The philosophical underpinning for today comes from the Hithchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Welcome to the “Total Perspective Vortex“.
” . . . the TPV is now used as a torture and (in effect) killing device on the planet Frogstar. The prospective victim of the TPV is placed within a small chamber wherein is displayed a model of the entire universe – together with a microscopic dot bearing the legend “you are here”.”
Putting things into perspective can be painful, or at least bizarre. Various news items from the last few weeks have me reaching for a drink, but I’ll write this post first. I want to keep things in their proper perspective.
30 people could do that? Why don’t they?
Less than a year ago I posted about the fact that about 300 people had as much wealth as 3,000,000,000. Then the numbers were revised. 85 people have as much wealth as 3,500,000,000. Now someone broke it down further to point out that 30 Americans have as much wealth as over 150,000,000 other Americans. 300 fills a small theater. 85 fit into a couple of buses. 30 don’t even fill a restaurant. Imagine, 30 people suddenly deciding to make a grand statement that would immortalize themselves by alleviating suffering of half a country.
But here’s the other part of that perspective. Some of them are doing something. Of the richest 30, several have pledged to give away at least half of their wealth. Some of them are giving it away in ways that many approve of: Bill & Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, George Soros. Others are obviously working with power in ways some consider corruptive: Charles & David Koch, Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn. And then there’s the Walton family who collectively could exert more power than most historic royal dynasties, but I’m not sure what they’re doing with it all. The money isn’t static, it isn’t exactly going to flow evenly to the greatest number either, and it isn’t even flowing in the same direction.
Total cost of poverty
The amount required to eliminate poverty in the US is one-quarter of the US Defense Department’s budget. Fight the War on Poverty at one-fourth the intensity that we fight Wars and we’d finally have a victory to celebrate. Mission Accomplished. The “World’s 100 richest earned enough in 2012 to end global poverty 4 times over“. 25% isn’t a very high tax rate.
But maybe that’s only a short term fix. But maybe even a short term fix will have so many side effects that we’ll be happen to do it again if necessary.
Games are expensive
For the price of the Olympics we could’ve launched 20 missions to Mars. NASA has to argue for budget, yet our games cost so much that we could’ve build two teams of soccer playing robots (we could get the two extra players as part of a volume discount), flown them to Mars, had them play and televise three weeks of games, and then had them get onto an analysis more extensive than NASA’s engineers could imagine. Or we could’ve explored more than one planet. Or maybe explored our own oceans. Or maybe send up a US robot to the Moon to jumpstart China’s Jade Rabbit. The Super Bowl cost $70,000,000 was run as a non-profit, and only lasted a day. Even just getting the NFL to pay taxes would be enough to pay for fields and equipment for kids who don’t have many options.
But we’ve got to have the Big Game, right? Otherwise, what else will bring people together. Really, getting 750,000 people together for a football parade is far easier than getting 75,000 people together for just as long to help fix people’s houses or plant gardens for low-income people, or distribute donated meals for a day.
I see such numbers in the news. The resources flowing around this planet are phenomenal. Get them steered somewhere useful and each year we’d knock off another major task. And then I quit philosophizing, pay my bills, and ponder whether I’ll be able to afford a modified mortgage. The amount it takes to live a frugal life is blessedly small. Own a piece of land. Live in a tiny house. Be resourceful in many of the aspects of life. If it wasn’t for mortgages and insurance, I could live for a year on less than some families spent on Super Bowl tickets, or short visits to the Olympics. The discordance between the public displays of public wealth versus the basic needs of people who have far less than me has actually made it difficult for me to watch the games. There’s an insensitivity on display that is only acceptable because of its naivete and innocence.
But in perspective, I know that such personal stories are so common that they aren’t news. I know that we’ve become so accustomed to seemingly ever-present homelessness and poverty, and to regular and traditional extravaganzas that suggesting something different is seen as self-centered and disingenuous.
This is the world in which we live, where non-profits have to hope for small slices from very big pies, where funds for luxuries are easier to find than funds for necessities, and where we have such a great opportunity to see what’s happening, change our perspective, and celebrate a far better world. Then that little flag that says, “You are here.” will also mark the site of the party. And then I can have that drink without hesitation.
As long as those with vast resources continue to live under the delusion that they have actually “earned” what they have, I’m not optimistic for change though.
When you look at how much is possible, yet how little gets done, the only conclusion one can arrive at is that being a “wealthy person” is fundamentally incompatible with being a “good person”. And from my point of view, that includes your Bill & Melinda, Warren et al.
At the start of the Olympics I did a lot of searching around the internet to figure out how, without a TV, I could watch the games. I figured out that you have to pay some vendor (and there were a long list of them) to live stream to your computer. (If I am wrong on them, someone let me know.) So allllllllll the $$$$ put into the games is all for naught for me. I love watching the Olympics. Its such a feel good event and right now a feel good event would be welcome. But on a very limited budget for this on-the-road full-timer in a Teardrop…its not going to happen. What a waste.
Ive heard about what Bill & Melinda Gates are doing, there is a good video on it somewhere, and applaud them for their work to redistribute their wealth and encouraging other billionaires to do the same.
Thanks Tom for this good post…they are all good actually!!