July 04, 2012

Six degrees of financial separation ... problems with America

If you haven't read this GQ story by Jon Ronson, you should.

He takes the "six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon" idea in a whole new direction.

Here's the simple conceit of the article:
I'd worked out that there are six degrees of economic separation between a guy making ten bucks an hour and a Forbes billionaire, if you multiply each person's income by five. So I decided to journey across America to meet one representative of each multiple. By connecting these income brackets to actual people, I hoped to understand how money shapes their lives—and the life of the country—at a moment when the gap between rich and poor is such a combustible issue.  
(Ronson plugs himself in at level No. 4; the one thing "lacking" is that I wish he'd written about somebody else, or else gone into more honest depth about himself.)

The star asshole, if you will, of the piece is B. Wayne Hughes, the man at Level 6 and a billionaire. Rich Tea Partier stereotypes abound. Here's the first part of Ronson's interview with him. (Ronson brilliantly splits Hughes' interview in half, then goes to Level 1, a Haitian immigrant cook in a Miami restaurant named Maurose Frantz). Anyway, here's the first exchange with Hughes:
"I live my life paying my taxes and taking care of my responsibilities, and I'm a little surprised to find out that I'm an enemy of the state at this time in my life," he says. 

He has a big, booming voice like an old-school billionaire, not one of those nerdy new billionaires.
"Has anyone said that to your face?" I ask him. 

"Nobody has to," says Wayne. "Just watch what they're doing." 

"You mean the Occupy Wall Street crowd?" 

"Those guys are a bunch of jerks," Wayne mutters, giving a dismissive wave that says, They're just a sideshow. "Politically I'm on the enemy list. I've lived my whole life doing what I thought was right, and now I'm an enemy of the state." ...
Ronson then notes that for an "enemy of the state," he's doing awfully well by the tax code.

The reason why? He fulfills the "self-justification" insight of the person one level below him, while spouting even more bilge.

Before we get all the way up to Level 6, Level 5's Nick Hanauer, who got luck with an early investment in Amazon, is a great contrast to Hughes. He openly says he probably should pay 50 percent taxes, but only pays 11 percent. So, Ronson asks the same question that Faux Newswers and Tea Partiers fling at Warren Buffett:
"If you're so concerned about it, why don't you write a check?" I ask. 

"You can't build a society around the effort of a few do-gooders," he replies. "History shows that most people would not do it voluntarily. People have to be required to participate." 
Bingo. There's a lot more common sense from Hanauer in that section of the story. Including words for those wingnuts:
 "The view that regulation is bad for business is almost universally held," he says. "But in every country where you find prosperity, you find massive amounts of regulation. Show me a libertarian paradise where nobody pays any taxes and nobody follows rules and everybody lives like a king! Show me one!"
Now, back to our asshole, Mr. Hughes.

His claim as to why he's successful? A book called "Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal."

Which is really an B-grade version of Og Mandino, or a bit of Napoleon Hill.

What shite like this really is, is New Ageism for corner suite occupiers. If American capitalism is so damned great, the number of people who dive headfirst into magical thinking shallow water pools is sure a contra-indication of that "damned great."

Hey, dude, there's millions of people who aren't rich, never have been, and never will be, who do anonymous acts of kindness all the time. Shut your piehole.

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