The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

October 2006

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"W" is for "Wealth".

Rants From The Alphabet
"W" is for "Wealth".

-- George A. Polisner

My house is bigger than your house. 
My car is more expensive than your car. 
My paycheck is bigger than your paycheck. 
My stock portfolio is bigger than yours. 

While we know competition is inherent in nature, the method that we use to measure our own value has not evolved much beyond the cave-dwelling era. We choose the easiest milestones to measure ourselves against others. And we continue to ignore intangibles, and most of the real value manifests in that which is not readily seen. If I make more money than you, am I a better person? Do I add more value to society? Will I be missed more than you? Despite America placing a great deal of Judeo-Christian reverence on that which cannot be seen, we seem to readily ignore it outside of our own houses of worship and especially when it comes to defining wealth.

We use a language of finance and mathematics to quantify the extent our wealth. Uncle Neil is worth millions. Uncle Dan is our 'character' in the family, he was in the Peace Corps and now he works with the homeless somewhere, can you imagine that? I wonder what caused Uncle Dan to give up and drop out like that? And can you imagine, his wife and poor children barely scraping by? What does she do --oh, that's right she teaches in the public school system, poor dear.

What doesn't get discussed is that while living in the large home (and "summering" elsewhere), driving the nice BMW's and enjoying the large stock portfolios one of Uncle Neil's children is in their second round of rehab. Uncle Neil is having an affair and so is his wife, a functioning alcoholic.

Who is wealthier and worth more? It depends on if we measure, and what we use to measure. Why do we use a financial tools to measure? Because those that have amassed significant wealth choose to use a moneystick for comparison. You always play the game you can win. Think of a large pyramid. Those at the top amass greater wealth by enlisting more people at the bottom and middle-levels. They don't really care what level you attain, provided it is beneath them. It is interesting to me that when a friend invites us to a "special business opportunity" and we go to an Amway presentation we may snicker, however we are previewing a microcosm of American Capitalism. It is how the system works (or doesn't work depending upon your perspective).

There is nothing inherently wrong in wanting to provide a nice lifestyle for yourself and your family. However when it becomes your only focus you begin to lose sight of why you began the journey in the first place. It is all too easy to succumb to the trappings of materialism and lose yourself. What is important is as individuals we must move beyond abdicating the definition of success, self-worth, wealth and value to others, especially when they have a selfish interest in establishing the rules and framework of the game.

We are told that taxes are bad, they interfere with our ability to accumulate wealth and prevent us from our place at the top of the pyramid. We are told this about taxes while our neighborhoods, schools, roads and levee's erode and decay. Ask anyone at the top of the pyramid if they accumulated their wealth merely through avoidance of taxes. We do not need "Tax Relief". What we need is a system that will allocate societal resources that will improve the foundation of America while providing a better future for generation after generation. We may seek to pay less in taxes to increase our individual holdings, while weakening our communities, neighborhoods and towns.

Business faces the same set of issues. America has been weakened by focus on short-term business indicators, revenue, profit and equity value. While these measures are important, they are simple indicators of the state of a particular business, and how it compares to its peers. Long term strategy and sustainability are traded for short-term gains and we now suffer from an intense focus on profit. Profit is being squeezed out, not by adding value but by externalizing costs to society and this is the real tax that society pays. This tax is not assessed by the American Government, it is assessed by the wealthy elite by consuming resources, polluting our land, water and skies and continuing to undermine our ability to have a representative government. This is the real tax on society, and absent a government that will protect society through regulation and enforcement the tax is growing at an unprecedented rate.

The wealthy will continue to reward corporations that generate profit without regard for anything else with their investment, support and political influence which result in eroding protections for society. We must counter this onslaught by no longer spending our money on products (whenever possible) on products that are the result of such an economic free-for-all. If we are successful as a society, the equity value of corporations that are supporting a neo-conservative fascist agenda will drop faster than you can say McCain-Bush in 08 --as revenue moves to businesses led by visionaries that are evolving their companies toward a triple bottom line -a balance of people, planet and profit. Since there is nothing the elite fears more than a decrease of their wealth (as a direct measure of their own power and influence) they will be forced to move their investment into companies that are doing the right thing because that's what the profits will dictate. The real economic revolution has begun. 

The entire "ABC's of Corpocracy" series is available on Daily Kos.

Mr. Polisner founded in March of 2005. He has been working in most aspects of Information Technology since 1981 and was an early commercial adopter of the UNIX operating system. Prior to founding, George was a Director at Oracle Corporation. He is a frequent contributor to newspapers regarding political and economic policy and often appears as a guest on radio programs. In fact, when it comes to, it's pretty difficult to get him to stop talking.