For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Isn’t it funny how society has kept sliding towards an almost totalitarian dominance of money, even as the ills of it have been apparent for thousands of years and the warnings clear. I guess it doesn’t require the self-aggrandised delusion of a Donald Trump to highlight within a society that the grossly disproportionate accumulation of money corrupts both society and those who have accrued it. A village dominated by one person or one family subjects that village to their will, suffering to their benevolence or otherwise.
I would be curious to know what the tipping point is; just how much money becomes too much money? When does the amount of money you have begin to corrupt you as a person, when does it begin to corrupt the society around you? When does your influence, driven by your ego, begin to tear at the fabric of the society that you cast your shadow over?
But is it simpler than that? Is it just that we permit society to develop to revere success; where success used to mean survival, and money became the symbol of the crudest form of success? Once people developed fire and no longer had to scurry for safety and began to fashion tools with which to defend themselves with and feed themselves, was the success of survival usurped by outward displays of success, with money as a final, convenient, form of display? Instead of success being a reverence for internal achievement, the sense of a job done well, success made of personal relationships, all those millions of ways we can feel we have succeeded but are not externalised, is it just that society values the externally visible symbols of success and the unnatural conclusion to that is accumulation of money with no glass ceiling.
Dreadful people like Donald Trump are not many people’s idea of someone being a success at being a human being (and, depending on your definition of business success, he’s not much of a success as a businessman either) but he’s visible, thanks to a saturation of mass media and the weird way we have attributed the label of success to include our visibility. It’s all very strange.
The price to our societies for indulging the vanity of those who accrue grossly disproportionate quantities of money is poverty, neglect, and suffering. People with extreme personal fortunes invariably contribute nothing to society, at best. The leeching of wealth out of a society, as practiced by these people, places public services under increasing strain, pulls at the fabric of society and fuels (and exploits) war.
If the extreme “rich” are so bad, why have we tolerated them for thousands of years? Society has moved in small ways over a very long period of time and those incremental changes produce the society we currently have. The problems we face now aren’t new but they represent exploitation that has always benefited those people who are externally motivated, the greedy, the sociopathic, the insane, while the rest of us are distracted by internal motivations. The sociopathic will use the tools around them to further their ambitions, whether that’s tribal leaders fashioning clubs and arming a coterie of paid followers to beat down those in their vicinity or a Prime Minister ordering Police to trample on and assault striking miners or sending hundreds of thousands of military personnel to foreign countries to exert the profiteers will in the name of freedom. But they will also use less obvious means and simply steal from people by creating and enforcing laws that favour the likes of Philip Green or Robert Maxwell.
We can make practical changes to society, like introducing and enforcing better taxation. We can more equitably distribute society’s wealth through Living wages, Universal Basic Incomes, and truly affordable housing. But do we have the will to make those changes?
Can WE change? You would hope so. Most people already have no aspirations to accumulate the sorts of amounts of money that corrupt society but they either don’t see the link between people of vast personal fortunes having a corrupting influence or they don’t see placing a limit on the indulgence of those people’s greed would not impact upon them. We have a strata of society who are meant to govern in our interests but who do not. What we need are better politicians or better political structures that ensure that our politicians do act in our interests. Political reform is key. People need a will for societies that serve the people, we need better understanding on how economics can deliver those societies, and we need representatives to make it happen. Maybe, instead of judging success by how much people can accumulate for themselves, we judge success by what people can achieve for others. It would be interesting to know how we make that evolution.