June 14, 2005
Copyright © 2005 by Marc Norton
In case anybody out there in progressiveland has any doubt that the ruling class in Baghdad by the Bay is awash in money these days -- last Friday, June 10, an article in the Chronicle business section reported that 5% of the households in the San Francisco Bay Area have financial assets of a million bucks or more. This calculation does not include "principal residences," that is homes. It seems there are more rich people around than you can shake a stick at.
Think about this for a minute. Say you are a hotel worker lucky enough to make $30,000 a year. You too could be a millionaire. All you have to do is work your butt off for 30-plus years, never spend a penny, and put it all in the bank. America is truly the land of opportunity. No wonder we have so many millionaires.
A couple of months ago I reported that San Francisco now has 20 resident billionaires. One reader scolded me for being too keenly focused on our fair city. He pointed out that 46 of the world's 691 billionaires live in the Bay Area, this according to Forbes Magazine.
Taken all together, these 46 billionaires control about $113 billion. Just for fun, how many hotel workers would it take to earn that much money in 30 years? The answer is about 3.7 million workers.
Now back to our lowly millionaires. Let's have more math fun. Did you know that it takes a thousand millionaires to make just one billionaire? It seems there is more than one way to look at "inequality of wealth." Who said life is fair?
But rich people have worries too. According to another study reported on by the Chronicle, the richest 1% of people in the U.S. worry that the "next generation" will have a "difficult time financially." What a heart-warming example of family values -- while the rest of us are mired in such mundane worries as next month's rent.
The Chron article under discussion quoted a certain Duke University Professor, Philip Cook, who made the startling claim that "the increasing concentration of wealth has a political effect... with money comes power." No shite, Sherlock. It's a good thing we have learned professors around to help us sort these things out.
I am told that my last Beyond Chron article, "San Francisco: Billionaire World," was the best-read article I have written for this online periodical. Like anybody else, I like to be listened to. But I wonder just how many people took to heart the last lines of that article:
"If there really is a progressive movement in this burg -- and sometimes I doubt it -- then let's get on with it. Tax the Rich, dammit."
Since I wrote that article I have read about "progressive" supes proposing yet another sales tax, which will hit up working class folks buying everything from toothpaste to underwear.
I have read about a "transit justice coalition" trying to dun folks living in the Bayview or the Excelsior for daring to drive their cars around town.
I have read hype about "Community Benefit Districts" (they used to be called "Business Improvement Districts") which siphon off potential city tax money and privatize it in the hands of commercial property owners and landlords.
Last month I got a letter from the principal of my son's public high school claiming that I better make a "$500, $1,000 or $5,000" donation right away, or risk educational disaster for my kid.
About the time that "Billionaire World" hit the web world, a famous diplomat named George Kennan passed away. His obituaries praised his most enduring legacy, the concept of "containment." This was a policy aimed at surrounding and eventually defeating the Soviet Union, not by a head-on military battle, but by economic and political pressure. This was in the late 1940s, after World War II, just as the McCarthy era was building up a head of steam. Of course, this "containment" policy applied not only to the Soviet Union itself, but to its many friends and supporters in the U.S., and to the broader progressive movement.
The particular brand of McCarthyism popular for a while in the U.S. ultimately was abandoned by our ruling circles -- but the policy of "containment" of the left has never been abandoned. This isn't the place for a treatise on the last half-century of world politics. But Professor Cook, for all his mundacity, hit the nail on the head: "the increasing concentration of wealth has a political effect... with money comes power." It's so trite, too many "progressives" just can't keep it in mind.
So instead of confronting the rich and powerful, we turn on our own, and fight over the crumbs. It's like a dog chasing his own tail. You can just imagine our local billionaires and millionaires laughing at us all the way to the bank, barking out orders: "Just keep chasing that tail, Rover."
Rest in peace, George Kennan.