Just My Luck – Chapter 14 – Part 2 – Evil’s Root
Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.~Oscar Ameringer~
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the wise 19th Century observer of the human condition, once wrote, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
Today, many who quote Emerson do him a disservice when they truncate the sentence to “Money is the root of all evil.” Emerson was fully aware that money is not evil any more than a rock or a car, or a feather is evil. It is an implement, but not an implementer.
A thrown rock may convey evil, a car purposely driven into another car may be used for evil, and a feather…well maybe a feather used to unmercifully tickle can be a tool of evil, but there always must be a human involved before any object can be used to serve an evil intent.
Obviously, ‘’the love of money” is greed, pure and simple.
Greed is a disease, a particularly nasty disease. It can infect anyone, but is especially virulent when it attaches itself to the rich. A wealthy person has more opportunity to feed greed than your everyday miser. This makes them quite susceptible to this malady. But it is not my intention to suggest or imply in any way that all who are wealthy, or even a majority of the wealthy, are necessarily greedy. My only point here is that those among the wealthy who are greedy can be highly dangerous.
Greed attacks the soul; it infects the very essence of the person with the disease. The putrid environment of a greedy soul can easily infect others, and those who are not infected can nonetheless be sickened in its presence.
That is why it is best to weaken and isolate the carriers as much as possible and to be very wary of these sinister people.
This isn’t news. Greed is not a new phenomenon that has only just infected the human condition. It was one of the maladies in ancient Greek Mythology that escaped from Pandora’s box. Mankind has been dealing with the disease for centuries looking for ways to purge it from our midst.
So far this only happens in fiction. Charles Dickens’s wonderful main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, in his morality story, A Christmas Carol, is the epitome of Greed who is transformed, redeemed, safely around the corner (cured) by a merry band of ghosts: Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present (not gift, but now), and Christmas Future (the latter greatly resembles my old friend the Grim Reaper).
Opening on Christmas Eve, the story is not subtle, but it incorporates so much in so little. Scrooge is a greedy and evil financier (sound familiar?), he exploits debtors and his lone employee (who is the most admirable, patient, and put-upon foil possible). Scrooge is self-estranged from his family and his world is nearly microscopic – counting house, eatery, home and back. His home is shabby chic before it was popular and he is the most miserly, miserable miscreant in the solar system.
Lesson: greedy people are their own worst enemies.
Like I said, subtle.
(I wonder, are the bogus mortgage securities bankers with summer homes in the Hamptons down at the mouth when a stiff breeze fills the sails on their yachts?)
Intervention and Redemption – Oh That It Were True
Scrooge is visited (assaulted actually) by spirits (souls) hell-bent on his redemption. Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s partner who conveniently died on Christmas Eve seven years earlier, stops by for a chat and gives Ebenezer an eye-ful of what’s in store for him if he doesn’t soon change his evil greedy ways. To drive down the point, Marley arranges for three other spirits to gang haunt Ebenezer. (None of these spirits were once human, though two look like humans, but all are related to Christmas times.) They replay his checkered past, show him the effects of his current curmudgeonly persona, and scare him to death about his future, literally. Oh so subtle.
The net effect of his long Christmas Eve: Scrooge survives to live another day, is a new man, a generous man, a friend to all, is a pillar of generosity, finds his family values, gives his beleagured minimum wage clark a raise and is beyond happy. Add in Tiny Tim, a cripple little boy who now may walk again, and this ending is over the top!
Sno-cones and cookies for all. Such a wonderful story. ! I do truly love it, but:
For many years I have been enamored by Alistar Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge in the 1950’s movie of the same name. There have been numerous cinematic and made-for-TV versions of this story, including a musical, cartoons and one modern adaptation starring Bill Murray. A host of fine actors besides Mr. Sim and Mr. Murray have undertaken the role on screen including George C. Scott, Jim Carey, Patrick Stewart, Reginald Owen, Albert Finney, Michael Cain (with a supporting cast of Muppets), Frederick March, Mr. Magoo, Fred Flintstone, and Scrooge McDuck (Uncle of Donald Duck, not to be confused with Donald the Trump). With the exception of Fred Flintstone’s performance I think I have seen them all.
The litmus test for my ratings of them is the joy that overwhelms Ebenezer Scrooge when he realizes he wants to, and still has time to, amend his evil ways before Christmas Future comes a’callin, agin. The energy and exuberance of the transformation in Alistar Sim’s portrayal puts a broad smile on my face every time. I make a point of watching it at least once, often more, each Christmas season and (ask my wife, it’s true) once each summer – usually in August.
Reaching back to some of my earlier posts, it touches my soul to see that albeit fictional transformation from a pure evil to a magnificent benevolence. I have been moved by it since before I was a teenager and will probably think of it, if there’s time, when I meet the Grim Reaper for the last time.
Michael Douglas’s nefarious character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie Wall Street, has replaced Ebenezer as the poster child of the disease. His oft quoted line, “Greed…is good” is classic. It is only from the inverted perspective of evil, that those words could be uttered.
Unlike Ebenezer, when Gordon hits hard times his stripes don’t change. You can knock the greedy down, but you can’t cure them. The best we can do is contain them. Isn’t that right Mr. Madoff?
Use It Well
The purpose of money is to represent value and facilitate the exchange of goods and services. It can only be put to good or bad purposes by people. Despite all kinds of manifestations that complicate money: credit, debt, insurance, interest, dividends, derivatives, credit swaps, etc., etc., at its core money is basically a fine invention and necessary tool in any civilized society.
The ways people use money is what counts.
Closely related to greed, hoarding is another disease.
“Reality” television displays instance after instance of people who are obsessed and possessed by their possessions. Unable to relinquish ownership of anything, their homes become dense tall indoor forests of haphazard and useless stuff stored in all the rooms of their houses, leaving only narrow pathways traversing through. By hoarding their items, blenders that no longer blend, newpapers whose stories are no longer news, clothing that no one wears, toys that no children play with, the hoarders remove all intrinsic value in the items and thereby convert them to coveted junk.
Some people hoard only money and the same thing happens there. Once in a while a news story will describe a seemingly poor, destitute person who dies leaving his or her astounded heirs millions of dollars that had been squirrelled away in hiding places in departed’s former home. That lonely soul was never financially wealthy, he or she was simply a hoarder of the paper and metal physical representations of money.
The point is, money that is not circulated has no value until and unless it is returned to circulation.
Another way of stating this is money that does no work (facilitating the exchange of good and services) has no real societal value. The money hoarder’s home stuffed with paper and metal is just a big piggy bank; its contents only become currency again the moment the coins and paper monies are released from captivity and are transacted.
The rich (the top 10% most wealthy who are stewards of 50% of the wealth in the USA) hoard money, only differently. True, most spend lots of money, invest lots of money, and donate lots of money to benevolent causes. What they spend and donate goes back into circulation. They are mostly kind hearted, generous people, many of whom earned their wealth themselves. Many are passively making money while actively giving goodly portions of their wealth where it will do the most good for humankind.
The money the rich invest to continually maintain and grow their fortunes, remains under their sole care, custody, control and benefit. The often quite considerable monies dedicated solely to the preservation of wealth can benefit only a microscopic portion of humanity. They do not typically circulate to nourish others as “consumer spending, the life blood of the economy.” These investments come home every night under the roofs of the rich who already have exponentially more than they could ever spend.
Those who have no need for more money but eagerly work to amass more anyway have fallen in love with money. The buying power they remove from circulation might as well be in walls, in mattresses, or under beds and floorboards like the possessions of other hoarders.
Meanwhile consumer spending that circulates the nourishing lifeblood of the economy among fellow citizens, operates without the participation of significant portion of 50% of the nation’s wealth.
Let’s be clear here, consumer spending is a process of give and take – presumably an even exchange of value for value. Investment is a win/lose risk proposition whose sole objective is to take and whose only consequences are win, lose or draw.
Under many roofs of the 10% and others who aspire to that lofty height, the primary financial goal is “wealth preservation,” not survival, not relief from hard work, not small pleasures, not the joy of giving. These may all be objectives as well, but not the primary purpose of the fortune. Preserve your wealth so that the major achievement of your wealth is that you can leave it to your gene pool, who will leave it to theirs, etc. etc.
I wonder, “Why is that? What purpose does the handing down of immense kinetic spending ability serve?”
“Don’t be a moron,” you reply. “Everybody knows Money is Power.”
Yes it is, yes, it certainly is. Just look at our money-bloated friend in Las Vegas.
Risk & Reward
Venture capital looks to grow capital by taking calculated risks in funding the growth and development of someone’s idea to create something new, or better, or cheaper, or modified to increase value. A successful venture that adds new or improved or less costly products or outlets betters the flow of spending in the economy. In a well proportioned economy, that’s great.
But what are the expectations of the Venture Capitalist? What is a hedge fund’s objective? Profit, certainly. Nothing wrong with that except when it violates the common sense principles of ENOUGH.
When a financier seeks a 50 to 1 return on his/her investment, the investment itself becomes ridiculously disproportionate and thereby toxic to the economy. When returns of 10 to 1 are considered failures, someone is dangerously in love with money and their greedy expectations infect our entire society.
The lifeblood of the economy is consumer spending. The wider money is distributed among people, the greater can be the demand for goods and services. Self serving greed that hoards money and curtails consumer spending undermines our economy.
Greed is Economic Public Enemy #1.
End of story.
©2016 James Ash