An Appetite for Aristocracy

Opulence, via DirectTV commercials
Opulence, From Russia With Love

Very recently, I saw ‘the Opulence Guy’ of the famous Direct TV meme on an episode of Sons of Anarchy as an Irish Arms Dealer. This inspired an entire conversation about wealth and its manifestation in our culture.

Capitalism in its current form is a breeding ground for insatiable desire. It is as if desire has become our sixth sense. Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Chrystia Freeland, author of the recent Plutocrats and Global Editor-at-Large at Reuters. This report highlights the ultra-elite and their going global in today’s world. Perhaps their desire is better than the average bear’s.

Roth and Shapley, two Americans, were recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for their research and practical applications of Matching Theory, which ‘has improved the performance of many markets.’ Our desires are made more accessible. The current manifestation of matching theory ‘matches’ organ donors with those that need them in the case of the New England Kidney Exchange. Or doctors to hospitals that need their specific qualifications in their first year of employment. I can only imagine what the next application of this currently helpful and constructive theory might be. Especially when even the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences uses the term ‘economic engineering’ loosely in its praise of these theories.

Recently, I was struck when a colleague and I were discussing the applications of the now popular Raspberry Pi. Its intent of spreading knowledge and stimulating the teaching of basic computer science in schools makes the technology of computers as well as their applications possible even to countries that are developing. The first use my colleague could come up with was using it to upgrade his television into a computer. Opulence.

I am struck by commercials for companies that feed desire with the promise of instant cash. What they do not tell you is that this cash comes with a four year repayment plan for the instant gratification received. These commercials often air right after the commercials for Las Vegas. Followed by the ones for ETrade. Followed by some insurance company telling us how to save money. And another insurance company. And a bank called Ally, your friend that isn’t new, it’s your old friend GE again.  The gilt must be laid on our chairs. The chains must be made longer.

Since much of our manufacturing and industry has moved to China, it seems advertising emphasizes ideas more so even than product. Let’s push the idea of wealth and luxury and opulence further. Produce a tourism commercial. Let’s make the carrot just a little closer to the horse, but let’s make the wire holding it just a little longer behind the scenes.

Design a website for Sallie Mae. Check the latest statistics on the average college graduate’s student loan debt. Make the loan company’s logo friendly and welcoming.

Listen to the radio for news on Congress and its handling of our budget. Let’s produce a film for Atlas Shrugged in two parts. Make sure the stay in theaters maximizes profit, but increase the speed by which it reaches the general public via NetFlix and DVD.

Watch the History Channel’s series The Men Who Built America. Learn how a few men built an entire nation on the backs, blood, and sweat of thousands of their ‘ordinary’ brethren. Learn how to make heroes of these men once viewed as crooks. I doubt these shows will cover the meeting at Jekyll Island, or even Woodrow Wilson’s own views on the Federal Reserve.

Listen to the debates. Watch two elite men discuss finance and money as if it were a regular everyday thing to spend billions, even trillions of dollars. Talk about jet lag. (Don’t forget to increase the cost of an average plane ticket either). Are these men even capable of understanding the average American’s ‘real-life’ any longer? Forget the debt of the country. How about the debt in our homes? The chains we drag with us like some Ghost of Wealth Gone Past.

How many zeroes does a trillion dollars have anyway? It seems the more our culture emphasizes wealth and the channels by which we acquire it, it simultaneously decreases the capability by which the average person may actually understand in a realistic way how money works. Palahniuk’s violent solution of erasing the debt record in Fight Club comes to mind, a Great Flood of understanding and an encompassing simplification that functions to physically limit the playing field of humanity once again.

In the grand meaning of life and death, the economy is a system of exchange of energies and resources. To create false hope of opulence while simultaneously decreasing its likelihood is perhaps the greatest lie capitalism ever told. In our creative fields, it may perhaps become the foremost question of ethics that will dominate the future of our work. Is it moral to continue to propagate the impractical and overbearing liability of the American Dream for millions and our country and abroad?

I for one, vote for a redesign of the system to emphasize the energy and exchange more so than the booty. The rewards of the few in the large markets of the world could be changed with a change in general consciousness. Perhaps the favoring of life with all its simple riches over a dream and its imagined luxuries is just what America needs. The favoring once again of the people over their ‘kings.’

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39 thoughts on “An Appetite for Aristocracy

  1. I think the proles don’t revolt because secretely they agree with the system, just so long as they’re at the top.

      1. When people stop believing in abstraction and having faith in what’s around them, I think the world might be a better place, and probably much less stratified.

  2. Congratualtions on being Freshly Pressed! I really liked your article because I’m headed for an MA in economics, and my motivation is that some big things about out society need to change

    1. I think they are all on their own and through the hard work, innovation, instinct, and insight of the great people in this world. Our leaders might be tied up in red tape, but we are not. What things specifically do you think need changing, especially in relation to economics? And thank you for the congratulations. Being freshly pressed is truly and honor!

      1. Materialism is obviously a problem, and people feeling entitled to things we simply can’t expect any more; children can no longer expect to be more prosperous (on average) than their parents, and workers can no longer expect the same pensions with lower rates of return. Economically, I’m afraid I could go on for a while about things that need changing, but the biggest is probably income inequality. Many people don’t feel as though they are getting a ‘fair’ living relative to others, and this means they won’t work as hard or innovate as much. They are probably right, too – real wages have been stagnant at an average of $20/hour since the ’70s. So the average Canadian (sorry, I don’t have American data but its probably very similar) has been earning the same thing since the ’70s while the richest 5% earn much, much more. To encourage workers, and to make life easier for those at the bottom, our tax and transfer system should be more equitable and efficient.

      2. Fantastic response. As far as America goes the average wage is far lower. To be adjusted for inflation, minimum wage should be at around $23 an hour I believe. However, if you make 34,000 a year you are still in the top 1% of the world. Fact check me on those if you like please, but irregardless we don’t have it as bad as we think. It is just a construct of our culture to hunger for that elite. I’m currently woorking on a post about the History Channel’s current homage to “The Men Who Built America.” I am intrigued this is airing two weeks before an election and these men are being portrayed as unsung heroes. I admire the idea of “The American Dream” but startled by the fact that a currency backed by an idea can crumble the moment people shift consciousness towards sustainability, sharing, and the future. The History Channel seems to me to be doing a little rewrite and they left out Mr. Zinn. Thank you for your openness and I am interested in your ideas mentioned above. Mostly the how and the engineering that would need to happen.

  3. Woah. You are so right here. Growing up in the ’90s, I bought the capitalist lie lock, stock, and barrel. I was told that if I “just made it through college” with good grades, I could do anything and have anything. I did, but the market collapsed during the whole process, so now I can’t even move out on my own or finish paying for the education I worked so hard to complete.

    1. I graduated 2008, probably around the same time as you, my friend. I know the feeling. Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more. Keep your chin up and your shoulders back. I think things will be getting better DESPITE the politicians not getting it done in Washington. People are busy and moving without their assistance. They will continue to do so. And the wealthy can’t hold up in their mansions forever. “Times, They are a Changing.”

  4. Some great points, yes. Money makes the world go around which is why most of us are in a spin about it.

    I’ve written a short post on global wealth in my latest blog, and this is part of it,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    “So, if the majority of the world’s wealth is flowing to the minority (rich) of the population, then the reaction must certainly be an opposite flow of poverty to the majority.

    And as these flows continue, they will increase at an exponential rate, until finally, all wealth is in 1 persons pocket, and the rest of us are starving and begging for food.”

    And there’s even an old nursery rhyme here……………..

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/#jp-carousel-623

    Cheers

    Mick

    1. Although quite silly, I enjoy the concept of the ultimate ‘trickle-down’ effect resulting in us finally figuring out the math of one.

  5. Capitalism + a complex advertisement network = unquenchable and frivolous desire. The lure is to “be like” – your favorite, celeb, athlete, mogul….etc.

    1. I think the intended end goal is to move a product or service, but there is something strange that happens when ‘the big idea’ is absorbed into our ethical and social mindsets.

      1. I think I see where your going. As opposed to opulent consumption being for just lavish self satisfaction it is being engraved in our psyche and becoming almost as “culture” as the way we speak.

    1. Your chart is intriguing. I think it begs to be related to an historical chart of America. And what’s interesting about living right now is that when you break things down into black and white as you have, those at the top seem to make it more and more gray. So it’s like people don’t know who to wave their banner for or against and there seems to be a constant push and pull push and pull back and forth. If you keep the working class guessing and always changing their alignments and compasses, they will never be able to fully develop an identity and ideas of their own to rebel against Hegel’s indubitable ‘master’ making that class the perfect ‘slave.’

      1. Unfortunately in the States you can’t use the world “social[ism]” even as part of another word, without first being dragged through mud as a Communist. This was the very point of the post in the first place – to explain that Social Democracy is far closer to Capitalism/Democracy than it is to socialism [communism].

        Whenever there’s a discussion on economic theory in the mainstream media (rarely), the W. European States seem to get slammed – for – well, for I can’t fathom precisely why, except that as you say, the powers that be would find it unpleasant to franchise the whole population of the States as it’s done in say Britain or Germany.

      2. I don’t believe the people of Germany or Britain are ‘franchised.’ I believe this is a rhetorical language used to incite fear and create anxiety in this country. Be careful the words you are using. I grasp your point though. Economic theory in the states is neither valued nor as openly discussed as it could be.

  6. The reality behind the veil; the myth Capitalism perpetuates to ensure us ordinary folk are kept in place. The more we want the less we get, but the harder we’ll try regardless; determined to be what Capitalism says we can be – successful and rich. After all the free market is where competition is encouraged; anyone can be anything so long as they work hard for it. ‘The opiate for the people’, yes it is, that and popular culture. With everyone striving to have 3D televisions and the next new BMW, no one is going to challenge the system or rock the boat. If we all buy in to the ‘dream’ we are less of a threat, subdued and controlled. Greed, and self deception – capitalisms best friend.

      1. And by the way, Savvy Senorita, I love your the photo of you about to dive into that coffee. I think I would like to paint this image (with your permission of course!). Would you happen to have a hi-res version?

  7. Hi, Sorry, just realised my vague reply to your question about my photo. I have no hi-res version of this, it was taken a mobile phone. However, if you can paint it from the photo I have posted on my blog, then by all means do so! Would be great if you do decide to, and complete it, if you would allow me to see the finished piece!
    Thanks, Bex

  8. After being a follower of you, I did not realize you were Freshly pressed until reading this post… well deserved because your prose conveys frustrations that are shared by many.

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