Why should the obscenely rich scale back so they’re just extremely rich?
There are people on this small planet in possession of more money than is probably good for them. It’s a small, yet impressive club. Some of these men and women have so much money, in fact, that they have trouble finding items with price tags high enough to dent their finances. These are the folks who buy supersized luxury yachts, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, or more.
While it has been pointed out to me that these tremendously wealthy yacht owners create plenty of jobs for boat builders and designers alike, the outlandishly overlarge yacht building industry—which is rarely affected by an economic crisis—is somewhat indicative of how much money a single human being can now accumulate in a lifetime. Some of these private yachts are so large they require smaller maintenance and storage yachts to accompany the main ship, just for upkeep.
At the other end of the economic spectrum, you have workers, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled, working hard (some harder than others) every single day. If they’re lucky, they make enough money to support themselves, their families, and still have a little cash left over to save. The problem is that these days, workers of all types, blue collar and white, are finding it extremely difficult to get by—assuming they can even find a job in the first place. Part-time, temporary contracts, under-the-table, telecommuting and below minimum wage jobs are increasingly crowding out traditional, full-time jobs. People work to survive, but in many cases, still can’t make enough money to meet their basic needs.
Human beings, with very few exceptions (the martyrs among us, perhaps), look to their own advantage. Business owners and captains of industry will seek out ways to cut costs and increase profits. If this means eliminating worker pension plans, health care programs, sending jobs overseas and employing part-time or undocumented workers… then so be it. Workers look to their advantages as well, irrespective of their personal investment in the company, or lack thereof. When offered longer lunch hours, better pay, free childcare or shorter workdays, they would be fools to not hold on to these advantages, or desire them in their absence.
The gulf between the rich and the poor has existed in free societies, dictatorships, and centralized economies for ages—yet it seems that this gulf, in America especially, and industrialized countries in general, is turning into a destructive chasm. Depending on the figures you go by, the middle class and lower middle class have taken a massive hit over the last few decades. Since the late 1970s, CEO salaries in the United States have increased about 725 percent, rising from just under 27 times the rate of the average worker, to a whopping 206 times the rate of average worker, creating a wealth inequality rivaling some of the most notorious and oppressive regimes, past and present, on the planet. Even if you doubt these figures, and choose to cut them in half, a cavernous disparity between worker and high-level manager is clear to see.
When these numbers come up in media debates, pundits often talk about personal responsibility, life choices, and the rewards and penalties a capitalist society offers to entrepreneurs, investors and basic workers, respectively. While the men and women at the top should reap the rewards of their endeavors and creative work, the sheer magnitude of their disproportionate accumulation of wealth needs to be be examined in proportion to the productivity and “work value” of everyday personnel, from people laboring in the food service industry to factory and warehouse employees.
Rather than owning several super yachts, and a fleet of Ferraris, perhaps the ultra rich should make do with just a single, fairly massive yacht, and one or two Ferraris. I know this might be hard for them to stomach at first, yet by merely being tremendously rich, rather than obscenely rich, and diminishing their income levels (and bonuses) just a tad, they could reduce some of the financial strains hoisted onto the shoulders of average workers, who helped create the rich through their labor, or by digging into their diminishing salaries (of said workers) and purchasing the goods and services that built the wealthiest class in the first place.
This might seem like an act of unnecessary kindness on the part of well off, but it’s not. Reasonable income for work, no matter what that work happens to be, will help build a larger middle class (part of the erosion problem is technological, as well), which in turn will help keep the wealthy in the green, while diminishing the fears of the super rich that an angry populace—underpaid and overworked (or desperate for jobs)—might stir up social mischief for the princes and princesses living at the top of the economic ladder. Of course, if society descends into chaos, the super rich can always live out the remainder of their days on one of their super yachts, or maybe in Saint Barthélemy or Switzerland.
Every society has a breaking point when it comes to the clashing desires and necessities of the various classes. If the wealthy are as smart as they keep saying they are, they might want to leave a little extra for people down below, so the common folk can at least meet their basic survival needs. By doing so, the rich just might be saving their own, overpriced skins (down the line) at the same time.
Image credit: ToGa Wanderings/Flickr