By Bob Herbert, New York Times, November 27, 2010
The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever. As The Times reported this week, U.S. firms earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter — the highest total since the government began keeping track more than six decades ago.
Back when CNN still had a Saturday night public affairs program called Crossfire, one of the panelists, Bob Novak, could be counted on to spew venom on any liberal who mentioned the growing gap between rich and poor, as another attempt to start a "class war". Now that the gap is the largest in history, and Novak is silenced in death, Herbert has picked up the mantle for liberals and from his perch among the New York Times columnists, sounds the alarm bell.
And that bell must continue to ring in the halls of the NYSE, the White House Cabinet Room, the Financial Sector's boardrooms, not to mention the office of New York city Mayor, Michael Bloomberg (billionaire) and his new chancellor of the school system in that city.
Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has a reputation as a crackerjack corporate executive but absolutely no background in education.
Ms. Black travels in the rarefied environs of the very rich. Her own children went to private boarding schools. She owns a penthouse on Park Avenue and a $4 million home in Southampton. She was able to loan a $47,600 Bulgari bracelet to a museum for an exhibit showing off the baubles of the city’s most successful women. (From the Herbert article, referenced above.)
Isn't it long past time for the western world to cease our addiction to the linkage of "quality" of person, family community with the "wealth" of that person, family or community. Accomplishment, achievement, a reasonably responsible and self-aware and self-examined life is not the ordinary contribution of one who has made a lot of money. That "achievement" is usually the result of narrow, driven and unexamined pursuit of single goals, similar to the pursuit of high marks in high school. It often, if not always, accompanies the rejection of deep questioning, and extensive reading, and intense discussion and debate, because the pursuit of the conventional, even cliche symbols of success trump all of those other "human activities."
The "good life" welcomes critical self-examination, and opens to extensive exploration of the views, opinions and imagination of others of different views, coming from different circumstances; the good life also walks along the same streets as both poor and rich, and takes note of the faces, and the attitudes and the vocabulary coming from both the body and the larynx of all people along the way. The "good life" has known the excruciating pain of hunger, and the hopelessness of no income, no prospects and no phone calls of support or offers of work. The "good life" knows those people living on the other side of the tracks as people, as fellow journeyers on this pilgrimage and knows their hopes and their fears and their sicknesses.
The "good life" knows about the wife who gains hundreds of pounds in order to be unattractive to her new husband whom she has just learned would prefer pornography to intimacy with her.
The "good life" knows about the clergy's wife who pitched the high-heeled shoe at her husband's head, when he entered her hospital room, immediately after the birth of their eighth child, and spoke sternly, "From now on, you will sleep in the basement!"
The "good life" knows about the hidden secrets of others, especially his own, and especially those of the people who are in 'power' positions, because it is the very pursuit of power that has left many of those people scratching their heads at their own ambivalence, ambiguity, dividedness and vulnerability.
And the children in New York schools need a chancellor who knows about their life, not from textbooks, but from his/her own life experiences. Clearly Ms Black does not meet those criteria.
And the likelihood that those in power will select more and more of those with wealth to fill more and more posts grows, just as the line between the legislator and the corporate sponsorships that pay the bills for their campaigns blurs the clear thinking, and even the ethical decision-making capacity of the benefactors of the corporate largesse, which is not really altruistic but motivated purely by self-interest.
And as self-interest breeds with self-interest, the emotional, psychological and cultural gap between the haves and the have-nots grows with it. And soon, with the exponential growth in numbers of hungry, and homeless and uneducated and "misunderstood" poor children, not to mention "not-understood" by the rich administrators, that gap will ignite sparks of long-repressed alienation and those perfect and perfectly rich administrators will be unable to cope with the tsunami, except by rendering it "unlawful".
Ordinary people, without massive means, and without inherited or even earned privilege, with their normal and frequently painful and tragic lives are the leaven for all human enterprises. And they (we) are not impressed by the importation of "rich" overseers whose lives do not and will not intersect with our lives.
And we are not about to change to become one of them, because we know all too well, the gifts of our ordinariness, and would not give that up for a winfall of billions.
And Michael Bloomberg and his crowd do not now, and will not in the future, know what I am talking about.
And this is fine with me and all of the millions of ordinary "poor" folks, who count our own stories and our many tragedies as our "museum platinum pieces" and not the million-dollar jewellery.