The Point Zero Zero One Percent


– Rant # 173 –


My grandmother was a Bolshevik, and my father a socialist. I came to adulthood during the turbulent Sixties, and for two decades I’ve been surrounded by gay-loving Bible-trashing academics. So it should come as no surprise that my political sympathies and intuitions are all pretty much clustered to the left of the left of center. But that doesn’t mean I can’t admire the skill with which Donald Trump has tapped the bigotry and paranoia that is the American ethos, or be exasperated by the dated lameness of Bernie Sanders chalking up all of America’s woes to the greed of the Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percent.

That kind of rhetoric might have got him elected, or at least nominated, fifty years ago. But in 2016 greed is just the we’re-too-Christian-to-say-fuck word for fuckin’ lucky. And who doesn’t admire luck? In fact if greed is anything in the ethos of 2016 America, it is, as the Donald says it is, what makes America great!

And my colleagues it seems – bless their cotton socks – have joined Sanders in this charming but jejune reduction of the entire discipline of economics to greed versus ‘Sharezies!’

Sanders can be forgiven. He’s a mere politician. But my colleagues should know better. There has never been, is not now, nor ever will be, a polity driven by “what I can do for my country” rather than “what my country can do for me.” That “We’re all in this together!” makes for heartwarming rhetoric, but it’s a con. We’re in this together only because for there to be “nature red in tooth and claw”, prey and predator must stand in sufficient proximity to each other.

But my colleagues, having taken the metaphor too much to heart, suppose prey and predator are two distinct subspecies of humans: us, the good people, the prey to these voracious predators, and these predators, the greedy people, the evil people. Apparently they’re like the Borg in Star Trek, or the Nothing in The Never Ending Story. They are the Great Destroyers!

We can all understand what motivates us, the good people. We want to enjoy our families and friends, we want to live reasonably well, and we want to feel we’ve accomplished something by the end of each day. But what, pray tell, motivates the greedy people, the evil people? No human being could possibly consume a billion dollars worth of anything in a hundred lifetimes. So why could they possibly want to accumulate any more than that?

Unless my colleagues can answer that question without begging it – as in, What they want is power! – I think the obvious answer is they don’t. They don’t want wealth for its own sake. Beyond what they need for their family and friends, and for living reasonably well, their wealth is merely a bi-product of what they’ve accomplished by the end of each day. For my colleagues to suppose otherwise is to suppose these people really are incomprehensible. But if they’re incomprehensible, what business do my colleagues have assigning motivations to them?

I think I’m better qualified to pronounce on what the Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percent are like, and on what they want. How so? Because over the course of thirty-six years, from 1975 to 2011, I worked side by side with about thirty of these people, every one of them a member of the Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percent.

What we – by which I mean mostly they – were doing was managing the second largest private charity in the world, a charity funded entirely out of their pockets, and which, since it was chartered in 1903, has financed the lion’s share of all the orphanages in territory “currently or formally under the protection of the French Republic”, which includes almost all of West Africa and, until the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

In the 113 years of its existence, this foundation has spent not a penny raising money. To save on administration its assets of $7 billion US are managed by one man working pro bono out of his tiny law office in Paris. It’s a devoutly Catholic organization, and yet over the shrill objections of the Vatican it distributes condoms in every orphanage it supports. Its Board of Governors, which numbers twelve, meets for four full days four times a year, agonizing over issues you couldn’t imagine, or wouldn’t want to if you could.

As it happens all but two of these greedy evil people were French, the other two were Saudi Moslems, and none were American. So my colleagues could dismiss what I’m about to report on the grounds that, after all, they weren’t the Koch brothers. But they were the Koch brothers. Certainly the Koch bothers simulacra from the perspective of my colleagues’ counterparts in France, who also judge these people unredeemably avide et mal.

Now let me tell you just how avide et mal. For 116 hours straight, from the early hours of August 5th 2011, to late in the evening of August 9th, eleven of these greedy and evil sub-humans, every one of them a Koch-like multi-billionaire, sat huddled on the couch or on the floor of a hotel suite in Paris, taking turns catching a few hours sleep in the suite’s only bedroom, trying to figure out how to prevent seventy nameless Libyan teenagers who had miraculously made it to the border with Chad, from being sent back to Tripoli where they’d have been summarily executed, teenagers some of whom were probably former Gaddafi thugs, some assuredly with blood on their hands, but all claiming to be orphaned by the street justice being meted out by the rebels from Benghazi who were then in the process of taking Tripoli.

Now tell me, what do you suppose motivated those eleven Koch brothers and sisters to do that?

And while you’re at it, tell me the difference between how the Nazis managed to dehumanize the Jews so they could exterminate them, and your dehumanizing of the Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percent so that, come the revolution, you can blithely dispossess them?

Your bigoted bête noire-ing of the Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percent is born of ignorance. You can overcome this ignorance by taking a billionaire to lunch. Don’t know any? I do. Would you like me to arrange it?

Look, you feckless ignoramuses. The beauty of money is that it’s fungible. Those trillions you think are being hoarded in some Uncle Scrooge-like vault somewhere? They’re not there. They’re at work all around you. They’re processing and moving the oil from under the ground over here to heating someone’s home over there. They’re taking the Durham wheat being grown on the Regina Plains and making the pasta that feeds sixty million Italians. They’re developing and producing the vaccines being injected into the arms of a billion wriggling children. What the fuck else did you think that money was doing?

If you think there’s a better system – and I’m all ears if there is – that’s one thing. Let’s work on that together. But to think that the current system squanders wealth on the Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percent is just unconscionably stupid. The Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percent spend about .001% of their wealth on themselves. The rest of it is covering your mortgage, asshole!

One final comment, and then I’ll shut up. Well, at least for today.

Calling someone like one of the Koch brothers, or one of my thirty Point-Zero-Zero-One-Percenter friends in Paris, greedy or evil or psychopathic or the devil, is easy, not to mention a tad cowardly, when you’re not saying it to his face. So if you think I’ve been indecorous in my comments here, you might want to consider the moral force of the words tu quoque. So, you clean up your language and I’ll clean up mine. Deal?

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