This morning I ask a friend how her son knows so many rich people. She replied, "He's just lucky, I guess."
found this comment to be very troubling. It points to a sickness that
pervades our entire culture: the belief that rich people are
fundamentally better human beings than the poor.
people are materialistic, because greed is a natural part of our animal
instincts. But materialism is something that we should be embarrassed
about, not something we celebrate.
The capitalist system
demands that people are endlessly materialistic. We must believe that
greed is the highest value and that happiness depends on material
possession. Even more insidious, we must believe that our value as human
beings is based on our material wealth.
This message is
endlessly broadcast to us in commercials and entertainment programs.
Right wing politicians condemn discussions of class issues, because to
do so, is to question the entire value system that keeps the ruling
elite in power.
There was once a counter argument to the
materialistic message heard in cultural discourse, but within my
lifetime that counter-message has been drowned out to the point where
few people ever consider that there is any value system other than that
which holds materialism as the highest measure of goodness.
belief that the rich are fundamentally better people than the poor is a
belief that has long been held by the elite, but now is accepted even
by the poor. In political discussions working class people routinely
blame the poor for the world's problems. Including the financial
meltdown on Wall Street. This surreal idea is drilled into their heads
by right wing political commentators such as Rush Limbaugh.
Gordan Gecko said "Greed is good" in the movie Wall Street, the film's
villain was seen as a hero by many young men who saw the character's
'win at any cost' behavior as something heroic.
is good' philosophy has become accepted as gospel truth among the
elite. Reagan and Bush based their economic policies on the idea.
Economists claim that it is a law of nature that would never fail, could
cure all economic problems, and would create a utopian society.
twisted 'greed is good' logic claims that if one person accumulates
more wealth it magically helps everyone in society. In reality, the
economic decline of the last thirty years is proof that this is not
true. When greed is built into the system, the rich get richer and the
poor get poorer.
The financial meltdown of 2008 was such
an obvious repudiation to the claim, that even Alan Greenspan, the man
most responsible for putting the theory into practice, was forced to
admit it was wrong. Yet it is still heralded as truth by the elite,
preached by right wing political commentators, and parroted by the poor,
who ironically suffer most as a result of the theory.
believe there is much more honor in poverty than in being rich. I am as
materialistic as any other animal. But I try not to take pride in my
baser instincts. I do not celebrate my materialism or advertise my
possessions. I do not yearn for expensive cars or long for an
ostentatious house with which to impress the neighbors. I try to subdue
my lust for material possessions.
In New York City many
people wear clothes with brand labels displayed prominently as a means
to advertise their wealth. When people compliment something I am wearing
I often automatically respond that it came from Goodwill and I paid
three dollars or some such small amount for it. Upon reflection, I
suspect my response is actually a means of telling people that I reject
their value system that leads them to measure human worth by clothing
I am not saying that the rich are
inherently evil or that all rich people are evil. But every waitress or
pizza delivery boy will tell you, "The rich don't tip." As a homeless
beggar once said to me "The rich take care of the rich, the poor take
care of the poor. Most of the donations I get come from the poor."
this points to is that a selfish mindset often leads to accumulation of
wealth. Besides the anecdotal examples I present above, there have been
numerous studies done in recent years that came to the same conclusion
concerning the morality of rich people.
The elite often
believe that they are a higher quality of people who are above the law,
and in fact, have been quite successful in changing the laws so that
previously illegal activities that the rich take part in, are now legal.
When you hear politicians demanding "deregulation," what they are
really selling is the idea that the rich should not have to obey the
laws in their pursuit of more wealth and power.
this demand to be above the law is justified by the 'greed is good'
theory that if the rich get richer it will magically help all of
society. The 'greed is good' philosophy has given the elite the excuse
to act immorally because the mythical utopian end justifies the means.
born into money are even more likely to have corrupted values. Before
they can even become conscious, self-reflecting beings they develop the
belief that they are privileged individuals who the world seems to
What always stood out to me about people
born into wealth is that they are often blind to some fundamental facts
of reality. And at times their humanity is thwarted by this lack of
understanding. I believe that unless a child has went to bed hungry at
least once in their lifetime they will never truly have an
understanding, let alone empathy, for the realities much of humanity
Often those born into wealth lack an understanding
of the true value of a dollar. What it takes for the poor to earn a
dollar. That it can mean life or death to some. And the profoundly
devastating effects of the loss of dignity that the poor experience
within a value system based upon material wealth.
of dignity is especially pervasive because the message promoted under
capitalism is that no matter what you have, it is never enough. We must
constantly be enslaved by our
unquenchable desire for more and more
material possessions. We are all required to spend to the edge of our
limits and beyond. This creates a dynamic where the working class is
always on the verge of disaster if the next paycheck does not arrive.
a home keeps one in the harness for thirty years to come. New cars,
electronic gadgets, designer clothes, all of our possessions lead us to
become slaves to the capitalist system. And to the elite, it is better
yet, if those possessions are purchased with credit card debt at
inflated interest rates, that will never be paid off, if we do as we are
told, and make the suggested monthly payment.
in life as envisioned by the ruling elite under 'greed is good'
capitalism is to purchase to our limit and then work at the jobs that
create more profit for the rich so we can pay off our dept. But none of
this is possible without a value system that claims that human worth is
determined by our material possessions.
Many people are
skeptical of the idea that advertising and entertainment are designed to
promote the materialistic value system. But if one studies the history
of advertising they will find that the first advertising firm was
created by a nephew of Sigmund Freud specifically with the idea that
humanity's base animal instinct could be used to manipulate them
psychologically so that they would desire products they do not really
In her novel Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand created a
tale where all the rich people hid out from the world, and since the
inferior working class people were too stupid to run the world, they did
nothing but yearn for the rich to return and save them. This was
symbolized by a character named Jon Galt. Galt was the richest of the
rich, and the poor inept working class people would cry out "Where is
Jon Galt?" in hopes that the rich would come back and run their world
Jon Galt has come to represent this elitist idea
and many believe it is true of our world. In the months after the
economic collapse a local radio station hosted a call-in show to discuss
the Jon Galt concept and to ask whether the working class truly are
inferior people and whether the elite have gained their wealth because
they are superior beings. Many men from Wall Street called in to claim
that they were smarter and worked harder than the huddled masses.
have worked a variety of jobs and my experience has been that the less I
got paid the harder I had to work. Scrub a few floors or dig a few
ditches and ask who is working harder, the Wall Street executive or the
As to whether the rich are smarter, when we
look at the deals and dealings on Wall Street that led to the economic
collapse, what we find is a dangerous mix of stupidity and dishonesty.
Most of what is being sold is a con game, and the dealers are either the
cons or those being conned.
Recently a study of how
wealth is created revealed that throughout most of America's history
wealth was held by old-money families who earned their wealth in the
early industrial age and passed it on from generation to generation. In
contrast, over the last twenty-five years most of the wealth has been
held and created by those that work in the financial industries. The
money was earned by buying and selling. Not by producing anything
concrete. And often what is bought and sold doesn't really exist. It
doesn't matter what you buy and sell, as long as the next guy is stupid
enough to pay more for it than you did. In practical terms it is a ponzi
scheme from beginning to end.
Now if these people are the best and the brightest, if they are the superior beings, may the gods help us.
our modern world everything is for sale. Advertising is increasingly
more crass, more invasive, and more prominent. Even what is not supposed
to be advertising, actually is advertising. The music we hear on the
radio, the articles in a magazine, and increasingly the information in
the news, is all advertising that has been bought and paid for. I
recently heard a writer for a magazine say that there used to be rumors
that articles were paid for, but now it's all out in the open.
Everything is for sale, and no one tries to hide it, or questions the
morality of commercializing everything in life.
it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:23-24
You can not serve both God and Mammon.—Matthew 6:19-21,24
religion and every great spiritual leader has preached against greed
and materialism. Our value systems are essentially a spiritual question.
What is important in life? What gives life meaning? What is moral
Capitalism is, in fact, a religion. When that
religion is taken to its radical extremes its moral tenant holds that
individual profit is the highest value. Every ounce of profit must be
squeezed out. Even if it means putting thousands out of work. Even if it
means lying and cheating the consumer. Even if it means throwing women
and children into the streets. Even if it means destroying our natural
environment. Even if it means bankrupting our entire nation. It is all
justified by the belief that personal profit will solve all the world's
The "greed is good" form of capitalism demands
that we must believe that our meaning, our happiness, and our morality
holds materialism as the highest value by which we measure our worth as
But I believe there can be a balance. That
capitalism does not have to be radical and extreme. Capitalism can work
without greed. In fact, enlightened self–interest informs us that greed
is as bad for capitalism as it is for humanity. Again, the economic
collapse is just one example of how greed is destructive to the free
Morally, we can temper are animal drive for
materialism by balancing those instincts with other spiritual values.
We might start by asking ourselves what makes a human being a good
person? What kind of person do we look up to? What kind of person do we
revere as a society? What are the qualities that make us human?
is a story told by Joe Strummer of the band The Clash. The band had
just experienced its first wave of commercial success and were leaving a
hotel room to go to a performance. When they walked out of the hotel a
stretch limousine pulled up to take them to the show, with a van for the
crew right behind it. The band members looked at each other, then
without saying a word they bypassed the limousine and ran and jumped
into the van.
Personally I don't want to be seen as rich.
I don't want to be associated with that image. I do find honor in
poverty. Or at least in modesty where materialism is concerned. If I am
seen as having any value by the society I live in, I want it to be for
something other than having material possessions or a bulging bank