The Moment of Truth — March 24, 2012

Makers and Takers

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the not-so-lazy Susan.

Have you heard of the “seed?” A seed is a little tiny thing, about the size of a sesame seed. In fact, I think the seed and the sesame seed have similar etymological roots.

This little technological wonder works like this: you take the seed, you put it in some special dirt called “soil,” you sprinkle it with water and a few weeks later you have a cabbage or some broccoli or a carrot or something. It’s amazing. They call this technology “farming.”

Who came up with that? Was it Steve Jobs? It must’ve been.

Actually, although it sounds like the latest high-tech gizmo, the seed has been around since before anyone can remember. Farming wasn’t invented by Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, it was invented by farmers thousands of years ago.

There have been some improvements. For example, back when cotton was the biggest crop in the southern United States, it caused a big problem. Cotton drew so much nutrition out of the soil that farmers ended up going out of business. Then George Washington Carver got farmers to grow peanuts to help the soil recuperate.

George Washington Carver was the Steve Jobs of his time, I guess, huh? Maybe, except accumulating obscene wealth was not a priority for George. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison both offered Carver huge salaries to work for them, because he was such an inventive guy. But even after becoming an international celebrity Carver continued to work at the Tuskegee Institute as a member of the all-black faculty teaching a black student body. He made about $1500.00 a year.

Though back then a lot of people considered Carver’s commitment to his people, who had early in his own lifetime been freed from slavery, to be noble, I guess today he’d be called a “chump.”

There’s an attitude today among the über-wealthy that money-accumulation itself somehow contributes to the well-being of society. How exactly these self-appointed model citizens have convinced themselves of their own sainthood is something of a mystery. Poets and philosophers have long remarked on the ability of we human beings to award ourselves laurels and blind ourselves to our own shortcomings, but the persistence of grotesque self-deception among the over-privileged continues to mystify.

How does a class which gains most of its income from the manipulation of paper assets come to call themselves “the makers” and the rest of us stupid enough to actually work for a living “the takers?” Because these are their terms. Not every obscenely wealthy person thinks this way, I suppose, but a large enough majority of them do, and they don’t really have to fight a barrage of rhetorical rebuttal in order to do it. So let me speak directly to them for a moment:

Hello, Makers. I’m sorry the rest of us have been such a disappointment to you lately. It’s obvious we aren’t holding up our end of the social contract, or we wouldn’t be hurting so badly economically. But let me make an observation.

You would like, I’m sure, an educated, ambitious and inspired would-be restaurateur to open a nice little place for you to eat. But the percentage you draw from all points of his possible revenue stream has grown too large for him to make it anymore - from the rent he’ll pay on the brick-and-mortar location, from the raw materials he’ll use as ingredients, from the fuel he’ll use to power his transportation and his ovens, from his advertizing, even his ambience - you, the top-tier shareholders in the financial siphoning machine, are taking too big a cut at every step in the process.

And all down the line, prices of everything have to rise to compensate for your exacting your dividends.

When you shortchange the rest of us on our share of the profits, when worker productivity can go through the roof without wages rising at all, you create poor people whom you then condemn for needing public assistance. It’s an Ixion’s wheel of your own hypocrisy, lack of awareness, and sense of entitlement to which you’ve strapped the rest of society.

And where, built into this amazing economic system, is the incentive for you to shrink your cut? Where is the pressure for you to increase wages and drain less fluid from the economic blood supply? You’ve demonized unions and all but destroyed them. You’ve bought influence over politicians who might otherwise be persuaded to legislate a less destructive divvying of resources. And with your think tanks and media domination you’ve crippled public discourse on economics to the point where workers and poor people who talk about increasing, let alone strive to increase, their share of the wealth of society are considered parasites or socialists at worst, probably motivated by jealousy of the rich or at best manipulated by misguided do-gooder elitist intellectuals.

You’ve even destroyed your own ability to think in a less socially irresponsible way, having propagandized yourselves into believing you’re entitled to every cent you can wrest from the collective human enterprise because you are the best part of it.

In today’s belief system, power is meant to be used, the truly brilliant person of power uses it to its fullest potential, and there is no moral reason for restraint. In fact, restraint is the hallmark of the fool. Failure to extract every possible advantage from a situation is considered a missed opportunity, even the result of laziness or sloppiness. The only virtue is winning, and the bigger the win the more virtuous the winner.

And now some of you even want to take credit for the seed. Not satisfied with relegating the farmer to anonymity, you want to take credit for the creations of Nature herself.

This isn’t working out. It’s impossible for us down here to see the actual good you do, if you indeed are doing any, because you’ve separated yourselves from the rest of us behind a shroud of financial mysticism. While you’re fooling yourselves into thinking you’re doing all the work, we’re down here not seeing anything but the wreckage we have to sweep up and rebuild from.

And because we must rebuild - believe it or not, a living is not something created by a wealthy person, it’s something fostered in a community of people who rely on each other - we will rebuild. And once we have, we may arise with a slightly different idea than yours as to who are the makers and who the takers.

You own stuff. Mostly you own legal instruments for channeling money into your pockets. You didn’t invent the seed. No one did. You didn’t invent peanut butter. More to the point, you don’t farm. You don’t tend to the sick. You haven’t committed your lives to lifting your people out of poverty. And those kinds of things still need doing. And doing those things is what an economy is. Get over yourselves.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!