Hedge fund managers:
- David Tepper, Appaloosa Management: $4 billion
- George Soros, Soros Fund Management: $3.3 billion
- James Simons, Renaissance Technologies: $2.5 billion
- John Paulson, Paulson & Company: $2.3 billion
- Steve Cohen, SAC Capital Advisors: $1.3 billion
I heard the tail end of this story today and I wondered is there a legitimacy to an ethical code that allows, accepts, and encourages one single man can make $4 BILLION dollars in one year and allow others to barely scrape by.
When I say something to this effect the pro-big business people will immediately start screaming that I am trying to get a redistribution of wealth. They argue that the work of one’s own sweat ought to be one’s own. There is a noble idea about being self sufficient, of supporting one’s own, of being a capable individual. Such individuals, capable of performing well and heroically (to borrow the sentiment from Ayn Rand’s books) is a cornerstone of our capitalist-leaning society. It is hard to get rid of because what are commonly referred to by some as protestant work ethic is a social norm. That is we appreciate those who work their asses off. And it is a common belief by some that to be for socialism is to be lazy and not willing to carry one’s own load.
Put it this way. Many people work as waiters and a majority if their income comes from tips. Some restaurants do not allow individuals to collect their tips but instead instigate a tip pool where everyone puts their tips into the pool and it is divided out among the workers. Many waiters that I know are greatly against this idea and prefer individual tips. I have protested it as well. The problem? Incompetent workers. It isn’t rocket science to be a minimal waiter and the number of terrible waiters are legion (and bartenders). It takes someone with actual skills and cognitive abilities in memory and sorting to be a good one (much less the emotional stability to handle customers who might harass them).
I doubt seriously that the hedge fund manager works as hard as many people I know who now have broken bodies from a lifetime of hard labor. Don’t tell me that pay is equal to sweat and effort.
So the argument, accepted by a lot of people in our country, is that to be for a redistribution of wealth is a means of rewarding the slackers in our society because the only people who would really ever want this would be those who could not make more money anyway. Going back to the restaurant example, you would expect the only waiters to favor a tip-pool approach would be your lousy waiters as your better ones would realize they are losing money and go elsewhere to work.
Another reason why a redistribution of wealth is believed an evil by some is that or individualism is a central component to who we are as Americans. The notion that I am captain of my own ship (meaning I am in charge of my own life) is a strong fantasy that we hold on to. To somehow acknowledge the idea that this does not hold true for a lot of people in this country seems to equate, in some people’s minds, the same as denying the principle of self sufficiency and autonomy.
I’ll put it another way. Children are precious and slavery is a moral wrong (for the sake of space I’ll not defend these two assertions here). Yet as I’ve just found out there are many sex shops where underage girls are forced to work (slavery) in Portland, Oregon (and other cities as well). Acknowledging this exists does not mean I accept their validity or right to do so, but that they do and hence something can be done to stop it.
But what does it mean to be a free individual? That question is quite a complicated question if you tease it out. But for simplicity’s sake lets say that to be a free individual is to be free of undue influence from outside sources. I may not like my job and so I choose to quit. I am free to do so. I am an autonomous individual.
When the question of working conditions comes up many will say ‘well just quit your job and go find another one’. I wonder how many of those people that have given me this argument over the years have found themselves downsized during the past year and have had great difficulty in finding another job? I wonder how many have lost their homes due to high mortgages and low income? I wonder how many have had their kids pull out of college?
But I did work for a company that I did not like. I wanted to quit many times. The company was the worse company I’ve ever worked for and I’ve compromised my principles to continue working there. Had I been truly a free individual I would have told the owner what a terrible person ze is. Yet I had rent to pay, truck payments to make, food to buy, and more. I had responsibilities and constraints acting upon me. I was not completely free.
For those interested in the difference between free will and free choice they should read Spinoza. To truly have free will is to be without any influence upon behavior, and according to Spinoza this is God, for nothing makes God do anything. We, however, do not have free will as we are always under influences and a long line of causality. I am sitting here now because gravity forces me downward (I cannot float in the air should I choose) and as much as I’d love to I cannot stay up for weeks at a time as I must get sleep. I can choose to do certain things within constraints. I can choose to run or walk, to sit or dance, to eat or sleep. But these choices, again, are limited, influenced, and shaped by many factors. I cannot do without sleep, I cannot run 100 mph, I cannot eat 100 hamburgers at once, and so on.
The notion of free will, misunderstood as it is, is connected to our system of ethics. We tend to think that an action is only a moral action if it is done with free will. There are those who disagree with this, and there might be exceptions to the statement as well. But generally speaking free will is important to us if we are to assign praise or blame. The Judeo-Christian religions must have some notion of free will. Otherwise an eternal damnation in Hell is utterly without excuse or merit. However I would argue that there exists nothing so heinous that warrants an ETERNITY of a Hell. Nope, not even Hitler. Think how long eternity is and add one, as the joke goes. I cannot follow a system of ethics based upon this simplistic formula.
And people that do good out of fear of punishment are no more deserving than those who do not do good out of fear of being caught. The only praiseworthy person is the one who does good for good’s sake without any reward. In other words the notions of Heaven and Hell are contradictory to a true system of morality of good. If you do an action for a future reward, or do not do an action to avoid a future punishment, you are a hypocrite.
Back to our $4 Billion dollar hedge fund manager. If ze paid 0.01% tax that would be $40 Million.
There are many types of conservatism out there. I’d warrant to say that should Edmund Burke be alive and view Sarah Palin on the news he’d fall out of his chair. There is nothing to connect the neoconservative policies to the conservative values of Barry Goldwater. There really is no ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ but in our current state where we cannot be bothered with reading more than a few sentences, we get our news from highly biased sources that share air time with the emotional plights of superstars, it is no wonder that great many of us have given ourselves labels as ‘left’ or ‘right’, ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ and we view politics as a one or the other game of winners and losers. Our society is largely unsophisticated in its citenzry.
An example. Some people have the notion that because you can fertilize an egg and produce a child then you are endowed with parenting knowledge and rights. A person will say “I have the right to raise my kid the way I see fit” and this gets nods of approval from many. Okay… fine. Let us take this as truth. I am going to go have a kid with some (un)lucky woman. I’m going to take that kid and raise that kid to behave like a hunting dog. I’ll keep it on a lease outside, feed it raw meat, and so on. I figure that too much emotion will make the kid ‘soft’ and that I want someone who is tough. I have the right to do this, I am the parent!
NO! You might say (I hope you say this). This isn’t exactly what we mean by ‘having rights as a parent’. And here is a problem that we find in our society. We say a lot of bullshit but don’t understand the grand things we say. What we really might say is that, as a parent I have a primacy in responsibilities in raising my children, that this includes managing the well-being of the child’s physical, mental states and I have great leeway, as the parent in what those might mean and how to accomplish it though the final judgment is up to society at large as to my efforts.
If the last sentence bothers you, then ask yourself how you feel about the following scenario. A church in Oregon teaches its congregation that modern medicine is wrong, that God ought to be trusted, and should He want the child to be healthy, then so be it. The premise is that it is all in God’s hands and all one can do is pray. To take medicine is to lose faith. Parents from this congregation have a child that gets sicks and dies. The State of Oregon takes them to trial and finds them guilty of negligence. Is this wrong? There is another question here about the freedom of religion. However, as I often do, freedom OF religion also means a freedom FROM religion… a point I sincerely wished the religious right in this country would remember when they try to put their religion in our laws. The child had a right of freedom from the religion of mer parents and to receive medicine and possibly live.
What’s more important? The parent keeping faith in some religion… or a human life?
Those who are against socialism will argue that they shouldn’t have to pay more taxes to some dope smoking hippy can get by doing nothing all day. To be honest I don’t want to work my ass off and let someone sit around and do nothing either. Yet what is the greater evil? That a small percentage of people would sit on their asses smoking dope and playing hacky sack, or that a great many people live in poverty, that we close schools, that programs for the needy are cut? Gods forbid we have universal health care because that means (gasp) a move toward socialism! It is better by far that people go bankrupt to pay for their medical bills than it is that the burden is shouldered by all.
If the average school teacher makes $32,000 a year (I’m not sure of the figures), then one year’s earnings by the hedge fund manager above would pay for 125,000 teachers. I wonder what states these managers live in and what budget cuts the governments have made in their schools. Of course I doubt their kids feel the cuts.
So here it is that 2010 and Jesus Christ comes back in secret, like a ‘thief in the night’. Jesus walks around and sees people working two, three, four jobs to try and make ends meet. Bob had to take out a pay-day loan to pay an emergency room bill for mer kid’s broken arm. The interest on that is out of control and when it is all said and done Bob will bay 400% interest. The Republicans, the party of morality, consistently blocks attempts to regulate the pay-day loan industry because it is against free enterprise (for to Republicans, and Democrats too it seems, business trumps humanity always). And besides, Bob had a choice not to go to the loan office (while the kid was crying with a broken arm… yeah… nice choice). Jesus walks around and sees our laws, the homeless on the streets, and decides to pay a visit to some big supporters of ‘morality’ and ‘free will’ and ‘less government’ and asks them how they can sit on their asses while people starve? Think that Jesus would be a capitalist? I hardly doubt it. He was, if anything, a socialist. Recall the parable of the workers in the field.
So there is this notion among Christians that in order to get into Heaven you must accept Jesus and confess your sins. I am assuming that in this confession the person must be actually repentant, that is, actually sorry. Now here is the thing. Suppose a person lived a life of wickedness and, at the end of the life saw the wickedness in mer life and decides to repent and shortly dies thereafter. That person would go, it is commonly believed, to Heaven. Now I ask you, what God, who can supposedly look into your heart and see your true motives, would look at the selfishness of many today and be fooled? Think that you are really that slick?
But I don’t believe in such a scenario. I maintain that a system of ethics must be grounded in this life, not the hereafter. Religious people ask all the time, ‘if you don’t believe in heaven then there can be no morals today’. Again, if you must rely on heaven and hell for your system of morals then it isn’t a very good system. Look at the behaviors of people today who say they believe in Heaven and Hell? Doesn’t appear to be doing such a great job in shaping morality.
Not with someone making $4 Billion in one year and all the misery that is around that individual.