The Super-Rich Fiddle While the World Burns

This probably goes without saying, but the wealthy are completely out of touch with reality and utterly oblivious to the lives of “ordinary” people. Certainly, one of the more notorious examples of this departure from reality was Hillary Clinton’s 2014 statement that she and Bill were “not only dead broke, but in debt” when they left the White House. This, of course, was an absurd claim given that the couple bought two homes between 1999 and 2000 at a combined cost of $4.5 million dollars. But, just when you stop laughing at the absurdity of it, you realize it’s extremely disconcerting what people who are responsible for public policy believe being “broke” means, and begin to question how that affects their ability to make decisions for the common good. 

So, what is “broke” to the super-rich, and how far removed from reality are they? It would seem, pretty damn far.

More recently, former President Barack Obama (net worth $40 million and growing exponentially) during the Goalkeepers conference hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, urged us to maintain “optimism” because “the world has never been healthier, wealthier or less violent.” I’m not sure what metric Obama is using, or what era he is comparing today to, but his statement is fantasy based on his foreign policy record alone. 

Moreover, for many in my generation, life is nowhere near as good as it was in 1995, 2000, or even 2005 economically speaking. Given that income and wealth disparity increased significantly during Obama’s administration, so much so in fact that it reached Gilded Age levels in 2011, this is fairly unsurprising.

“The surging power of the wealthy in America now rivals levels last seen in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, analysts say. One difference, however, is that the grotesque chasm between that era’s robber barons and tenement dwellers led to major social and policy reforms…”

Needless to say, it’s a little insulting that Obama believes he is in any position to implore us to maintain our optimism or discuss our wealth. Thanks in large part to decisions made during his administration, and a clear lack of significant reforms, many of us have no wealth or optimism left, and little hope of regaining either.

Facilitating this never-better fantasy world, Bill Gates (net worth $85.4 billion) calls for us to simply ignore what we see, hear and live every day, and just believe that “life really is getting better.” Of course, Gates’ comments aren’t that surprising, life really is better for the super-rich, who have become dramatically wealthier over the last few decades while the poor have only grown poorer.

While the super-rich reminds us to be optimistic and discuss our imagined prosperity, wages have stalled for 90% of Americans and costs of living have steadily increased. While the super-rich fiddle, the rest of us cope with poverty, lack of opportunity, underemployment, unemployment, lack of healthcare, and a civil war brewing in our country. While the rich condescend, tut-tut and treat struggling Americans like pony-seeking children, they enjoy a society legislated specifically for their personal financial gain at the expense of all others.

No matter, the wealthy have no clue what the mood of the country is, and even when they are faced with it, they simply refuse to acknowledge it. Hell, they are unwilling to even recognize that the current social and political crisis in this country is a direct response to the economic crisis that they created. But again, this doesn’t matter to the super-rich, they will try to convince us things are looking up (they aren’t) and if and when the proverbial shit does hit the fan, the super-rich will just eject from society Elysium-style to their own private islands, or flee to billionaire bunkers in a safer part of the world.  

For example, this tidbit from a New Yorker article written earlier this year:

“There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens. I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate…if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.”

It’s pretty clear, the rich not only do not understand the average person’s hardships, they don’t care about them, they simply channel the mythical Nero and fiddle while the world burns. Certainly, this would matter very little if what wealthy civilians thought or did had no impact on the rest of society. Unfortunately, that isn’t case. The very wealthy do influence our laws, and their donations buy them preferential access to our legislators. Perhaps even worse, the vast majority of Congress are millionairesevery single law they pass that benefits their wealthy donors, is a boon to them, and has an adverse impact on the rest of us. 

Make no mistake, the rich will not shed one tear for your dying mother or father, for your sick child, for your health or welfare, for your fear, anxiety, stress, for the dirty water you drink, or for the polluted air you breathe. Quite the opposite, they intend to cash-in on your grief and your struggles, inoculate themselves from unrest, and absolve themselves of their social duties. The plight of common people does not affect them in any way, they are completely insulated from our struggles, and that is not only a part of their problem, it is also their solution to our problems. Apathy.  

Wealthy people pushing ideology, optics, identity, racism, patriotism, political partisanship rely on you to disregard your interests in pursuit of their interests. They rely on you to appeal to their wealth, attractiveness, power and/or celebrity as a source of authority on topics they know absolutely nothing about. Namely, your hardships and the hardships faced by the vast majority of people living in this world.  

Of course, some of these individuals actually believe they are a voice of authority on issues of poverty, a belief rooted in nothing more than their ego-driven wealth. For example, imagine my surprise at learning that Patricia Arquette, an actress worth $24 million, simply assumed that she was more qualified than I am to understand and discuss the dynamics of women, children, and poverty. 

Not for nothing, I am a woman, I am poor, I have raised three children, and I graduated summa cum laude with Masters in Sociology and Psychology.  But, I wasn’t always poor.  As a young mother in the late 90s and early 2000s I owned a successful construction business, lived well within my means, owned a nice home, had very little debt, my children attended good schools, and we never had to worry about much of anything. Then the floor fell out beneath us.

20 years of bad policy decisions, governmental greed, and apathy had a remarkably swift and negative impact on my circumstances. I, like many others, have been adversely affected by the financial crisis, the mortgage crisis, the student loan debt crisis and by policies that have been created in reaction to the governmental malpractice that led to the Great Recession. In the blink of an eye, I went from a comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle to poverty, where I remain.

Patricia Arquette will never be as qualified as I am to discuss the intersections of policy, poverty, women, and children. Not ever. But unfortunately, many Americans will simply assume that she is because she is wealthy and has been given an enormous platform to speak on issues she knows very little about.

Take J.K. Rowling (net worth $1 billion dollarsand Patricia Arquette together and what becomes clear, even women who have experienced economic hardship can be indifferent to the needs of others in society once they become a part of ‘Team Super-Rich’. Arquette and Rowling also demonstrate that being a woman does not automatically qualify you to discuss politics or policies that affect the largest percentage of people living in poverty, women, and children.

The needs, thoughts, desires, and input of a small handful of the super-rich, outweighing the needs of the rest of society, is how we got here in the first place. In all honesty, it makes very little difference whether their apathy is due to self-interest, greed, willful ignorance, a narcissistic desire to wield power over society and dole out charity to those they see as most deserving, or whether it is simply that they are completely disconnected from the hardships the rest of us face. The fact of the matter is, they have no idea what they are talking about, have no interest in educating themselves, and should be politely (or impolitely) told to shut up, often.

Celebrities, CEOs, investors, millionaire pundits, and the like have zero insight on society, which means they have even less insight to offer on politics and policy.  To be quite honest, I care as much about what Bill Gates has to say about the life of common folks, as I do about what my butcher has to say about theoretical physics. Rich people are not smarter than you, hell, even Ivy Leaguers are not necessarily smarter than you (Joy Reid is a shining example of this fact).  But they will all push any agenda that protects and/or increases their wealth. Ignore them.

In matters of public policy, there is no Republican-Democrat divide, there is only the rich… and the rest. The Iraq War, Libya, The Great Recession, Liberal ACA (exchanges brought to you by the Conservative Heritage Foundation), the Drug War, Mass incarceration, Bank Bailout, Welfare Reform, NAFTA, increased drone warfare, a $700 billion dollar defense budget, cuts to education, exploding college loan debt, along with dozens of other shitty decisions were made by rich people on our behalf.  What do they all have in common?  They were all bipartisan decisions that benefited the wealthy at our expense.

It is long past time we stopped granting excessive deference to mediocre, out-of-touch elites who don’t give a damn that our society may be on the verge of collapse. The political class, wealthy elite, and affluent pundits aren’t thinking about solutions, because they have no problems. We are the only people capable of advocating for what is in our best interest, and we are the ones who need to be dictating the narrative and setting the agenda.

Written by Beth Lynch

Mother, advocate, activist, academic, unapologetic Feminist and Progressive. Beth is a Writer for Progressive Army.
Follow Beth on Twitter @BethLynch2020.

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The Super-Rich Fiddle While the World Burns