Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Greed and the socially dead

As the U.S. presidential candidates line up for 2016, it's "full greed ahead," to quote Frank Bruni's latest column in the NYTimes, referring to the uneasy mix of politics and big money.

Bill Clinton was singled out for earning $100 million over the past twelve years in speaking fees alone; his wife, Hilary, has been asking $200,000 per speech "to pay the bills." Meanwhile, a Miami billionaire bankrolls Marco Rubio, and the King of Jordan flies Gov. Christie in his private plane, among other perks.  Now that Jeb Bush has been able to earn "real money" after leaving his post as Florida governor, he can identify with the recent New Yorker cartoon that said:
"Now that I've made my fortune, I can run for office in order to consolidate it."

The absurd amounts of money pouring into political coffers is no surprise in a world where the top 25 hedge fund managers last year earned $11.6 billion in salary alone, with the top manager earning $1.3 billion, even though the funds themselves were down, paying only three percent interest to investors. What do these plutocrats expect in return for their support of presidential and congressional office-holders?

Meanwhile, the divide between these high-rollers and the shrinking middle class has seldom been wider, and the poor remain invisible. I was struck by a term, used by historian Peter Brown in discussing money in early medieval Christianity, that referred to the poor as the "socially dead," in contrast to the physically dead.

When greed and self-interest rule the public sphere, what happens to the community, its needs and its importance?  How visible are the poor to the donors at charity balls and dinners who enhance their own self-importance by announcing that they will seek the presidency, even if their mind is only on power and money?

I wonder if the socially (and spiritually) dead today do not include those who seek public office for their own enrichment and remain blind to the needy all around them.

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