Friday, October 7, 2011

I'm One of the 99 Percent, and Am Committed to the Greater Comfort of Somalians

Twenty years ago today I was working on my ill-fated (as never-to-be-published) biography of the entertainment mogul and dickhead David Geffen, and pondering whether his having given $1 million to a gay charity whose identity I’ve forgotten constituted generosity. Having just sold his record company for $800 million, he had months before been ordained as a billionaire. Is one who donates one one-thousandth of his fortune, and in the process quite mindfully positions himself to save a bundle on his taxes, truly generous?

Yesterday, I got involved in a little Facebook shouting match regarding Steve Jobs. One of the many Facebook friends I wouldn’t recognise as such if he sat down beside me on the bus to Margate groused that many hi-tech gadget fetishists seemed to think of as the newly deceased Steve Jobs — an industrialist, the CEO of a corporation known to use Asian subcontractors who don’t always treat their employees with the utmost tenderness — as Lennon-like, almost as a martyr. I asserted that Jobs’ integrity may well have exceeded Lennon’s, and that Jobs didn’t only make himself and his shareholders rich, but also created great beauty. (I have been using Macintosh computers with the utmost delight since shortly after my Geffen book got quashed, and am in awe of the whole Apple product line’s gorgeousness. Even the Styrofoam in which my latest iMac was braced in its box seemed to have been designed with loving care!)

Another person commented that Apple products might indeed be much prettier than Microsoft’s, but that, unlike Bill Gates, Jobs wasn’t known for his philanthropy. Which led me to infer that, before one can revel in the beauty of a work of art (or a computer), he or she must first examine its creator’s tax returns.

But that’s another question. The one I really wanted to consider today is that the Occupy Wall Street movement, about which I’m intermittently very enthusiastic, seems based on the reasonable notion that it’s unfair for a microscopic minority of Americans to own a huge percentage of the country’s wealth. The idea seems to be that those, for instance, who got rich betting on the subprime mortgage meltdown of 2007-2008 should voluntarily hand over their ill-gotten megariches to the rest of us.

I do very much like this idea (I believe, in fact, that those who encouraged people to invest in things they were themselves betting against should be publicly disemboweled and fed to rabid mongrel dogs), but another Facebook comment I encountered this morning has me in a quandary. If we down here on street level have the right to demand a greater share of the country’s wealth solely on the basis of the current arrangement being patently unfair, doesn’t the entire Third World have a comparable right to demand from America a greater share of global wealth? Once having persuaded the financiers and Masters of the Universe to hand over their multimillions because it’s outrageous that anyone should have both a penthouse overlooking Central Park and a nine-bathroom mansion in the Hamptons while someone else can’t make his monthly mortgage payment, will we be prepared to help Somalia, say, attain the same average standard of living that Nebraskans enjoy? Some of the Masters of the Universe have their nine bathrooms in the Hamptons because they bet against large numbers of American homeowners being able to maintain their mortgage payments. Most, if not all, Americans benefit indirectly from our forebears having stolen our resource-laden hunk of the continent from the Indians. Are we, when the domestic playing field has been levelled, going to pretend there’s a big difference between the two?

If my giving away a thousandth of my worth isn’t generous, then what is? A hundredth? A tenth? How can I justify having any food at all when children in the world are starving?


  1. Good point. We should strive to alleviate and prevent the suffering of all creatures, including humans in Somalia. Perhaps a little less military spending and a little more international aid might be in order.

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