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.’