Re: virus: Rich and Poor

Tim Rhodes (
Thu, 27 May 1999 15:00:53 -0700

James Veverka wrote:

> Being a political junkie, I am always looking for the political
> consequences possible in any ideology or philosophy. This
> bit about the poorer getting poorer and the richer getting richer,
> thereby widening the nonsense. What seems to be implied
> by some is that the rich get richer always at the poor's expense.

The "bit about the rich getting richer" isn't a comparison between countries, but rather a comparison of classes within a country. If, for instance, the personal assets of the wealthiest 5% of a given nation grow a rate of 15% annually while those of the remaining 95% of the population only grow at a rate of 5% a year, it doesn't take long for a nations wealth to become concentrated in the hands a very few.

The poor are still better off than they were before (5% a year better, in this example), but nevertheless 95% of the population quickly falls below the mean in this situation. And if "dollars=speech" (as the Supreme Court has ruled in the case political free speech) then it is easy to see how the voice of the majority can effectively become drowned out by the thundering roar from the rich in this situation.

Not that all this hasn't happened in the USA before or that it must be all bad. The last time this concentration of wealth occurred did it was called "the Golden Age". (Or "the Age of the Robber-Barons" depending on your context.) The only really worrying part is that as the robber-barons of the 1920's (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Mellon, etc.) grew older and reached their late 40's/early 50's, they turned into the nations greatest philanthropists. We owe most of our greatest public library systems, arts centers, museums and endowments to them.

Unfortunately, this example of how to return a nations wealth to its people through public works has yet to be followed by this generation's passel of robber-barons at anything like the same scale. Hopefully this will change as they grow older.

(But for the moment, I have very little base this hope on other than simple wishful thinking and/or blind optimism on my part--this generation's elite seem much less inclined toward social redistribution than those of the past. Maybe because they lack the "rewards in heaven" carrot and "easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle..." stick that might have motivated such acts of generosity in the past.)

-Prof. Tim

(For the Seattle locals: This is why a "Safeco Stadium" ballpark--built using public moneys--is so distressing at a time when one is hard pressed to find a "Yamauchi Center for the Arts", "C. Larson Public Library", "Howard Lincoln Opera Hall", or "Minoru Arakawa Museum of Science" anywhere on the streets of Seattle. Regardless of whether one loves baseball or not.)