Upon glancing at the article tease: Secret Fears of the Rich, which ran across a recent cover of The Atlantic, I imagine many readers were quick to smirk, “Yeah, that must be a pretty short article.” But after reading said article (“The Fortunate Ones,” by Graeme Wood) it is clear that, regardless of its immense purchasing power, one thing that money clearly doesn’t buy is clarity.
The article explores a recent study called “The Joys and Dilemmas of Wealth,” which was conducted at Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy by surveying over 160 families who are “at or approaching complete financial security.” “But given that the joys tend to be self-evident,” notes Wood, “it focuses primarily on the dilemmas.”
The results are a bit surprising. “The respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work, and family.”
Taken on a whole, the study is “an extraordinary sample of confession, memoir, and apologia,” says the center’s director, Paul G. Schervish.
On the one hand there are the more obvious clichéd truths: like money can’t buy happiness (though it can certainly help). “Money is like fire,” quips Schervish. “It will warm your feet or it will burn your socks off.” Continue reading
More from Stephen Duncombe’s Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture:
“There is something about the critique of and resistance to consumption that fails to command respect. Unlike challenges to the quantity and quality of work – which have a long and noble history embedded in working-class struggle – the critique of consumption seems a privilege of the privileged. With so much of the world desperate to become part of the consuming public, the idea of criticizing consumerism or voluntarily doing without such products seems absurd. But we live in a strange world today, where in the United States at least, poverty does not mean being locked out of the consumer dream. People may not be able to afford decent housing, education, or health care; but the latest sneakers, video games, and soft drinks are within the reach of all but the poorest citizens. Consumption has been democratized.” – Stephen Duncombe
Opinions on the corrupting vs. caring nature of power go back for centuries, far beyond Machiavelli’s The Prince (his conclusion: power corrupts). And it seems that these days, most of us are (healthily?) skeptical of those in positions of power as well, whether they be an overbearingly bureaucratic politician or an blindedly market-driven businessman (or woman, but for the purposes of corruption, it’s still mostly men). It seems like the practice of corruption follows the acquisition of power like the proverbial night following the proverbial day.
“Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power,” notes Jonah Lehrer in his recent Wired.com article. “The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude.”
Which, while not entirely surprising, is a bit troubling when we consider that it is the powerful who largely define our shared social reality.
“According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others,” continues Lehrer. “For instance, several studies have found that people in positions of authority are more likely to rely on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people.” Continue reading
“What were the results of a world dominated by large, inept, but powerful failures whose influence could not be avoided?” – Richard White
This question appears to concern the recent Wall Street debacle, bail out, recession, and so on. But it’s actually the central theme behind a new study of the Gilded Age, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, which was reviewed (“Too Big to Fail”) by Buzzy Jackson in yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe (why don’t I read the Sunday paper more often?).
“Richard White,” writes Buzzy Jackson, “has written a book that will entertain and outrage readers with scenes of corporate greed and mismanagement and the federal bailouts that enabled them.”
White, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and professor of the American West at Stanford University, has chosen a subject matter that, unfortunately, far-too-closely resembles our current socio-economic state, to show how corrupt businesses often succeeded not because of their avoidance of failure, but because of it.
“This is a story of the dark arts of accounting,” notes Jackson, “and the seemingly paradoxical fact that the transcontinental railroads were simultaneously” powerful and unsuccessful. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I was in New Orleans with family to celebrate our recently graduated Tulane alum. I had never been to the Crescent City before, and I’m still slightly obsessed with its history and culture, and of course, recent catastrophic events (not just Hurricane Katrina, but the BP oil spill, as well) under which this impressive community endures. So, when I heard about a store selling “FU BP” t-shirts, I had to check it out.
These shirts are being sold at Crawdaddy’s, near Jackson Square and the French Market, in the French Quarter. As the photo below shows, “Crawdaddy & Co. will donate $1 for each shirt sold that is related to oil spill to The Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund!!!!”
Why not contact them (Crawdaddy & Co.), order a couple dozen shirts, invite some friends over, blast a little Rebirth Brass Band, break open the liquor cabinet, and throw an FU BP party?
Or, visit Spill Baby Spill, and participate in a more sober, if not more effective, activist campaign on behalf of the gulf coast.