology and statistics. Games like that always have more losers than winners. There is the short-term thinking of the American consumer, where quality stops mattering in the face of price, and companies discover that they can take every shortcut they can imagine and people will whine but still spend their money because they would rather have stuff thats cheap than not have stuff. They found that the desire for stuff is so strong that people will give up their savings, live paycheck to paycheck, and mortgage everything they have, enslaving themselves to the money brokers so that they can have more stuff and have it right now. We have lost discipline, we have lost thought, and we have lost the philosophy of business. We lost the idea of keeping your word, of working hard, of a handshake being a binding contract, of delayed gratification, and of making a business stand for quality and providing the best solution for the customer, rather than the best solution for right this second.
The two percent are not all guilty, and those who are do not bear all the blame for the problems we have. But it is true that many have used their power to gain more power, taking freedom from people simply to solidify their position of wealth. Some have lost their way, giving in to temptation and to short-term gain at the expense of their philosophy. The solution in my mind remains taking their power by taking the power of their puppet, the government. It does no good to have a powerless government in your pocket.
I believe the market can correct many of the issues of the 2% if it is allowed to operate properly. Still, the sheep must awaken and stop following the pretty lights. The market cannot correct if no one uses it properly. It is simply a tool. The very best tool for the job is useless if it is not weilded properly. Sort of like the story of the old man and the chainsaw. An old man finally decides his old axe has had it, so he goes to the store for a new one. The salesguy sells him a chainsaw, explaining it will do 10 times the work for far less effort. The old man works all day with it and is completely disgusted, goes back to the store. He says he worked all day and barely got one tree chopped down. The salesman is confused and says he will check to see what is wrong. He fires the chainsaw up. The old man yells out in surprise “what the hell was that noise??”
If you dont use the tool in the right way, it wont do the job.