Its all in the mind. And increasingly, the minds of men and women, not only in the United States but throughout the world, are being colonized by the capitalist imperatives to produce more, package more, sell more, consume more and own more.
We can now buy embryos, sperm, ova, breasts and chemically enhanced biceps. Wombs are rented. Internationally, human organs are bought and sold. And for those readers who might not know what the word trafficking refers to: it means the selling of persons, usually young ones. It is not traffic; its business.
Buying and selling has not only colonized our bodies. It infects our imaginations. We seem to have a fixation on how can we find bigger things to buy and fatter bank accounts to buy them. The duPont Registry for the ultra affluent has offerings like a platinum cell phone for $30,000, a $1.2 million Patek Phillippe watch, a luxury sports car for $2 million, a private golf resort for $62 million and $300-million yachts.
The bigness syndrome, driven by nothing other than money, is found in everything from Whoppers and Big Macs to a Super Bowl Sunday that runs a week and a multibillion dollar campaign for the presidency mindlessly bloated to two years. One cable channel now has a political super Tuesday every Tuesday.
No matter how big one is or how much one has, one always feels small. Consider the comments from some Silicon Valley millionaires quoted in the the New York Times: A few million doesnt go as far as it used to.... Youre nobody here at $10 million.... Id be rich in Kansas Citybut here Im a dime a dozen. (He has $5 million to $10 million in assets.) As Robert Frank reveals in Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, whether people are worth one cool million or 10, they usually estimate that to feel secure and rich they need twice their net worth.
Our quest for bigness and profit internationally endangers the nations health as well as the health of the rest of the world. Aside from the question whether we would even be at war in Iraq if there were no oil there (a fact not unrelated to our glut of consuming and spending), the cost of the war in money terms alone has ballooned into projections near a trillion dollars. At the Treasury Department on Aug. 8, the president told his economic advisors that he would veto any tax hike, complaining that an increase of $205 billion in discretionary spending over the next five years would cost about $112 million per day; $4.7 million per hour; $78,000 per minute. There was a tone of alarm in his voice. I wonder if he realized that those scary figures are only one-half of the daily costs to us for his war.
Alarming as well is the fact that China has become such a powerful capitalist force that it now has a dangerous money leverage over the United States. We are increasingly dependent upon the Chinese, not only for our clothes, electronics and food, but for our economy itself. So unrestrained and unregulated in its newfound capitalism, China is marketing low-cost, inferior goods from toothpaste and toys to automobile tires. It is threatening its own cultural heritage, waterways and skies. (The smog is so dangerous that athletes may not be able to compete in some outdoor events at the Olympics next year.) Most ominously, China is developing an appetite for oil that is as enormous as ours.
If you consider the depletion of labor retirement funds, the crisis in health care, the strains on the family, the teeter-totter of the stock market or the foreclosures on homes, you will find capitalism gobbling up the resources of the poor and middle class. Among the super-rich, at least those who have no moral or legal constraints on their desire for more, you will find hedge fund operators paying 15 percent tax rates on their hundred millions while doctors, teachers and other professionals pay twice that rate. No wonder they love the president who decries taxes.
I know some readers will hate this column. I know the arguments about envying the rich. I know the great benefits that capitalism and creative entrepreneurship make possible. I also know that the greatest victories for justice in this country have been won through restraints on capitalism and the supremacy of profit: overcoming child labor, enfranchising manual workers, insuring product quality and job safety.
If you think that only a person steeped in the workings of our economy and investment is worth listening to, perhaps Warren Buffett might move you. At a fundraiser ($4,600 a seat) for Senator Hillary Clinton, he noted that the tax rate on his $46 million income was almost half the rate on his secretarys income, who made $60,000.
The 400 of us, he pointed out to his audience, pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If youre in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent.
That calls for a diet.