Saturday, June 19, 2021

Pay Up

I rewatched Citizen Kane not too long ago. I'd forgotten most of it, as I usually do with movies I saw once decades ago, so one of the things that seemed fresh was how Kane was made rich by his benefactor at a very young age, but didn't want to do what his money manager told him to do. He ends up being a jerk, of course (that's why there's a story), but otherwise, it seems a bit like the Abigail Disney story.

Disney — daughter of Roy, niece of Walt — is exactly my age. She got her gigantic inheritance at 21. A few days ago she wrote in The Atlantic about how her money managers indoctrinated her into believing she deserved her wealth because government is bad, it will only waste your billions on the poor, and the rich deserve what they have.

I came upon her article because Cory Doctorow wrote it up on Twitter (and on his own blog, here). In summarizing Disney's indoctrination, he says

...a common trope in these discussions is that the government is ever tempted to give money to poor people, and must be protected from this impulse.

This racism and classism are dressed up as "meritocracy" – the tautology that the rich are worthy, the worthy are rich, and anyone who isn't rich is therefore unworthy.

In the first generation, this doctrine is merely sociopathic, but when passed on to a new generation, it is eugenic. Walt and Roy demonstrated their worth by founding a studio and navigating it through the challenges of the market, and that is why the market made them rich.

But their children – and grandchildren – didn't get their wealth by founding or running a studio. They got their wealth by emerging from the correct orifice. If their wealth is deserved, those deserts are a matter of blood, not toil.

In other words, they were born to be rich, not just as a matter of sound tax planning, but as a matter of genetic destiny.

Disney's Atlantic article is in the context of the recent ProPublica reporting about the tiny percentages the ultra-rich pay in taxes and the loopholes that have been written into law to help them do that.

Disney spends a bit of time ruminating on why it took her so long to realize her indoctrination was wrong. She uses the fish/water metaphor, of course. But she also admits this:

There was another reason for my inaction, and I am deeply ashamed to say what it was. But here goes: Having money — a lot of money — is very, very nice. It’s damn hard to resist the seductions of what money buys you. I’ve never been much of a materialist, but I have wallowed in the less concrete privileges that come with a trust fund, such as time, control, security, attention, power, and choice. The fact is, this is pretty standard software that comes with the hardware of a human body.

As time has passed, I have realized that the dynamics of wealth are similar to the dynamics of addiction. The more you have, the more you need. Whereas once a single beer was enough to achieve a feeling of calm, now you find that you can’t stop at six. Likewise, if you move up from coach to business to first class, you won’t want to go back to coach. And once you’ve flown private, wild horses will never drag you through a public airport terminal again.

True, and human. But we all need to realize we are the same as Disney, though on a much lower financial level.

If you think of flying at all in the age of the climate crisis as the same thing, relatively, as flying private (which it is), you can feel the same as Abigail Disney without the private jet! Or extrapolate further: what about your (my) personal car and all of those asphalt roads and freeways it travels on, all those parking spots it sits in as you go about your business?

People who have, must to be willing to give up some of what they have. That's what it's going to take to achieve a just transition to a world we can all live in.

Whether what's being given up is Jeff Bezos going up into space or the ability to jump in your car to drive to an ice cream shop that's five miles away, just because you feel like it. It's a continuum of selfishness that cannot be sustained.

No comments: