Not really an edifying topic for Easter Sunday, but what the heck!
Well, Douthat and Pinketty and Krugman and the whole one percent they’ve identified are right to be in a dither about their “wealth.” Because what they’re focused on, rightly called “capital” because it is an invention of the head in which sits a human brain, is fleeting and ephemeral, evidence for which is to be found in the forty trillion dollars that were supposedly “lost” in the crash of 2008. If forty trillion of anything can disappear without any real physical evidence, then there was nothing real there to begin with. Which means that however many trillions are left are just as likely to disappear.
(Nobody seems inclined to think much about it, but the reason one “can’t take it with you” into the after-life is because when the cognitive brain stops working, either before physical death or at the moment, the perception of tangible reality and imagined things comes to a halt. Without perception, things might as well not exist, though, of course, they do. Not being able to see things doesn’t meant they’re not there, even though seeing things doesn’t mean that they are. Figments of the imagination may or may not be real).
In any case, the problem with the forty trillion or four hundred trillion of assets that are claimed as property by a few or many people as exclusively their own is that this claim serves as a justification for depriving the rest of the population of access to those assets, as well as, increasingly, the assets held aside in common in their name. We the people of the U.S. supposedly own many millions of acres of land in the mountainous West, whose value is unassessed, if not incalculable (e.g. our tax assessors asign a value of $50 to an acre of marshland), in part because the revealed worth of the one percent would pale in comparison. If everything were equally valued, then the billionaires would be revealed as clothed in paper.
While the real assets claimed by our billionaires are as tangible as the Rocky Mountains and the estuaries of our extensive coastlands, the billionaires don’t know what to do with most of what they claim to own. Which is why, for example, the Kochs and their ilk are now spreading the tangible (and electronic) symbols of their ownership around the country in the form of electronic propaganda, proving for anyone that wants to see that dollars and speech, whether spoken or written are similar, if not identical. Money and speech convey messages to those prepared to receive them. The fish in my pond would be equally unimpressed by dollars and calling cards when they are looking for pellets or bread crumbs, in response to the vibrations that communicate someone’s presence in the yard, or even just opening the curtains in the kitchen. Indeed, the fish in the pond may be more aware than our billionaires, though neither can anticipate when some predator will swoop out of the air and carry them off for supper.
Why do we buy into the myth that the Kochs swimming in a sea of dollars makes them important? Is it just to distract from the reality that dollars can evaporate quicker than a body of water? Or is it just a matter of maintaining the fiction that dollars are worth having?