Commentary: A wealthy addiction to wealth

The Kansas City StarSeptember 21, 2012 

DIUGUID LEWIS KC

Lewis Diuguid is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

MBR — MCT/Kansas City Star

After the Bush tax cuts created a tornadic updraft of greater wealth to people at the top of America’s income ladder, a friend offered an observation.

Having grown up in a wealthy family, he said people who are already rich can never get enough money. They become slaves to the need to keep what they’ve got while striving to acquire more. It sounded as if he was talking about most people’s idea of the American dream, but he didn’t say it in an endearing way.

It wasn’t until another friend sent me a decades-old article by Philip Slater in Quest magazine that the earlier statement made sense. Slater wrote that rich people are hopelessly addicted to their own wealth.

Not only that, but most other Americans are enablers. Slater calls them “closet addicts.” They seek to join what the Occupy Movement derides as the 1 percenters.

“Money, like heroin or cigarettes, is certainly an addiction, and one to which few of us are altogether immune,” Slater said.

It’s why the Republican controlled House and the timid Senate have opposed President Barack Obama’s efforts to raise tax rates on people making more than $200,000 a year. Obama has been labeled a socialist for wanting them to pay their “fair share” in a nation with a wealth addiction, starting with the first Europeans landing in the Americas 520 years ago.

Slater said: “Poor and middle-income people seem to tolerate being ripped off by the wealthy — either because they sense the neurotic needs of the rich and feel indulgent, or because they entertain the fantasy of becoming rich themselves. This fantasy betrays the closet addict, whose secret dream brings him into unwitting collusion with the wealthy. But it is a conspiracy from which the closet addict gains nothing and the wealth addict gains everything.”

It’s not an accident in this country that people who were white indentured servants felt akin to the landed aristocracy rather than blacks as slaves, American Indians, Hispanics and Asians. The minorities were all lowly, exploited laborers, but racism enabled whites to feel superior.

It’s why whites who never had a chance of owning slaves enlisted in the Confederate Army during the Civil War to “protect their way of life,” hoping to ascend to the ranks of the wealthy.

Lotteries, casinos and other gambling keep the dream of outrageous wealth, like that of Mitt Romney, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, alive for people whose best hope of getting through these hard times are places that fleece them with payday and title loans. Such joints enable the wealthy to take more from the poor and middle class.

“The closet addict, however, has lost the capacity to feel indignation toward those who take more than their share of things,” Slater wrote.

“He is deaf to injustice, blind to inequality and numb to exploitation” Slater wrote. “Injustice can’t be corrected without resentment. We don’t have to hate wealth addicts, but we need to resent their addiction and the misery it creates for all of us — our economic instability, our miserable environment, poverty and so on.”

Instead of fighting America’s third gilded age in a Teddy Roosevelt fashion, people are enamored by it. Slater calls it “plutomania,” or a morbid craving for wealth. Plutomaniacs “exercise a lot of influence in our society and have been able, through the media to inculcate addictive responses … (and argue) that everyone is after money except for a few deranged derelicts.”

Slater writes that wealth addicts aren’t happy. “Wealth tends to make people unhappy because it encourages them to try to translate all their fantasies into reality — an exhausting and usually disappointing pursuit,” he notes.

This country has to come to see that “equality is a public health measure.” Slater advocates the U.S. reinstituting a progressive tax system and the elimination of inheritance to remove the wealth addiction hazard. It would make necessities of life such as food, housing, medical care, education and a safe, pleasant, nontoxic environment attainable for all.

The November election will determine whether the wealth addiction is treated or we stay on the same hopeless path.

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