Wealth and the 47%

“I can’t afford my own politician so I made this sign.”
Occupy Boston, Oct 15th, 2011.

As I write this there is a lot of commentary flying around in places like the New York Times and Washington Post about a video in which Mitt Romney makes disparaging remarks about 47 percent of Americans. In case you have missed it, someone secretly took a video of Romney at a private fund raising event. Here is a particularly thoughtful piece in the NY Times written by David Brooks, a leading conservative columnist.

I will leave the political analysis to the legion of pundits who are happily weighing in. I am more fascinated by the situation which helps give rise to opinions like those Romney expressed. I don’t even know if Romney truly believes what he said. Candidates tend to tailor their remarks to the audience. Romney’s audience in this fund raiser (according to another news story) are people who can donate $50,000. These are very, very rich people.

What is important is that these wealthy donors believe what Romney said about half of America being dependent on government and believing they are victims. What is even more important is that millions upon millions of Americans also believe this.

One wonders what America these people live in. They don’t live in the same America I have spent my life in.
They literally don’t live in the same America most of us inhabit. And that is part of the problem in our society today. It is possible for the very wealthy to isolate themselves.

The folks in that living room, the people who can give a $50,000 campaign donation that does not make a dent in their lifestyle or bank account (or, more accurately, bank accounts) don’t live where most of us live. They live in gated communities. They belong to exclusive clubs. They never ride a bus or a commuter train. Few of them ever sit in the economy section of a stuffed airplane (many of these people fly in private planes).

These people are isolated. They do not feel part of an interdependent community. For them, more than half of the population are “other.”

“Rethink the American dream.”
Occupy Boston, Oct 15th, 2011.

This is what happens in a society where income distribution continues to grow more and more unequal. (The latest numbers show that income inequality continues to grow in America.) Not only does this raise all kinds of issues of justice, but inequality corrupts our society. It divides us. It destroys relationships.
Some people use their wealth to help heal others. They give generously to support all kinds of causes and institutions that make all our lives better. Others, far too many, use their wealth to escape. In the long run, concentrating so much wealth among a few people harms everyone.

Ironically enough, the rich pay a huge price for inequality. Many studies show that the very wealthy are not happier. Their great wealth isolates them. They become deeply afraid. They become wary. They fall prey to ideologues who tell them they deserve what they have because they are morally superior.

There is a reason that all the major religious traditions teach us that great wealth is dangerous.

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